Sermon for the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost, July 7, 2019 – The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Isaiah 66:10-14+Psalm 66:1-8+Galatians 6:1-16+Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Some of you may know that, before becoming a priest, I worked as the Director of Human Resources for a faith-based non-profit in Philadelphia, Episcopal Community Services. ECS is a social services organization that, at the time, provided in-home care for the elderly poor, after-school programming, foster care for at-risk children, and a homeless shelter for women and children. We had about 160 full- and part-time employees, and a big part of my staff’s job was to sort through résumés and applications, perform background checks, and check references on all of these employees. It’s all part of the hiring process, not just at ECS but with any employer.

When I entered the ordination process, I underwent an intensive psychological evaluation, wrote reams of pages about myself, sat before bishops and committees and panels who assessed my suitability for ministry and went off to divinity school for three years to learn all the things I would need to know to serve in parish ministry  (which isn’t really the case, but that’s for another sermon). When I moved from the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania to the Diocese of Virginia, more background and references checks were made, and when I moved from Virginia to the Diocese of Newark, that process happened all over again. I can stand before you today and confidently tell you that I am not a crook, just in case you were wondering.

When Jesus sends out the 70 in this tenth chapter of Luke, he doesn’t do any of this. No psych evals. No résumés. No references. He just says, “go,” and they go. Is he out of his mind?

But that’s not all. The first thing these 70 are to do is to proclaim peace to any house they enter. “Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” (10:5), Jesus instructs them. They don’t assess the house or its residents for their suitability. They don’t check citizenship or employment or appearance or means. No, they knock on doors, walk in, and say “Peace.” And it isn’t God’s peace they are announcing! “And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.” (10:6). It is an utterly radical idea, that these followers of Jesus, untrained and certainly not properly recruited, have something to offer those to whom they are sent. They have peace, and that is the first thing they are to proclaim. Not “believe this and you’ll be saved,” but “peace be upon your house.” And it’s all pretty funny when you consider that just last week, James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven on an entire town that did not welcome Jesus.

It gets even more astonishing when Jesus tells them that wherever they go, they are to announce that “the kingdom of God has come near” (10:9). Not only are there no qualifications necessary on the part of those the disciples encounter, it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not the disciples are actually welcomed by these people. Nope, eat what they set before you and cure the sick if you are welcomed; shake the dust from your feet if you are not, and in either case, proclaim God’s reign.

There are so many things about this sending of the 70 that amuse and baffle. Where did all of these people come from, anyway? All we keep hearing about most of the time is the twelve disciples, and here there are 70 in whom Jesus has enough confidence to send out as apostles (because that’s what the Greek word for apostle means – one who is sent). And if there are 70 that he can send, that probably means there were a lot more than 70 hanging around. We are so inclined to imagine a small band of Jesus-followers, but by the mid-point in Luke’s gospel, when Jesus has now set his face for Jerusalem, he has enough people who have hitched their wagon to him to attract more than a little notice from the Jewish leadership and Rome.

He also seems to have no doubts about whether or not these 70 have the power to heal the sick. The working of miracles is usually reserved for the heavyweights, but Jesus has no qualms about setting that as an expectation, and guess what? They heal the sick and cast out demons, too! These 70 come home rejoicing, pumped about their experience of going out empty-handed and relying on the hospitality of strangers. Like all newly converted people, they have a zeal that is contagious. They feel invincible, which is why Jesus has to calm them down a bit, telling them not to rejoice about being able to control demons, but that their “names are written in heaven” (10:20).

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Over the course of our services today, we’ll have a little over 70 people pass through these doors or join us at Holy Innocents this afternoon. All of you have the same qualifications as those Jesus sent out. You show up here, seeking something. Maybe you don’t even know what that is. Those early followers may not have known, either. But they showed up, and that qualified them for the work they were given.

What is the work you are given to do? Are you to go out without money or suitcase and knock on doors? There are those who do. Are you to heal the sick and cast out demons? There are those with such gifts. I think for many of us, our work is to live our lives in such a way as to make God credible, as theologian Rowan Williams has said.[1] Live in such a way that the people you encounter recognize something in you that points to God, that reflects the peace that has been given you to share.

Jesus is calling us, all of us, to share that peace with a world that needs it. You don’t need to apply for the job. You don’t need a résumé. Just go. You don’t have to go alone. Take along a friend. Even Jesus sends them out in pairs. And do “not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9), as Paul writes to the Galatians. We spend so much of our lives trying to measure up, to prove ourselves worthy. With Jesus, we don’t have to do anything but show up. Jesus makes us worthy. We have been justified, as Paul writes elsewhere. No experience necessary. So go. You may be amazed at what God can do through you.


[1] Joseph Harp Britton. Abraham Heschel and the Phenomenon of Piety. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013) 287.

ASEPSermon for the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost, July 7, 2019 – The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas