21 August 2010

Proper 14 C - The Seventy Disciples

St. Luke’s, Burlington

Galatians 6: 7-16

Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20

4 July 2010

By Stuart Pike

The readings for today, particularly the Epistle and Gospel, seemed a little oppressive to me at this stage in the game. We have a Gospel lesson which tells us that the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. And it goes on to tell of Jesus sending out the Seventy disciples to go out two by two to the towns around and cure the sick and preach of the Kingdom of God.

St. Paul writes to the Galatians that you reap what you sow, and he write for them not to grow weary of doing what is right. And he says: "whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith

It seems like the message of the Church and the message that we priests seem to preach about so often is that we need to do more work for our faith, that we are not doing enough Christian work. Sometimes I wonder if the people of the Church think that we are just a bunch of slave‑drivers.

And then, we Priests too sometimes find that the work is never finished. No matter how much work we put into the week, there is always more that could be done, and often we push ourselves too hard to do more and more ‑ egged on by St. Paul to not grow weary in doing what is right.

We live in a society which preaches at us to be workaholics. Of course the motivations are different. The reason why we are to work for the kingdom is not for material things ‑ nor for power. Jesus tells his seventy disciples not to glory in the power that has been given them, but to rejoice that their names have been written in the book of life. St. Paul tells us that we will reap what we sow, at the harvest time. It is in the hereafter that we will receive our reward.

Our secular society at least offers us material gain for hard work. We are preached at by the media to work harder so we can buy more, so we can be more efficient to earn more in order to buy even more so we can manage all that we have and work harder to maintain it all.

I'm getting exhausted just listening to myself preach this sermon!

So, our society preaches to work hard for material gain, and St. Paul and the Church, (including myself at times, I'm afraid to admit) preach to work hard for spiritual gain and for the love of Christ. And all the time more and more people are having heart attacks and strokes and nervous breakdowns and other stress‑related illnesses. And I begin to wonder if this is what Jesus had in mind for his faithful disciples.

Does being a good disciple of Jesus mean that we must work ourselves to death thereby buying the farm and thus reaping the harvest of what we have sown?

I think not. Somehow, I think there must be another way. And even though I, myself fall right into the trap of over‑working to always try to get the task done, I still think that there must be a better way to spread the Good News of life without working ourselves to death. I think there is a better way to spread the Peace of Christ without doing violence to our physical and emotional selves.

But then, I look back to the Gospel and the Epistle, and I find some of it that strikes me in a different way. Jesus does send out the seventy but he tells them to bring their peace to which ever house they enter. They are to eat and drink with them ‑ anything that they provide. If they're received in the town then they are to cure the sick, and to say that the Kingdom of God has come near.

This picture of what the seventy are commissioned to do sounds far more peaceful and restful than the way we seem to be operating in this modern western society of ours. Certainly more restful than the way we seem to be operating in the Church.

The seventy got rid of all their material things, and in this way they were sacrificing, but they relied on the goodwill of those who they found. It sounds more like a peaceful fellowship to me. It wasn't so much all of the things that they got done that seems to be important. Their way of being seems to be the important thing. It is out of the peaceful way of being that they did what they did. They still did work for the kingdom, but it wasn't racing to get the task done as we tend to work ‑ it was more responding as they could out of the character that they had.

And also, Jesus tells them that if a town doesn't receive them, they are just to shake the dust off their sandals, and move on to the next town. How many times do we Christians agonize over the inability to win someone over for Christ? How many times do we take a problem to our heart, when really, if we have tried, and there is no response, it needn't be our responsibility.

Jesus tells them to let it go. Don't worry about what hasn't sprouted and grown fruit. Just go on planting more seed.

And I look at the reading from Paul's letter too, and I see that he does ask us to work for the good of all. But he says: whenever we have the opportunity.

It sounds to me that if we concentrate more on our way of being ‑ that is being Christians, then we won't have to worry so much about doing Christian things. If we are Christians in our being, then God will present us with the opportunities, in our work and in our play and in our lives. We can worry less about getting all of these tasks done, and all that we failed to do, and we can be more peaceably concerned with just being who we are ‑ Christians ‑ wherever we find ourselves. Amen.

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