Jesus: I am sending you on your way.
Disciples: What will it be like on the way?
Jesus: You will be like defenseless lambs among wolves.
Disciples: What do we take with us?
Jesus: Don’t take anything with you that will make the trip easier, safer or more comfortable?
Disciples: Who will take care of us?
Jesus: Some people along the way will be hostile. Shake off their dust and move along. Others will welcome you. Stay with them and be at peace.
Jesus: Just go. I will see you as you wander.
The first time, I traveled to a country in which I didn’t know the language, I went to Mexico to visit a seminary friend who was serving as a temporary missionary, while he learned Spanish.
One day, we went to visit a member of his congregation outside the little town where he served. We took a bus and then three buses and finally were deposited at the end of a dirt road. The bus driver could not or would not explain why we had to get off or where we were. It looked like the middle of nowhere. Scrub brushes and tumbleweeds. No people, no house or vehicle in sight. We were self-sufficient Americans, but let’s see what we didn’t have: we didn’t have a cell phone because there was a time people didn’t have cell phones, no car, no water or food. Our passports were back at the church. We didn’t have much money between the two of us. And did I mention that I didn’t speak Spanish and he was still learning?
We didn’t have long to be nervous before we had another reason to be nervous. A pickup truck came rumbling over the hill. I’ve never seen a pickup truck like it before or since. It looked like a pickup truck from demolition rally that had been left out in the sun for 50 decades. There were four men in the cab. They talked to us and about us and indicated that we were to get in the back of the pickup truck.
We debated our options. We didn’t have many, so we got in. We bumped along until we were covered with dust, passing no one and nothing, until a house appeared. We were tossed out, and the pickup truck rumbled off.
A couple of indeterminate age in traditional garb greeted us. You would have thought we were the long lost relatives they had been waiting years to see. They brought us into a one-room home about the size of my office. It was dark, but cooler than outside, with a dirt floor and mud walls. They gave us the two chairs in the house. A glass of water was offered to me, and despite all the warnings I had heard and heeded, I drank it.
My friend explained that they couple were speaking some Spanish to him. To each other, they used Nahuatl, the language of the indigenous people.
The man brought in green peppers from behind the house, and the woman began to cook. If there was electricity in the house, I didn’t see it. I know there was no bathroom. A few chickens walked over to inspect my feet.
The poverty of the place was so clear, and so was the generosity. I was served the most delicious Chili Rellenos I have every eaten. When a can of Coca-Cola – real Coca-Cola – was offered to me, my friend muttered, “You have to take it. This is so expensive for them. It is an honor. Drink all of it.” I’ve never enjoyed a warm coke more.
Somehow it got explained that my friend was an Episcopalian missionary and the couple said they couldn’t get into town for church. And my friend told them they could pray just where they were. And he had a little pamphlet from the Episcopal church that was written in Nahuatl and gave prayers to be said in the morning, at evening and at meals. We weren’t clear if they could read, but he told them that he could bring them a Bible written in Nahuatl and they were greatly pleased.
Before we knew it, another pickup appeared. The two guys in this cab spoke more English. My friend wouldn’t get into the truck until he had elicited a promise that the driver would return with the Bible in Nuahtl. The men assured us that the children of the couple would be able to read it to them.
One of the men smiled, broadly at us. “No church here,” he said in English. “You church!”
Two more trucks and we were where we were supposed to be.
Sometimes the biggest problem with plans is that they work. If that day had gone according to the plan would never have had that encounter. I would never have intentionally or willingly given up that much power to people I didn’t even know. I would never have been the recipient of the most extravagant hospitality I have ever known. The blessings of the kingdom would not have been extended a little farther. The good news of Jesus would have gone unspread. Peace would not have been shared.
But I am clear; it might not have ended so well.
Jesus knows this. Jesus knows that when he sends his seventy out, not all of their encounters will end well. Some will. But others won’t.
No matter how hard you try, you aren’t going to be able to control the outcome. Some people you visit will not share in the peace you offer. Sometimes whole towns that you visit will reject you.
What Jesus is concerned about is the people who will receive the good news, those who will welcome the kingdom of God, those long for a message of peace and wholeness. Get out there and find who will receive you, receive me, receive the God who sends me. That’s his objective, his goal, his definition of success.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the mainline Protestant church in North America and Europe is that much of our whole plan for ministry was designed to welcome people in to hear good news. That’s what we trained pastors to do. That’s how we organized our congregations. That’s how we evaluated our success: how many people attend worship, how many people join the church. And that plan was effective for some decades.
But for all sort of reasons, fewer and fewer people come to church on their own now. That doesn’t mean they are not hungry for good news. That doesn’t mean they don’t need the message about the love of God. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to be seen as beloved people. That doesn’t mean that they don’t want to hear a word of power and peace and purpose.
It’s time for a change of plans. It’s time to be back out on the road, in the neighborhood, going where people don’t expect the church to be, maybe because they church let them down or didn’t seem relevant or they don’t even know what they church is about.
Us: That’s not why I joined a church. That’s not the way we did it before.
Jesus: The harvest is plentiful, and the laborers are few.
Us: This isn’t what I volunteered for.
Jesus: I wasn’t asking for volunteers. I am sending you. I am sending you out.
Us: We are unprepared.
Jesus: I have prepared you. I’m giving your good news to share. I am giving you the power of my Spirit. I am giving you partners to go with you. Shake off the dust when it doesn’t work. Settle in peace, when you are welcomed. It will be enough.
Jesus: Just go. You will see me on the way.