July 7, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of Him, two by two, into every town and place where He Himself was about to go, [saying]…‘The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.’”
Kingdoms on campaign may be a bit foreign to us. An expeditionary force seems like a thing of the past, something out of a history book. Perhaps the 150th anniversary commemorations of the Gettysburg Campaign have brought the concept back to our minds a bit. Some of you may have seen—or heard and felt—the recreations of the Shelling of Carlisle, how the Confederate Cavalry gave a demand of surrender to the mayor and the commanding officer in the town. The power of the Army of Northern Virginia was brought to bear against the unwelcoming people of Pennsylvania.
The kingdom of heaven is also on campaign. That is a good way to think about the past several Gospel Readings that you have heard during June and today. It is not a campaign of conquest and imprisonment. No, the kingdom of heaven marches on to bring deliverance and liberation. Jesus has gone from Galilee to the region of the Genesarenes to Judea. Along the way, there has been much activity happening from town to town. The ill are healed. The dead are restored to life. Demons are exorcized. Some remain enslaved, as they do not receive Jesus or His work. There is a constant movement headed toward the goal of Jerusalem, where the cosmic work of salvation will be done by Jesus, as you heard last week: “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.”
But the kingdom of heaven does not campaign with sword and rifle, cannon and horse. It does, however, carry a power with it. That is what you heard about in today’s Gospel Reading. Jesus sends seventy-two disciples out into the field with authority. They do not go with any earthly power. His instructions show that lack: “Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.” Yet, the kingdom of heaven comes with the authority that Jesus hands over to His disciples. That authority is not located in wealth or weapon; it is found in the words that Jesus’ disciples carry and the works that they do.
Jesus alludes to this authority when He describes the two reactions to His disciples’ work: “The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” With that statement, Jesus draws the connection between Himself and His disciples. Just as Jesus carried the Father’s authority into the world, so His sent disciples carry His authority into the villages that they visited. The people who received the message that the disciples carried actually received Jesus and His work for them. Those who would not receive the sent messengers actually rejected Jesus and the Father. Either way, the kingdom of God had come to that village; the question is whether the people would be incorporated into it.
These are the two opposite outcomes seen in the Gospel Reading. Jesus tells His disciples what they look like: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you.” The reaction to those words lead to two different results: “Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’” Healing is given to those who receive the words of peace that Jesus’ disciples bring. Judgment is spoken against those who will not welcome that message.
This forms the basis for what the catechism teaches about the kingdom of heaven. Recall Luther’s comments about the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also. How does God's kingdom come? God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” The kingdom of heaven goes on campaign because it is the Father’s will for it to be so. But are people incorporated into it? Do they welcome it as a liberating force that sets them free? Or do they reject it as something unwanted? Those are the two different outcomes in the present day, just as they were in ancient Judea.
So how is the kingdom of heaven being received here in Mechanicsburg? There are several answers to that question. First, there are many who have never heard the words of peace that Jesus’ disciples bring. They know nothing about Jesus’ identity and work. Without that happening, the kingdom of heaven isn’t received or rejected; it simply does not come to them all. That is why we are trying to ramp up our efforts to have that message of salvation brought to people who have never encountered it or who haven’t encountered it for a good while. You can read about that in this month’s front-page newsletter article—not just read about it, but also become involved with it.
Second, there are individuals who have heard the message and rejected it. They have been told of who Jesus is, what He has done, and what His will is for them. But it is not received. Some people contend that none of it is true. Others claim that the message isn’t one of peace or salvation, but of hatred and constraint, so they want nothing to do with it. Still others say that Jesus’ gospel brings comfort and hope for some people, but it means nothing for them—they find that in something else. And then there are some who actually desire the benefits that Jesus earns, but don’t want to be under His rule of discipleship—sort of being like an undocumented alien in the kingdom, but not a citizen. But each of these actually ends up being in the category that Jesus mentions: “The one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” And the day will come when the knocking of dust off of sandals is enacted as a permanent judgment.
Then there is the third answer. Remember how the seventy-two came back to Jesus and reported what had happened? “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!’” And what was Jesus’ response to that? Did He say that they were mistaken? Did Jesus reply that this was an impossible outcome? “And He said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’” The kingdom of heaven came to villages, and people were incorporated into it. Names were written in heaven—and not just the seventy-two names of those whom Jesus sent out. No, wherever Jesus’ message of peace and salvation was received, there more citizens for the kingdom of heaven were made. The campaign reached its intended goal.
But this is not just the case for ancient Judea; it happens now in Mechanicsburg. The healing that Jesus brings—healing of soul and spirit, resurrection of the body, forgiveness of sins—is received here. You listen to someone sent to tell you about the words and works of Jesus for you, and you believe his message. You want to be a part of it. Belief that your names are written in heaven becomes a matter of rejoicing for you. And out of that rejoicing flows the actions of active discipleship.
Those actions are what Paul mentioned in his letter to a group of Christians in Galatia who received the same message as you did—the gospel of Jesus setting them free from sin, death, and Satan: “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” This is the portrait of you as you receive Jesus’ message of salvation, even as it is taught by the one sent with Jesus’ authority to you. But those words are not a pious wish or a fantastic hope. No, when compared to the actions of what goes on here, there actually is a good bit of accurate comparison.
But there is room for improvement. Comparison of others is not the orders of the day. Rather, there should be honest evaluation about yourselves: “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.” I know where I have failed as a messenger. You should also know where your failures have been as hearers of Jesus’ words. But where the citizens of the kingdom of heaven have failed, there is to be a time of restoration: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” The message of peace and salvation is still present to be heard, just as Jesus’ forgiveness is given to you again this day. Hearing it again brings the rejoicing and the remotivation of active discipleship. This is all part of the kingdom of heaven’s campaign in the present day.
The kingdom of heaven is on campaign and will be until the fullness of time is completed. Its presence among you and its effects are not static. It is not a one-off type of deal. Instead, there is constant activity. The leading of godly lives here in time continues until Jesus returns. Faithful clinging to His holy word is to be steadfast among you. Since there are people welcoming the message of Jesus here, it will not move on to another town but will remain. You have not rejected Him or the One who sent Him, but have received His message. Your names are written in heaven because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The kingdom of heaven has come near to you; you are in it. So may the joy that Jesus’ message of peace and salvation causes be seen in your lives as disciples.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.