Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, August 17, 2018
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Praying For the Harvest

Galatians 6:1-16 and Luke 10:1-20

 Twice in his years of public ministry, Jesus sent out his disciples, two by two.  The first time, he sent out the Twelve; the second time he sent out 72 of his followers, or some ancient manuscripts read 70.  

 If the 12 Apostles represent the 12 tribes of Israel, then what does the number 70 or 72 represent?  In Numbers 11, God sends his Spirit upon 70 or 72 of the elders of Israel, and they begin to prophesy.  So that’s one possibility.  The other is that in Jewish thought, there were 70 or 72 nations in the world.  So this second sending out might represent an expansion of the prophetic ministry of proclaiming the gospel.  Or it might foreshadow the universal gospel message, meant for every nation.  I think the second is the better understanding, given Luke’s emphasis on the universal gospel.

 Jesus tells the 70 or 72 to go with urgency.  They were to travel lightly.  Their focus is on accomplishing the mission, not their own comfort.  They were not to greet people on the road.  That might seem rude, but I think Jesus is using hyperbole here.  Jewish rituals about how and when to greet people were rather lengthy, and their mission is urgent.  They were to accept support and hospitality, but they were not to abuse them for their own comfort.  

 Jesus tells them, “If they accept your message, that is good.  But if not, it’s on them, not you.  And it’s not really you they’re rejecting; it’s me.”  In the first century world, a messenger carried the full authority of the one who sent the message.  As messengers of Christ, we have supreme authority.  And if the message is rejected, it is really a rejection of the one who sent the message, not the one who carries it.  

 The gospel is only good news for those who receive it.  It is judgment for those who reject it.  Jesus says, “It will be better for the people of Sodom on the day of judgment than for those who reject the gospel.”  Sodom was the emblem of wickedness and rejection of God.  Yet it will be better on the day of judgment for the people of Sodom than for those who hear the gospel message, who hear the life-giving message of Jesus, and still reject him.  

 Our job is not to make people believe the gospel.  We should do our best to present it well; to make a compelling case for the gospel.  But our job is not to make people believe.  Our job is only to give people the opportunity to believe.  

 Paul’s letter to the Galatians reminds us that we are also responsible to watch over the family of God, and especially to correct those who wander away from the truth.

 Now Paul might seem to be somewhat contradictory in this section.  In verse 2, he says, “Share each other’s burdens.”  This is a reference to the Roman custom that a soldier could press people into service to carry a burden up to one mile.  But then in verse 5, Paul says, “We are each responsible for our own conduct.”  That doesn’t sound like “bearing each other’s burdens.”  That sounds more like MYOB:  “Mind your own business!”  Which is it?

 The answer is both.  We are responsible for our own conduct.  We are accountable to God for what we do and say and think.  We are responsible for our own obedience to God’s commandments.  But part of our responsibility to God is to look out for each other as the family of God.  

 In Genesis, there is a famous line.  Cain kills his brother Abel.  God comes to Cain and says, “Where is your brother?”  And Cain says, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  The answer is yes, you are your brother’s and sister’s keeper.  You are responsible to God for caring for the family of God.  

 Bear each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the Law of Christ.  The Law of Christ, some Bible scholars say, refers to his most famous commandment:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you were wandering down a path that led to your own death, would you not want someone to warn you, to call you back to life?  Then do the same for your neighbor, your brother, your sister in Christ.  Other Bible scholars say this refers to the example of Christ.  Christ cared for those wandering away from God.  Jesus spent his time with prostitutes, tax collectors, and other notorious outcasts and sinners, not with the “religious people.”  Jesus spent his time with those on the path to death, calling them back to life.  

 Both these texts have something else in common.  Both remind us that our true identity is found in our relationship to Christ.  

 In Galatians, Paul says, “Don’t boast of anything but the cross.”  The cross redefines our lives.  By the cross, we are dead to the world.  By the cross, we are changed into new people, the people of God.  In Luke, Jesus says, “Don’t boast because

of your victory over evil spirits.  Instead, rejoice in this:  Your names are written as citizens of heaven.”  

 Who you are is not simply a function of what you do.  You are more than just a messenger of good news.  You are who you are because you have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  You are a child of God through faith in Christ.  Our appointed work flows out of our true identity, not the other way around.  As new and forgiven people, we proclaim a message of forgiveness and new life.  

 Jesus also reminds us that our work begins with prayer.  We should pray for the harvest and pray for workers.  We should pray for those who do not know Jesus Christ and have not experienced new life in him.  We should also pray for those who knew Jesus at some point but have wandered away from him.  Perhaps they have lost faith.  Perhaps they have simply got too wrapped up in the cares of life.  Perhaps they have fallen into some sin and it has divided their heart from God.  

 One of the things I really believe to be true is that people are hungry and thirsty for God.  People want to know God.  We were created by God and created for relationship with God.  But many people don’t know they are thirsty for God.  They know they’re thirsty for something, but they can’t put a finger on what.  Others reject God because they don’t really know what he’s like.  They’ve only known a childish concept of God that doesn’t satisfy.  But deep down, we are all thirsty for God.  

 Not too long ago, I read a story about a survey.  They asked people, “What are the words you like to hear the most?”  The first answer was, “I love you.”  The second was, “I forgive you.”  And the third was, “Supper is ready.”  Friends, that is the gospel.  The gospel is God saying, “I love you.  I forgive your sins.  And supper is ready.  There is a place for you at the table.”  

 I want you to do something today.  In your bulletin there is an insert with ten blanks.  I want you to write the names of five people that as far as you know do not know Jesus.  And in the second five blanks, write the names of five people who had a relationship with Jesus, but they seem to have wandered away from it.  And then I want you to put it someplace where you will see it daily, and pray for those folks. 

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