Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may bring your peace to those around us for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Have you ever been away on a camping trip? Even if you are only going away for a few nights, you seem to have to take a heap of stuff with you: sleeping bags, something for shelter, folding camping chairs, cooking utensils, water, food, not to mention enough clothes to cater for every possible type of weather! Then there are the non-essentials to make the trip more enjoyable or comfortable: a camera, a good book, chocolates, a bottle of port and so on!
Don’t we all tend to bring so much stuff ‘just in case’? Then we get home wondering why we packed so much because we only ended up using half the stuff we brought with us!
Perhaps you have moved home a few times? Those who have will know it can be quite confronting. Even if you think you don’t have much stuff, when you have to shift it, you find you’ve got so many things you forgot you had, which includes many things you no longer use, but keep ‘just in case’. As your precious and not so precious belongings get packed away in the back of a truck, it’s like your life is passing before your eyes. Forgotten junk and valuable possessions are packed side by side. And no matter what lessons you learn with each move, most likely you’ll have more things to shift next time you move.
When Jesus sent out these seventy or so men, he made sure they packed none of those ‘just in case’ items. In fact, they even went on their journey without some of the items considered necessary. No money. No backpack. No shoes. Rather than going out well-resourced and well-prepared, they went out like beggars. Imagine going on holidays or a camping trip with nothing but the clothes on your back! Either you’d have to get used to going without, or you’d need to beg and borrow from everyone around you and be totally reliant on their generosity.
Yet this is how Jesus sent them out – totally relying on the grace and mercy of others. They were trusting God would send them people who would provide for their needs. They would leave behind all their home comforts and their security blankets and go where Jesus sent them. Would you do such a thing? Would you be brave enough to go where Jesus sends you, even if you feel vulnerable and unprepared?
Now, even though this was scary and needed a lot of trust and courage, it was also an excellent strategy. For example, what type of person might be receptive to a message of peace? While it’s theoretically possible a stingy and selfish person might accept a message of peace from God, it’s more likely a generous and welcoming person will welcome such a message. Those who had a heart to care for the needy also had hearts that were open to God’s words of peace and hope and mercy and life.
As the seventy went out, they may have wanted to go to the rich and impressive people, but they may not have been the ones who provided for them. It may have been some in the middle class or some among the poor people who provided for them. They may have had small homes and limited resources, but large and generous hearts. Those with stingy and cold hearts had no room for God’s message of peace. Those with large and generous hearts were open to God’s Word.
Just like you can’t force a crop to grow without good soil and without good rains, you can’t force the gospel message of peace on people who have cold and selfish hearts. Some fields aren’t ready to be planted. God may still need to do more work on them. After all, he’s the one who provides the seeds, fertilises the ground, and sends the rain and sunshine. We only reap what God’s already done. Don’t be upset if some don’t want to hear God’s message of peace. Yet, even though many may reject this message, there are plenty more who are ready.
When someone with a generous and helpful heart offered help to these messenger beggars, they were to go to their home and announce peace. If a person of peace was in that house, the peace rested on that person. Jesus doesn’t say whether the sent messenger was aware if the peace rested on someone in that house or not. He wasn’t to force peace or manufacture peace. His only job was to announce peace. Then God, knowing if a person of peace existed or not, would be the one to transfer the peace onto that person.
On the other hand, if no-one in that household was a person of peace, the peace remained with the messenger. Again, the messenger may not have been aware of a lack of peace transfer. The messenger only announces peace; God is the peace distributor.
Then, whether or not peace was received or not, they were to settle there for a while until the time came to go to a new town. They weren’t to go searching for a better home, a more comfortable home, a tidier home, a quieter home, a home with meals to their taste, or a better looking household. Once in a town and welcomed into a home, they were to stay put.
Do you ever find yourself in a conversation with someone, wishing you were somewhere else? You know, you act as if you’re listening and give all the right nods, smiles and comments, but your eyes are roving around the crowd to see if you can find someone better to be with. You want to be with your friends, and not always the person in front of you.
Just like God sent those seventy men to homes they may not have wanted to live in, God may send us to someone we don’t want to be with. It could be God wants us there for a reason. It takes courage and trust to remain where we are and let God use us in that place and with those people. The building of relationships is vital for the message of peace, and we don’t always get to choose the relationships. We don’t always choose who needs to hear the message of peace.
The building of relationships is vital and may challenge some current methods of outreach. While many people focus on getting people to worship and try to manufacture a wonderful experience in the hope they may win people for Christ, that’s not what Jesus asks for. If it was all about building experiences and dazzling people, God would have sent circus performers! God encourages relationships, not experiences. God doesn’t always work through the spectacular, but the ordinary.
In the same way, rather than going up to someone and saying ‘God loves you so much he sent his Son to die for you so that you may not perish but receive eternal life’ and then not care that they’re struggling with life, couldn’t care less they have health problems, or totally ignore the fact they’re hurting because of broken relationships, we’re instead encouraged to get to know the family, get to hear their stories, listen to their pains, cry with them, share their joys, and build a relationship of respect, love and trust.
Jesus didn’t tell them to do a quick evangelism door knock, but told them to live with them. Once they understood the people better, the gospel message of peace could be more specific to their particular pains and situation.
Being with them for a while brought another risk as well. Even though we may be able to fool people with a great show of love and faith and peace and joy for a while, we can’t fool them all the time. Over a period of time they could tell if the message we delivered was genuine or not by the way we lived. If we proclaimed peace, but put people down, gossiped behind people’s backs and acted selfishly, then they would learn the peace was fake and superficial.
The best messages of peace aren’t proclaimed from a pulpit, but lived in everyday life with all its troubles and temptations. As the messengers of God’s peace lived with a family for a while, they could see that God’s peace was real and genuine. They would know God’s peace as something trustworthy and life-changing.
Now, even though the sending of the seventy men to the surrounding towns to prepare for Jesus’ coming was a once off event, Jesus continues to send people out even today.
Jesus sends us into families and work places and clubs and schools and even among strangers. We don’t always get to choose these places and people. In fact sometimes we don’t even want to be there and long to be some other place. But Jesus may have sent us to proclaim peace and live in peace among them.
There may be times the peace we proclaim and live isn’t received by others. It may not be our fault. Remember we’re sent like lambs among wolves, so don’t be surprised those wolves actually exist and love to snap and snarl at our message of peace. Their hardened hearts may not be ready yet, but trust Jesus will continue to work on them in the hope they may one day receive that peace with joy and thanksgiving.
Yet there may be times we proclaim peace to someone and that peace is received. Over a period of time they’ve noticed we live in peace with God and with those around us. They notice the way we forgive. They notice we don’t seek revenge and payback like others. They notice we don’t gossip and put people down. They notice we encourage, lift up and care for those around us. They see us as peacemakers and peace-livers.
These men were sent out to proclaim the peace of God to others. This peace of God is the Kingdom of God at work, working away on stubborn hearts, in ordinary lives, and in everyday places. Therefore, may you too bring…
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.