Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 – “What if the means ARE the end?”
July 7, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell
Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’
16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” 17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
I am immediately curious when a story begins with, “After this…” My first question is often, “After what?” So I want to back up. Not too far; simply to a story that is told right before our story this morning. In that story from Luke, chapter 9, Jesus had just “set his face toward Jerusalem” for the first time. This is Lucan code that Jesus’ journey to the cross has begun. Jesus and his disciples had entered a Samaritan village. The Samaritans do not receive Jesus and the disciples’ response to this is to ask Jesus whether or not they should rain fire down from heaven and consume the village. Let that one sink it for a minute… Since when did it become an option for them to rain fire down from heaven?!
Fortunately for all involved, Jesus rebuked them (I like to imagine that he also rolls his eyes and gives himself a slap on the forehead) and they continued on their way in a mysterious conversation about foxes and birds.
After he rebukes his disciples’ raining fire plan, Jesus appoints seventy disciples to go into the towns ahead of him. He must figure they need some guidance as they announce that “the kingdom of God has come near” because he gives them some basic instruction about how to be a good guest. I like to imagine Jesus this way, “OK, tempers were running a little hot in that last town so here’s the game plan on visiting the towns – stick together, greet the people in peace, eat what they give you, and stay put – no trading up if you get a better offer.”
Perhaps more importantly, given the disciples penchant for retribution, Jesus instructs them on what to do if they are not welcome after they greet the town in peace. Jesus tells them to dust off their feet in protest (read: no need for fire) and still to tell them that that “the kingdom of God has come near.”
Jesus gave them a job to do and the means to get it done. The kicker is that the job Jesus gives them is still their job regardless of the townspeople’s’ response – an outcome they have no control over.
In the last few years, some faithful leaders of Augustana spent some time praying, reading scripture, talking, listening and working on a mission statement. Mission statements are one way for congregations to organize their life together – taking advantage of the diversity and gifts given to that congregation by the Holy Spirit. At their best, mission statements prioritize ministry decisions and mobilize a diverse congregation into action for the sake of Jesus Christ. Similarly to what Jesus does by sending out the 70 disciples in different directions for the common mission of telling people that the kingdom of God has come near.
If you would, please take your worship bulletin and find Augustana’s mission statement on the back cover in the upper right hand corner. Are we all there? Please read it out loud with me. “Guided by the Holy Spirit we gather in Christian community, reach out and invite, offer hope and healing in Jesus Christ, and walk humbly with God.” It’s lovely in its simplicity. And from my perspective, earns extra points for getting the Trinity in there as the guide.
Augustana’s mission statement is something I read and thought about during the pastoral call process. And it is mentioned occasionally in meetings here as a reference point when various decisions are being made or the future of Augustana is being discussed. By my way of thinking about this mission statement, Jesus has given Augustana a job to do and the means to get it done. The kicker is that the job Jesus gives us is still our job regardless of people’s response to us – an outcome we have no control over.
You may have heard the expression, “The end justifies the means.” People use this expression to justify doing anything and everything that they feel is necessary to achieve their goal, their intended end. Yet,this gospel story is all about the means. Jesus tells the disciples what to do and how to do it – the outcome, the end, the way people respond, isn’t within the disciples’ control. It makes me wonder if the means ARE the end – for the disciples and possibly for us.
Augustana’s mission statement is all about the means. Here’s what we are to do and how we are to do it, at least in general terms. The outcome, the end, the way people respond, isn’t within our control. Again, it makes me wonder if the means ARE the end. This is to say more explicitly that the means ARE the end for us, not for God. Because God’s going to do what God’s going to do as far as the end is concerned. We don’t control the outcome, God does. And I hear this as the very best of the good news.
While we’re on the subject of means, some of you may have heard the expression “means of grace.” Lutheran Christians use this means-of-grace language to describe the ways in which God comes to us, meeting us on our level. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) website offers a quick explanation of the means of grace. It goes like this…
“Jesus Christ is the living and abiding Word of God. By the power of the Spirit, this very Word of God, which is Jesus Christ, is read in the Scriptures, proclaimed in preaching, announced in the forgiveness of sins, eaten and drunk in the Holy Communion, and encountered in the bodily presence of the Christian community. By the power of the Spirit active in the Holy Baptism, this Word washes a people to be Christ’s own Body in the world. We have called this gift of Word and Sacrament by the name ‘the means of grace.’ The living heart of all these means is the presence of Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit as the gift of the Father.”
Jesus directs the disciples into the towns, giving them the means through which they are to proclaim the kingdom of God coming near.
The Holy Spirit guides this congregation by our mission statement, giving us the means through which our life together takes action.
And Christ the Savior commands us to make available the means of grace and to avail ourselves of the means of grace, giving us the means through which God forgives and sustains us in faith.
In these three situations the logic of the incarnation, of God coming to us, of the means as the end, is real. In these three situations the actual end, the consequence, the outcome is on God. For us creatures, who time again pressure ourselves and each other to bigger and better success stories, this is good news indeed. Thanks be to God.
 The Use of the Means of Grace (ELCA, 1997), p. 5. http://www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Worship/Learning-Center/The-Use-of-the-Means-of-Grace.aspx