The Advance Team

Preached on July 7, 2019 at PC Chestertown

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

When I read this part of Luke’s gospel and listen to Jesus’ instructions to the seventy, I instantly think about an important rule at our dinner table growing up – clean your plate.

Now you should know that my dad can be a picky eater, so we really never ate anything crazy. But there were menu items that my siblings and I did not want to eat. We weren’t allowed to leave the table until we were done eating and we definitely weren’t allowed to have dessert unless we finished. There were nights when everyone else would be finished and dinner would be cleaned up. And one of us would still be sitting at the table, with some cold, mushy peas on the plate in front of us. The timer on the oven was set and the expectation was that you would finish eating those peas before the timer went off. Now, if you weren’t successful after a few rounds of this and if bedtime was quickly approaching, there was a definite possibility that those peas would show up at breakfast time.

And this dinner table rule didn’t just go for us. When friends came over, it applied to them too. I will never, ever forget my friend who came to spend the night and she didn’t like corn. She threw a fit because she wanted dessert; but she couldn’t have dessert because she didn’t finish her corn. So, she called her parents and went home.

We were also expected to eat whatever we were served outside of our home. So, whether we were at our grandparents or at a friend’s house, if someone prepared a meal for you, you had better eat it all without complaint.

Jesus gave the seventy disciples the same rule – to eat what is set before you – along with a few others. In the previous chapter, Jesus had sent the twelve disciples out to begin teaching and healing in Christ’s name. Apparently twelve wasn’t enough; perhaps Jesus knew, as he approached Jerusalem, that he may not make it to all of the people and places he hoped to.

So, he sends seventy more of his followers, in pairs, to teach and heal in even more places. And they have rules, like literally don’t take anything with you. No money, no clothes, no shoes, no snacks. Don’t talk to people you pass on the way. And eat and drink whatever people offer to you.

What was Jesus thinking, sending people out totally unprepared into these vulnerable situations? Didn’t he know that they would be going to places they had never been to, meeting people who didn’t adhere to their food laws, maybe people who spoke different languages? Did Jesus realize that he was asking them to impose themselves on others, on complete strangers, expecting them to extend hospitality?

Of course he did. That’s how Jesus lived. He traveled from place to place empty handed. We go away for a weekend and pack like we’ll be gone for two weeks, prepared for any situation we might find ourselves in. But Jesus went to new places all the time and instead chose to rely on and receive the hospitality of others.

There are two things Jesus wants his followers to know about following and serving him. The first is that we must make ourselves vulnerable in order to carry out Christ’s mission. Preparation will do no good. Last week we heard Jesus tell some potential followers that there was no time to do other things first, no time to prepare by burying loved ones or saying goodbye to family.

There’s nothing the disciples can really do to be prepared for the journey and experience of serving Christ. Empty-handed, they are subject to the Spirit’s leading and those who may or may not receive them and their message of good news. All they can do is share Christ’s teaching, heal God’s people, and offer God’s love and peace.

The second thing that Jesus wants us to know is that the disciples have a very important job; they are responsible for preparing people to encounter Jesus. They are to venture outside of Jerusalem, teaching and showing others the authority and power Jesus has to do miraculous thing. The seventy are to extend the reach of Christ’s ministry, so that all the world might hear the good news. They don’t know how important this really is though; Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and will never reach those places the seventy traveled to.

But again, I have to ask: What was Jesus thinking? Shouldn’t he go first? Wouldn’t it better if he went to all of these places and taught his own lessons? Healed and cured people himself? Wouldn’t that be a better way of getting people’s attention? Wouldn’t they be more apt to believe and follow Christ if they met him and experienced him themselves? Honestly, shouldn’t Jesus lay the foundation and then the disciples handle the follow-up?

Vulnerable, uncomfortable, and commissioned to pave the way.

When I imagine the seventy, heading out in pairs, knocking on doors and hoping someone will let them in, I think of every person who has knocked on my door trying to sell something. I think about my years working at the bank, trying to sell people different products meant to enhance their banking experience (or to meet my monthly quota). I think of this guy I used to see all the time when I worked at the University of Delaware, who stood on the same corner everyday with signs and who raved about Jesus and how the students were living in sin. I think of well-meaning believers who walk or drive house-to-house, hoping to introduce people to Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but these kinds of experiences make me so uncomfortable. I think that Jesus wants us to be uncomfortable, but in a different way.

See, Jesus isn’t asking us or the disciples to try to sell the gospel, to persuade people to believe before Jesus arrives. Our the task is to provide a glimpse of who Jesus is, of what the kingdom of God is like. Jesus insists that it’s about building relationships, spending time with people, learning from others, and meeting people where they are. Ministry, allowing space for others to encounter Christ, is about being present and relational. It’s about hope, not an agenda; faith, not the power of persuasion; humility, rather than arrogance.

Jesus had put together an advance team. He asked others to go ahead of him, to prepare the way, to enable people outside of Jerusalem to catch their first glimpse of God’s kingdom.

As I said, Jesus didn’t make it to those place the seventy journeyed to. And he never made it to our towns and homes and he won’t make it to the furthest reaches of this earth.

So how do we prepare others to encounter Christ? And what could happen if we truly believed that we were equipped with the power of God, as the seventy were?

We would be listening to those who others ignore, like the teenagers who advocate for themselves and classmates who want to feel safe at school. We would sit down and have a thoughtful conversation with someone we disagree with on different topics, with the hope of understanding their perspective and place in the world and without trying to tell them they’re wrong and we’re right. We would go to places where people are experiencing pain and suffering, empathizing with them and seeking to provide them with comfort and dignity, whether in our winter shelter or at our country’s borders.

We are Jesus’ advance team. I want you to think about what that means for you. I want to challenge you to seriously consider how it is that Jesus is inviting you to go ahead of him, to prepare others to know and experience him through you.

There is no pressure to save a certain number of souls. You don’t have to beat anyone over the head trying to convince them that they have to believe in and follow Jesus. But you do need to go out. It will definitely be uncomfortable and you will feel vulnerable. You might have to eat something you don’t like or sit next to someone you think is wrong or unclean. Because Jesus has prepared you and Jesus is sending you ahead of him.

We are the advance team. We are Christ’s body – his eyes who really see people, his ears who hear people, his mouths who speak truth, his heart which loves, his hands and feet which act for good in this world. And we have a message of hope and love and expectation to take. What kind of transformation can happen in you and in others, if we believed that we are an extension of Jesus and the twelve and the seventy, that we are Jesus’ advance team?