Luke 10v 1-9; 2 Timothy 4 V 5-17; Psalm 147v1-7; Isaiah 35v3-6
The Gospel and New Testament readings today are both about mission and community. Jesus knew that the message of salvation needed to be passed on by his followers to the rest of the World – and we know that they did that as the message of salvation flooded across the Middle East in a very short time after Jesus’s Ascension.
A few weeks ago we had Harvest Festival, when we gave thanks for all the good gifts produced by the Earth for us through God’s generosity. And, here we are, thinking about harvest again. But this time in terms of the work God has for us to do as his disciples in the World.
God has a wonderful message for the World and it is the responsibility of Christians to spread it. This is much more of a challenge now than it has been in the past. Even fifty years ago it was still the norm to go to church in this country and even if people did not go, most of them knew the basics of the Christian faith. Now we read in the media that about only 1 million people attend a Church of England service on an average Sunday. This does not of course mean that only one in 65 people go to church. There are many other churches – the Catholics and Pentecostalists among many. But church going is no longer the norm and many people do not even know what we believe. Just as in Biblical times, it is our responsibility to tell them.
Jesus sent seventy of his followers to spread the Word. These are described as “others”, so we can assume that they were not of the twelve disciples. We know little of these people except that they were joined together by a shared task, having all received the same instructions from Jesus. They were sent in twos, no doubt so that they could encourage one another when the going got tough.
Jesus was sending out those who had been his followers, people who had seen his miracles, heard his words, and responded with faith and enthusiasm, asking questions to which they did not necessarily receive answers that were easy to understand. It was quite a tough commission. This was before the passion, before Jesus’ death and resurrection. It must have been taking them outside their comfort zones, when they did not perhaps themselves really understand what it was all about. What they had to so was to explain that in the person of Jesus, God was bringing his love and his peace to the World. They needed to bring this message simply and openly. And clearly. It was quite a challenge and quite a sacrifice to ask of them and it required them to be brave.
Sacrifice and bravery. Being a follower of Jesus is not for the faint-hearted. Jesus sent out these anonymous disciples to spread the Word. And he sends us too and, similarly, we have to accept being sent out with only what he gives us, because he will give us what we need.
What struck me when I read the Timothy and Gospel passages together was that Jesus named no names – he sent seventy people. There was no favouritism, no compliments to one or complaints about another. We do not even know if he sent only men or if some were women. He was starting the massive work of Christian witness and mission that would follow over the centuries. Work for all Christians.
And then we read Paul writing to Timothy and he makes it all much more personal. He talks of several individuals. Those who had stayed with him and helped him and those who had not. We know that Titus and Tychicus were loyal followers away preaching the Gospel. Crescens is believed by Biblical scholars to have been a worthy missionary and perhaps even one of Jesus’ seventy. But Demas had fallen by the wayside and Alexander was a non-believer making Paul’s work more difficult. It all sounds terribly human – those who were useful and helpful and those who were indifferent or a hindrance. The contrast with the calling to all without differentiation of Jesus and the detail of Paul brings home to me the universality and yet the individuality of our faith.
We may feel small and of little value in spreading the good news. But we are all challenged by Jesus’ sending out of the seventy to spread his word. Are we willing to be sent out by Jesus as they were? They may not have felt safe or secure, they may have felt inadequate, they no doubt had their doubts and their fears, but they went for him nevertheless and so must we, bearing witness to our Lord and our faith in our everyday lives and contacts with the World.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, the God of bravery and boldness, who encourages the weak and timid, grant us the courage to be your agents to those we meet in this World. For the sake of Jesus, in whose name we are sent. Amen