You’ll Never Walk Alone
A Sermon for the Allin Church of Dedham, UCC
Rev. Reebee Kavich Girash
July 7. 2019
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
10After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’
16“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
17The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
A week ago today, thunderstorms worked their way through our area. We sat at home in our front room watching the driving rain and wind, oblivious to what was happening in our back yard.
Between storms we took a post-dinner walk and in the midst of it, the text from our next door neighbor came: there’s a big branch down out back. Looks like it missed your house. We scurried back to assess, and as we walked into our yard, our neighbor appeared with branch clippers and a saw for us to use. The real work began Monday morning when the skies had cleared and we amassed a 6 foot tall stack of twigs and leaves and a pile of firewood that is still available, if you’re interested. Charlotte, our neighbor, appeared again to help me haul the twigs and leaves away from the house.
Our neighborhood is like this, and particularly our next door neighbors. Whatever minor or major crisis, they watch out for us, and they show up, with the right tools, and quiet wisdom about the way the neighborhood works.
When we moved in three years ago, we thought the view and the nearby pond had brought us to this spot. But I think it was the neighbors. In this place, we know we are never alone. There are companions on the journey.
There is a storm happening here, in this community, I hear. Your dear, amazing Gabe is facing a great challenge and your strong, courageous pastor Cheryl is taking time to walk more closely to Gabe through his treatment. This whole family is traveling through an unexpected storm, and your church is simultaneously supporting them and dealing with what this storm means here, in your pews. You are stepping up to ministry in new ways. You are on a different journey than you were just a couple of months ago.
So this morning’s Gospel reading, in which Jesus sends out the seventy (or the seventy-two, depending on which translation you have in front of you) on a new mission is a good model for this moment.
There were seventy of them, which matches right up with the first seventy descendents of Noah, who formed seventy nations in the Jewish tradition. Moses chose seventy to go up Sinai with him to eat with God. And Israel was captive to Babylon for seventy years. In other words, the number seventy had deep meaning. So Jesus sends 70, into the world, to minister in his name.
The work Jesus sends them out to do is urgent, important, and timely.
It’s also not always easy.
They are not asked to go it alone. They are sent in pairs, companions for comfort, strength, and challenge. Most of the time, throughout the Christian Testament and since then, followers of Jesus have ministered together, in community. I wonder if this is in part because our triune God is within God’s own self, in community. In William Willimon’s words, “There is something about the Trinity that refuses to work alone.” Certainly, it is more possible to do ministry with companions. In one of the other readings in the lectionary today, Paul celebrates the power of companions:
Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
When we go out to do a hard thing, having a companion on the journey means the joy and challenge of bearing one another’s burdens.
They are sent with a word, and that word is peace. The seventy are asked to begin each visit, each project, each ministry, with a blessing of peace. While we don’t often go out to proselytize today, nevertheless, we are sent out to minister by Jesus. And a blessing of peace is an awfully good place to start any encounter.
They are sent out, not knowing how they will be received or what the power of their ministry will be. They are told to expect and accept hospitality, and not to be picky or critical of that hospitality. The good news for us is that these models of ministry come back to Jesus testifying to the healing power of the ministry he sends them to do. We may not know what the next phase of our ministry journey will be, but this text gives us hope that it will be fruitful, healing, and powerful.
Jesus sends the seventy out, two by two, because they cannot do what he has asked them to do, on their own. We see again and again in the Bible, the mandate to share ministry and to seek help. Jethro tells his son-in-law Moses that he cannot do what God has asked him to do on his own (Exodus 18). And God tells Moses the same thing – to share his burden with the people (Numbers 11). And Paul tells the Romans, we do not live for ourselves – we live for one another.
Growing up, my congregation would recite a statement of faith at the end of worship most weeks, and it’s opening words became a great promise to me:
We are not alone. We live in God’s world.
This is indeed one of the greatest promises of our faith: we are not alone. God sends us companions on the journey, and God is with us, too.
Jessica Tate writes, “This is where we often find ourselves…in these empty places, uncertain of the end of the story. We do not know how, or if….our hope will be restored. We are left with simply a promise – a promise that we are not alone….This is God’s promise to us…that God will be with us, no matter what…This is how God acts. God clings to us, refusing to allow us to bear our despair and emptiness alone. In so doing, God shows us loving kindness that sows in us hope and fullness, in short, salvation.” (Between Text and Sermon, Ruth 1:6-22, Interpretation)
God sends us through this world with companions.
God sends people with casseroles and branch cutters, Spiderman capes and encouraging words.
The people who pledge to us that they will walk beside us on the road, whether it be through forest or desert, whether it be through despair or redemption, these are the people who carry us, until the tears are wiped away. These are the saints who bring us the message of hope, that we will get through this life, together, and with God’s grace.
And there is another companion on our journey, one whose presence and wisdom and strength is steadfast.
It is all well and good that Jesus called his disciples to follow him; called us to follow him. But the reason Christians have said yes to that call is because Jesus came to us, to share our common lot, to walk the unknown journey with us, to embody God’s own love and cling to us, whatever may come.
Thanks be to God, who sends us people.
And who offers us hope of redemption and restoration and new beginnings.
Let me end with this prayer from Kathy Galloway of the Iona Community (in Coracle 3, no. 11 copyright Iona Community, 1992, from Resources for Preaching and Worship, Year C).
Let us pray: Our brother Jesus, you set our feet upon the way and sometimes where you lead we do not like or understand. Bless us with courage where the way is fraught with dread or danger; bless us with graceful meetings where the way is lonely; bless us with good companions where the way demands a common cause; bless us with night vision where we travel in the dark, keen hearing where we have not sight, to hear the reassuring sounds of fellow travelers; bless us with humour – we cannot travel lightly weighed down with gravity; bless us with humility to learn from those around us; bless us with decisiveness where we must move with speed; bless us with lazy moments, to stretch and rest and savour; bless us with love, given and received; and bless us with your presence, even when we know it in your absence; Lead us into exile, until we find that on the road is where you are, and where you are is going home. Bless us, lead us, love us, bring us home bearing the Gospel of life. Amen.