Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Before this sermon, please pray with me. Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Last week Luke confronted us with the cost of following Jesus. Jesus said, foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head and then he asks the same of his followers. He said, to follow me, you’ve got to leave everything else in second place, and in our verse for today he does just that.
Today, I want you to think about the moment right after you commit. In the summers of 2003 and 2004, I went down to Great Oaks Ropes Course near Palatine, Illinois. It’s the same place where I ran around the lake and decided to pursue pastoral ministry. But today, I want you to know about the Ropes course. We would get trained in on how to wear a harness, how to clip two carabineers from the harness to the support lines, and they’d send us on up, climbing our ways through the trees, up up up now twenty, now thirty, now forty feet into the air, climbing up trees, balancing on logs, inching along wire, we climbed our way all the way up to a two-foot by two-foot little board that you’d connect yourself to the zipline, a 300 yard-long wire where you’d drop about 10 feet, the slack in the rope would tighten and you’d ride your way down.
And, inevitably, there’s an eighth grader up at the ledge, his first time, let’s call him Dan. Dan climbed the whole way up, but when he got there, has this ever happened to you? He got a hitch in his throat. Dan saw his feet dangling over the edge, and he couldn’t do it. Do you know how this feels? Things start to go in slow motion. That fear rises in your heart. You can hear your heartbeat in your ears. You get to the point of decision and then you stop. And I’m sure, in his head, it feels like it goes on for hours, until something clicks and he jumps.
And here’s the moment I want you to remember: The moment when your heart’s in your throat, when you think, “Am I really doing this?” You made the decision. You took the plunge… but there’s that split second of free fall when you aren’t sure you made the right decision, before you feel the harness catch…
We see Jesus sending out his disciples, 72 of them, two by two, 36 pairs. What’s the significance of that? You have someone to watch your back. You have someone to pray with, someone for comfort. It’s the same reason we tend to send out evangelists two by two, or why we start churches with a core group already selected rather than just sending out a lone preacher type. We’re following the promises of Jesus, that where two or even three are gathered in my name, there I shall be…
And he says to them, there’s a whole lot of harvest, but there isn’t enough manpower. So pray. Pray that Lord sends out you and sends out more, and makes disciples through you so that his harvest can be reaped. He says, Go on your way, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. What does that mean?
It means that’s he’s asking them to believe when they jump off the ledge. He’s asking them to believe in the promises of the beatitudes. These show up in Matthew chapter 5, in the sermon on the mount, and they show up again in Luke 6 – it’s Luke’s version of a similar sermon, he calls it, the sermon on the plain. He says, Blessed be the poor – those who don’t have two tunics, don’t have two staffs, don’t have money bags, because there is the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who are hungry – those who depend on others for their food – for they will be filled. Blessed are you when people hate you and exclude you and revile you and spurn you… rejoice and leap for joy for your reward is great in heaven.
And then guess what! Four chapters later, he makes his disciples poor, hungry, and reviled. He says, live by the grace of God. Be sheep in the midst of wolves. Eat whatever’s set before you. Go wherever people will have you. What kind of a life he asking them to live?
Meditation number 1. Well, he’s asking them to live an apostolic life. The Christian life is apostolic. What does that mean? The word apostle comes from the verb apostello, which means to send. For example, my wife could send you a card, or my wife could send me to deliver a card to you. God is a sending God. The Father sends the Son to the world. The Son sends the Spirit to his people. When we talk about the 12 apostles, we’re talking about the twelve ones that Jesus sent in the great commissioning, and we see wherever they go, they start sending even more people to more places. They’re entrusted with a purpose, and that purpose influences where they go and what they do.
What is that purpose? To tell anyone who cares to listen that the kingdom of God is near. To first suffer the affliction of the afflicted with them, and then to pray and act that their wrongs get righted.
Alan Hirsch, in his book The Forgotten Ways, talks about this – the office of apostle – as the catalyst, or energizing factor, of the church. He writes, “There is something essential and irreplaceable in the ministry of the apostle [someone sent for a specific purpose] that is critical to the emergence of … movements like that of the biblical and postbiblical periods and of the underground phenomenon of the Chinese church.” That’s a church that’s grown who knows how large in a very unfriendly state, so much so that they send missionaries to evangelize the United States. “Apostolic influence awakens the church to its true calling and identity and as such is irreplaceable.”
You see, it’s not so much a place you’re sent to, and it’s not a thing you’re sent to do – it’s an overriding purpose. Love your neighbor as yourself – there is no law against such a thing. The Gospel the “Why” for everything you do. It’s not so much church vision statements, or official constitution purpose statements; it's the way the daily life of the body of Christ witnesses in all our vocations. It’s not so much about how much or how little you have, how great or how poor your abilities, how blessed or cursed your life seems to be; it’s about declaring that the grip of God will hold even when – and especially when - everything else is slipping away. Your mission becomes the mission of Jesus Christ – that’s the entire middle section – your message in Christ’s message. When it is received, Christ is received. You have the same purpose and cling to the same promises. It’s the truth that all the baptized know: whether you’re in freefall or you’re hanging fast, you’re in the palm of your father’s hand, because you’ve never been anywhere else.
Meditation number 2. There is resistance. There are points at which your experience will tell you the opposite of the promises of God. It wouldn’t be an act of faith if there weren’t. You see, it wouldn’t be an act of faith if they didn’t have need, if there weren’t wolves. If their poverty was met with abundance every time. If they didn’t go hungry. If they weren’t reviled. In this world you will have troubles. I’m not here to tell you what those troubles are. You know them for yourselves.
What I am here to proclaim is that it is precisely against the unrelenting pressure of the sinful world, a pressure that seems to hit you with blow after blow, no mercy no quarter, that we see God as our rock and refuge. It is precisely the nasty dealings of the devil, dealings that turn the culture against Christianity, dealings that turn ministry partners into foes, that promise easy paths and wide roads, that we remember God cut no corners when he set his face to Jerusalem and death he’ll die for you and me. It is precisely the stubborn refusal of our sinful nature, a refusal that demands winners and losers, a refusal that assumes it knows everything it needs to know, a refusal to try, to fail, and to try again that allows us to see in stark relief how the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of men, how the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. It is the truth that those who gather in communion know: the strength that our God gives in his body and blood is other-worldly in every way.
Meditation number 3. The disciples come back breathless. Here’s the end of my opening illustration: the guy who was up there in the tree, agonizing and aching and waiting finally jumped and came down the zipline screaming as the line caught and took him to the end. He got down, breathless… and as soon as they undid his harness, he was sprinting back to the start yelling, “Let’s do that again!”
By the grace of God, the disciples come back breathless. Like my bouncing Benjamin, they look at him with eyes that say, “More!” Like Dan, they say, “Let’s do that again.” They swap stories, like vicars back from vicarage (I know the stories you’ve told, but do you ever think what stories your vicars told about you?). Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning – I saw a great defeat, and the kingdom of God breaking into people’s lives,” and then the disciples say, “Again!”
Greg Finke in Joining Jesus on His Mission, says it like this: “You’re only afraid to pray once.” After that, you realize that it’s just talking with God about your neighbor. After that, you realize that it puts your head in an entirely new place about that person – because it’s really a lot more difficult to be petty and small with a person that you’re praying God would follow around with the goodness and mercy they need. After that, you realize daily prayer, with others, in any and every situation is the bread and butter of your life.
But heed Jesus’ last words well: He says to happy and breathless disciples, Do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you. No, Rejoice instead that your names are written in heaven. Do not rejoice that your work is fruitful. Rejoice that God used your hands to provide for your family. Do not rejoice that your ventures are successful. Rejoice that whether they succeed or fail, God would use them to change lives. Do not rejoice that you prayed and survived. Rejoice that your Father in heaven hears your prayers however well or poorly they are spoken. Don’t rejoice that you went down the zipline. Rejoice that your friends and family love you whether or not you did but that they’re really happy you did.
The Christian life is apostolic – it’s sent for a specific purpose, and that purpose is to declare the kingdom of God to be near. There is resistance, points at which your experience will tell you the opposite of the promises of God. And, we rejoice first and best in that our names are written in heaven.
Amen and Amen.