The Task Force
Grace & Middle Valley United Methodist Churches
July 4, 2010
Luke 10: 1-9
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. 2He 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. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain 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. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
“To have heard God’s word is a great responsibility.” To have heard God’s word is a great responsibility! The idea here is not unlike that famous advice from Spiderman, “With great privilege comes great responsibility.” Because we know God’s word, because we have been changed by God’s word, we have a great task; the task that Jesus places on “the seventy” in this passage today. And like the seventy who Jesus sent out thousands of years ago, together with other believers, we are the “force” that is to be at work in our world today in Jesus’ name.
I don’t know about you all, but ever since I was a little kid, I have loved Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Now, there is a particular Peanuts cartoon that shows Snoopy sitting outside in the middle of a snowstorm. Wouldn’t that be nice at this time of year! Snoopy is shivering from the cold. Linus and Charlie Brown happen by and see Snoopy and his condition. They say, “There is Snoopy, let’s go cheer him up.” They go up to Snoopy and say, “Be of good cheer, Snoopy!” The next panel shows them walking off, leaving Snoopy in the same condition they found him, and feeling satisfied that they have “cheered” him up.
Surely Snoopy was quite happy to see Charlie Brown and Linus approaching him in the midst of the snow storm. And certainly, Snoopy was pleased that the boys cared enough to bring him a word of cheer. But Snoopy was likely equally disappointed when Charlie Brown and Linus walked on without covering him with a blanket, or inviting him into the house. Somehow, we have gotten a very limited idea of our task as followers of Jesus Christ. We are happy with the minimum; satisfied when we feel good about ourselves, whether or not we have done anything for our neighbors. But we have heard the word of God, and we have a great responsibility; a responsibility not only to spread the cheer, the good news that the kingdom of God is near, but also to invite people in out of the storms of the world, to heal the sick, and to offer peace in the name of Christ! And we have to be doing this now!
As much as Jesus is instructing the disciples and the seventy in this passage about the task they have before them, he is also conveying to them a sense of great urgency. This is the second time in Luke that Jesus sends out his followers, and this time when Jesus sends out the seventy, there is a note of real urgency. Jesus knows that he will not pass this way again; if people don’t respond to his mission this time, it may be too late. So Jesus’ messengers had to go with a word of warning as well as an invitation. To refuse this message, to ignore the word that “the kingdom of God is near” would mean courting the disaster of going the opposite way from God. That’s why Jesus’ charge to the seventy was so urgent and seemingly stern. And the message, our task, is no less urgent today. The kingdom of God has come near—this is true regardless of how long history is yet to last. Are we taking our mission with anything like the seriousness indicated here?
What Jesus asks of the seventy here is the same thing that Jesus asks of all of us, it is the mission of the church; that we would go before him, announcing the kingdom of God, sharing the good news, offering peace, and following our words up with actions of love for our neighbors. Yet it seems that the mission of the church has come to be regarded as something that only a few specially called professionals carry out. We are content to gather a few times each week for worship or study, and to let someone else interact with all those people beyond the walls of the church. But did you know that there are as many as 80% of the people in our communities that are not involved in a church, perhaps haven’t even heard the word of God, the news that the kingdom of God is near?!? “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few!” The sending out of the 70 recorded in Luke’s gospel reminds us that Jesus sent out not just the Twelve, but all his followers. We are the workers, we are the task force, and together with God in Christ Jesus, we’ve got a job to do, a harvest to gather in!
Think of your favorite writer, or perhaps your favorite musician or artist. Or how about your favorite historical figure. Perhaps it is one of our founding fathers. Or imagine the President of the United States, anyone of position. This person walks up to you, greets you heartily, and asks you to work with him or her on their latest novel, CD, concert tour, or even to help shape the course of history. That would be some invitation, wouldn’t it? To co-labor with a President, or a writer of the Constitution, or a great artist! Just imagine! But, alas, most of us will, more than likely, stand un-commissioned in this kind of endeavor. There is in my life and yours, however, a genuine commissioning that, if you think about it, far outshines any other possible call! It is Jesus’ call to “Go!” It is Jesus’ call to work with him and for him in order to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world! God has called each and every one of us to work together with God to create a new people for God’s Kingdom!
There is a lost world right outside our doors. People are struggling under the chains of depression, hopelessness, heartache, and pain, and anger. They are harassed and helpless. But they are loved, and many of them do not even know it. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. “Go! I am sending you….” Not only are we to encourage the work of others, we are to become harvesters ourselves! This is our great commission, the greatest we will ever have, our important and urgent task. There is nothing which supersedes it!
Indeed, there is much work to be done in the world, “the harvest is plentiful,” and we are to work together with God to get the job done. The world needs the message of the Gospel, and as those who believe and follow God’s word, it is our responsibility to get that message into our communities. And because this task is so urgent, Jesus helps us understand how we are to go about it; beginning with prayer. “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” And then, after we pray, we have to act, we have to get to the task at hand. “Go on your way!” Christ says! The mission and work of the church is not just intended for a select few; every believer can contribute to this mission in our own way and using our own unique gifts. Though, as Jesus warns, we will almost certainly face difficulties, like a “lamb among wolves.” Jesus seems to be counseling innocence and sincerity, vulnerability and non-resistance as a means of turning aside anger and danger. If we allow ourselves to get bogged down and stalled by the negativity of some we may encounter, then we will lose sight of our focus. And Christ expresses the essentialness of a singular focus, even to the point that he tells us to “carry [nothing] with us…and greet no one on the road.” How very important our work is, if we are instructed to not even greet people we pass as we go about our task! And in all things we are to offer a message of peace.
“Peace I leave with you. Peace I give to you,” Jesus proclaims. This is the kind of peace comes from a personal relationship with the loving, forgiving God! Peace we are given and peace we are to offer and give back. This mission is about love for God and love for our neighbors! Our task involves more than speaking a word; it requires that we follow it up with some action. We may not pass Snoopy freezing in a snow storm at this time of year, but we may very well encounter a person dehydrated from heat, or perhaps thirsting for the love of Christ in their lives. And when we have such an encounter, we should offer them the living water of Christ and invite them out of the storms of life and into the peaceful presence of the King.
As Christ’s church located here in the northern reaches of Hamilton County, we are called to deepen our relationship with our surrounding community. We are to reach out graciously; loving, respecting, and accepting those persons living in this harvest field. And as relationships with our neighbors are forged, well, the possibilities for the growing of God’s Kingdom are endless!
If we were to read on to verse 17 we would see that the seventy laborers “returned with joy!” They were exhilarated! Working with Jesus is the most exciting and rewarding thing we can ever do! It is worth more than any and all the treasure in the world! Nothing else compares! For when we answer Jesus’ call to “Go!” we become part of God’s task force, workers in his unfolding plan for history. We become a port in the storm for persons who are drowning in pain, misery, and darkness. And when we leave everything that hinders in order to work with God in the great harvest field, we are set free to be truly human, and find ourselves filled with such love for our fellow human beings that we can hardly contain it nor comprehend it! We may never be asked by a famous musician to help him or her with a composition. The President will probably never come and knock on our door asking us for advice. But Jesus Christ, the one through whom and for whom this world exists, comes to us. He tells us that “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” And then he entrusts us with the Pearl of Great Price, the Treasure of the Universe as He declares, “Go! I am sending you.” How could we not? To have heard God’s word is a great responsibility! How could we ever say “No”?
 William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 134.
 N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 122.