Reflection: "God's Kingdom is Enough for All"
Have you seen the musical “The Fiddler on the Roof”, where the main character, Tevye, sings a song called “If I Were a Rich Man.”
In that song he prays, “Dear God, you made many, many poor people. I realize, of course, that it’s no shame to be poor. But it’s no great honour either! So, what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune?”
When his friend Perchik reminds him that “Money is the world’s curse,” Tevye responds, “May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover.”
I think this is a good illustration of the way in which even a poor man may be seduced by the desire for wealth.
Deep down, you and I are probably not very different from Tevye and by this, I mean that we need the warning of this week’s parable every bit as much as those whom we consider to be rich.
When we read the parable of the rich fool, we can’t help but think of famous rich people like Howard Hughes, Bill Gates in the US, or our own Gina Reinhardt. I don’t know whether they’re fools, but I do know that they’re rich.
I also know, from some of the reports that went out at the time of the death of Howard Hughes, that while he had accumulated a great deal of wealth, he didn’t enjoy any of it in his last days, perhaps his last years.
In this sense, he’s a present-day example of what Jesus was warning us about in our text.
The danger of us idolising a man like Howard Hughes, is that it implies the parable applies only to the rich.
To put the matter more pointedly, thinking of the rich fool in this text as Howard Hughes, enables us to not think of ourselves as “rich fools.”
This highlights a problem for all of us, as we probably think of this parable as pertaining to someone else – like someone really, really, wealthy, rather than someone like us!
But we have to remember that it applies to us as well as to those whom we might regard as wealthy.
By the standards of first century Palestine, most of us – if not all of us – would be regarded as wealthy, anyway.
We’ll examine this parable of Jesus under three headings: Context, Communication and Consequences.
Context of the Parable:
As with a number of the parables, a request made of Jesus, or a question posed to him, provides the context.
It’s not necessary to get into the Old Testament laws regarding inheritance, since Jesus doesn’t bother to do so.
The point is that there’s an inheritance to be divided and that the man wants Jesus to take his side in the matter. Apparently, he sees Jesus as an authority whose word his brother would accept.
The man doesn’t seem to be truly interested in justice, though, since he doesn’t ask Jesus to listen to both sides of the argument before rendering a verdict.
The answer to the question Jesus poses: “Who made me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” is obviously a reference to the passage in John 5:22-27, where it states that God the Father has made Jesus the Judge of all!
But I doubt that the man realizes this.
The man has approached Jesus as though he’s a judge, and he should have stopped to think about the implications of this, especially since Jesus is going to address the real issue that needs to be judged – which is the man’s true motive in seeking help.
The real issue with which the man needs help – is his own covetousness, which, as Paul clearly teaches in Colossians 3:5, is idolatry.
In our story, Jesus is unconcerned about justice; but he’s all too aware that this man’s covetousness will do him more harm than him not having his share of the inheritance.
Communication of the Parable:
It’s been suggested that this parable can be divided into four movements.
The First Movement – the Plentiful Yield of a Rich Man’s Field
Notice the way Jesus emphasizes the fact that the field itself produced a great yield.
He doesn’t credit the rich man with having accomplished anything great himself.
And as we move on, we see that the man’s response to the abundant yield of his field is not to thank God for being the giver of such a bounty, but rather he focuses on what he can do with it – ie. for his own satisfaction.
Thus, the man is falling prey to the very issue about which God had warned the Israelites when he brought them into the land in the first place.
The Second Movement – the Problem Presented by the Unexpected Yield
The man had clearly not expected, nor planned, for such a great harvest, therefore he has no room to store it.
But this would also mean that he has ended up with more than he actually needs, doesn’t it?
So, what will he do? What should he do? We find out in the next part of the parable.
The Third Movement – the Solution to the Problem
Here, there is no expression of thankfulness of God, or desire to use his unexpected gains for God’s purposes.
Why, for example, doesn’t he think of giving a greater “thank offering” at the temple, or of giving some of it to the poor?
What we see here is a selfish desire in the rich man to use everything for his own satisfaction and comfort.
In the process, he’s looking many years down the road, but he fails to realize that there may be other unexpected events that could take place - like what happens in the final part of the parable.
The Fourth Movement – the Unexpected Judgment of God
In this section, we find that even the man’s life and soul, don’t really belong to him!
This is why God calls him a fool, because he’s thought and acted as though all he has is his own, including his soul.
In reality, everything we have is a gift from God and now God is demanding back the life that he‘s given to this man.
What Jesus is doing in this parable is driving home a point that he’s made before, when he taught, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?” Luke 9:24-25
And so now – after having looked at the context of the parable and the communication of the parable – we’re lead, finally, to think about its consequences.
Consequences of the Parable:
One whose life is consumed with covetousness and earthly treasures, rather than seeing that all he has is a gift from God and therefore belongs to God, will end up like this rich fool – with absolutely nothing!
Indeed, they’ll have forfeited their own soul!
Being “rich toward God” means rightly acknowledging God as the source of anything good that we have, including our very lives, and we need to thank him for these things and set about using them to his glory, rather than for our own selfish and sinful desires.
Now, in conclusion, we have a reminder from the Apostle Paul, who followed Jesus in teaching about the dangers of storing up earthly riches and about the need to be rich toward God.
When we look at a significant portion of his teaching in 1 Timothy 6, there’s no doubt that Paul had learned the lessons of this parable and was duly inspired to teach the same principles to us.
I pray that we will also rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to heed this teaching and keep God and his glory as the central focus of our lives!
May we each come away from this teaching with a deeper reliance upon the Holy Spirit to enable us to “seek the things above, where Christ is,” as Paul said to the Colossian believers, and “to set our minds on things above, not on things on the earth.”
After all, what God provides is more than enough for us.
Blessings to you all……………….Pastor Rick
Reflection: "Master Pray-er"
Like the many of the self-help classes we see on TV, called various things like MasterChef, Renovation this or that, etc., today we’re going to have a master class in prayer.
And today’s lesson in praying comes from an expert, our Christ and Saviour, Jesus ben Joseph.
I understand how some people could easily become frustrated and disappointed with praying.
It might not seem to be working for them - and maybe some of you are in that same position.
Thousands of years ago the disciples came to Jesus asking: “Master, teach us to pray.”
He dealt with their question in three phases.
First: he gave an example of prayer (we now call it the Lord’s Prayer).
I guess that many of us are so used to it, that it’s sometimes hard to look at it afresh.
But if we make the effort, we’ll notice two things:
· It is incredibly brief, and yet
· It is remarkably broad.
Now that’s something!
During my life, there have been times when I’ve suffered from some marathon pray-ers.
I don’t know who holds the record for the longest prayer in the Guinness Book of Records, but I suspect that some of the long-winded contestants that I’ve known, would at least get an honourable mention.
Sincere they may have been, but one needed hard training to survive the experience of being a witness to the event.
In contrast, Jesus covered everything in about 30 seconds - now that’s what I call brief!
Only one who’s supremely qualified can offer that concentrated wisdom, yet it’s also very broad.
There’s nothing narrow, limited, or introverted about it.
Let’s look at how much ground Jesus covered.
Firstly: his prayer is God-centred, not self-centred.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
This puts God first - here we have worship, not religious self-indulgence.
Secondly: the prayer expresses hope and concern for the world.
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as in heaven.”
This lifts us above immediate frustration and petty wants, to the ultimate wellbeing of all.
Thirdly: now we come to a request that we may possess the basic necessities for existence.
“Give us today our daily bread.”
It’s a prayer for the basics, not for luxuries.
Remember that it says: “us”, not “me”, so it’s a prayer for the world family, not a request for our own needs.
This is very unlike some of the “want lists”, that sometimes sneak into our prayers.
Fourthly: It looks at our own spiritual needs.
After the request for basic physical necessities, comes one for our spiritual, personal needs:
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
We seek the mercy of God to set us free, to liberate from us from both the crippling burden of our own sins, and from the self-inflicted damage which is the inevitable consequence of nursing grudges against others.
Fifthly: May God have pity on our weakness.
The final words are a cry from the depths of the human heart; a recognition of our frailty in the face of temptations:
“Don’t put us to the test, but deliver us from evil”.
We pray to be saved from both the blatant temptations, as well as the subtle ones that are always at hand.
Remember I said it took Jesus about 30 seconds to say this brief prayer?
Ironically, it has taken me a lot of time to make these few comments about it!
The second lesson in this master class comes in the form of a story.
At midnight, a man has an unexpected guest arrive, seeking hospitality, but there’s no food in the larder.
The man has a neighbour, who is a good friend, one he feels he can dare go to in the middle of the night.
So he goes and knocks on his friend’s door, waking the poor fellow up.
His neighbour is not exactly thrilled to be dragged from his bed and he tries to send his friend away.
Nevertheless, because of the impudence of the request and the fact that the request is for a guest, he gives his neighbour the bread he’s asked for.
“There!” says Jesus. “Ask, seek, knock.... at any time of day or night - you won’t be ignored by God.”
It’s important to note that in this story, an analogy for prayer, the request is not for himself, but for another.
The midnight prayer is for a needy traveller and there is nothing selfish here.
It’s for the needs of other travellers through life, for whom we are told to ask, seek and knock on God’s door.
The story is not about nagging God for more goodies for ourselves, but about loving others.
The third lesson from the Master pivots on the words: “How much more”.
Jesus talks about being a good parent.
If a child asks for a fish to eat, a parent will not give them a snake.
Similarly, if an egg is requested, the good parent will not put a stone on the child’s plate. etc.
Contaminated by evil though we are, we know how to give good food to our children.
“If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give.”
You’ll notice again that Jesus is talking about basics.
Good food, not luxuries for the over-pampered.
Fish and eggs were the main source of protein in the common person’s diet. Not barramundi or coral trout, but plain stubby little fish from Lake Galilee; the ones now called St Peter fish.
And eggs - not caviar, but common hen’s eggs - basics.
“How much more will your heavenly Father give to those who ask him.”
Please note that the precious gift God supplies will be much better than the basics:
But maybe we don’t always want more of the right things from God, as we should.
Sometimes we want more of our own plans and purposes, ambitions, comforts, pride, stubbornness and ego.
Maybe we’re afraid that if we have more of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we may need to change in unpalatable ways. Perhaps we prefer our religion in moderation, rather than a full dose, and therefore we limit the depth of our asking.
How much more is God ready to do for you?
Maybe the daily times of prayer are not as difficult as we thought. Not as onerous.
If any of us find praying a task or a duty, then the cause may actually be a lack of self-honesty.
Could it be that we don’t really want to learn the lessons Jesus has given us?
Or maybe we’re reluctant to embrace the risks involved in asking God for more of the Holy Spirit?
The answers God gives us to our prayers are not always the ones we’re expecting, but that doesn’t mean he’s not listening to us and that we should stop communicating with him.
Do your times of prayer feel rewarding and satisfying, or do you find it a chore that you tend to put off?
I hope that these thoughts assist you and make your time alone with God an enriching experience.
My best advice is ……… keep praying……… God is ready to take your call.
Reflection: "The Right Thing"
Just when we think we’ve got the formula all worked out - the path to success is all laid out before us - the one easy answer that will earn us an A-plus for discipleship is within our grasp – Jesus throws a spanner into the works.
Last week we heard the well-known story of the Good Samaritan, in which the lesson was: “Go and do likewise“.
The Samaritan saw, helped, bandaged, lifted, took, gave, payed and promised, all of which are “doing” words.
This week we have Martha, who is doing and doing and doing – and all to exercise the virtue of showing hospitality.
But this time, “doing” doesn’t seem to be the preferred course of action - “Stop and listen” seems to be the answer.
So, what’s happened? What’s different?
Jesus has come to visit his good friends Martha and Mary and, as usual, Martha rolls up her sleeves and goes to work, preparing the dinner, chopping vegetables, setting the bread out to rise, making the salad, and changing her mind three times about which dishes to use - one set is too formal, but the everyday plates seem too plain.
She’s put the soup on the fire, but isn’t sure the seasoning is quite right.
She’s called Mary in to give it a taste, but so far, Mary’s shown little interest in helping.
Martha knows that the lamb could get tough if she leaves it too long, and she doesn’t want to over-bake the bread.
Perhaps it was a mistake to try a new recipe on such an important guest, but since Mary wouldn’t help her decide on the menu, she’s going to try it and hope for the best.
Should she have gone to the trouble of making seating assignments?
Maybe she should switch Mary’s place to farther down the table, since it seems she’s already spending so much time with Jesus. Phew!
Then, Martha pokes her head into the living room, hoping to get Mary’s attention, but Mary’s still just sitting and listening to Jesus, so Martha goes back to stir the soup, which has started to simmer.
I think Martha’s showing signs of simmering, too!
This story from Luke can really irk some of us and it seems so natural for the story to turn into an exercise of choosing between the two sisters – should we choose Mary or Martha?
Which of the sisters are we like most? Who is more important? More faithful? More valuable?
It’s so tempting to launch into an enthusiastic defence of Martha.
Where would we be as a church without all the Marthas?
Those who act and give and plan and budget and do and shop and cook and organize and sort and hold garage sales and scrape the wax off of brass candlesticks and make sure there’s enough wine for communion and unjam the photocopier and set up the coffee and cut the cake and make the name tags and ……. sigh!
All this, so that the rest of us can be like Mary and listen at the feet of Jesus, then, when the worship is over, we can go enjoy a nice morning tea which, if we haven’t noticed, someone else prepared.
Our common life in the church is dependent on the activity of many.
Martha wants help - and is that so wrong?
“Lord,” she asks, “do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Then tell her to help me.”
Jesus simply says: “Martha, Martha, you’re worried and distracted by many things. There is need of only one thing.”
We know, we understand, Martha isn’t just busy, she’s not just multitasking, she’s not just over-booked, over-scheduled and over-whelmed.
In fact, she’s distracted by doing a lot of serving - distracted by too much, and too many …... things.
But Jesus tells us that there’s need of only one thing.
Unfortunately, some days, it’s so hard to remember what the right thing is.
What if the point of the story isn’t to further divide Martha from Mary, or vice versa.
Not to pit the sisters against each other, not to choose either of them, but instead, to choose Jesus?
What if this isn’t a story about choosing between bible study and outreach ministries, between making time for nightly devotional study and hands-on service to others?
What if it’s not a story asking us to choose between being a Mary or being a Martha, but one of keeping our focus on Jesus, choosing Jesus, choosing the thing he’s asking of us, or offering to us, just now? But what is that thing?
In the book of Matthew, Jesus was asked the question “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
“This one,” he answers. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.”
This is the greatest and first commandment and a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
Hang on, that’s two things, isn’t it? Do this – but also do that.
Do this one thing: love the Lord your God completely, and, also love your neighbour as yourself.
The story of the Good Samaritan shows how one loves one’s neighbour with actions of compassion and mercy, going and doing, but then Jesus goes to visit Mary and Martha and we see Mary loving God without distraction, without worry, just resting and listening.
Martha was also serving and loving her Lord, but in a different way.
How will we know when it’s time to do and when it’s time to sit?
When to listen and when to act?
When will we meet Jesus in serving the wounded stranger and when will we meet him in our time of quiet contemplation and prayer?
“Do this and you will live.” Jesus doesn’t exactly spell it all out.
He doesn’t give us all the details - but listen one more time to how he helps Martha, or tries to.
Community is important in this story.
In the story of Mary and Martha, Martha does the right thing.
She invites Jesus into her home, but she doesn’t spend time with Jesus, or with Mary.
And at least within the narrative of the story as we have it, rather than speak with Mary directly and ask Mary directly for help, Martha does what we are all warned against for the well-being of community.
She triangulates: “Jesus, make Mary help me”, which is a divisive move.
In asking Martha to choose the one needful thing, Jesus is inviting Martha back into community.
He doesn’t command her, he doesn’t shame her, instead, he invites her, giving her a choice.
Come into the living room, because I want to be with you.
Will you choose me? Because in choosing me, you’ll also gain back your sister.
In choosing me, you may see your way clear to loving yourself, as well as your neighbour.
In her frantic rush, in her distraction by much serving, Martha is showing neither love to Jesus, nor love to herself.
Sometimes we need to say “Put down the lamb roast, Martha, and come join us by the fire.
There’s nothing you need to do to earn God’s love, or impress God, or prove anything to God – nothing!
There’s nothing you can do, or not do, to make God love you any less, or any more, than he already does.
Jesus looks upon you with compassion.”
I guess you have realised by now that we can’t really exist at either end of the spectrum.
We can’t be totally Mary, ignoring the tasks that need to be done, but neither can we be totally Martha, rushing around and not taking the time to listen to what Jesus has to say.
The hard thing for us to determine is where we should be on the Mary-Martha line and we need to be a bit of both.
Hopefully, the time and the circumstances will determine what actions we should be taking to totally honour Jesus.
If we can work these out, we can be true to his command and love God, our neighbours and also ourselves, by being more like him.
So, is there just one right thing?
I think it’s a balancing act and if we’re prepared to put ourselves in the background and focus on Jesus, then we have a chance of making the right choices and honouring his name in all that we say and do.
Reflection: “It’s Just What Neighbours Do”
Our story this week is set in a run-down, inner-city coffee shop, in a neighbourhood that’s known for being quite dangerous.
One day, a church minister comes in to get some coffee on his way to a meeting.
He sits down to wait, busying himself with the newspaper, not paying attention to the man in the opposite corner, who is clearly the worse for wear and sobbing quietly.
Just as the minister’s order is ready, in walks a church elder.
The two share a lively greeting and conversation as they wait for the elder’s coffee, with no acknowledgement of the man in the corner, who by now, has put his head down in his arms and is heaving with sobs.
In fact, as they leave, they comment to one another, “What’s up with that guy?”
As they leave, the next customer comes to the door.
She’s a young woman with short, spiky hair dyed in a rainbow of colours, heavy black make-up on her eyes and lips, wearing all black leather, with piercings in her eyebrow, lip, and several places in her ears.
The minister and the elder give her a very wide berth and both think to themselves, “What’s up with kids these days?”, as they leave the parking lot to rush to their next destination.
The young woman comes in and immediately notices the man sobbing in the corner.
She’s moved with compassion.
He doesn’t look too good, with a black eye and what seems to be blood matted in his hair.
There’s no one else around, as the barista’s doing something in the back and the minister and the elder have departed.
She sits down across from the man and states the obvious, “It looks like you’re having a hard time,” and added, “Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”
The man looks up with bloodshot eyes and sees a face looking at him with care and concern.
She’s been the only person who’s spoken to him in all the time he’s been there that morning.
She gets some paper towels from the bathroom and a cup of water from the barista, as well as the man’s coffee, and cleans up his wounds while he drinks and then he tells her his story.
The young woman quickly realizes that the man has been mugged and she proceeds to help him contact the police, as well as buy him a gift certificate from the coffee shop, so that he can order whatever he wants for the next couple of days.
She gives him a spare Opal card that she has, so that he can get to work and won’t get fired.
She even calls him at work later in the day, to make sure that he’s on the mend.
The man wants to pay her back, but she refuses and won’t even tell him how he can find her.
The young woman tells him that she’s a neighbour and that’s just what neighbours do.
The man says that he’s never seen her in this neighbourhood and thinks that her understanding of being a neighbour, is much broader than his.
She laughs good-naturedly and says to him he’s probably right, wishes him well, and hangs up the phone.
The man was left dumbfounded.
The distressed man was amazed and rightfully so.
As we hear this modern re-telling of the Good Samaritan story, it can cut us to the quick.
Sure, it’s full of stereotypes, but there is a grain of truth to each character, and we’ve probably all been in each of their shoes in one way or another.
We’ve been asked by God, through circumstance, to expand our vision of what it means to be neighbourly.
Like the people who would have heard today’s gospel story in Luke’s community, we have boundaries and rules that we have to live by.
In the Jewish culture of that time, there were rules about how men should treat women, parents should treat children and how Jews should treat foreigners like gentiles and Samaritans.
These systems set up a social order where certain positions of power and privilege were well maintained.
Their society was not that different to what ours is now - over 2,000 years later.
We have those sorts of systems in place, and they’re difficult to escape, or overcome.
Yet, this is precisely what Jesus was calling the people of his time to do, and I think it translates to our time, too.
Inheritance meant tangible goods back then – land, wealth, herds.
It was the promised reward to Abraham and his descendants who belonged to God’s covenant.
The Israelites were a covenanted people, and over time, the message of inheritance also included a future age to come.
But Jesus brought a different message.
Eternal life meant living a life in God’s kingdom and not sticking to the existing societal boundaries.
Jesus turns the lawyer’s challenge around to show that God’s sovereignty is over your whole life.
Reading and knowing the law isn’t enough.
Loving God, your neighbour and yourself, characterizes someone who is already living a life in the kingdom.
The gift of inheritance is now attached to a demand: “Go and do likewise.”
How do we go about showing that kind of mercy in our own lives?
The kind of mercy that doesn’t expect any kind of reward.
The kind of mercy that has no boundaries, as Jesus so cleverly identifies in his parable.
The kind of mercy that often has a steep price: being beaten for defending a defenceless person; losing money to help someone else get back on their feet; losing a job because you stood up for a colleague who was being treated unfairly; being the victim of vandalism after standing up to the neighbourhood bullies on behalf of an elderly neighbour.
The list can go on.
We all know these types of stories and must ask ourselves whether we are willing to pay the price of mercy - or will we just walk on by.
Being a true neighbour means that we’re living actively, not passively, in the kingdom of God.
Sometimes in our church rituals, like baptism, we’re asked by the minister “Will you do such and such”?
Our answer should always be, “With God’s help, we will.” (we can’t do this alone)
It’s clear that our work is never done.
We need to keep looking out for our neighbours.
They include: the marginalized, those of a different colour, people from a different culture, the old, the young, the ones missing all their teeth, those with the flashy car….. not just the one who is us.
What is surprising, is how difficult it is to show mercy to those who don’t fit inside our comfort zone, despite what we know Jesus is asking of us.
Living a merciful life is not defined as helping someone once.
Instead, it’s a life in which a person’s character is formed by the basic premise that they love God, love their neighbour, and love themselves.
To put it another way, Mahatma Gandhi was once quoted as saying:
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
The call of Jesus, to go and do likewise, is challenging and transforming.
Living out mercy, changes us as a people.
May we be blessed with God’s own mercy and grace as we strive to walk worthy of God’s calling in our own lives and communities.
Reflection: "The Harvest"
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few”, says Jesus in Luke 10, so he commissions seventy-two disciples to go out, in pairs, to spread the gospel (although some scholars talk only of seventy).
He didn’t exactly give them a locker room pep-talk before they ventured out.
No inspirational speech for sending out his followers into a plentiful harvest.
Instead, he talked of sheep in the midst of wolves!
Who would want to follow that directive?
And that’s not all the bad news that there was for these first Christian missionaries.
They’re commanded to go empty-handed, without even the most basic provisions necessary for the road.
No purse, no bag of food, no sandals.
Jesus was acutely aware of how perilous the work of the gospel would be and yet he told them to take no precautions as he sent them out.
As they disappear, two-by-two, into the dusty roads before them, Luke tells us that they are empowered to share in the work of Jesus because the peace that they give will be the peace of Christ.
This is why Luke is so careful to tell us that there were seventy.
Just as God commanded Moses to gather seventy elders to share the unbearable load of the wilderness wandering, Jesus appoints the same number and then pushes them beyond their comfort zones and into the world.
"Go on your way."
No longer safe on the sidelines, these followers are now sent out, to share peace and table fellowship, to cure the sick, to proclaim the kingdom of God.
In short, they’re called to live out and practice the faith that they had confessed, and it is in the performance of that command that the seventy are transformed from bystanders into active participants in the work of God.
But why did he command them to go empty-handed?
These disciples are to carry with them no money to buy things, no swords to display power, no food or supplies, no spare sandals for their feet.
They must leave all of these comforts and necessities at home.
They are armed with only a message: the kingdom of God has come near.
This is their proclamation, and it is their promise: the kingdom of God has come near.
They are to speak these words to both those who offer them hospitality and to those who do not.
They are to be ambassadors for Christ and live out God's vision for the world.
They are to practice peace, do justice, perform the faith.
After being with Jesus for so long and seeing what they had seen, after witnessing so many miraculous moments, these followers were then sent out to be doers of the word, to be kingdom carriers.
There’s something about the Christian faith that simply has to be lived to be understood.
There are some gospel truths that only make sense in the homeless shelter, or at a hospital bed, or on the steps of Parliament House, or in any one of the great number of places in the world where people cry out for mercy, for bread, for justice, for compassion.
Perhaps this is why they are sent into the mission field carrying only the message that the kingdom has come.
We might be tempted to disagree with Jesus in so strongly asserting that the kingdom has come near.
All you and I have to do is open the morning newspaper and scan the headlines, or watch the evening news on TV, to come to the conclusion that we don’t live in such a kingdom.
Wars rage on with little sign of stopping and poverty and hunger claim the lives of so many, while others live in security and comfort with more than enough.
Many are unsafe - even in their own homes, while others, in the developed world, might enjoy the security of gates and fences, there are still problems with drive by shootings, alcohol fuelled senseless violence, etc.
These are not the signs of the kingdom that we would expect.
In fact, if people, purporting to represent the kingdom, knocked on our door with no sandals, no food, and no money - we might be tempted to ask them to leave us alone.
But Jesus is insistent that the workers are to proclaim that the kingdom is near, to those who receive them, and also to those who do not.
But if the kingdom has indeed come near, what are the signs of its coming?
Let's look again at the instructions Jesus gives to his missionaries:
They are to enter a town, and where welcomed, they are to stay - that's accepting hospitality.
They are to eat what is given to them - that's table fellowship.
Then they are to cure the sick - that's compassion and care.
Finally, they are to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near.
Thus, in the faithful and loving ministry of the disciples, the kingdom of God in fact comes near.
Many Christians in our own time have begun to speak of the kingdom of God as a metaphorical and idyllic symbol of life as it will never be.
But this is not the message of Jesus to the seventy as he sends them out.
Instead, Jesus declares that, within the mission and ministry of these believers, the kingdom of God will come near.
Have you felt the presence of the kingdom in your own life?
Have you had those experiences when the thin veneer of ordinary human existence is broken, and the glory of God shines through?
There’s something about the Christian faith that must be lived, in order to be understood.
Jesus knew this, so he sent his disciples out into the world with only the message of the kingdom to guide them.
It was all they needed.
We can use our theology as a bludgeon, with which to beat others who can’t muster the faith we have.
We can shout louder, speak longer, or preach harder than anyone else.
We can be absolutely sure of our right answers and of the certain damnation of others.
We can stay in our comfort zones, safely hovering above any real engagement with the issues of faith that call out in our time.
But if we do, if we refuse to get our hands dirty and have our hearts changed - then we risk missing the kingdom of God, that has already come near in Jesus Christ.
We risk missing the terrifying and empowering journey that requires nothing but faith in God to sustain us and trust in fellow travellers to support us.
Jesus is sending us out into a complex and hostile world, like sheep in the midst of wolves.
The bad news is that all we carry is a message.
The good news is that the message is this: the kingdom of God has come near!
Let’s just close with a word of prayer.
Liberate us, O God, from all the burdens that we carry on this journey of faith, so that, like the seventy, we might welcome your kingdom - with open hearts and empty hands.
Empower us, O Christ, to share the Good News that the kingdom has come near and help us to demonstrate its coming through communal acts of compassion, justice, and peace.