CALLING OF THE 70: MINISTRY OF EMPOWERMENT (Luke 10:1-20)
(Sermon by The Rev. Canon Dr. Fred Vergara. Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 130 Jerusalem Avenue, Hicksville, New York 11801, last July 3, 2016)
“The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him…” (Luke 10:)
Jesus came with a mission: to save humankind from sin and to inaugurate the Kingdom of God. He accomplished that mission 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem. We are here today because of the success of that mission.
Indeed, God loves us so much that He “sent” His only begotten Son that whoever lives and believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Jesus is the first Christian missionary; He was “sent” by the Father.
The gospel this morning gives us insight into the Jesus missionary strategy. Like Moses in the Old Testament who enlisted the twelve tribes of Israel and appointed 70 leaders to assist him in the Exodus, so Jesus also called twelve apostles and “appointed seventy others” as His disciples.
There are three elements in this missionary strategy: Partnership, Authority, and Faithfulness. Where there is partnership, where the mission is authorized by God and where there is faithfulness on the part of the missionaries, that mission will be accomplished. Let us look at how partnership, authority and faithfulness were at play in this scripture.
A. PARTNERSHIP: “After this, the Lord appointed 70 others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every place and town where he himself intended to go” (Luke 10:1)
Mission is not for lone rangers. Mission involves the community of faith. Jesus could certainly accomplish the mission by Himself; but by God’s grace, He has given honor to human beings when He enlisted them to be his partners.
One reason why I love “Holy Trinity” is because from the beginning it talks about partnership. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit worked together in partnership in creating the world, in redeeming the world and in sustaining the world.
In Genesis 1:26, God said: “Let us make man in our own image.” In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said to His disciples: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst.” As God is never alone in His work, we also are not alone in doing Jesus’ work.
Christian ministry begins at baptism. The moment we get baptized, we immediately take part in the mission and ministry of Christ. That is why in the Episcopal Church even the children can take Holy Communion, once they are baptized. You do not have to wait for confirmation because baptism is the full entrance into membership in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. One becomes a partner in mission right after baptism!
Where do you find it? On page 304-305 of the Book of Common Prayer, we read our Baptismal Covenant. We affirm our faith by reciting the Apostles Creed and responding to the Baptismal Covenant in the following questions:
“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?”
“Will you persevere in resisting evil and whenever you fall into sin repent and return to the Lord?“
“Will you proclaim by Word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”
“Will you seek and serve Christ, loving your neighbor as yourself?”
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”
In each of these questions, we respond, “I will with God’s help.” Only after that Covenantal response, made either by the candidate of his parents and sponsors, will the person be baptized. By virtue of that baptism, that person becomes a minister.
Yes, ministry begins at baptism! There are not three but four orders or ministry: lay, deacon, priest, bishop. All are ministers of God in Christ.
So ministry is the task of all of us. As a matter of fact, the ordained minister (deacon, priest or bishop) is only there primarily “to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). The word “saints” means all the baptized members, the “laos,” the people of God.
That is why at the beginning of my term here, I asked all of you to take a look at the various ministries we have at Holy Trinity Church and to volunteer your gifts and talents to the “work of the ministry.” Whether it be an acolyte, choir member, greeter, usher in the sanctuary or coffee server in the hall or flyer distributor in the streets, you are working as a minister. Ministry is three-fold: ministry to God in worship; ministry to fellow Christians in fellowship; and ministry to the world in service to others.
B. AUTHORITY: Jesus told the 70, ”They who listen to you; listen to me. They, who reject you, reject me; and they who reject me reject the One who sent me” (Luke 10:16-17)
Authority is stronger than power. A six-wheeler truck speeding at 80 miles per hour is thousand times powerful than the traffic officer but when this officer blow his whistle and raise his hand to put a stop to the truck, the truck will stop. Why? Because the Traffic Officer has the authority!
As missionaries, we have authority from Christ who sent us in the same manner that Jesus has authority from the Father. A missionary means being sent. When Jesus calls us, He empowers us for ministry.
The 70 were given authority by Jesus. By virtue of that authority, they can heal the sick, they can raise the dead, and they can tread on serpents. When we do the works that Jesus asked us to do, He gives us authority. The Great Commission of Jesus says, “Go ye therefore and make disciples of nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…and lo I am with you till the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19 ff.)
God promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us when we do His work. I have never worried about finances of the church because in my 38 years of ministry, I learned, in the word of the great missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, that “Where God guides, God provides.” God’s work, done in God’s way and in God’s time, will never lack provision. The only thing we worry is if we do not do the work of God; but if we do the work of God, He will provide.
C. FAITHFULNESS: “The 70 reported with joy, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’ Jesus replied, ‘Do not rejoice that the demons submit to you. But rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’” (Luke 10:17-20)
Mother Teresa once said, “God did not call us to be successful but God calls us to be faithful.” Because when you are faithful, you will have success. Success follows faithfulness. Success is never ending and failure is never final, because in the end, God wins!
Faithfulness also means commitment. There was a story of a chicken and a pig looking for a job. They knocked door to door until they finally saw a restaurant which advertizes, “Wanted Ham and Egg.” The chicken was very excited but the pig was not. The chicken said to the pig, “Why you are not excited, my friend? This is now our chance to get a job.” The pig replied, “What this job asks of you is just a contribution; what it asks of me is real commitment.”
Commitment includes risk, sacrifice. There is a cost in commitment. There is a cost in faithfulness. Discipleship is costly. Yes, salvation is free but it is not cheap. It costs the life of Christ on the cross. The cross is the symbol of Christian commitment.
Hundreds of years ago, there were missionaries who went to China. They spread the gospel far and wide and the emperor, wanting to know their message assigned some spies to watch them and to report to him. After listening to the missionary preaching, the spies went back to the emperor and said, “These missionaries tell a crazy story. They tell about a man who came from the skies and was born in a manger. Then he made miracles like turning water into wine and multiplying bread and fish. Then he was rejected by his own people and they mocked him, spat upon him, tortured him and finally crucified him. Then after three days in a borrowed tomb, he rose from the dead and went back up to the skies.”
After listening to the spies, the emperor said, “Let us therefore leave them alone. No Chinese in his right mind would ever believe such a crazy story.” Today, there are over 50 million Chinese who believe in Jesus Christ---and we owe it to the faithfulness of the missionaries.
In mission and ministry, we do our best, and God will do the rest. Amen.