“Nobody said it was easy / No one ever said it would be this hard.” Coldplay’s The Scientist captures how I feel about parish ministry many days, and how it feels to be a Christian in many contexts today. “Nobody said it was easy / No one ever said it would be this hard.” We knew it would not be easy. We knew it would be hard. But can I not have some easy days? Does it always have to be this hard?
Your ministry context might be quite different from my own. In fact, even if you serve in the same zip code as me (98003), your context is likely unique from many others. But I imagine you have what feels like more than your fair share of challenges as you labor to make disciples of all nations, baptizing in God’s Triune name, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded (we often abbreviate the last one to simply “teaching,” which makes it feel far more doable).
Luke 10:1-20 offers words which warn about and bring healing comfort for the challenges we face as those sent in Jesus’ name. One way to proclaim this text would be to structure the message around Paul Scott Wilson’s “Four Pages”: Trouble in the World, Trouble in the Text, Grace in the Text, Grace in the World.
Trouble in the World: This is not an easy time to be a witness to Christ in our world.
The Church is losing. Things just do not work like they used to. Our membership is shrinking. The culture is changing. The people around us just do not care what we have to say.
The goal of this section of the sermon is not to beat up on the world, blame the culture, or pine for the glory days. Rather, you have the opportunity to empathize with your people and give voice to their experience. This is not an easy time to be a witness to Christ in our world. This point will not need to be developed much; your people are likely already there.
Law in the Text: It was not easy to be a witness to Christ in the world even when Jesus stood before them in the flesh and looked them in the eyes.
You might develop this point through something of a monologue, taking on the character of Jesus as if you were speaking to the seventy-two yourself, adapting His words to your context. Or you could develop this moment by embodying a dialogue between two of the seventy-two, either as they are hearing Jesus in the moment or discussing what they just heard as they walk away from the pep-talk.
However, you choose to illustrate the point, it was not easy to be a witness to Christ in the world even when Jesus stood before them in the flesh and looked them in the eyes. You will be understaffed (the laborers are few). You will be vulnerable in a hostile environment (lambs in the midst of wolves). You will be minimally provisioned (no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, no roadside greetings). You will be turned away (whenever they do not receive you). You will be rejected (the one who rejects you rejects Me).
It was not easy to be a witness to Christ in the world even when Jesus stood before them in the flesh and looked them in the eyes.
“So go get ‘em! ‘Make disciples’ on 3. 1…2…3… ‘Make disciples!’” Good pep talk, Jesus.
Grace in the Text: They returned rejoicing because God is the Lord of His harvest.
Despite the very real obstacles and difficulties, this entire scene is marked by God’s gracious work. In verse 1, Jesus appoints and sends. In verse 2, He centers the entire mission on God. God is the Lord of the harvest, and God sends laborers into His harvest. The sent ones do not need to worry about the lack of provisions because God will see to it they are provided for. Though some (many?) will reject the offer of peace, some (many?) will actually receive it and them. Though the sent ones will be turned away, they need not bear that burden or take it personally, for Christ bears the rejection Himself, and will do so ultimately on the cross.
And when the seventy-two come back, they return with joy! Even with all the challenges, they experienced what one prayer describes as “sufficient success.” I have it in Doberstein’s Minister’s Prayer Book:
“O Lord, without whom our labor is but lost, and with whom Thy little ones go forth as the mighty; be present to all works in Thy Church which are undertaken according to Thy will, and grant to Thy laborers a pure intention, patient faith, sufficient success upon earth, and the bless of serving Thee in Heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen” (Doberstein, John W. Minister’s Prayer Book. Fortress Press, 1986, 17).
Finally, Jesus redirects their joy beyond their efforts and experiences to the gracious work of God, as the One who writes their names in Heaven.
Grace in the World: God is still the Lord of His harvest and grants us sufficient success on earth.
The seventy-two celebrate specific moments in their recent ministry (10:17). And even though Jesus points them to the greater and surer victory of life eternal, He first affirms the good work He sees in their service from His perspective.
This can be a moment to encourage the people of God under your care by affirming the good work God has been working in His harvest in your midst. Maybe you celebrate a specific baptism in your recent history, as God wrote another name in Heaven by joining them to His own Triune name. Maybe you name some of your partner congregations in the city, region, state, or district. It is true that Chorazin and Capernaum rejected Christ’s message, but it is also true that the Spirit has created faith in hearts all throughout your city and region because God is faithful, and His Word does not return void. In the Absolution, the Supper, and in the mutual forgiveness of one sister in Christ to her brother, the authority Jesus gives us is being exercised and Satan’s petty and temporary victories crumble before Christ’s eternal victory enacted and given to and through His people.
May God grant you “sufficient success upon earth” in your proclamation this week.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 10:1-20.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 10:1-20.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Walter A Maier III of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 10:1-20.