“Go Out”

Pentecost 7

July 3, 2016


Text:  Luke 10:1-11, 16-20; Galatians 6:1-16; 2 Kings 5:1-14


    I observe that the way many churches go about their business is expecting people to come to them.  Such churches try to offer programs and activities designed to get people inside their building.  I notice that our church generally operates that way.  I also notice that we, like many churches, feel concerned because there are fewer people coming through the doors, especially for worship.

    Of course, in this day and age trying merely to attract people seldom works.  No matter how attractive a program may be, many people will not take part simply because it is being held in a church building, and they automatically make negative assumptions about how they are going to be treated and what they are going to be told, often based on the words and actions of prominent Christians who get a lot of media attention.  In addition, people are often so busy that even if what is being offered is seen as a good thing, they already have something else scheduled that takes priority for them.  And many times the church tries to copy what the secular world is doing with cultural things like music, film, and literature, but the Christian version is often a poor imitation of the secular product, and most people prefer quality.

    I also wish to point out that the attractional approach is not biblical. Jesus did not tell his followers to wait for people to come to them.  Although there are stories in the Gospels of people coming to Jesus, Jesus told his disciples to go to the people, to share the Good News of God’s love on their turf.

    This morning we read about Jesus sending out 72 of his disciples ahead of him to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom and heal the sick. He warned them that the task would not be easy or safe--that it would be like lambs going out among wolves.

          Jesus’ specific instructions to his disciples are very relevant to our task as well:

  • “Go out in twos,” he said.  Don’t try to do this alone.  You need each other’s physical and spiritual support, especially when things don’t go well.  You need each other’s differing gifts and graces.  Yet so many churches expect one person, usually the pastor, to do all the ministry, all of the outreach, by him/herself.  I will admit I also do not usually ask others to go with me, so the fault is partially mine.  Although I have had a few people tell me they would be willing to go with me, I justify myself by thinking it would be difficult to do that without some significant planning--after all, most of us lead really busy lives--and I tend to do a lot of things on the spur of the moment.  But Jesus told us not to go alone.  He promised that wherever even two or three are gathered in his name, he would be with them.  That is true not only when we are gathered in the church building, but also when we are together out in the world sharing God’s love in word and deed.  The same principle is implied in Paul’s admonition to the Galatian Christians to “Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

  • “Travel light.”  Jesus told the disciples not to take money or extra clothes with them.  Instead, live off the hospitality you are provided.  Now personal possessions are not the only baggage we might need to avoid carrying with us.  We need to avoid carrying the baggage of our cultural norms, our preferences and prejudices, our personal opinions on matters not central to the gospel, our favorite techniques and programs that may not necessarily be appropriate for the situation into which we are entering.

When the disciples did this, the results were amazing, and they came back excited about what they had been able to accomplish for God.  Jesus enthused that he saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  Because the disciples had gone forth and ministered in Jesus’ name, sharing the good news of God’s kingdom, the powers of evil were shaken to the core.

    We also are disciples of Jesus Christ.  If we are to be faithful to his call, we need to go out beyond these walls and share the good news of God’s love where people are.  We are called not only to tell of Jesus who is mighty to save, we also need to find ways to bring God’s healing to a sick and broken world.  We cannot content ourselves with waiting for people to come to us, because most of them will never come.  

    It might be objected that Naaman, the Aramean general, came to Elisha for healing.  Yes, he did.  But let us consider a couple things about that story:

  • First, Naaman did not come to a building set aside for religious purposes.  He went to Elisha’s house.  Furthermore, anyone looking for an example of hospitality should not look to Elisha’s behavior in this story.  Elisha did not invite Naaman in. He didn’t even come out of the house to speak with Naaman.  Instead, he sent out his servant to tell Naaman to go and dip himself seven times in the Jordan River to be healed of his skin disease.  Naaman was so disgusted with how Elisha treated him that he almost chose to ignore Elisha’s instructions.  Naaman only followed the instructions after his own servants persuaded him to give them a try.

  • Second, remember how Naaman found out that healing was possible.  He found out from a young Israelite girl who had been captured by the Arameans in a battle and was a slave in Naaman’s house.  She had been taken from her home unwillingly, and had every reason to regard Naaman as her enemy.  But when the opportunity arose for her to bear witness to what God could do for Naaman, she gladly did so, and he was healed as a result.

    We do not always find ourselves willing to go out into the world to bear witness to God’s love in Jesus Christ.  The world can be a scary place.  As Jesus said, we are sent out like lambs in the midst of wolves.  It is all too easy for us to look upon people who look, talk, act, or live differently than we do as the “enemy”, especially in today’s highly polarized society.  Even when we do get past our own prejudices, we may find people are not always willing to listen.  Sometimes they ridicule or reject faith.  Sometimes they say they are fine with Jesus but have issues with Christians and/or the institutional church, often pointing to those who have represented Christ rather badly, such as pedophile clergy and Westboro Baptist.

    Let us then recall what Jesus told his followers before he sent them out:  “The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers.  Therefore plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest.  Go!”  Notice that Jesus did not only tell them to pray for more workers; he told them to go and work themselves.  They were to be at least part of the answer to their own prayers.  Surely this also is true for us.  Of course we are to pray for the work of God in our community and beyond it.  But we also need to understand that we are at least part of the answer to that prayer.  Jesus calls each and every one of us to go out and share God’s love in word and deed in our community and beyond it.

Remember also what Paul told the churches of Galatia:  “Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up.  So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith.”  Yes, we need to take care of each other--and like most churches, we do that pretty well.  But we are also to work for the good of all people, including those we consider to be outsiders.  They, too, are beloved of God.  They, too, need to know God’s love, kindness, and hope.  The only way most of them are going to have any opportunity to know this is for us to show God’s love and kindness to them.

So the challenge is before us:  Go out.  Don’t worry so much about how many are coming in.  Too often that worry is connected with how important we feel and how we can benefit, and Paul reminds us in Galatians that this is selfish and leads to a harvest of devastation.  We are instead to plant for the benefit of God’s Holy Spirit, the harvest of which is eternal life in Jesus Christ.  Go out.  God is already at work “out there” creating all things anew.  Let’s discover what God is doing and join in.  Go out.  God goes with you and me as we do.  Amen.

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