Where We Are
by Pastor Mike Fortune
February 20, 2010
- We are sent as sacrifices [Luke 10:1-4]
- To bring peace peacefully [Luke 10:5-6]
- To stay and heal and see [Luke 10:7-11;10:23-24]
As our intro vid revealed, for 56 years, David and Kimiko Kawakami have stayed by each other’s side. I’ve shared the privilege of knowing them the last three years while some of you have known them for many more. If you want to see the rest of their story on the DVD that TV Japan created after they visited us on November 7, 2009 here in Toledo First, I encourage you to stay today after church for Friendship Dinner. While we finish lunch, we’ll finish watching their story that brought them to where we are.
And where we are is what I also want to speak with you about today. Because paying attention to where we are is important. I was reminded of that this week. Jackie was working but came home to eat lunch with me. Afterward, I was on my way out before she was and noticed her car parked in the driveway behind mine. I made a mental note to turn more sharply on my way out of the garage. But once I saw down in the van and started backing up, muscle memory or lack thereof took over and I reversed right into my wife’s empty car crushing the driver’s side door and mirror! Wrecking my own car with my other car has got to be one the more embarrassing moments of my life.
So paying attention to where we are is important. Especially for a church. Because magnificent structures like pyramids and towers and cathedrals have to remain a priority for many years—and in some case, many generations—in order for the vision to be realized. And the most magnificent structure according to Ephesians 5:25 is the church. But the church is not a building—it’s people. That’s why Paul says that husbands, like David, should love their wives, like Kimiko, “Just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Which means, if we want our dreams to come true, in addition to firmly setting our goals and working hard towards them, we also have to live sacrificial lives. David and Kimiko have done this for each other for many years. And their story reminds us that as a church, as a group of people professing faith in Jesus, we can too. Hopefully, you’ll see that clearly in point number one. But before we go there, let’s read the Word in its entirety first.
Today we’re going to be reading the first eleven verses of Luke 10 in addition to verses 23-24. Last time we traced where we’ve been, as a church, since 1888. Today, we’re going to consider where we are now. Periodically, it’s a good idea to reflect on these things so it’s easier for all of us to see the forest and the trees. Luke 10:1 and following reads, “1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
5"When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' 6If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. 7Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. 8"When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. 9Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.' 10But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11'Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.' 23Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. 24For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."
I read verse one in 12 translations at Blue Letter Bible dot org. Nine of them said Jesus appointed “seventy others” and three of them including the NIV we’re using today said “seventy-two.” Manuscripts differ. But most go with “seventy others.” Which is interesting because Moses appointed 70 men to assist him in judging Israel [cf. Numbers 11:16-25]. According to Jewish tradition, based on the list of descendants of Noah in Genesis 10, there were 70 nations in the world then. And the Jewish Sanhedrin was made up of 70 members, plus its president. The number 70 thus played an important role in Jewish thought.
So when in verse one Jesus appoints “seventy others”, Jesus was either sending a not so subtle message about being better than Moses or he was just making up a number. Either way, one thing we know all manuscripts agree on is these people were in addition to The Twelve apostles since verse one includes the word “also.” Clearly, this is another group.
But he tells this larger group of disciples the same thing he told the twelve two years earlier with the woman at the well in John 4:35. “The harvest is plentiful.” That’s the good news. The bad news? There’s wolves. Look at verse 3. “3Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” Now, what kind of shepherd sends his lambs out to the wolves? That’s not how I remember Uncle Arthur telling me my bedtime stories! But as I’ve grown up, I’ve realized that Uncle Arthur didn’t always tell me all the stories Jesus told. And this is one of them.
Matthew and John both tell similar stories though. Matthew 10:16 says Jesus sent the twelve out “Like sheep among wolves.” True, he also said they were supposed to be shrewd as snakes and innocent a doves. But it’s the sheep among wolves that catches your attention isn’t it? John 21:15-17 describes Jesus re-commissioning Peter to “Feed my sheep.” Which was a common metaphor. In the Old Testament, Israel is often spoken of under the figure of sheep, and their leaders as shepherds. Ezekiel 34:2-16 and Isaiah 53:6 speaks of those who have wandered into sin “like sheep” that “have gone astray.” Psalm 23 speaks of the Lord as being our shepherd. And Jesus in John 10:1-16 describes himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. But again, what is good about going out to be devoured by wolves?
Well, not much. But who said they would be devoured? Jesus was sending them two by two. They wouldn’t be alone. And when he sends us, we aren’t alone either. Because the Holy Spirit goes with us everywhere we go. Even to the ends of the earth [Matthew 28:19-20]. But Luke doesn’t use the word sheep in his account. He uses the word “lamb.” Which to orthodox Jews and rigorous Samaritans would remind them of sacrifice. Why? Because at Passover, a lamb without blemish was offered daily at the morning and the evening sacrifice [Exodus 29:38-42], on the Sabbath day [Numbers 28:9], at the feast of the New Moon [28:11], of Trumpets [29:2], of Tabernacles [13-40], of Pentecost [Lev. 23:18-20], and on the Passover [Exodus 12:5] in addition to many other occasions [1 Chronicles 29:21; 2 Chronicles 29:21; Leviticus 9:3; 14:10-25].
But for Christians too, the lamb has sacrificial meaning because the lamb was a symbol of Christ [Genesis 4:4; Exodus 12:3; 29:38; Isaiah 16:1; 53:7; John 1:36; Revelation 12:11; 13:8]. Christ is called the Lamb of God [John 1:29, 36] and is the great sacrifice of which the former sacrifices were only types [Numbers 6:12; Leviticus 14:12-17; Isaiah 53:7; 1 Corinthians 5:7]. All of which leads us to point number one in Luke’s account of verse 3: We are sent as sacrifices. We’re not just followers of the Good Shepherd. We are his witnesses and if necessary, his martyrs. Paul says it this way in 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8. “As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We love you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our lives as well, because had become so dear to us.” The Greek word for witness is martureo / martyr. These are sacrificial terms. Similar to the phrase lambs among wolves in Luke 10:3. Which sounds alarming because it is. And so is the situation today in which we’re being sent.
I heard these stats at Ohio Ministry University a couple weeks ago. Much of the content of these slides I want to quickly share with you comes from the reputable research of Dave Olson at his website www.theamericanchurch.org but they echo similar studies inside and outside our church. If I go too fast and you want copies, send me an email and I will forward them to you. This first slide is a reminder that on any given weekend, there are only 17.1% of Americans that will be in any Christian church on any weekend. In Ohio, it’s a little better. 18.3% of people go to church on any weekend. In Toledo, it’s a little better at 19.8%. Utah is the lowest by far at 3.1% of its population attending any Christian church on any given weekend. And while they have fewer people attending any church on any weekend, over the last 8 years, less of them have stopped regularly attending church than the good folks here in Ohio. Utah’s church attendance has declined by 6.3% the last 8 years while Ohio’s has declined by 9.1%. I thought it was interesting in this slide that the most notable American decline in attendance is not in California or New York—places some people call too liberal. No, the state in the last eight years that saw the largest decrease in church attendance is in the good ole Midwest of Wisconsin at 19.1%. People are avoiding Wisconsin churches in droves.
But what about Adventism? Are we doing any better? Well, not really. The median age of an American is still 36 years old. But the median age of an Adventist American is 51 whereas the median age of an Adventist outside North America is closer to 26. According to Ken Burrill of the Florida Conference, sixty percent of Americans under the age of 40 have not walked into a church building. We are rapidly becoming increasingly irrelevant to emerging generations of Americans. So much so that America has already replaced the rest of the world as the largest mission field. This next slide is specifically talking about the ratio of Adventists to the rest of the population taken from 2007 data available in the October 9, 2008 edition of the Adventist Review, but similar slides from The Barna Group or The American Church dot org say the same thing about Christianity in general.
Here we see in America, there’s an Adventist for every 319 people whereas overseas in the South Africa-Indian Ocean Division ratio is 1 Adventist for every 71 people, 1 for every 86 in the South Pacific, and 1 for every 90 in the inter-America division. So aside from the 10/40 window, where is the largest mission field today? North America! The United States has become the largest mission field. We need to send missionaries as lambs among the wolves right here in America. Because as Jesus said, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. It’s time for each of us takes seriously point number one.
So in this kind of world, how do we take seriously this call to live sacrificially like lambs? I think the rest of Luke 10 answers this question. We’ll scratch the surface this week and tackle the rest next week so read ahead through verse 37. But today, let’s focus on verses 4-6 first. Similar to what he tells The Twelve in Matthew 10:9-10 he tells these “seventy others.” “4Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. 5When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' 6If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.”
How do we live sacrificially? Point number two: We bring peace peacefully. We don’t barge into town as conquerors or crusaders. We walk in. Humbly. With only the shoes on our feet and clothes on our back. But still we talk about claiming this city or that town. How do you claim a city the size of Los Angeles? How do you even claim a city the size of Toledo especially one that is predominantly Catholic? I’m not sure anybody can. And I’m not convinced we should.
Instead, I think God’s calling the new normal church to live lives with meekness and humility like lambs. We need more Christians willing to honestly demonstrate a willingness to learn from others, follow them around, and if necessary, die with them. How ironic is it that Ghandi, not a Christian, figured this out before we did? We’re watching Ghandi’s story tonight by the way during Film Fest. If you’ve never seen it, bring a friend and comfy pillow. It’s a long film. But it’s really good. We can learn a ton from Ghandi. He wasn’t Christian, but he proclaimed peace. He wasn’t Jewish, but he lived Shalom. We can choose to proclaim peace by treating neighbors as friends not targets. Because true friendship is unselfish, without condescension, full of confidence, and profound esteem.
Where we are as a church, as a group of God followers, is I think we’re learning to hurry up so we can wait with others for God to move in their context. In short, I believe we’re on the verge of becoming more and more like that second picture and mission of the church some of our leaders and pioneers longed for. You remember the handout I gave you a couple weeks ago? If anybody didn’t get one, see me afterward and I’ll give you one. There was this first picture from 1876 with the law and the commandments over shadowing the cross. And there was this second from 1883, five years before this church was planted in 1888, emphasizing the Lamb of God sacrificed on the cross. This second picture is the one we’re still longing for. This is a picture of true friendship. This is a picture of how you proclaim peace peacefully.
But true followers of Jesus not only live sacrificially and proclaim peace peacefully, they also know they cannot provide a thing for themselves. They notice that everything they have is God’s. All the money they make is God’s, not just 10%, and even the strength to make it comes from God. Everything they offer to others is a gift of God’s grace. That’s why I think Luke 10 says they don’t bring anything with them. They are literally without pretense.
And then lastly, point number three, they are here to stay and heal and see. Luke 10:7 surprised me. “7Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.” Whenever I’ve heard this passage preached before, it’s always verse 2 that’s emphasized in a discipleship boot camp manual for how to go door to door. But have you ever noticed that’s not what verse 7 says? Jesus isn’t saying our job is to tag team evil and root out the tares. Our job isn’t to seize a city, conquer it, convert it, or whatever. Our job isn’t even to go two by two to every door in our zip code. Our job is find one place and stay there. Verse 7 says, “Stay in that house! Do not move around from house to house!”
Why? Because magnificent structures like pyramids and towers and cathedrals and yes even groups of people like churches have to remain a priority for many years—and in some case, many generations—in order for the vision to be realized. In case you missed my mea culpa last week, I want you to know Jackie and I are happy where we are. I’m sorry I scared some of you a couple weeks ago when I implied otherwise toward the end of my last sermon. We are right where God wants us to be. And I’m thrilled with the progress we’re making in growing our corner of the kingdom of God in northwest Ohio. And I long to see more of whatever God has in store for us.
Verse 8 adds, “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.” Our Adventist commentary makes a point at this verse of saying that Jesus’ disciples were Jews going to the homes of Jews or devout Samaritans so of course the food they would be served in any of these homes would be clean according to Leviticus 11. But you know what? That’s not going to happen today! So what should a true friend do today? Eat the food! That’s what missionaries do in Cambodia today. So maybe that’s what missionaries in America should do too. Teach them about your body being the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit later on! Remember, peace cannot be given violently.
Verse 9 adds, “9Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.'” If we actually believed God could heal the sick, don’t you think we’d literally ask him to more often in prayer? But even if this healing is only spiritual, isn’t there enough broken ness in the world that needs this sort of mending as well? Stay in that house. Heal the sick and broken. Be in their lives. And while you’re there, tell them the same thing John the Baptist said in Matthew 3:2, the same thing that Jesus himself said in Mark 1:15, and the same thing that The Twelve apostles said in Matthew 10:7. “The kingdom of God is near you.” That will so mess with their minds they’ll be asking for your pastor in no time!
Verses 23-24 conclude: 23Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. 24For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."
Where are we as a church? I believe we’re at a place where we’re learning to be sent as sacrifices instead of conquerors to a dying world whose largest mission field is where we live. Point number one. We’re at a place where we’re learning that peace must be proclaimed peacefully. Point number two. And I think we’re at a place where we’re learning to hurry up and stay long enough in a place to heal what’s broken all around us. Point number three.
If as a church we do that, whatever building we gather in to worship, I’m convinced we’ll see what the prophets and kings longed to see and hear but did not. For 56 years, David and Kimiko Kawakami have stayed by each other’s side. And their story reminds us that as a church, as a group of people professing faith in Jesus, we can too.