Word and deeds
There are some things that happen that leave a permanent mark on our lives. We are never the same again. Some of these life-changing things have a negative impact on our lives. A young man returned from the Vietnam War moody, easily angered, often withdrawn and too often difficult to deal with. Before Vietnam he was a friendly, well-liked person but what he experienced in the war, especially his involvement in the deaths of villagers of all ages, dramatically changed him.
On the other hand there are events and people who change our lives in a positive way. There is the story about a man who visited the Fiji islands. This visitor was sceptical of missionaries. He even spoke with the chief and told him that nobody believed what the Bible had to say nowadays. He even went as far as to say nobody believed all that stuff about Jesus either. He concluded his remarks by saying "People know better now, and I am sorry for you that you have been foolish".
The Fijian chief responded calmly, "Do you see that stone over there? On that stone we smashed the heads of our victims until they were dead. Do you see that oven over there? In that oven we roasted human bodies for our great feasts. If it had not been for those good missionaries, the Bible and the love of Jesus Christ which changed us from savages into God’s children, you would be roasting in the oven now!"
Having heard what the chief’s description of how Jesus had changed the lives of the villagers, I’m sure the sceptic was never quite the same again.
The 12 disciples accompanied Jesus as he went around teaching from village to village. They were there on the boat, when he calmed the storm that threatened to send them to the bottom of the lake. They were there and saw the gratitude of a man once exiled from home and friends because he had leprosy but now, he was perfectly well. They were there and saw the joy on the face of Jairus when his once dead daughter was again alive and well. Having seen and heard so much, they would never be the same again.
In our reading from Luke 10:1-18 we hear of Jesus sending out 72 others with the same task - to witness to everything they had seen and heard about Jesus and the Kingdom of God.
There are 3 points that Jesus made when he sent out his disciples.
Firstly, they were to travel light. He told them: Take nothing for the journey no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic (Luke 9:3). Jesus wanted his disciples to be concerned about nothing else but the mission that he was sending them on. He didn't want them to be weighed down by gathering together extra provisions, or additional clothing, worrying whether to take an extra pullover just in case it got cold; or an extra pair of shorts – the weather might come in hot, arranging transport for all their belongings. They were to be single minded in their mission. Their task was plain and simple. They were sent out to meet the needs of other people just as Jesus did – that is to speak the Word of God at the appropriate time and to deal with bodily and physical of those they met.
Travelling light meant the 72 missionaries had to trust God for their daily needs. Jesus was telling them to be like the "lilies of the field" and the "birds of the air" who do not rely on their own resources to survive but only on the goodness of God. They were to rely on the God-given hospitality of those they visited.
Do you see what Jesus is doing here with those he is sending out? He is demonstrating the vital link between faith and action. He is saying to them – "You aren't being sent out to just tell people about faith in the living God, but you are being sent out to also show them what happens in your life when you really believe and trust. If you tell people about having faith in Jesus, about trusting God and then live a life that demonstrates just the opposite, then you will hardly be believed".
The situation hasn't changed one bit for us today. I wonder how many times a week, how many time a day our witness to our faith in Christ is weakened, is even brought to nothing, because we fail to recognise the link that our faith has with our actions. Our actions can so easily deny our faith in Jesus.
I'm sure there have been times when you have reflected on a certain way that you have behaved with a great deal of shame. I know I have. In reflection it is clear that the way we have acted has been so contrary to what we know Christ would expect of us as his brothers or sisters. Sin gets in the way. It is easy to confess our faith in Jesus one moment and then deny that same faith by our unchristlike behaviour. By telling the 72 missionaries not to worry about food and clothing but to trust in God – Jesus is telling them to not just tell people about faith but let your listeners see in their lives what it means to trust God even for simple things like food and clothes.
Jesus then goes on to give them another instruction. "Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town" (9:4, 10:7). In other words, he is telling the disciples to accept whatever accommodation is offered to them and not go shopping around for something better. The disciples should not be burdened with accommodation arrangements. Jesus simply tells them to accept whatever is offered and get on with the task he had given them of telling the Good News about Jesus.
Can you imagine the offence it would cause if the disciples changed homes because they were dissatisfied - perhaps the children were too noisy, the bed too lumpy, the food too plain, or the house too draughty? They would really get off on the wrong foot if they started to pick and choose between homes.
All this leads to an underlying point. The gospel is shared within a relationship situation. The disciples were to stay for a while with the one family and in the one community. Get to know people. Be concerned about their cares and their needs.
They were not to be fly-by-night evangelists - here today gone tomorrow. This wasn't the kind of evangelism where you give a quick message at the front door. Jesus knew that for many people it takes a long time to grasp the meaning and importance of the gospel for their lives.
And so the disciples are encouraged to not only talk about the love of Jesus but also be the love of Jesus in the community they were visiting. Again he is saying, "Get to know people and through your friendship with them, let people see how your faith really makes a difference in your life. Let them witness for themselves the gospel in action through everything you say and do. More often than not actions speak louder than words."
The situation is no different today. You can imagine how effective our witness would be if we said, "God loves you, my friend, and wants you in his family, but I'm not interested in knowing that your mum died last week, or that you're unemployed and really finding it hard, or that you are a stranger in the church and feeling pretty lost". You know, as hard as we find it in ourselves to love some people, unless we do so, we will do nothing but hinder God's work here in some way. Again Jesus is saying that along with the gospel of love go actions of love.
When Jesus sent out the 72 men to share the gospel, he gave them a specific message to tell - they were to say clearly, "The Kingdom of God has come near. God has provided an answer to the trouble that plagues your lives. God has sent Jesus to bring salvation".
As priests and loving Christians we spend a lot of time counselling people, listening to their problems and being sympathetic to their situations. Jesus encourages us to do this. But through our listening and speaking the troubled person needs to hear from us, "Jesus loves you. He has provided the only cure for the sickness in our world. He died on a cross to give you forgiveness and the reassurance that even though you have messed up so badly, God still wants you to be his dearly loved child".
That’s something we all need to hear again and again, especially when we admit that too often, we have spoken loudly and boldly about faith in Jesus, only then to turn around and demonstrate how little we have let our Spirit-given faith change our lives. When we hear those words, "Your sins are forgiven", this revitalises our desire to share with others through word and deed the same joy that we experience when we hear of the love and forgiveness of Jesus.
And let’s not be fooled into thinking that our effort hardly makes a difference in the lives of others. When the 72 disciples returned and made their reports, Jesus said, "I saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning!" The 72 men must have whispered among themselves, "What’s he talking about. We didn’t see anything like that". Jesus saw something they hadn't.
When Jesus sends us out, he intends to use us for something big. In our ordinary, everyday lives, Jesus is working out some larger matters. We look at the church, our church, we see mundane meetings, ordinary folk, unspectacular routine, people with all kinds of troubles. Yet Jesus sees heaven and earth being transformed through us. Jesus commissions us to be part of his revolutionary overthrow of the powers of death and evil. We can't always see it, because as humans we are caught up in the everyday ordinariness of the church.
Yet in us - in our meetings, Sunday School classes, passing the offering plate, kneeling to speak to a child, visiting the sick and frail - the reign of God is taking shape. He sends out ordinary folk like us to be a signal, a witness that God's kingdom is breaking into the lives of people - through us.
When we look at our congregation, we see only ordinary folk like you and me. But Jesus looks at us and our witness and says, "I saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning!" He uses our faith and the witness we give in our daily lives, the joy and peace we have because our unchristlike lives are forgiven, the change that Jesus makes in our lives, the words we speak at right time – he uses all this and more to bring his kingdom into the lives of others.
Uncommon Ground – Timothy Keller
Power Of Your Words - Don Gossett, E.W. Kenyon
Vince Gerhardy Blog
Second Chance – R T Kendall
The Power of Words – Simone Weil
New Life in Christ – Steven J Lawson
Red Letter Christianity - Shane Claiborne