The Ride of the Seventy

a sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 9C/Lectionary 14]

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

(with apologies to Mr. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Listen, God’s children, and you shall hear
Of the daylight ride of the Seventy Peers:
On the road to Jerusalem, in Jesus’ day—
Hardly a man was along that way—
Who didn’t discover God’s kingdom was near.

Quite a crowd had assembled from every which place
To hear Jesus preach and perhaps see his face.
From cities like Capernaum and places like Nain
They had listened to parables and his Sermon on the Plain.
Some Jesus had chosen, some he had called,
Some were amazed while others were appalled.
Some came with demons that needed removed;
Others had arguments they wanted to prove.
But whatever the reason and whatever they sought
They were chiefly drawn in by the message he brought.

That message was old, but yet somehow new.
Foretold by the prophets, it was eternal and true.
Though people throughout the ages had doubted
And the news of God’s love had often been clouded
By unfaithful Israel and idols made of gold,
A Messiah would come, God’s people were told.
It was promised. It was sure.  God is faithful; that is certain.
And just when all thought God would never draw the curtain
On his time of great peace and justice with compassion
Along came young Jesus in God’s surprising fashion.

From Nazareth he came announcing good news
To the folks in the streets and people in the pews:
“Good news to the poor and sight to the blind,
Free the oppressed and the captives unbind!
Give thanks far and wide; it’s the Lord’s year of favor,
Show mercy to your enemy and love to your neighbor.”
For all of creation was this message intended:
For both Jews and Gentiles, and the places they tended
To mix together, like Samaria and Galilee!
And to others as well, from sea to shining sea.
Like the angels in Bethlehem had announced at his birth,
The peace of God’s Son was for all of the earth.

With tidings so important and compassion so great
Jesus’ message was urgent.  It just couldn’t wait.
Resolute and determined to get this word out,
Jesus started for Jerusalem on a circuitous route.
And, like I’ve said, the crowd’s size grew extreme:
He had more than the first twelve on his Gospel-word team.
So from out of that bunch he appointed a group.
He gave them a mission: through the towns they would troop.
Their number was specific, you could say ordained from heaven:
A round, righteous number: that’s ten times seven.
Seventy people, sent out two-by-two.
Seventy apostles with plenty to do.
He sent them ahead to each city and village
But not to loot or to rob, not to steal or to pillage.
Instead with their message they would send out God’s Word
That Jesus was the Savior and their sins would be cured.
Their instructions were simple, their directions were clear.
“Go to each little town and say: ‘God’s kingdom is near!’
Don’t carry a purse, don’t even wear sandals.
Knock on each door and pull on their handles.
Some people will listen.  Some people will laugh
Some people might run you from town with their staff.
This job is a tough one. The learning curve will be steep.
Sometimes they’ll feel like wolves while you feel like sheep.
But it’s the same with myself,” Jesus surely would say,
“Some Pharisees are still cursing me to this day!

If people should happen to let you inside
Then give them your peace and your time then there bide.
Let them serve you and feed you and tend to your needs.
This is help for your journey and reward for your deeds.

But if it should happen that you are ignored
And the people don’t receive you, or act like they’re bored.
Then don’t get depressed and don’t prolong your stay.
Just knock the dust from your feet and announce anyway
That God’s kingdom is near, whether they like it or not!
The message is for all people, for each and every lot.
But before you leave please let me remind you:
You are not alone,” Jesus said.  “I’ll be right behind you.”

And so, off they went, like sheep to be devoured
Seven times ten: every Tom, Dick and Howard.
Somewhat like Mormons, or Witnesses of Jehovah,
The Seventy set out; they went all over.

Yet soon they returned to their Lord with great joy
And fawning over their success like it was some shiny new toy,
Shocked at their ability to heal and to cure,
To preach and to teach throughout their whole tour.

“Jesus, you won’t believe it—or perhaps, yes, you will—
Some folks actually listened and couldn’t even get their fill.
We had power! We had wisdom! We had glory! We had might!
And we always won the battle when the demons put up a fight.”

And words of great praise to them Jesus did commend:
“What God promises, God ensures will come out in the end.”
The seventy had been successful throughout the land
Because Jesus had equipped them just as he had planned.
Though their message was short and their luggage was nil
They were armed with God’s promise and strengthened with God’s will.
That is all that they needed, along with their trust
That the Messiah’s message would accomplish what it must.
“But do not rejoice that you have so much power,
To affect people’s lives and to make evil cower.
Just take joy in the fact, you faithful Ten-Times-Seven,
That your names are written by God up in heaven.”
That is, your salvation is won not by your gain or loss,
But instead by the one who goes to the cross.

And that, God’s children, that you have just heard
Is the story of the seventy and their success with God’s Word.
They helped spread the message that God’s kingdom was nearing
And that Holy Scripture had been fulfilled in their hearing:
Sight to the blind and strength to the ailing…
God forgives all who sin—no matter what—without failing.
The message of the seventy echoes down through the ages
And speaks to us here throughout our life stages.
This is promised.  It is certain.  God is faithful, there is no doubt.
But this truth we suppress and rarely let out
For others to hear and to know of God’s love—
That their names, like ours, are written above!
Too often we think this message is only for us
Or that taking it elsewhere is too much of a fuss.
We’d rather people to come here to make our church grow.
We expect the pastor to be exciting and worship to be a show.
Often we get downtrodden and our efforts lackluster.
A few Sundays a year is all we can muster.
Or we look out at our world and there seems so much trouble
That we’d rather withdraw into a little church bubble.

But that is not God’s plan.  It’s just not God’s style.
His message will be sent out, mile after mile.
And even when the task seems too hard to start—
“if we just had more resources or maybe more heart”—
Let us remember how the Seventy were blessed:
We simply announce God’s kingdom and let the Spirit do the rest.
They weren’t allowed sandals, bag or a purse.
They weren’t allowed anything, even time to rehearse.
No building of stone to serve as their base
And no organ or choir for setting their pace.
They received no comforts to lighten their load
Of proclaiming the gospel when hitting the road.

But Jesus did give them something: he gave them his Word
And he gave them authority.  Though it sounds absurd
One thing must be said over and over again—
Jesus said it to the Seventy and to all women and men—
That is: the harvest is plentiful when God sends out his crew
Of apostles and disciples like me and like you.
The harvest is plentiful, and though the workers are few
It does not mean that God’s message won’t get through.
For as the Lord promises, the Lord ensures the way
And God’s kingdom comes, as we pray every day.
At our places of work or at the family dinner table
We are bearers of God’s peace, and God makes us able.
No matter where we are and no matter what our station
We are to announce God’s peaceful kingdom with great determination.
We spread it in deeds of kindness and grace
When we look on our neighbor and see Jesus’ face.
God’s message is not about which flag we salute
Which constitution we uphold or which trumpet we toot.
The whole earth is primed for the Gospel invasion.
It is time for us to listen and rise to the occasion.
We can be bold to speak and live the Lord’s peace
Because we know his love for us never will cease.

And as we continue in the Seventy’s tradition
God’s grace will sustain us in this radical mission
To live out our baptism, and bring forth God’s love
And announce the risen Savior is seated above.
Death is conquered for all.  By his wounds we are healed.
And our way through eternity by his blood is sealed.
Our message to all, if they still want to hear:
On Christ’s authority we say, “God’s kingdom is near.”

That’s the end of this rhyme for those Seventy Men.
Thanks be to God!  Alleluia!  Amen!

The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.

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