08 July 2007

Sermon for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost - "Official Lambs"

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator, Jesus Christ our Redeemer and the Holy Spirit, active within you this morning. Let us pray: Heavenly Father, you gather us together so that we may be sent out in your name, to be peacemakers and proclaimers of the nearness of your kingdom. Fill our hearts with joy in your presence, courage to do your will, and wisdom to see the path which we must follow. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

Turn to your neighbor and share a time in your life when you were sent out on a mission. How did it go? Were you confident? Scared? Resentful? Did you complete your task? Did it go well for you? Take a moment to share among yourselves, and be ready to share with the assembly in two minutes. Go.

The story I would tell here is about the days when I was the director of the Wittenberg Society at the Lutheran Student Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. I was charged with beginning the reconstruction of Beta Sigma Psi Fraternity, Delta Chapter, and frankly I wasn't very good at it. For one thing, I am at heart a terribly shy person who does not like to be intrusive. For another thing, I wasn't entirely sure that fraternities contributed much to our campus environment. My job, however, required me to contact Lutheran men on campus and invite them into our new fraternity. This, as you might imagine, was incredibly difficult. I didn't meet with the same success as the disciples in today's reading from Luke. But I was recruited for the job by a campus pastor who believed in me – and in spite of my shortcomings, we did have a men's group that met regularly during the year I was their director. I was amazed at the end of the year to find that something good had happened – much as the disciples were amazed at the deeds they had done as Jesus' emissaries to the world around them.

Most of you know what it's like to be sent out. So put yourself in the shoes of the disciples this morning. You've been following Jesus for a while now, but today he is sending you out on your own. You've been part of a large crowd of followers; now you're going to be in pairs, with no one else to protect you. You've been listening to the words Jesus says; now you're going to be the one saying the words. You've been watching Jesus heal; now you're going to be the one curing disease. You've been watching Jesus graciously accept meals from strangers; now you're going to be the one to accept hospitality when it is offered to you. You've seen Jesus rejected; now you're going to be the one rejected. You've heard Jesus say, "the kingdom of God has come near;" now you're going to be the one proclaiming the kingdom, to those who accept you and to those who reject you. This is your mission.

There are a few things I'd like to point out about our reading today so you know what's going on here in Luke's gospel. First, you'll notice that there are at least eighty-two people following Jesus. The Bible says that Jesus "appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him;" we can assume that these others are additional followers of Jesus beyond the twelve. So the crowd following Jesus had grown quite large by this time. But seventy is numerically significant: it is ten times seven, a number of wholeness multiplied tenfold. In Genesis 10, there are seventy nations of the earth descended from Noah and his family. In Numbers, Moses appointed seventy elders from the twelve tribes to share the spirit of vision and leadership for the people of Israel. When Peter asked Jesus, "Shall I forgive my brother seven times?" Jesus replied, "No, Peter: you shall forgive your brother seventy times seven." There was an abundance being sent by Jesus – an abundance which God planted in the world by drawing these seventy to Jesus in order that they might be sent out.

But this was not a power team Jesus sent out. He said it himself: "I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves." And I notice the curious difference between Jesus' instructions and the disciples' report when they returned. Jesus told them that some houses would not share peace with them, that some towns would reject them – yet the disciples reported nothing but deeds of power over demons. Two possibilities arise in my mind to solve this puzzle. Either the disciples chose to ignore their moments of failure and emphasize their moments of success or these seventy disciples were successful beyond Jesus' own expectations. On the one hand, a large group of fresh recruits were so overwhelmed by their success they couldn't wait to return to share the good news with their Teacher; on the other hand, Jesus himself was surprised by what his Father had done through the work of these seventy disciples. The lambs survived their first brush with the wolves, and they rejoiced with Jesus over their success.

But it wouldn't always be this easy. These lambs continued to follow Jesus as he journeyed to Jerusalem. These lambs watched their teacher confront the wolves at the Temple and in the governor's seat. These lambs watched their Lord surrender himself to the wolves, offering peace again and again to those who would have none of it. These lambs watched their Christ lifted on a cross, crucified as a criminal, mocked by his own people as an impostor. These lambs saw what it would mean to continue to follow Jesus, to continue speaking in His name, to continue to proclaim that the kingdom of God had come near. These lambs saw that if they continued as Jesus' official representatives, they would suffer as Jesus had suffered.

And yet they believed, and they went out in his name. They went out in his name because they believed that the kingdom of God HAD come near in Jesus, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. They went out in his name because he had put his seal upon them and marked them as his own, and in nothing could the world take them beyond his reach. They went out in his name because he had intended for them to go out in his name all along. The kingdom of God comes near wherever Jesus is confessed as Lord and Savior, be it through the lips of Christ himself or the lips of the meekest lamb sent out in his name. Christ made it official: "Whoever listens to you listens to me…" The lambs he sent out were his official lambs, the ones bearing his name and his redeeming word to the world. They were his ambassadors, his emissaries, his lambs among the wolves – and they went out with gladness.

Where are you sent out today? You are, after all, an official lamb, one of the abundant many God has gathered to be sent this morning. I tell you that the same is true of you that was true of the lambs of Jesus' day: you carry on your head the seal of baptism, the seal that makes you an official lamb, one of God's ambassadors to the world. Whoever listens to you listens to Jesus – where are you sent to speak in Jesus' name? Is it dangerous to see the world as a place where you are one who carries within you the Spirit of God? Yes, but what does that matter? You are God's lamb – in nothing will the powers of this world hurt you beyond God's ability to heal. As a colleague of mine writes: "There remains on Earth––have you noticed?—the very real threat of powers and principalities. There remains the temptation to see ourselves as special, others as less than human; to kill in the name of the nation and tribe. Satan has fallen like lightning, but the armies of empire are not destroyed. And still the kingdom of God is very near." [1]

You mentioned earlier your experiences with missions, your fears, your successes, your sorrow, your joy. Know this, brothers and sisters: you have a mission before you today. Wherever you go, you go with the name of God imprinted on your forehead and the voice of God on your lips. In your baptism and the forgiveness of your sins you have been remade into an official lamb of the kingdom of God – and the world is your mission field. Go in God's peace, with the good news of the Lamb of God on your lips, empowered by the Holy Spirit to share the good news: "the kingdom of God has come near to you!" Amen.


  1. thank you. I like your imagery of the name imprinted on us, and the voice on our lips.

    And your opening question brought me back to a mission long ago that did not go well!

    p.s. cute baby.

  2. thanks, diane. now why did everyone think we were having a Lutheran throwdown? :-)

    ps: you mentioned the Wailin' Jennys a whila ago in another comment. if you like them you'll love Storyhill - try them on for size.

  3. thanks... I'll check them out.

    Maybe you just gotta be Lutheran, don't know.

    anyhoo... I know James doesn't "preach Christ" (still love Galatians best) but retain an affection after a professor called it "the survival of the minority opinion".

  4. that's pretty funny - and true. If you love Galatians then I suppose we can be friends. ;-)