Invited into God’s Story, Welcomed at His Table

Sermon by Rev. Kristen Yates on Luke 10: 17-24

Originally delivered at The Mission Cincinnati on 9/24/19.

Audio recording can be found here.

Well good morning Mission Cincinnati.  It’s good to share God’s Word with you this morning.  

So, I recently came across a story on FaceBook that went something like this.  A man came across three stone masons who were working on the same project, and he asked each one of them what they were doing.  In answer to the man’s question, the first mason said that he was chipping away at a stupid stone and he was tired at this point in time, and he couldn’t wait until he finished his work for the day and went home.

As for the second mason, he told the inquisitive man that he was building a wall.  Now, while this mason seemed much more content and peaceful than the first mason, he still indicated that he was ready for the day to be over so he could go home.

And then there was the third mason.  When asked what he was doing, this man shouted out with joy that he was building a cathedral.  He mentioned nothing about going home, and went back to doing his work with great enthusiasm and joy.

These three men were doing the exact same work, but they experienced this work very differently.  In this story, it seems that only the third mason fully grasped how his work fit into a much bigger and grander picture. But because he did, he was able to experience joy and energy in his work in a way that the others did not.  

Friends, while this obviously is a made-up story, I think it has something to say to us regarding the way we live out our lives as Christians, especially here in America.  

We Americans are a pragmatic people.  So often we know how to get things done, and so we just get them done, even in the Church. If we have grown up in the Church, we know that there is work to be done to support local outreach, to support global missions, to teach Sunday school, to set up a worship space, to tell people the good news, etc.; you name it, and we do it.  We often sign up for these things because we know we are supposed to, not necessarily because we have seen the bigger picture and are compelled by that. 

But what if, friends, we were like the third mason in the story I just told?  What if we did all the things we do for the Church, because we were caught up in a larger vision of God’s love and purposes for us and the world?  

What if we did all these things not from a place of obligation but out of place of being securely anchored in and continually refreshed by God’s love?   What would our work on behalf of the Church look like then if we operated out of this new center?  

And what if, friends, now imagine this, what if we sometimes paused from our work for the Church, and rather than doing something for God, we focused simply on spending time with God? What would happen then?

Jesus understood how important these questions were for his followers, and so in the passage we read today, we actually saw Jesus pull his disciples away from a time of intense and very fruitful action into a time of reflection and intimacy with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

So, let’s take a look at today’s passage, which by all means is a little odd – in fact many of the commentaries I read this week had actually very little to say about it – and let us ask what is happening in this interaction between Jesus and his disciples. And then let us ask how God is inviting each and every one of us to respond as his current-day disciples.  

So this week’s passage picks up directly after last week’s.  Knowing that he would soon go to Jerusalem and the cross, you may recall that Jesus had sent 72 of his disciples off on an urgent mission to share the good news that the Kingdom of God had drawn near.  Well, after being away for probably weeks or months in a number of towns around Israel, the disciples returned to Jesus, and they were absolutely exhilarated.  

If they had faced any challenges or rejections (which Jesus had seemed to indicate they would experience), they made no mention of them here.  Rather, they returned with joy, obviously having experienced much success on their journeys, and they told Jesus that even the demons had submitted in his name.   I mean, wow, this was amazing!  What awesome work they had just done.

And Jesus was like, “yeah I know”, and for the first time in this interaction, he pulled back the curtain to give them a larger picture.  He mentioned that he had seen Satan fall, which was a reference to his victory over Satan that would soon happen through his actions on the cross. 

The demons submitted in Jesus’ name because their ultimate defeat by Jesus was at hand.  

Now while his disciples would not have fully grasped what he was talking about at that time, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, many of them would come to understand that not only had Jesus forgiven them of their sins and opened up the possibility to be right with God, but that Jesus had also defeated Satan.  Jesus had overcome the powers and the principalities that keep people and the world in bondage.  Though there still were battles and skirmishes that would occur until Jesus returned again at the end of time, the war had been won.

Paul and Timothy wrote about this in Colossians 2:15, which says, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

In theological circles, we refer to this reality of Jesus’ victorious defeat over evil on the cross as “Christus Victor.”  This is an important understanding of Jesus’ work on the Cross that some of us never really think about, but we should. 

Well returning now to the interaction between Jesus and the disciples:  Jesus was essentially saying, “yeah, it was cool that individual demons submitted, but you know what was even cooler – what was even cooler was that this was a foretaste of the complete victory over evil that was beginning to take place through Jesus.   What was even cooler was that these disciples were incredibly and unimaginably blessed to be with Jesus and be a part of this Messianic era where the Kingdom of God was breaking into this world, a era that many prophets and kings of old had longed to see, but they never did”.  

Jesus invited his disciples to enlarge their view of the amazing things they had just done in Jesus’ name.  He invited them to see everything in light of the bigger picture.  

And then he pulled back the curtain just a little more.  He told the disciples, “don’t rejoice so much in the demons submitting, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  

Wait.  What?  After having just sent out the disciples out to do this work, was Jesus now downplaying what they did or downplaying their joy?  By no means.    

Jesus absolutely shared in their joy and their excitement, but what Jesus did here was refocus their attention in two ways.  

First, lest they begin to focus more on what they accomplished versus what Jesus accomplished (for as we know, the exorcisms were all done in Jesus’ name), he reminded the disciples that their involvement and success in their Kingdom work had nothing to do with their wisdom or skill.  God had in fact hidden himself and his amazing and unusual Kingdom plans from the wise and had revealed these things to“children”,so to speak.  

The disciples were in this blessed situation not because of anything they had done, not because of any inherent wisdom, but simply because of God’s gracious will, because God had revealed Himself to them through Jesus as an act of love and kindness.  

Secondly, in refocusing their attention, he reminded them that their destiny was heaven – an eternal intimacy with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in a place of abundance, joy, and peace.  So while exorcising demons and the like was indeed good, these things were the means to the end, not the end.  Again, the end was eternal joy as one was welcomed to the Supper of the Lamb and invited into eternal intimate communion with God.  

Thus, Jesus told them, don’t rejoice in the means, rejoice in the end.  And then, he invited them into this intimacy now and modeled it for the disciples. 

In the middle of his interaction with the disciples, Jesus suddenly entered into an intimate conversation with the Father through the Holy Spirit.  In this conversation, there was joy and thanksgiving and revelation of God’s ways – this in fact, is where the disciples learned that God revealed his plans to children, not the wise.  Jesus revealed this truth to his disciples that day through his communion with the Father rather than telling them directly.

This ecstatic experience of Jesus may seem oddly placed to us at first, but it was a beautiful peek into the life of the Trinity, and a visual reminder to the disciples of the truth I just mentioned: the end to all this Kingdom work was communion with God – a life that would be most fully experienced at the end of time, but one that could also be experienced now, both by the disciples themselves and by the ones they reached with the good news.  

Jesus enlarged the disciples’ view and invited them to step back from all the excitement of their work and enter into a place of reflection and communion with God.

Jesus did this because he knew they needed it, and Jesus knows that we also need it.  

Last week, William reminded us that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few, and he invited us to be workers for the Kingdom.  This privileged work entails sharing the good news with our friends, families, and neighbors through word and deed.  It involves loving others and working for justice, peace, and reconciliation.  

It includes serving the local church in both exciting ways like healing others, leading others in worship, and teaching the faith; and it also includes engaging in humble and perhaps tedious tasks like setting up and tearing down our worship space each week. There is so much work to be done until Jesus returns and ushers in the Kingdom in its fullness.  And there are not enough workers.  Will we accept Jesus’ call to be Kingdom workers?

Well, my hope friends is that we will.  But before we do that, before we step into a flurry of action, my question is will we first learn from this interaction between Jesus and his 72 disciples? 

Will we also take time for reflection, giving space to Jesus to pull back the curtain so that we may see how each of our stories fits into the Big Story, into His Story?  

Enlarging our view, seeing the big picture is important for us for so many reasons, and I would like now to briefly go over 5 reasons with you.  

First, it is important for us to grasp the big picture because it reminds us to persevere when challenges and even persecutions come along.  Indeed, while Jesus’ disciples were exhilarated in today’s passage, rough days were ahead for them when Jesus would be crucified and many of them would also be rejected and even tortured and killed.  

As disciples, we can also expect challenging times in our lives.  We can expect Satan and his demons to make a fuss in the lives of those made in God’s image. But the big picture allows us to carry on. The big picture allows us to know that days of the Evil One are numbered.  So we need not fear.  We need not give up hope.  We need not doubt Jesus and then seek a different way. There is no other way. Jesus is the Way, and Jesus is triumphant, so we can trust him and live our lives courageously.

Second, grasping the big picture keeps us humble. When we are prone to take too much credit and to be prideful about what we have done for God and the Church, the big picture reminds us that we are just children who are the beneficiaries of God’s gracious act of self-revelation and empowerment.  This work is never about us but about what God graciously chooses to do through us. It’s a great privilege and grace, not means for self-exaltation.

Third,grasping the big picture gives us perspective on what seems to be unimportant in our life of service.  When our work for the Kingdom of God seems rote or boring or tedious or insignificant or incredibly slow (which it often will), we can rather see how all our acts of service fit together for the greater goal.  We can be like the mason who saw his work as building a cathedral. All our little acts of service, noticed and unnoticed, are being used by Jesus to build His Kingdom, to share his good news with a dying world, and to create spaces where people can commune with the living God.  Our acts of service matter, particularly the ones that often go unacknowledged.

Fourth, grasping the big picture frees us from an emotionalism that can derail our faith.  Don’t get me wrong – I, of all people, think emotions are incredibly important and that God speaks them through, but what I am talking about here is getting so caught up in the highs, the good feelings of serving the Lord that we focus on acts of service that give us those feelings of exhilaration rather than on what God actually may be calling us to do a this time, which may be far less energizing.  

What I am talking about is focusing so much on the emotions that are evoked that we miss a true encounter with God in that place.   Yes, sometimes serving the Lord will be amazingly electrifying and energizing, and that’s good.  But many times, serving the Lord will not be.   If it’s the emotional highs, however, that we primarily seek when serving the Lord rather than Jesus himself, we should not be surprised if we later reject Jesus when those highs are gone.  The reality is, friends, that we will spend much time in the valleys of life and ministry.  The very good news, however, is Jesus is in those valleys with us.

And that brings us to my last point.  The fifth and most important reason for seeing the big picture is to remember that at the end of the day, our great destiny in life is intimacy with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  So friends, if this is our great destiny, then why wouldn’t we now want to cultivate as much space as we can to simply be with God, to be in his presence, to rest in his love, and to be transformed by his Holy Spirit?

I know that our lives our very busy, but if we consciously set out to do it, I know that we can find this space and we can even learn what it means to “pray without ceasing” and to see God in all things and in all times and places.  Friends, the truth is is that there are a myriad of spiritual practices that work well for each one us, regardless of our own personal wirings, our seasons of life, and our seasons of faith. 

And one of the things I most love to do in my role here as the Pastor of Spiritual Formation is to come alongside others and help them to discern those practices that will help them cultivate this space with God.  So if you don’t yet quite know how to do this, don’t fret and come see me, and we can discern this together.  Or join a future Apprentice Group (written by James Bryan Smith) where we are trying out new practices every week to help us commune with God more deeply. 

These moments of communion are beautiful; and best of all, they are foretastes of the amazing experience we believers will have one day as we are enveloped in the life of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And guess what?  In the meantime, while we still live in this in between time of the Kingdom being here but not yet, the more time we commune with God and bathe in His love now, the more this love will rub off on us, and the more our acts of service, great and small, will flow naturally out of this love rather than being done out of obligation.  

And the more time we spend time with God now, the more joy we will experience as we serve the Lord, both in the great tasks and in the humble tasks, both in the successes and even the failures.  Why?  Because we have the great privilege of being in communion with the Living God.

So friends, as we end our time together this morning I want to encourage you to find times of reflection and intimacy with God, and then to let those times be a place where you enter into the Big Story.  

In the meantime, no spiritual practice does this better than the practice we engage in every week together here on Sunday mornings, the Eucharist or otherwise known as Communion.

When we enter into Communion each week, Christ is truly with us in the present.  But not only that, we are brought into the past as we remember Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples and more significantly his victories on the Cross.  And we are also brought into the future as we are given a foretaste of the Great Supper of the Lamb when we will live in eternal, loving communion with God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

NT Wright says this about Communion, 

 “As we are traveling the line that leads from the Upper Room to the great feast in God’s new world, from the victory of Calvary and Easter to the final victory over death itself, we find at . . . every celebration of the Jesus-meal – that God’s past catches up with us again, and God’s future comes to meet us once more.”[8]

And this, friends, this Big Story we experience in the Eucharist gives us joy and purpose and perspective as we go out into the world week by week to love and serve the Lord. What good news.

Well friends, before we move on to our Offertory and Eucharist, I would like to give you a just a moment of time and reflection with the Lord.  

I’ll do this by reading David’s great statement of desire as found Psalm 27:4 . I’ll read it twice and then we’ll spend a minute or two in silence with the Lord.  At the end, I’ll say “Amen.”

“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”