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TAKING ORDERSWe live in an age when few of us desire to be ordered around by anyone. A humorous story is told about a summer residents attempts to obtain some firewood while staying in a cabin near Caspian Lake, Vermont with a local NE farmer. New Englanders are an independent bred and this summer resident discovered just how ornery one Green Mountain farmer could be. One morning he called the farmer and said,
"Morning Mr. Black, I want to order some firewood."
In his deadly serious Vermont style, Mr. Black responded,
"Too bad, I don't take orders from anybody"1
To fully appreciate Mr. Black's response you have to understand Vermont
humor. It is a mixer of both tongue-in-check humor and deadpan honesty.
He was expressing a response that each of us would like to make to an order.
The Seventy Two also understood the importance of following orders. They had heard Jesus preach. They had witnessed his miracles. They had seen how he had touched people's lives. The time had come for them to be sent out to announce that the Kingdom of God was at hand. They were under orders to take the message throughout the land. God's plan of salvation was to be announced to the world, not just a select few people.
THOSE WHO ARE UNDER ORDERSIn reading this passages, one of the first insights that stood out for me was the criteria Jesus used to select the Seventy Two. In the military and in the business world assignments are usually made by assessing the needs of the job with the skills, personality, training and experience of the person. The goal is to find the best match. Some people tried to do this with ministers.
A few years ago, with a grant from the Lilly Foundation, a group of seminary professors conducted a research project to determine the proper qualifications and qualities necessary for ministry. They finally published a report, outlining the necessary training and personality traits necessary for ministry. The report included knowledge of church history, the Bible preferably with the ability to read the Bible in one of the original languages, theology, church government, a pleasing personality, familiarity with personality theory, organizational development, business management and several other topics. The report was quite thorough. A person could get exhausted reading it. I am quite certain that it will provide valuable insight to seminaries as they prepare men and women for ministry but try to imagine if you can, Jesus using the report to select and send the Seventy-two.
Picture in your mind Jesus standing before a large crowd. There could
have easily been a couple hundred people with Jesus the day he commissioned
the Seventy-two. This figure only includes the men who were sent. It does
not even include those who were not commissioned. Some men may have still
been struggling with their commitment. The three disciples who we talked
about last week may have been a part of this group. There would also have
been the wives and children of some of the men who were sent. The Seventy
Two would also not included single women who followed Jesus, some supporting
him with their own wealth. All of these people would have been with Jesus
All right, everyone who has completed the psychological assessment profile
over here and everyone who hasn't over there.
Jesus did not use assessments, or tested the academic qualification
of his disciples. He had only one qualification, obedience. His questions
to each man would have expanded upon this one theme, "Are you willing to
follow me? Are you willing to go where I send you? Say what I tell you
to say? And do what I tell you to do?"
SENT OUT IN GROUPS OF TWOAnother interesting feature of the passage is how Jesus sends them out-two by two. He does allow anyone to go alone. The story reminds me of the "buddy system" at Boy Scout camp. Every person had to have a buddy. Every so often, we had a buddy check. There is safety in numbers. If one person stumbles, another person is there to pick them up.
I cannot understand why we do not do this in the church. We assign ministers to be "solo pastors" and then wonder why they make mistakes and create conflict in church.
Pastors are expected to visit the membership alone. What a difficult
and demanding responsibility. So much happens during
LET GO OF THE BAGGAGEThe story also tells us that when are under orders we must let go of a lot of baggage. We must be able to move quickly, without unnecessary hindrances. Worries, anxieties, and fears that burden other people should not be a burden not because we will be free of all burden, but because we want to bear the right burdens.
The disciples were explicitly commanded to limit their belongings. While may not take these instructions in a literal senses, even figuratively they should convict us. I remember that their was once a time when all my belonging fit into a 72 Chevy Vega. It took two 24-foot trucks to move all of our belongings from WA to MI. I often wonder if we really need all that stuff but I am never able to figure out what I should give away.
We live in society consumer based society. Inherent in our thinking is more and better. Even if what we have does the job, we feel compelled to buy the latest edition. Jesus limited the possessions of his disciples, so that they would not be weighed done with the worries that come from keeping track of all those earthly possessions. This is why Carol and I are so adamant about tithing. It helps us limit are earthly possessions. By giving at least 10% of our income to charitable purposes, we remind ourselves that we are called to serve not to accumulate.
The topic of money and wealth is a critical topic of discipleship. In
a recent review of the gospel of Luke, I noted that over 30% of our Lord's
teaching addresses the disciples attitude and actions toward money. I do
not believe that a person can be a faithful disciple until they become
generous with their finances. And generosity does not begin until after
the tithe. Sacrificial living does not begin until a person has already
given the minimum. We must remember that while we surf through two hundred
TV channels looking for something to watch, a child does not have the money
to buy a book to read. While we walk through the super market talking with
our friends on our cell phone, a mother must walk over 5 miles carrying
her sick daughter to the medical station. While we play a round of golf
child buries his mother who died of AIDS.
REMEMBER YOUR LINEThe students had been working hard practicing the all school play. They were guided by a young woman who taught English at the school. She was a new addition to the faculty, She poured herself into those students and the play. In the afternoons when school was out, she carefully coached all the actors on their lines and helped them get their timing right. She would then dash to get some fast food, returning to the school in the evenings for rehearsals. Afterwards, she would often stay late at night, working with students on the props and pitching in on the painting of the sets. Unselfishly she gave herself to this moment in our lives.
Night after night, they rehearsed, and on opening night, they were ready;
they had the play down perfectly. The curtains opened; the house was packed
with family and friends; electricity was in the air.
What to do? Everybody was paralyzed as this unfortunate classmate squirmed and tried to remember what he was supposed to say. The young director was off stage. She was leaning forward, every ounce of energy aimed encouragingly toward the struggling kid on stage.
The script in her hand, she was just about to whisper his line out to him, when suddenlyhe spoke. It was not the line in the script - in his anxiety, he just made something up - but he spoke. Not only that, what he said happened to be funny, and the audience roared with laughter.
Everybody on stage relaxed; they had gotten past a bad spot and could now work past it. Unfortunately, though, the forgetful actor heard the laughter of the audience and liked it, so he made up another line. This, too, was funny...not as funny as the first line, but the audience chuckled. So, the actor made up another line, and another, and still another.
The other actors tried to respond to him, but they couldn't. He was out of control now, spinning off whatever came into his head. The performance disintegrating. The audience had now figured it out, and what little laughter was left was nervous and mocking.
Some how the students got through the rest of the performance. One student
did not remember how. All that he could remember was the director who had
given night after night of her time to work with the students and make
them ready. The woman who had poured herself into this play for their benefit,
stood in the wings and cried.
"Seeking first the kingdom of God,Even now and again, the tempter whispers in your ear, "Change the script!" "Make up your own lines!" Everything is at stake, and the one who has poured his life into preparing us is watching. We are under orders to read our parts not adlib. 2
1 William H. Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol.26 No. 3, p 6 quoting Charles T. Morrissey, Vermont Life, Summer 1995, p. 35.
2 William H. Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol.26 No. 3, p 6 citing Thomas G. Long, Whispering the Lyrics: Sermons for Lent and Easter Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., 1995
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