Pentecost 9C Sending of the 70 and More, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Little Rock, AR, July 7, 2019, Luke 10:1-12, 16-20

Pentecost 9C July 7, 2019

Sending of the 70. and More, Luke 10:1-12, 16-20

St. Mark’s

In the name of him who sends us out from this holy place. Amen.

Here we are in church on the Sunday after the American holiday par excellence, the 4th of July. For many the sound of firecrackers are still merging with the tones of the Gloria and the Sanctus. Perhaps you were at Christine and Tim’s American concert last Sunday or at St. Margaret’s on Wednesday when we officially celebrated the 4th on July or plan to stay for the patriotic songfest in the parish hall after the 10:30 service.

Many others may still be celebrating, but we are particularly here today because we have decided to hear what Jesus says on this American holiday weekend. Actually, Jesus does decide physically to come to St. Mark’s on this hot summer day to talk about his vision for us and the seventy.1/ I think I see him. There he is. He looks all worn out and tired./ His hair is a mess, his clothes are ringing wet with sweat and dirt. His sandals are about to come apart. He does have that determined look of Uncle Sam as he looks around at those of us here pointing his finger and saying, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, and I’m appointing you.” Then, he holds out those huge callused hands over our heads/ and gives a powerful prayer that travels throughout our bodies like an electric current, giving us authority over demons, illness, even death./ Jesus finishes praying/, and we timidly look around with one eye at our neighbors to see if anybody else looks any different on the outside. Then we reach into our head and heart to see if anything has changed inside of us./ Are we wiser, more competent? Not sure. But, we do feel blessed,/ and curious about what will happen next.

Then Jesus starts calling names: Jim, David, Kristin, Vicki, Sally, Tricia, Patti, Mallory,/ Kay, Lucy, Trudi, Kathy, Gina, Brent, Wayne, Jill, Donna Kay, Bill, Penny, Cindy, Robert, Susan, go build a Food Pantry./ Helen, Jan, David, Kim, John,/ Jerry, Vicki, Daphne, Robert, Linda, Steve, Joe,/ I want you to take communion to the sick. Lynn, Dean, Drew, Chanel, Michelle, Linda I want you to heal the sick. Celia, Viki, Bev, Marion, Joan, Cindy, Steve, I need prayer shawls. Tina, Janis, Freida, Bev, Len, Steve, Pat Gerre, Shirley, Carlene, Bob, Celia, Linda, Marie, feed the hungry and work with homeless veterans at St. Francis House. Mary, Susan, Tricia, Linda, Janis, comfort those who mourn. Janet, Ginger,/ go to Guatemala./ Cathy, Michele, Katherine Ann, David, Linda, go to the Stewpot. St. Mark’s youth, go help Hall High. Danny, Michael, Susan, Luke Ashley, Patricia, care for the sick. / Tracy, care for the LGBT community. DOK, Christ Care groups, pray for and serve others./ Leave wallets, pocketbooks here, everybody. You’ll be traveling on foot, maybe even barefoot. You won’t need a backpack. Make no reservations. God will provide. People will better understand your ministry if you are not encumbered with possessions./ Here’s what I need you to do: preach the kingdom,/ heal the sick,/ welcome the outcasts, cast out evil spirits. It’s summer. It’s July. It’s hot and I need a weekend off!/ You all have a great time. I can’t WAIT to hear the stories you bring back. Now get out of here! Go, go, go!!////

It may not happen exactly this way every Sunday at St. Mark’s, but it happens all the same. At the end of every service, while the last word of the last hymn is still ringing in our ears, the deacon from the back of the church says, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!.”

These are not words for the consumers of God’s love. These are words for the providers.

We have heard this story about Jesus’ sending of the disciples for so long, we may have forgotten our job descriptions. We forget that we are given exactly the same assignments that Jesus himself is given. It could have been different. Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us that Jesus could have insisted that we remain his ASSISTANTS, for our own safety, to avoid malpractice suits. He could have asked us to mix the mud while he heals blind people, or take off the bandages while he cleanses lepers, or hold the baskets while he feeds the hungry. Instead, Jesus TRANSFERS his ministry to us while he is still alive. With little training or instruction, Jesus sends us out “to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.”2

I am especially thinking on this national holiday weekend about people who politically hear this call and go out with the 70 “with no purse, no bag, no sandals, like lambs into the midst of wolves to bring Peace to this house.” Unarmed they “tread on snakes and scorpions, and all the power of the enemy.”//

In 1957, the parents of the nine black students trying to enter Central High are not allowed to accompany their children, but their ministers may. A call goes out to black and white ministers to walk with the students. Only two white ministers respond. One is a Presbyterian minister, Dunbar Ogden. His son wrote a book about his father’s experience called, My Father Said Yes. This is how Rev. Ogden describes that morning on September 4, when he first meets the students:3 “ I can’t say the children looked afraid. The word I would use to describe them is thoughtful. They looked just like any eight boys and girls of high school age, fine clean-cut, youngsters. I had an impulse to throw my arms around them and I thought: they’re so much like the young people in my church, so much like the young people in my home.

One of the Negro men came over to me and said, ‘Well, Reverend Ogden, are you going with us?’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ And he said, ‘Well, you know at 8:10 we’re going to start walking.’ And everyone was silent.

“And I thought something should be said, being a minister, I guess. I didn’t actually offer a prayer but I said, ‘Now, young people, you are doing something this morning that takes a lot of faith and courage. We don’t know what that mob is going to try to do to you. But we know it is a very bad situation. I want you to remember your own Martin Luther King and what he said about non-violence. There was a man named Gandhi in India and he had the same idea and he helped to win the freedom of his people. Of course, there was one whom we call Jesus Christ and it is written that when he was reviled, he reviled not again.’

And about this time, a Negro came over and said, ‘it’s 8:09 now. Are you going with us or not?’

I said, ‘I don’t know.’

And he said, ‘Reverend Ogden, isn’t it about time you make up your mind?’

And then, I can say more in retrospect, this had the effect of making me feel yes, I had to make up my mind whether I was going all the way.

And then I had a very strange feeling, that we describe as something of a prophetic experience. I had the strange feeling, as clear as day, and I felt this is right; this is what I should do.

There was not the slightest doubt but that I should do it. I ought to do it. And I felt this was the will of God for me, {and} every bit of fear just drained out.

‘All right,’ my father said. ‘I will go with you.’”3

In that moment Ogden makes a choice that will change his life, and the course of history. He walks down Park Street toward Central High. He does not look back. Shortly afterwards, Rev. Ogden is asked by his congregation to leave Little Rock. His son David who walks with him later dies a tragic death partially related to their participation./

We owe so much to these people and so many more who were sent out before us here in this city. //

So, take a midsummer’s break, a relaxing day waving the flag, grilling, catching a few rays as you tune in the last innings of the ball game,/ and continue to celebrate the Fourth of July on this weekend. Relax. Enjoy.

But remember that during the heat of the summer months Jesus reminds us in our baptismal covenant to go out of these doors just like so many BEFORE us.4 Somewhere along the way, Jesus calls each of us to leave our wallet, our luggage, and our spare clothes in the closet; we will take in a deep breath and head out into places we never imagined in the name of Christ. Maybe we will be sent to comfort a friend in the hospital, maybe to speak a word of reconciliation to a neighbor or a family member, or stand up for injustice at our work. Maybe we will be called to pack groceries at the food pantry for someone we will never know, or find out the needs of our surrounding neighborhood, such as Hall High School. We may even be called to take a courageous stand at a public meeting./ Each step will be into the unknown, but by the grace of God our work will become a part of God’s work. Satan will fall from the sky like a flash of lightning, and names will be written in heaven.

May you have a blessed holiday./

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

1Barbara Brown Taylor, “Heaven at Hand,” Bread of Heaven, pp. 151-155.

2 “Ordination of a deacon,” Book of Common Prayer, p. 543

3Dunbar H. Ogden, My Father Said Yes: A White Pastor in Little Rock School Integration, pp. 26-27.

4Thomas Long, “’Today is….’ A Sermon for Sunday, July 4,” Journal for Preachers, Vol 27, no 4, Pentecost 2004, pp. 40-46.