This week I will not provide a message at Willow Creek Friends, because I with my family are away from our Meeting to celebrate the life of my grandmother who passed away last Sunday (June 30, 2019). Each person handles their emotions in different ways. I cope with life by reading scripture, praying, and sometimes I feel the need to write. This is not really a sermon but my reflections on life as I celebrate the “Pair” God sent to encourage my life. I am overjoyed that I minister among a Meeting that is willing to step up with little warning to allow their pastor to be human. Thank you Willow Creek for allowing the space. There is a sermon presented by someone in our Meeting that will be on our YouTube Channel. I encourage you to visit our page. (Link to sermon videos)
Luke 10:1–12 (ESV)
Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-Two
10 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2 And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. 7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
This week as I met with my family to celebrate the live that my grandmother lived I am reminded of many things. My grandmother, Marjorie Cox Bales, to many may have been just an ordinary person, but to her family she was heart. She was that touch stone that would keep you grounded even while she encouraged you to stretch out your wings to fly.
As we celebrated her life I listened to her sisters recount their memories of their younger years. My grandmother grew up during the great depression, and they did not have many toys. They even remembered that when someone did happen to give them a toy doll the family would often give that toy away to some other family. The sisters did not regard this as a bad memory, but a memory of blessing. They told stories of rolling in old tires, making clay houses for frogs to live in and getting in trouble as they played in the fields. There is something about considering a grandparent in their childhood that is fun. Then to hear the stories of my mother and her siblings sharing about their life growing up with my grandmother was equally exciting, as well are remembering the countless stories that my cousins and I shared as we reminisced about the holidays and impromptu family reunions throughout the years.
My grandmother had a great life. She filled nearly eighty-six years with so much. To put it into perspective the oldest grandchild is forty-seven and the youngest grandchild is seven, and there are great-grandchildren mixed throughout as well. Each of these children shared just how much love this one woman shared. Each one shared a similar story. She wanted to make sure you had eaten, drank water, that your body was regular, that you were clothed, and warm. Each of us have at least one quilt and a crocheted blanket lovingly made by her hands. Many of us spent our summers wearing clothes she had sewn. To spend time at grandma’s house was just life, it was always home. She had a way to be incredibly loving and brutally honest in the same way. We knew if we upset her, but we also knew that nothing we did would shake the love. So much grace, yet none of us wanted to disappoint our grandmother.
Most of my life I did not see my grandmother attend a meeting for worship, yet she had such faith. Nearly every family gathering included the local minister as a member of our family, every discussion would usually have biblical teaching included and it was not uncommon that there would be an hour spent singing hymns or Christmas carols. I always thought it was odd that my grandmother was not in church, but as I have matured in faith I realized that my grandma lived in church, she was a pastor and her house was a place of worship. Grandma’s house became the ideal perfect church in my mind. An open table, free discussion and study of the things of faith, the sharing of concerns and encouragement to face the future again, and constant praise.
This week I am not sharing a formal sermon, but I have to share, because there is something about legacy that is important. Jesus sent seventy-two disciples out into the community. They went out sharing life with all the people they met and they would come back and share their experiences together with Jesus. I want us to consider how that might look.
“The harvest is plentiful,” Jesus says, “but the laborers are few. Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out more laborers.” I grew up on a Kansas farm, I understand the concept of harvest. As I am writing today the fields are ready to harvest. When the patriotic anthems are sung around the celebration of the independence of our nation they often speak of the amber waves of grain. I know these amber waves. I know the work it takes to bring in that grain and how important the harvest is, not only for the income of the farmer, but for the well being of a nation. If the farmers did not gather the harvest, we would all starve. Not just in our nation but the entire world would suffer. The seemingly simple and insignificant portion of our society as a whole is the heart and backbone of any society. When food is not available we all suffer.
When Jesus speaks of the harvest, we often think of a growing church, filling the pews. I do not think this is incorrect, but incomplete. The harvest is often the beginning. Without a harvest there is not planting, without planting there is not a harvest. If there is to be a harvest we need people out there working. And if people are out there working we need people to serve food, to maintain the equipment, and to transport the produce to other areas. There is a great deal of labor involved with harvest, above and beyond the simple gathering of grain from the fields. On a modern farm, the combine that harvests the grain is so technical it employs a vast amount of labor. Engineers making the design, factory workers that produce the machine, miners that get the ore to make the metal parts, mechanics to keep the machines running. But there is also the radio broadcasters that keep us entertained, the cellphone networks that allow those working in the fields to stay connected, the vehicle companies that produce the trucks for transport and the vehicles to move parts and equipment, the news stations that provide the market and weather reports, the local retailers that provide the various parts and necessities too keep everyone clothed and fed. Basically every aspect of the nations’ economy is involved, every aspect of the economy is interconnected and dependent on another. When Jesus says the harvest if plentiful but the laborers are few, this is beyond one singular aspect of life but all of life.
Jesus makes this statement and he sends seventy-two people out into the community. He sends them out in pairs. I have often considered where these seventy-two people came from. When we look at the gospel accounts we will see that Jesus does not send his disciples out alone, but in pairs. Simple arithmetic would show us that if the twelve disciples went out in pairs these seventy-two disciples were the twelve disciples that each of these six groups made. Later, these seventy-two would make disciples, and those disciples again multiplied and scripture tells us that Christ appeared to over five hundred disciples which is about what would be the amount of disciples after this.
I was thinking of these disciples. We know that each of them had different personalities and perspectives in life. Some of the original twelve were fishermen, one was a tax collector (the equivalent of a civilian government worker), some were even known as zealots (which we could equate with an extremist group). Several personalities several different attitudes of life, yet all united in faith. They went out to minister in pairs. Why pairs, maybe because we all need help. We all need those people in our lives that know how to encourage us the best. Those that see in us what we do not see ourselves and can step up in the areas we are incapable to fulfill alone. Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs because life is tough. He sent them out in pairs because often ministry can weigh us down. He sent them in pairs because we all need a friend.
He sent them out with nothing. No planning committee to ensure the most profitable return on investment. No logistics to even make sure they had a place to stay when they arrived at their location. They went with what they had available at that moment, and they went in faith.
I considered these groups going out into the communities around that area. I considered the family gathered around celebrating life and I realized something important. We are not alone. We were created to approach life with a community aspect. We were created to assist one another achieve goals that not only profited ourselves but the community as a whole. So often we miss this community aspect of life. We work in corporations and they are a community of sorts, but too often the idea proclaimed within our corporations are not community building but focused on maintaining and increasing the value for stock holders to profit. I have nothing against increasing value of stocks, because often the employees of corporations collectively own a great deal of stock, but it seem as if decisions are made from a single perspective. Maybe things would be different if corporations had two equally powerful CEO’s. I say this in jest of course, but maybe the concept of nurture and provide need represented.
I consider my family. My grandfather I love dearly. He is and has always been one of my favorite people. He is often the one person I have worked the hardest to make proud of me. But right along with grandpa, there was grandma. They were a team. Grandpa worked the harvest fields and grandma brought the meals to the field to remind us to take a break and rest for a bit. Most of my world view has been shaped by the lifestyle my grandparents lived out in front of me, different role but both important. I consider myself lucky to have lived in such a family. It was not uncommon to be out working on a hot summer day and see my grandmother driving her car out to the field to make sure I had a fresh jug of water, which was usually accompanied with a wet towel to clean off a bit.
In our busy world, I think we have lost something important. We often move fast into innovation and production, but sometimes we forget the aspect of life where we slow down and rest. Jesus sent them out in pairs. Two perspectives, two gifts. One to encourage the dreams and accomplishments, and one to hug the discouraged and to let them know they can do it. Pairs working together complementing each other’s gifts and personalities so well that those around them want to do all they can to make them proud.
My family lives in several states, yet we all have a home. We have a place where no matter what happens we can come back and be refreshed. My family is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it showed me something vital. The church should be a community like that. Encouraging and nurturing, pushing us to do greater things and comforting if we get discouraged. As an adult in ministry in a city instead of on the farm I have found that one of the things so many are missing is a home. Our churches have become political battle grounds. They have become legalistic overlords. They have become performance driven corporations with unbalanced focus. We need home. We need grandpa’s and grandma’s, we need aunts and uncles, cousins, and parents. We need discipline and love. We need work and rest. And most of all we need a good meal around a table where we can just laugh and be with one another.
The ending of this passage Jesus speaks of those communities that do not accept those that come proclaiming the kingdom. He says that it would be more bearable to live in Sodom than the communities that reject the Gospel of Christ. This is powerful language. According to the testimony of Hebrew scriptures, Sodom was one of the towns that were burned due to their sinful lifestyles. If we are to read scripture as a whole we are told that the main reason for their destruction was that they were inhospitable. The names of this city has been used a great deal in recent years for various reasons, but I think we often miss the point. If we are inhospitable our minds are in a singular mindset. Everything is based on one thing and often that is personal gain. It is not a sin to profit, but it is a sin to lack balance in our lives. It is sinful to focus only on profit and neglect the care of those we serve and serve us. It is just as sinful to focus only on taking care of the needs of those we serve and serve us and neglecting the advancement of our personal goals. Balance. Hospitality is taking the time to enjoy the company of others, but hospitality is done in conjunction with life. Go out and work and share the abundance.
Jesus condemns the communities that reject the Gospel. Why? They cannot take the time to get balance. They are singular minded and unwilling to hear life from a different perspective. Unwilling to accept something different.
I am proud of my family, I am proud of who they are and what they have encouraged those around them to become. I am proud not because we are great in ourselves but because we have a heritage of faith and discipline of keeping balance. This is largely do to the love and partnership of our grandfather and grandmother. We will miss the heart of the family. But I know that God sent out a pair and his kingdom will continue because from that pair multiple others have emerged and each of those in their own way have carried gospel. We need family, we need community. We need balance because that give us the stability we need to move forward in the future. Dream and strive, hope and achieve, celebrate the joy and nourish those that are currently in a struggle.