Scripture: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Sermon: The Simple Work of God
As many of you know, I was helping to lead a camp at CrossWind last week. We had a good group of middle schoolers from all around central and eastern Kansas. Most of them had not previously met.
As you would expect, we tried to redirect their enthusiasm in productive and helpful ways. There were, throughout the week, a rather lot of instructions and rules that we had to offer—rules for games, instructions for activities, directions for group learning, and so on.
I hate rules. I was one of those kids who would do the opposite, just because you told me what to do. I suppose as a parent, I’m paying for it now.
Our youth group knows I try to sum everything up into three (or maybe four) solid rules that they need to know—if they can follow these, we’re good. That way, no one has a lot to remember, and everyone can express themselves and relate in ways that are more natural for them. We are all different, of course, with different gifts and thoughts and approaches—and we are most like Jesus when we make space for one another’s uniqueness.
Rules, Rules, Rules
Today’s text is interesting to me for a lot of reasons—but one of them is that this is one of those rare times Jesus issues a lot of rules. By my count, Jesus issues eleven direct commands to these 70:
1. Pray for each other (fellow workers in the harvest)
2. No wallet
3. No backpack
4. No shoes
5. Travel quietly & without chit chat
6. Greet everyone with peace, whether they accept you or not.
7. Eat whatever you are served
8. Do not stay at more than one place per town
9. Eat whatever you are served (again!)
10. Be an agent of healing
11. Do not allow the “dirt” of those who reject you to stick on your soul
Most of these are repeats from chapter 9. In the early verses of that chapter, Jesus commissions the Twelve to do the same sort of work as these 70—which is the same sort of work as they have seen Jesus himself do. But it is not enough to heal the sick—they must conduct their lives and ministry with the same sort of humility and kindness as does Jesus.
When these 70 return, they are astounded at the transformation they witnessed and were part of. They returned elated—filled with joy—and amazed at God’s action.
When I finally arrived home on Friday, I’m sure April was laughing inside at how much I jabbered on about what happened and how I saw God moved. I suspect the parents of our own middle school campers can relate. This, I imagine, is how these followers of Jesus returned—unable to keep quiet about what God had done.
But Jesus, in his all-too-peculiar sort of way, issues them a challenge: Sure you’ve done amazing things, “But listen—that’s not the point…Rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20 VOICE).
Jesus is not being a Debbie Downer here—he’s offering an important reminder about the sins of pride, control, and prejudice. Jesus is urging his followers to keep mission and life humble and in perspective. The only way to ensure that happens is to find joy only in your place in God’s eyes.
These Rules Force Simplicity
When you think about it, the many rules Jesus offers here are not about complexity but simplicity. They are about doing without things that you might think would make them more efficient or at least speedy.
But by doing without, Jesus’ followers will have to rely on the hospitality of others. Living and serving and ministering this way will force us to be vulnerable to those who may have everything they need in life except the gospel. Similarly, this kind of ministry will allow us to see others who are at risk and in need—those who are often invisible to us.
The Lessons of Doing Without
When new folks meet me, I am almost always asked about my bare feet or sandals. Such was certainly the case this past week. When asked, I have tried to express this spiritual commitment that I have made in terms that the questioner can relate to:
It connects me to God’s larger creation, and reminds me that I am a part of it.
It helps me remember that I cannot escape God’s presence; everywhere is “holy ground.”
In my weakness, I find strength.
It forces me to slow down and pay more attention to what and who is around me.
And so on……
But one reason I continue this practice is this: doing without teaches lessons, no matter what the discipline may be. Among other discoveries, I’ve learned:
That the anticipation of pain is usually worse than the pain itself
That discomfort is not to be feared.
That there will always be people who attack what they do not understand.
That few things feel as much like love as the warm earth in spring or the cool rain of a summer storm.
That nearly every way we isolate ourselves from the elements is also a way we isolate ourselves from one another.
These are lessons that can be applied to much of life—and especially our relationships and communications. And they—like the discoveries of the 70 in our scripture text—are the product of introducing some intentional simplicity into my life.
Jesus Makes It Simple
The fact is: Jesus calls us to the simple work of God—to love one another. Later in Luke 10, Jesus will be asked about what a person must do to gain eternal life. In Matthew’s version of the story, told in the 22nd chapter there, Jesus answers: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt 22:37–40 NIV11).
Everything—the entirety of what Jesus considers the Bible can be summed up in the twin instructions to love God and love your neighbor. In terms of “rules,” that’s about as simple as it gets.
One of the components of camp this past week was a box for “faith questions.” Every day, campers were encouraged to write down questions and put them in the box. And every day, we would pull some questions out and do our best to address them.
Many times, we had to say: “There are a lot of differing ideas about this, but here’s what I think……”
Other times, we had to acknowledge that we just didn’t know—that was still a question we were asking too.
But over and over—in my answers and in answers voiced by the other leaders—I heard echoes of the simple teaching of Jesus to love one another. If we believe the Bible in its claim that Jesus is the only righteous judge, the one who will one day judge both the living and the dead, then we have to also acknowledge that salvation is in God’s hands—it is not up to us to guard the gates of the Kingdom of God, deciding who gets eternal life or death. That has never been our job, and it will never be our job.
Our job is to love so deeply, wholly, and recklessly that it completely unsettles this world.
Our job is to walk so closely to Jesus’ path in life that people look at us and see him.
Our job is to live so fully in the Kingdom of God that heaven and earth become one in accordance with God’s desires.
If we are oriented toward Jesus, our questions about those who are different than us are not: “is it a sin?”——Our question is: “How should I treat this person?”
If the answer to that isn’t clear enough, we can follow the biblical instructions in asking slightly different versions of the same question:
How did Jesus treat people like this in the gospel stories?
(Jn 13:15: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you”)
If I were this person, how would I want to be treated?
(Lk 6:31: “Do to others as you would have them do to you”)
If this person were Jesus, how would I treat him?
(Matt 25:40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”)
These are simple questions that drive us to carrying out the simple work of God, something we unnecessarily complicate because we are not actually courageous to genuinely follow Jesus.
But with God’s help, in our weakness God can show strength.
And in the end, it is not our accomplishments in ministry that should drive us and cause us joy—it is the simple reality of our salvation, and the simple work of God to which we are called.