Sunday, July 7, 2019
Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
When you were a kid what superpower did you want to have? Flying like Superman? Scaling tall buildings like Spiderman? What superpower did you want and how did you want to use it?
I thought about that recently when I saw a question on Facebook. The question was, If you could have a useless superpower, what would it be? Did you catch that; a useless superpower?
Here’s one response that came into that question: The ability to win at rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock every single time. Well, I guess that certainly is a useless superpower.
Here are some other responses: Whenever I pick up a sock, the sock next to it would become the matching one. O. K.
One guy responded: The power to be able to slam a revolving door.
Another said, When I catch a cold, the ability to know exactly where and when I got it. I guess that would be for the purpose of retribution.
And finally, Always knowing when to use a semicolon. That must be for an English major.
What about you? What useless superpower would you wish for? It’s a fun question to consider because we all want to believe that we have untapped powers within us, and that we would have the courage to use those untapped powers if a need ever comes up.
In our Bible passage today, Jesus sent out seventy-two of His followers as an advance team to prepare the people for His ministry. And He gave them power, superpower, to heal diseases and cast out demons. He also gave them authority to preach about the kingdom of God. And when the disciples got back, they felt like superheroes! But their superpowers weren’t useless. Far from it. They healed people. They cast out demons. And they accomplished it all through Jesus’ name! Jesus was pleased with their work, but He didn’t want them to get big heads because of it. So, He tells them, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
A good example is a woodpecker tapped with his beak against the trunk of a tree just as lightning struck the tree and destroyed it. He flew away all excited, saying, “I didn’t know there was so much power in my beak!”
When we bring the Gospel [to people] there’s a danger that we’ll think or say, I’ve done a good job. Don’t be a silly woodpecker. Know where your strength comes from. It’s comes from the Holy Spirit who can make a message good and fruitful.
The disciples were rejoicing in the things they had done. Jesus wanted them to understand that it was the power of the Holy Spirit that was accomplishing these things through them.
A father was mowing the yard, rushing to get it done before dinner, when his six-year-old son, decided to help him. The boy stepped in front of his dad and put his hands on the mower handle. And like any good father, he relaxed his pace and followed behind. The work slowed down to a crawl. Dad chuckled inwardly as he thought about how much he wanted to get the job done quickly. But the boy needed to help his dad. He needed to learn how to mow a lawn. And as slow and awkward as it was to share the work, it was an absolutely necessary part of father-son bonding.
That’s how our heavenly Father allows us to ‘help’ Him build His kingdom! I know the Father could do the work by Himself, but He doesn’t. He chooses to gracefully allow me, or us, to co-labor with Him. Why? For our sake, because He wants us to have the privilege of ministering with Him.
That’s how Jesus usually operated. He could’ve used miracles and wonders, or charisma and fear tactics to spread the message of the kingdom of God. He had the power to draw large crowds, and His teachings left His hearers amazed. So, why did He send out these seventy-two to do the work He could’ve done more effectively Himself? My guess is that it was for the same reason He gave us His last words to the church, of course, recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, was that we should go make disciples of all nations.
Jesus sent the seventy-two out, first of all, because He knew that they needed to see what He saw. They needed to feel the hurts and hear the questions from people who are living and dying without any knowledge of God, without any hope for the future. The seventy-two that Jesus appointed to go ahead of Him needed that experience as well . . . and so do we. We need to get outside these four church walls to see the needs that Jesus saw.
Jesus also sent out the seventy-two to do these works of ministry because you don’t really know what real joy is until you have put your faith into practice. It’s one thing to believe something with your head, it’s another for that belief to live in your heart. That only happens when you’re actively practicing what you preach.
What would it look like if we brought the kingdom of God to flophouses and soup kitchens and prisons and homeless shelters? Do we really believe in the justice and compassion and mercy of the kingdom of God, or do we just like to hear cheerful messages about it on Sunday? If the message of Jesus can’t hold up when faced with the cold, hard reality of people’s lives, then it’s not from God.
One kid described what it felt like after helping in a very poor community when he said, This is the best tired I’ve ever been. Like the seventy-two in today’s passage, this kid was rejoicing in the fact that God had used him for ministry. God had tired him out, and it was the best tired he’d ever been.
Don’t you think those seventy-two disciples would say the same thing about their ministry? Saying; this is the best tired I’ve ever been, or maybe they’d say, our lives right now are beyond anything we could’ve imagined. Those seventy-two disciples that Jesus sent out saw God’s power in action, changing lives, and they came back from their mission overflowing with joy. And Jesus celebrated with them. He said that their ministry was defeating the power of Satan on earth.
And that’s the third reason that Jesus sent out the seventy-two. He had given them power to drive out Satan. Now I must tell you some devout Christians believe in a literal Satan. Some don’t. For some, Satan is simply a name we give to the spirit of evil that sometimes inhabits the human heart. Regardless of how we feel about Satan, however, all of us will agree that we live in a world in which the power of hatred and injustice and cruelty are all too common. Where is the hope in such a world? It’s found in those who follow Jesus out into the world.
An enormous snake slithered into the home of some missionaries one day, and they didn’t know how to get it out. They ran to a neighbor, who came in with his machete and chopped off the head of the giant snake on their kitchen floor.
Problem solved? Not exactly. The neighbor explained that large snakes like this take a long time to die. The blood is still flowing to their muscles and nerves, even when their head is removed. So, the headless body of the snake was still thrashing around on the floor of their kitchen, making a lot of noise, acting like it was still alive. He told the missionaries to wait outside until they no longer heard the snake moving around.
The missionaries, still scared and sickened by the thought of the snake, did as they were told until it was safe to go inside. Then one of the missionaries said, ya know, satan is a lot like that big old snake. He’s already been defeated. He just doesn’t know it yet. In the meantime, he’s going to do some damage. But we should never forget that he’s a goner.
That’s why Jesus sent out the seventy-two into the world and also why He sends us. First of all, He sends us out because He knows that we need to get outside these four church walls to see the needs that He sees. Second, He sends us out because we don’t really know what real joy is until we’ve put our faith into practice. And finally, He sends us out because sharing our faith and alleviating suffering in our community have the power to drive out everything connected with the Prince of Darkness.
Jesus sends us out today like He sent out the seventy-two, to plant the kingdom of God in hearts and lives. After all, there’s no superpower that can compare to the power of knowing God through Jesus Christ. This is the power that gives life meaning and purpose. This is the power that gives us our identity and self-worth. This is the power that allows us to overcome the world. And if your life has been changed by this power, then you are called to go, to witness, and to share the kingdom of God and the power of salvation with a hurting world.