In our Gospel reading this morning, we see Jesus sending seventy of his followers to prepare the way. They’re to visit every place he’s heading for; and they’re going there like lambs set among wolves. Jesus is under no delusions about the reality of the task: it’s going to be tough. But the instructions he gives to the seventy are simple and straightforward. “Announce ‘Peace’ to every household. Cure those who are sick. Proclaim to people that “The kingdom of God has come close to you.”
That’s very different from “by any means possible.” Here the means are matched to the end. To truly preach the Kingdom we ourselves must choose to live in the Kingdom. Last week’s reading from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians listed fruits of the Spirit that included peace, kindness, gentleness and self control. This week’s reading has Paul telling them, “Let us never tire of doing good.”
He then goes on to warn his readers that “Everyone reaps what he sows.” The Lou Reed song “Perfect Day” includes that line, turned round slightly, as Reed sings, “You’re going to reap just what you sow.” The song describes a day out with the girl who was to become his first wife. A day of simple, peaceful pleasures that allowed Reed, a troubled soul if ever there was one, to feel good about himself, to forget his confusions and demons.
The song tells the story of one person having time, patience, gentleness and love for another whose life perhaps is short of such things. You’re going to reap just what you sow. I think that in a nutshell that was the mission Jesus entrusted to the seventy he sent out, and to us as well. Mission may be a big thing that aims to change the world; but that big thing is made up of a series of single, simple acts of love and care.
Jesus sends us out to find where healing is needed and where people are short of love. And to say in those places and to those people that “the Kingdom of God has come close to you.” But that means the Kingdom must be present in us. Preparing the way for our Lord to come into broken places starts with us playing our part in the mending process - not “by any means possible” but by actions and attitudes that are true to the example of our Lord himself. We can’t manipulate or coerce people into the kingdom, or persuade them by reeling out flashy but hollow promises; only by living Christ’s way of gentleness and patience and love.
So our mission as Christians is to love our world into becoming receptive to Jesus Christ. Wherever things are broken, or people are laid low, ignored, or treated unjustly, Jesus calls us to say to them - people who’ve been hurt, abused, left out - that God knows and loves them, has a place in his heart for them, that they are invited in to his kingdom.
To do that, Jesus told the seventy they should carry no purse or bag, and not even wear sandals. To do mission we need to be vulnerable: too much protective gear can cut us off from those to whom we’re sent. There’s no circumcised and uncircumcised, says Paul to the Galatians. All are one in Christ. We in church are no nearer heaven - nor further away - than those who aren’t here with us. We just have a bigger responsibility, that’s all. Jesus sends his people out from the safety of our church buildings with this simple but tough task: “Go out and meet your brothers and your sisters, and show them my love.”
It’ll never work, they say. It’s naive beyond belief, they say. We know how society works, they say, and it don’t work like that. But it is how Jesus worked, and the only way we can truly and persuasively speak of him is to be like him. In our gentleness and our openness and our love. The means has to model the end. The end has to be visible in the means.
Now having said that, sometimes the brokenness we see around us seems just too big, and we ask “What can we do? Where can we even start?” People sometimes talk about mission fatigue, when we’re faced by complex and confusing problems, and can’t locate any one clear target to aim at, and the enormity of the task defeats us. The temptation is simply to withdraw to where we ourselves feel protected and safe.
Well, I’ve a cartoon at home that shows a huge block of stone, labelled “injustice”. Figures on the top are looking down, to where far below someone is chipping away with a tiny hammer and chisel. One of the people on top says to another, “Don’t worry, it’s only a Christian.” People who can only do the small things may seem not to be achieving very much; but when those little things are added together, they change the world. Desmond Tutu said something along those lines.
“You’re going to reap just what you sow.” Jesus calls his friends to show that love is the only redemptive power in the world, and to do that right where we are. God’s Kingdom isn’t somewhere far off, it’s close by us, because his kingdom is wherever people are daring to love and to give and to be open and gentle and kind. It’s wherever people choose to go against the world’s ways of neglect, manipulation and violence.
I do wonder what those seventy guys thought, what they feared, as Jesus sent them out. Were they thinking, “This can’t possibly work!” I might have been. But if they were, they came back completely changed, overjoyed at the signs they’d seen, and the things that had happened.
And maybe each one of the seventy had accomplished just some small thing, maybe one little random act of kindness. But the overall effect was that demons were turned back, that the bad stuff that messes people up was stopped in its tracks. Or as Jesus told them, “I saw Satan fall from his place of power. A wise old abbot was once asked what the opposite was of love. “Hate, surely,” said one of his monks. “No,” said the abbot. “Not hate, but apathy. Hate is a hateful thing, but at least it knows what it’s doing. Apathy does nothing, and pretends things are all right, or that the problems are too big to solve. Hate may campaign against love, but apathy simply ignores and forgets what love should do.”
My favourite image of love is love as a candle. Maybe only a small candle, but that single flame will drive back the darkness. There may not be much light, but it is no longer dark. And once one candle is lit, it can light more candles: light is added to light, and the darkness driven further back. Each single candle has the potential to flood the world with light. And love’s like that too. “You’re going to reap just what you sow” - maybe the seeds I can sow won’t amount to very much on their own, but if I hold back from sowing them they’ll achieve nothing at all. While if I am prepared to dare to sow them, they’ll become part of a campaign to change the world.