I purchased a ‘new’ used car last week. My old one was starting to show its 114,000 miles and it was time.
When I got home I pulled out the owner’s manual. Never mind that it’s the same make and model as my last car, things change in 7 years. I smiled to flip open to the index and find that the previous owner had recorded notes of his own inside the back cover. So as to save himself from having to flip through 636 pages, he had recorded what mattered to him most and how to get to more detailed information more quickly. For instance, you can learn about the car’s lights on page 250. You can find out about how the back door opens on page 93 or cruise control operation on page 266.
Such shortcuts are helpful when it comes to new cars. I expect this is also so in our life of faith. In a way, that is how I think about this week’s Gospel lesson. If you want to know what you need to know and do and be and have to be about the mission Jesus calls us to today, it’s all right here in a few short verses:
For instance, we quickly hear:
- The work is urgent. There is not time to waste, for the harvest is ready.
- It won’t be easy. In fact, sometimes you’ll feel like you are wolf prey.
- You don’t need to take much with you to do this. No cash or credit cards. Not a change of clothes. Not an extra pair of shoes. For that matter, I suppose, not your cell phone, your new used car, or your Facebook page.
On the other hand,
- You will have a companion with you. This is never meant to be done alone.
- You do have a script — and a simple one at that — you are to declare peace wherever you go.
- You will need to be able to simply accept the gifts of those who welcome you — no shopping around for someone or something more to your taste.
- And again, it won’t be easy. Sometimes when you think the ‘harvest is ready’ it won’t be — at least if the responses of those who are less then welcoming is any indication.
- You’re not in charge of how people respond. You are just the emissary, the messenger, the one speaking in behalf of Jesus.
It’s all right there in a few short verses.
And so as I think ahead to sharing these words with God’s People in the days to come, I find myself moving in a number of different directions.
- Jesus sends them out in pairs. This is not work to be done alone. Think, for instance, of all the other times when we hear about such missionary partnership in the New Testament. There are Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:1, Paul and Silas in Acts 15:40, Peter and John in Acts 8:14, Barnabas and Mark in Acts 15:40 and Judas and Silas in Acts 15:32. I can’t count the number of times when I have been so grateful to have partners in ministry — those who support and challenge and join their creative dreaming to mine. This is also so in every day life. In my early morning exercise class sometimes our instructor will pair us off to work in stations. Occasionally she leaves it to chance but other times she comes with a list of partners already assigned. I always wonder at her choices — I expect that in the pairing she is looking for compatibility and the ability to mutually challenge one another.
- Jesus sends them out with a word of peace. According to David Tiede in his commentary on Luke, “This is the same salute which King David’s servants extended to the Calebite clan that stood on the fringe of Israel: “Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have (1 Samuel 25:6). It is an official declaration of the presence of the kingdom, and it confronts the people of the house with God’s salvation and authority. It is a word of blessing.” (p. 202) These words must have sounded familiar to those who first heard them. I wonder what words we might use today to convey the same message.
- A couple of weeks ago my sister and I were helping my mom sort some things in her closets when the doorbell ring. I went to the door and was greeted by two Jehovah’s Witnesses — literally living out the model of what it is to be a missionary that we hear about in this Gospel today. Since I was clearly busy, they kept the conversation brief. They were very kind. No, we do not understand how God works in the world in the same way at all, but I found myself feeling blessed by the encounter and I wondered at what the rest of us are missing.
- Often when I read this passage I find myself thinking that we tend to make things far too complicated. While even this morning we had a guest in worship who found her way here via our congregation’s website, technology only gets us so far. If she had not been welcomed at the door; if a long time member had not extended kindness to her; if she had not heard the Gospel preached in a simple human voice…well, I expect she would not consider walking through these doors again. All of these are the same simple gifts the seventy had so long ago. People are reached in the same way: with kindness and with a message of peace. It is not fancy, but it is still oh so effective.
- Finally, when I hear this passage I hear Jesus’ words about the harvest being plentiful. It is a word meant to convey the urgency of the mission. There are people who are ready right now to hear the message we have to bring. We dare not wait a moment longer. Oh, the metaphor has its limits for it is often a lot easier to tell when an actual harvest is ready to be brought in that it is to tell when one is ready to hear the message we’ve been called to offer. Perhaps this is why Jesus says we should be indiscriminate in our sharing. “Just go and do it,” Jesus seems to be saying. And leave the results up to God.
Most of all, whenever I consider this story I stand in wonder at the place of privilege and joy you and I who are also sent hold in the story of what God is up to. At least in the way its told today we are reminded that there will be times along the way when someone else will have planted and weeded and watered and we just get to be in on the joy of seeing the harvest gathered in — We get to be among those who simply rejoice to see God’s own beloved children come home.
- I compare this bit of Luke’s Gospel to a shortened version of an owner’s manual for missionaries. What is missing that you would include?
- We have a lot of ways we can go in our preaching and teaching, learning and sharing this week. Do any of the above especially speak to you? Is there something else in the passage that strikes a chord with you instead?
- Who have been important partners for you in your life? In your life of faith? What has made them so important?
- Instead of “Peace to this house,” what might we say today? Or does that message still ring true?
- While technology can be a wonderful tool of introduction, I do believe it only gets us so far. What do you think?
- When you hear the words, “The harvest is ready, but the laborers are few,” what comes to mind? How do Jesus’ words speak to you today?