Sunday, July 7, 2019

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 66:1-7
Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18
Luke 10:1-20

For Yahweh says, ‘Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you will nurse. You will be carried on her side, and will be dandled on her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you. You will be comforted in Jerusalem.’

There is a place off the coast of Cornwall, England called St. Michael’s Mount. Over the years the mount was used as a port for tin trade, a monastery, a military outpost and a private home. It is a strategic and important property over which many have fought. As with everything in England, the written history comes with a sense of mystery and myth. There are several ancient legends connected with this special place.

One story talks of a giant that lived on the island that could easily walk across the causeway to the mainland to steal sheep for his lunch. A boy went to the mount to fight the giant and tricked him into falling into a hole. This tale became the story we know called “Jack and the Beanstalk.” There are also legends about King Arthur and the Celtic saints. The mount is named after Michael the Archangel because some fishermen claimed that they saw him standing high above the sea on a rocky ledge as if he were guarding it. Michael the Archangel is described as a mighty warrior angel that fights the devil, as in today’s story from Daniel. Many churches and religious institutions that were located on the top of a hill or mountain took the name St. Michael in honor of his feats in the heavenly realm, so it is no wonder that the legendary place off the coast of England would be called St. Michael’s Mount.

We had to take a boat to the island because at high tide the causeway is covered with water and the island is completely cut off from the mainland. The climb to the top is difficult, but worth the struggle because the views are spectacular. The tide began to recede while we were visiting and it was interesting to watch the people as the water receded. It was difficult to see the causeway from high atop the mount even though it was only a few inches below the surface, so it appeared as though people were walking on water when they began to walk back to shore.

The psalmist writes, “He turned the sea into dry land. They went through the river on foot. There, we rejoiced in him.” The Israelites crossed the Red Sea. The scriptures are filled with other examples of people making it through water. Noah and his family survived the great flood. The Israelites went through the Jordan, as did Elijah and Elisha. Jesus calmed the storm for His disciples. The visitors crossing the causeway could see that there was a firm foundation a few inches below the surface of the water, but the Bible characters made it through because they trusted God to see them through.

We were amazed as we watched the people walk over the water to the shore, but as the tide continued to recede, we began to see the causeway from a distance. As we walk our journey of faith, we often find ourselves in situations that seem as though we are going to drown under the waters of life. Yet, in faith we continue to walk, knowing the God will see us through. He is truly an awesome God, there by our side, making a pathway for our walk, even when we don’t see Him. He is worthy to praised; let us join with all creation in worship. The psalmist write, “All the earth will worship you, and will sing to you; they will sing to your name.” His works are indeed great and we are called to tell the world about all He has done for us.

People who have been called to missionary service far from home are sharing the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in places like China. Unfortunately, there are many that are determined and willing to do anything to stop the Gospel. We hear too many stories these days about Christians around the world suffering persecution, even unto death. Unfortunately, there are even some who claim to be Christian persecuting other Christians.

There is a group in China called Eastern Lightning. In 2017, a member of the cult beat a woman to death in a McDonald’s because she refused to give him her phone number and claimed that she was a demon. These cultists believe that we are in a third era of time: the Old Testament is the first, the Age of Grace is the second, and the Age of the Kingdom is the third. They claim that a woman named Lightning Deng is the living host of Jesus Christ. They are deceiving other Christians by infiltrating their fellowships. After they’ve gained their trust, they seek the aid of leadership and convince them to go to other villages to share the Gospel. The separated missionaries are then kidnapped, beaten and killed, leaving the village churches without leadership. One story tells how four missionaries were drawn away from the fellowship and once in the new village they were convinced to split up to do more ministry. “If you each visit separate villages, more will hear the Gospel.” They are vulnerable when they are alone.

Jesus sent His disciples on mission trips in groups of two or more. The reason for this is two-fold. First of all, they would be safer with a friend. The dangers of the road were great for anyone traveling on foot. Even more importantly, two witnesses sharing the Gospel confirm what is spoken. Two disciples together provide the physical, spiritual and emotional support needed so that they can witness boldly for the Lord.

J. Hudson Taylor wrote of his own experiences in mission to China in the book “To China with Love.” When he heard the call from God, it made him sad because obedience would mean that he would need to leave his mentor and friend to respond to that call. He was rejecting the call until one day he heard the hymn “The Missionary Call” which speaks of giving up friends willingly for the sake of the Kingdom. With tears, Hudson shared his call and his unwillingness to go. His friend, Rev. William Burns, answered those tears with the joyful news that he too had been called to ministry in China and that he too regretted that they would have to part company. They went together and served the Lord.

There are many that feel so alone in this world, as if they are the only ones able to accomplish the work of the Lord. They are like islands in a sea. Yet, we know that no man is an island and that God does not send us to minister alone. We have the support of our brothers and sisters in Christ, through prayer, encouragement, and even correction. We have the protection of God our Father, but even Jesus warned the disciples to be careful as they traveled because those who seek to stop the expansion of the Kingdom of God might bring them harm.

I once had a visit from a vacuum salesman. He came to the door at a bad time in our life; we were financial strapped with no extra money for an expensive vacuum. I was honest with the guy from the beginning. I told him that it did not matter how wonderful his product was, I could not afford to buy one at that time. He assured me that he would not pressure me, but if he just showed me the machine it would help him win the contest. I reminded him that it would be a complete waste of time but I let him in. He was a sweet looking young man, only about twenty years old. He was very polite and very talkative.

Throughout the two hour demonstration, he told me all sorts of stories about his family and friends and how much they love their vacuums. He described his own pets and his daughter and how the vacuum keeps them healthy. He let me try to vacuum and told me that he was glad that it was so easy to maneuver because he didn’t want his girlfriend to work too hard. He showed so much concern for everyone and offered his vacuum as the solution to every worldly problem.

I repeatedly told him that I could not afford the machine, but he talked about the financial savings I would ultimately have, claiming that the vacuum would take care of my carpet so that I would not have to replace it in a few years. When I was obviously not falling for his sales pitch, he went a little deeper. With each swipe of the vacuum he came up with a pad filled with dust and cat hair. He wondered what I felt about all the dirt and then asked what my husband would think if he saw all those pads. Eventually, his boss came by to see how things were going. He asked many of the same questions, each one designed to guilt me into buying this amazing machine for the sake of my family. I could certainly find a few dollars a month, couldn’t I?

I held firm, my financial status was exactly as I had told them in the beginning: I could not afford even a few dollars a month for a two thousand dollar vacuum. Sure I wanted one, don’t we all want the best of everything? I was getting quite bored and disturbed by their “non-aggressive” sales pitch. It was obviously deceitful. At the end, the young man even tried to feed on my compassionate nature by thanking me for taking him one step closer to winning the contest. “I only need three hundred demos. Of course, fifteen sales would win it for me.” His boss was not quite so considerate. In the end I had to threaten to call the police to get them out of my house.

This kid and his boss were not evil. They were trying to do their job. However, their methodology was exactly the way Satan does his job in this world. They played on feelings, tried to make me seem uncaring, played on guilt and negative self image. I told the salesman he should not have wasted his time, but in his arrogance he was sure that he could convince me I needed this vacuum. Yet, ultimately it was his deceit that lost him a sale. I was going to ask for literature, to consider a purchase in a few months when things settled down financially. I have since learned that these vacuums are not as dependable as the salesman made it sound. They don’t last forever. They break down just like the cheaper ones. We need to be discerning in this world because deceit is not only bold-faced lies. Sometimes deceit is subtle, packaged as goodness.

Paul writes, “Don’t be deceived. God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption. But he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” All too many people think they can fool God. They do good things, but their hearts are evil in. They do not live truth. Instead they try to manipulate the world around them to fit their own desires. Yet, in the end everything works for the good of those who love God. Deception pays off negatively, honesty will ultimately be rewarded. The salesman misread the situation. If he had given me a twenty minute spiel on the facts, I would have taken his literature and considered it for later. But he lost my interest because he took two hours of my time and tried to manipulate me into buying something I could not buy.

Those who try to fool God will be even more surprised. He knows the hearts of men and sees beyond the words and deeds they do. He knows our motivation, is familiar with our deepest lusts and needs. The things of the flesh will perish just like that expensive vacuum. But that which is of the Spirit is eternal, so that our life lived in faith will reap joyous blessings in Christ Jesus.

The disciples were sent out into the world to do something new. They were preaching a message that was built upon that which they knew, but it was different. There was talk of forgiveness and grace. It was a message for the whole world. At this point, however, it was given to the Jews. The Jews had been hearing this message for thousands of years, but forgiveness and grace was getting lost in the law. The Old Testament is not really different from the New Testament, because Jesus is on every page of the scriptures. Too many reject God as revealed in the Old because they prefer to worship a God of love, not wrath. They refuse to believe in a God that is not what they want Him to be. They forget that He still demands justice and righteousness, and that’s why we need Jesus.

God hasn’t changed. What has changed is that Jesus paid the price and we receive the benefit. We are saved by His blood. This was the promise that was given to God's people for thousands of years and was fulfilled in Jesus. The Old Testament people - the patriarchs, the judges, the kings and the prophets - all pointed to the coming of the Messiah. They planted the seeds of faith into God's people. They spoke about the promise to come. Those seeds had been growing in the hearts of God’s people even as the weeds of misunderstanding were developing. It was time to harvest those first fruits when Jesus came.

The seeds of faith were taking root; we see it in the crowds who followed Jesus. There were many who believed, although some of Jesus’ lessons were hard. In the end they were not ready for the cross. They were not ready to see the answer to their prayers hung from the tree and they abandoned Him, and yet those seeds eventually grew and the people truly began to believe. The stories of the early church show us that people were coming to faith as entire families and villages. Three thousand were added to their numbers at Pentecost! And more believed daily from then until today.

Jesus was just beginning to have an impact when He was alive. The twelve believed and left everything to follow. Seventy were sent out to share the Gospel message in today’s Gospel lesson. The field was ripe! Jesus was just one man and could not possibly speak to every single person. He needed help, so he sent the disciples and gave them the power to do what He had been doing. “There is so much to do and so few of you to do it.” They were sent to reap the harvest that had been planted for all those thousands of years.

We are just part of the process. Seeds are planted. Faith grows. People are saved. The Word transforms. We might be the one to plant the seeds, to help nourish and water the faith, to help other believers grow into the people God has called them to be. We are blessed to rejoice with them as they are adopted by our Father and become our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are part of this process, partners with God in the Gospel; even so, the workers are still few because the work is very, very hard.

Jesus told the disciples how to recognize if the fields are ready to be harvested. Jesus said, “Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ If a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.” It is almost as if the disciples could tangibly sense the coming and going of their peace. Can we really see peace rest on someone? I think we can. We’ve all known that person who has such a deep faith that they are not upset by anything. It isn’t that they deny the problems of the world, but they know that God is greater. They know that He is near and that He is in control. We can have peace even when we face difficult times.

Jesus never promised that it would be easy. He said, “But into whatever city you enter, and they don’t receive you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust from your city that clings to us, we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that God’s Kingdom has come near to you.’” The message of God’s nearness is meant for everyone. We are sent into the world to share that message so that they will begin to trust in God’s promises and benefit from His faithfulness.

Unfortunately, too many of us are too timid about sharing that message. We are afraid. We don’t want to offend; we don’t want to be rejected. We would rather live out our Christian faith quietly and privately, doing good deeds and letting God deal with hearts. It is His job to change those hearts, but He has chosen us to help. He has sent us to reap the harvest, to bring His people to His throne to worship Him forever. We can’t do that if we are too timid to share the Gospel.

Even if we do this work, we are reminded that it is not our power or words that save, but God’s alone. Paul writes, “But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” The successes of our ministries do not give us reason to rejoice. We rejoice in the salvation that comes from faith in Jesus Christ. We rejoice that our names are written in His book. Our mission is to help others find their names there, too.

In the Old Testament lesson, we are confronted by the image of a ruined city. The people had been exiled for some time and were returning home. They remembered the glory of Jerusalem and expected to see gleaming stone and strong walls. God saved them, but when they got back to Jerusalem they discovered that it had been destroyed. Their hope for safety and peace in a strong, safe city was shattered; they found ruin.

Yet, the message from Isaiah offered hope to the people. “You will see it, and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones will flourish like the tender grass. Yahweh’s hand will be known among his servants; and he will have indignation against his enemies.” God will deal with those who rejected those whom He sends. God will provide His people with peace. “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you will nurse. You will be carried on her side, and will be dandled on her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you. You will be comforted in Jerusalem.” When we face rejection and worse, there is still hope. God is in control.

Isaiah promised that they would see the day when God’s promises would be fulfilled, there was no reason to feel hopeless. It is easy to feel like the whole world has fallen apart, especially when it seems like so much wants to do us harm. We know that we can’t overcome it on our own, and we don’t know why God isn’t doing everything we ask. We are witnesses to God’s incredible power, but we fall into a trap when we believe that we have something to do with it. The disciples thought the hope rested in their ability to overcome the devil.

Jesus reminded them that they would not overcome the devil in their flesh. They would suffer persecution. Yet, in Christ they have a greater hope. They have eternal life in Christ; His blood bought the salvation that would guarantee eternal life.

Instead of voicing our joy over our good works or exhibiting pride in our accomplishments, it would do us well to join the psalmist singing praise to God. “Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! Sing to the glory of his name! Offer glory and praise!” There is plenty of work for us to do, and He is sending us out into the world to proclaim that He is near. With pen in hand, He’s ready to write more names in His book. Are we ready to use our gifts and opportunities to plant, nourish, water or harvest the seeds of grace in the hearts of those God is calling into His Kingdom? Are we ready to share His forgiveness with those who have been prepared to receive Him and His salvation?

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