4th Sunday in Pentecost

First Reading: Isaiah 66:10-14

10Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
  all you who love her;
 rejoice with her in joy,
  all you who mourn over her—
11that you may nurse and be satisfied
  from her consoling breast;
 that you may drink deeply with delight
  from her glorious bosom.

12For thus says the Lord:
 I will extend prosperity to her like a river,
  and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream;
 and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm,
  and dandled on her knees.
13As a mother comforts her child,
  so I will comfort you;
  you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

14You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
  your bodies shall flourish like the grass;
 and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants,
  and his indignation is against his enemies.

Psalm: Psalm 66:1-9

1Be joyful in God, all you lands; be joyful, all the earth.
2Sing the glory of God’s name; sing the glory of God’s praise.
3Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
  Because of your great strength your enemies cringe before you.
4All the earth bows down before you,
  sings to you, sings out your name.” 
5Come now and see the works of God,
  how awesome are God’s deeds toward all people.
6God turned the sea into dry land, so that they went through the water on foot, and there we rejoiced in God.
7Ruling forever in might, God keeps watch over the nations;
  let no rebels exalt themselves.
8Bless our God, you peoples; let the sound of praise be heard.
9Our God has kept us among the living and has not allowed our feet to   slip.

Second Reading: Galatians 6:[1-6] 7-16

 [1My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. 4All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. 5For all must carry their own loads.
6Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.]
7Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
11See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! 12It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. 14May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

Gospel: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

1After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ ”

16“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

17The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”


The Old Lion & the Fox

An old Lion, whose teeth and claws were so worn that it was not so easy for him to get food as in his younger days, pretended that he was sick. He took care to let all his neighbors know about it. He lay down in his cave to wait for visitors. And when they came to offer him their sympathy, he ate them up one by one.

         The Fox came too, but he was very cautious about it. Standing at a safe distance from the cave, he inquired politely after the Lion’s health. The Lion replied that he was very ill indeed, and asked the Fox to step in for a moment. But Master Fox very wisely stayed outside, thanking the Lion very kindly for the invitation.

         “I should be glad to do as you ask,” he added, “but I have noticed that there are many footprints leading into your cave and none coming out. Pray tell me, how do your visitors find their way out again?”

Let us pray.  Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON – Going in and out of the Lion’s den

We have gone from the mountaintop of Pentecost to the valley of real life where we encounter evil and are challenged to focus on our commitment to follow Jesus.  No if, buts or firsts!  To be a follower of Jesus is to have no place but Christ to rest our head and heart!  Today we visit Luke 10 that has become one of the models for our marching orders as followers of Jesus.  Jesus pictures God as a harvester preparing to collect the harvest.  He compares his group of followers to lambs facing wolves. These lambs, us, are sent out before he comes.  We are sent people.  We help to prepare for his coming.  This is kind of like the fox in Aesop’s fable, arriving at the den of the old Lion.  The Lion was defeated at the crucifixion but he still is alive and inviting us into his den.  How do we understand his welcome?  Is there a back door for escape from his den?

We are sent

Master Fox received an invitation from Mr. Lion.  The followers of Jesus are sent with the invitation from Jesus.  Both invitations are open to all but we notice the Lion’s has strings attached.  His welcome is not genuine.  His aim is death, not life.  Jesus’ intentions were genuine.  Jesus not only wants all to be invited but his goal is life.  Let us notice that he sends us out in community, in pairs to relate in homes.  This passage is not Paul preaching in the Forum or Peter speaking at Pentecost.  This has a certain warmth and communal feeling.  This passage speaks to us. 

         Our second son got a job after his freshman year of college, selling “the Book.”  He was promised $3000 for the summer and coming from the mission field, that sounded fantastic.  He and another guy were teamed up, dropped on a corner in a Midwest town and told to start door knocking to find a house that would take them in to sleep on their floor for the summer.  I had never heard of anything like that.  They found a lady who took them in and they slept on her floor and lived on peanut butter.  I made an emergency trip to the States that summer!!!  That ended any sales career for his future. 

         Those early followers were also sent out to find a home that would take them in.  They were not selling books for some company but sharing about their experience with Jesus who was coming.  Sharing our story is part of growing as disciples.  Most of us will not go door knocking but we do meet people every day and have opportunities to share our faith.  People are not forced to believe in Jesus, they are invited, often through the presence of another.  As sent ones and followers, our lives are not random or meaningless.  We have purpose.   Those early followers were not sent to convert people but to share about Jesus. Jesus is coming.  God gives faith but we often learn about that gift through others who are willing to share their experiences with us.

         We are sent people with a message. We are helpless as sheep before the wolf or an old lion but we are not alone.  We are part of a body and the Holy Spirit goes with us.  Jesus continues to describe the process?

No preparation needed.

         How many times do we hesitate to share our experience of faith because we feel we are not qualified?  This group does not seem to be uniquely qualified.  70 people means more than the apostles.  They were men and women and no special education was shared by all.  They were not seminary graduates.  They were ordinary people like you and me but they were committed to Jesus.

         I also note that these people didn’t need a purse, a bag, or sandals; and were not to be distracted by anyone on the road.  Not only were qualifications not mentioned but preparations didn’t seem to be important.  In Kenya, the people we worked with were nomads living in the desert.  It always amazed me that they started their journey to see someone with only their staff and spear.  They carried no suitcases of goods.  No 4WD cars were driven with spare parts.  A spear for snakes or lions and perhaps a small gourd of water but otherwise they went forth, convinced that they would be received with generosity.  The host would be required to kill a goat!  How different from us Westerners who arrived with shipments of goods to ensure our former lifestyle.  No preparations perhaps implies an assurance that God goes with us and will give us the words and will lead us to the right people who will be receptive. 

         Do we see God’s hand directing and leading us in our daily encounters?  Our news today certainly talks about the fear of the stranger and the potential danger from people who might be a mass murderer or carry a virus or be a foreigner with evil intent.  The ole Lion wants us to enter his cave but like the Fox, we fear danger.  Jesus sends us forth and says to not be afraid.  As we celebrate July 4th tomorrow, we might ponder those early pilgrims arriving on this continent facing all the unknown challenges and mostly armed with faith.  So what slows us down from sharing today?

         The 70 were not specially educated, not specially equipped, and were also told to carry a message of “peace.”  The animals in the fable visited the Lion to comfort him in his illness.  It makes me think of the angels singing to the shepherds in the Christmas story, “Peace on earth, goodwill to people.”  It is so easy to fall into the “you’re a sinner and need the message of salvation I bring” thinking, judging the other’s lifestyle before we know them and the factors affecting their life.  This Luke passage focuses on sending and bringing “peace” to share with another, not theological debate. When we are at peace with another, we are more willing to open our hearts and be transparent.  When we feel attacked we tend to become defensive and shut down.  The Lion was sly to fake illness.  We are sent with real peace, peace from above that the world does not give.  What are we sharing?

         Jesus tells the 70, if there is not the presence of peace in the encounter, move on.  No one will be argued into heaven.  Don’t waste spiritual energy chasing unreceptive hearts.  Perhaps the time is not right or perhaps you are not the right person.  Just because our heart is ready to share, does not mean the other is ready to receive.  Paul said that some of us plant the seed of faith, some of us water the seed, some of us are the manure, and some of us get to see the harvest.  May we not let rejection bog us down but be fuel for our prayers.  

         Interestingly, Jesus then warns the 70, “Do not move about from house to house.”  I would understand this to mean that we are to be people who bring peace and who build relationships.  We are not just engaging with people to tell them about Jesus but we are developing relationships.  The famous quote from the end of Matthew says, “go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all I have taught you, and I will be with you.

“…the kingdom of God has come near”

Now this is a heavy statement to end our day.  As believers we are not just saved from the guilt and shame of our sins, to use language of some preachers.  We are sent people bringing the kingdom of God near to others.  Just as we go with no special qualifications necessary and no special preparations needed, each one of you is God’s special representative right where you are.  We are representatives of the kingdom of heaven, an ambassador according to Paul.  So as we end this sermon, the question we might ask ourselves is what type of ambassador are we.  Would someone else recognize us as a representative of Jesus?  Do the words we speak let others know that Jesus is coming and cares about them?

     The Lion’s den did have a back door but no one could find it if someone did not tell them where it was.  Unlike Mr. Fox, we do not have a choice about being in the Lion’s den.  We do have a choice, though, about who we serve in that den.  The lion may look big and intimidating or perhaps large and inviting.  He may roar and look powerful.  But the truth is that he is old, claws are frayed, and strength is limited. We are sent with the truth to tell others that there is a door out of the Lion’s den. They do have a choice about whom they believe in and serve. There is a source of strength better than the lion.  The creator of the lion is coming and is inviting them to meet him and experience life abundant.

Let the people of God say, “AMEN!”

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