A Declaration of Dependence

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

This past Thursday many people in the United States gathered together to grill hamburgers and hotdogs, roast marshmallows, and light things on fire that go “boom.” What would the 4th of July be without a trip to the Emergency Room?

The 4th of July is known as “Independence Day.” However, I find it interesting as I read today’s text that it is not independence, but dependence that I find.

I know, this is about two different things. Independence Day is about this country becoming a separate nation. This passage is about disciples making disciples. But on this Independence Day weekend I want us all to read this text as a way of reminding ourselves that we are indeed dependent upon one another and dependent upon our God.

In last week’s text we read that Jesus was heading to Jerusalem, passing through Samaria. As he begins this journey he spoke of the challenges of being a disciple. Housing and relations don’t always go as intended. End of life issues don’t always play out the way we had hoped. But if you are truly dedicated to following Jesus, you press on anyway. Remember, anything worth having is going to require a significant amount of work and sacrifice.

Today we pick back up and we find that Jesus now has at least 72 followers (some versions say 70; it doesn’t seem overly significant to me). Our text finds Jesus sending these 72 followers out into the country to begin doing the work he has been doing: healing the sick and proclaiming that the kingdom of God has come near.

Now I want to make sure that you all see that Jesus did not send these followers out on their own. Jesus knows that he is sending them out to do work that will not necessarily be well received. He is sending them out like lambs among the wolves. So Jesus sends them two-by-two, using the buddy system.

This is the first and only line of the Declaration of Dependence for the Kingdom of God: We need God and one another.

We must work together. We must dream together. We rely on one another. We pick one another up when we stumble and help each other get back on track. And Jesus is going to give specific instructions to the disciples so that they can see just how much they need one another.

Jesus goes on in verse four, “Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.”

If these followers of Jesus didn’t feel like sheep among wolves before, surely they do now. No sandals on the hard, rocky, hot country roads? Sounds like bloody feet and calluses to me. No purse or bag to carry money? How will they buy snacks and meals and rent a room in the evening? They aren’t even to bring clean clothes, not a fresh shirt or even clean underwear.

Nope, Jesus sent them out with nothing but the clothes on their backs and their experiences with Jesus on their tongues. Oh yeah, and the ability to cast out demons and heal the sick. That will surely get some people’s attention along the way.

It seems clear to me that Jesus is trying to show these followers that God will take care of them through the help of God’s people. If God has truly sent them and is truly with them, they do not need to worry. Others will help in this mission; this mission that they could not complete as individuals. This is indeed a Declaration of Dependence.

The text goes on: Eat what you have been given; you deserve it. And “do not move around from house to house” (verse 7b). I think that the eating what has been put in front of you part is pretty clear. If someone gives you halibut and you don’t like fish, eat the halibut. It is a gift and you should never look a gift halibut in the mouth.

But what is the deal about not moving around from house to house? It would seem like a good thing to me to move around a bit so as to not over stay your welcome. Ben Franklin once said, “Guests, like fish, begin to stink after three days.”

The reason, as I see it, for not moving around from place to place was an issue of social status. When strangers come into town and they are in need, it is the lower-class, poverty-stricken that are usually first to invite them into their homes. But as these followers of Jesus came into town and began doing miracles, Jesus knew that the rich, upper-class people would be drawn to them and invite them to stay in their homes. But by staying in the homes of the poor and humble, these followers of Jesus are expressing the worth and value of those who first welcomed them into their homes. That seems like a Jesus thing to do.

So this is how they are to go into the cities: two-by-two, empty handed, ready to receive help from others. But what are they to say? So far we have not found anything about their message. That comes in verse 9: “Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

If the people don’t welcome the followers into their city, they are to shake the dust from their sandals and say, “Well, the kingdom of God is still coming. It is near.”

They didn’t come in and say that they needed to believe in Jesus or they would all perish. They didn’t invite the town people to say a simple prayer and receive Jesus into their heart. In fact, nowhere does the Bible talk about praying the sinner’s prayer and inviting Jesus into your heart. What they are saying here and throughout the New Testament is that the kingdom of God has come near. They are calling people to repent (change their mind) and believe (orient their lives) to the fact that there is a new king coming.

This language of kingdom would have been familiar to the Jewish people. They have been a part of a kingdom for over 1,000 years now. Let’s look at a chunk of scripture from 1 Samuel 8:4-9:

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

            Did God want the people to have a king? No! but the people were not content. All the other nations had a flesh-and-blood king who they could look at and see, reach out and touch. God was the only king that the Israelites had and God was the only king that the Israelites needed. But they wanted a king, so God gave them one, even though God knew that their king would just let them down eventually. Absolute power corrupts, absolutely. Even the “good kings” of Israel had their shortcomings, especially when compared to their original king, the Lord God himself.

This illustrates the freewill that God allows us to have. God could have resisted and never given in. But God concedes and gives this king to Israel. And I love the way that Peter Craigie puts it when he says that the kingdom of Israel was intended to be a negative object lesson. God allowed the people to have their king to allow them to see the shortcomings of the flesh-and-blood monarchy.

The kings failed to be the people of God that the Israelites had hoped they would be. And Israel fell.

This past week we made a quick trip to Ohio. It is always interesting to go home and see how some things change and how some others never will.

One thing that got my nostalgic bone itching was one of the first video games I ever owned. It was a Tiger baseball game that allowed head-to-head competition with another person or with the computer. The graphics are terrible, based on today’s standards. The game itself is awful, based on today’s standards, and the game is absolutely boring, again, based on today’s standards. Even the worst baseball-themed video game today would be vastly superior to this one.

But in 1985, this game was “the bomb.”

I realized as I played that video game for the first time in 20 years that we have come a long way from what was considered “good” in the 1980’s. But even the best baseball video game today doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing.

Who wouldn’t rather be out on the bleachers of some big-time ball park on a cool summer evening? The smell of the popcorn, the greenness of the grass, and oh my, the taste of that overprice hotdog. No video game will ever be able to match the real thing.

What God had intended for his kingdom with Israel was the real thing. That was the green grass, hotdog on a summer day kind of kingdom. Every kingdom is just a replica.

Now, like video games, the kingdoms of this world are getting better in many ways and some are far superior to others. We live in what I believe to be the best nation of all times. But if you think that this nation is what God wants it to be, you are missing the point. This is a better version of a video game, but even the best video game can’t match up to the real thing.

This is what Jesus sent his followers out declaring: the kingdom of God, the real thing, is near. What you must do is repent and follow Jesus our king.

I believe that as followers of Jesus we are called to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near. In fact, I believe that the kingdom of God is already among us, or within us, and will one day be fully realized. So how do we go about proclaiming this kingdom?

In years past people were invited into the kingdom of God using persuasion and guilt. I believe very strongly that we are all guilty of sin and need to repent and be forgiven. But this guilt-driven approach to kingdom living is becoming less and less effective every day.

Everyone needs to be forgiven by our God, but guilt will not make them see it. Ask some random person on the street what they did to celebrate the 4th of July and they may say that they can’t even remember what they did because they were so wasted on bath salts and liquor. They may have woken up in the bed of a stranger or on a street corner. I even had a friend from high school post on Facebook that she wasn’t sure how to answer her daughter when she asked who that person was that drove her home last night and why mommy didn’t know where her car was.

The fact that this friend was “bragging” about this experience shows that she does not experience guilt for her drunken night out on the town, which she can’t even remember. So any effort to explain to her that Jesus wants to forgive her would likely be met with, “Forgive me for what?”

But if you start to talk with someone about the fallen nature, the brokenness of this world, if you talk about how relationships are easily broken and at times quite meaningless, if you talk about how quickly we turn our backs on people in need, if you talk about how easy it is to misunderstand and misrepresent someone who has a different point of view from yours, when you point out how we have abused our good earth and our God-given resources, when you talk about the brokenness around us, most people will be quick to admit, “Yeah, I participate in that.” I’m a part of the problem.

Sometimes people need to know that the game that they are playing is just a video game and real life is out there.

I am currently working through a book called Prodigal Christianity which has helped me to better understand how we can invite people to participate in the kingdom of God without relying on our old methods of guilting people into the kingdom. Fitch and Holsclaw give three examples, which they call “On-ramps to the Kingdom.” The first on-ramp they note is that “God is reconciling you in all your relationships.”

The authors note that one of the greatest, and I would add least addressed, issues in our world today is that of isolation. We do not build relationships like we used to. Instead, we tend to have very surface-level and superficial relationships that do not require us getting to know other people and letting them into our lives.

Anyone that has been to a youth event in the last few years can attest to this. If you go to a youth-oriented conference or even a concert you will see teenagers on their cell phones, text messaging their friends while ignoring the people sitting right next to them. It is easier to type “lol,” than to talk about what you are experiencing with the actual human being beside you.

Fitch and Holsclaw note that we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation, noting 2 Corinthians 5:17-21. This is just as applicable in our relationship with God as it is in our family relationships, work relationships, political relationships, and neighborhood relationships. God is working to bring us back into right relationship with him and others.

This is the kingdom that Jesus came proclaiming. This is the kingdom that Jesus sent the 72 out to share. And this is the kingdom that caused Satan to fall like lightning from heaven. The kingdoms of this world are not necessarily a bad thing, but they are not God’s ideal, either. God intended for his people to be citizens of a kingdom of healing and hope, resurrection and reconciliation. We are people who need people. Today we declare our dependence.

Fitch, David E.; Holsclaw, Geoff (2013-02-01). Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (Kindle Locations 2963-2964). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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