by Rev. Joe Connolly
“…Jesus appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead in pairs to every town and place the Rabbi intended to visit and said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, rich, but the laborers, the workers are few; therefore ask the overseer of the harvest to send out the laborers, workers to the harvest.’” — Luke 10:1-2
Last year at this time Bonnie and I were not here in Norwich. As many of you know, we were on a cross country trip since I had just started a three month sabbatical. We left on June the 27th. But I actually started planning for the trip the previous September— that’s September 2014.
September 2014 was the deadline to apply to be the United Church of Christ chaplain for a week at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York. I did not find out I had been chosen to be the Chaplin for the week of June 27th through the July 3rd, the first week of Sabbatical, until late-January— January 2015.
So I had to wait 5 months for that news. That was a long wait between planning and the eventual approval of that plan.
The chaplaincy at Chautauqua combined both service and education, to my mind the best of all possible worlds. And to be clear, Chautauqua is a place where education happens every day. Each day you can avail yourself of three hour long sessions— talks— offered by nationally known figures. We saw everyone from the broadcaster Charlie Rose to former the Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Now, sometimes people accuse me of trying to do too much. Indeed, having set up one educational piece, I tried to plan a second one.
I knew one thing Bonnie and I wanted to do on this trip was to visit her brother, Chuck and his wife Judy, who live near San Francisco. I also knew the Pacific School of Religion, 20 minutes from where Chuck and Judy live, held Summer sessions.
So, I contacted the Pacific School also in September of 2014. They contacted me right away and said, yes, Summer sessions will happen and we will have a scheduled published by early January, 2015— well, not quite.
January turned into February and February turned into Mach and March turned into April before their Summer scheduled was in place. The week-long session I signed up for started July the 20th, so I knew we wanted to be in the Bay area by July 18th, just to have a little down time.
Well, on July 17th, as we were having lunch on our way to see Chuck and Judy, I got a call from the Pacific School of Religion. They had just canceled the class due to the illness of the instructor.
The best laid plans of mice and men… etc., etc., etc. Sometimes plans work out. Sometimes they do not.
On the other hand, having done an education piece already, the cancellation of this second segment turned out just fine. I got to spend a lot more time with Bonnie and Chuck and Judy than I would have otherwise. And I also got to see places in San Francisco I would not have seen had I been cooped up in a classroom. (Slight pause.)
And these words are from the work known as Luke: “…Jesus appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead in pairs to every town and place the Rabbi intended to visit and said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, rich, but the laborers, the workers are few; therefore ask the overseer of the harvest to send out the laborers, workers to the harvest.’” (Slight pause.)
As said earlier, the Fourth of July is tomorrow, so let me offer a bit of American religious history that predates the Revolution, before 1776. In the 1740s there was a so called “Great Awakening,” a surge of religious fervor in the colonies.
It had a permanent impact on American Protestantism. This Awakening reoriented Congregational Churches, Presbyterian Churches, Dutch Reformed Churches and German Reformed Churches. It also strengthened what at the time were very small groups of Baptist Churches and Methodist Churches.
One of the leaders of this movement was George Whitfield, an English Anglican cleric, one of the founders of Methodism. In 1740, Whitfield traveled to America and preached a series of revivals, central to this “Great Awakening.”
Now, what I need you to know about this is twofold. First, the historic record says George Whitfield was, indeed, a good and powerful preacher.
Second, Whitfield also did something very well: he planned. He had people go to the towns where he was to preach as much as a year in advance to advertise he was coming. He had help and he had helpers.
That returns us to the thought that (quote:) “…Jesus appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead in pairs to every town and place the Rabbi intended to visit…” Put differently, Whitfield just copied what Jesus did.
But there is another thing going on when Jesus sends these disciples out. They are instructed with a simple message: do not worry about success or failure. Accept the generosity of others. Let go of the negative. (Slight pause.)
Preaching the Word, sharing the Word, is not a battle and it should not be approached that way. The realm of God is realized gently, one moment at a time. Further, when we live simply, when we focus on what’s really important, a new creation can emerge. Light can shine.
This passage is good news for preachers and for congregations. The passage counsels us to be faithful. Success is not a consideration. This passage counsels us to reclaim simplicity of spirit.
This passage counsels us to awaken to life transforming possibilities right where we are. This passage insists God’s creative energy is right here and with us now. Dust off your sandals, jump in the river, be renewed. (Slight pause.)
But wait a minute. If planning is imperative (and I think did say that) but we need to rely on God for everything (and I think did say that), isn’t that contradictory? Are not these two ideas diametrically opposed? (Slight pause.)
Each year the New York Conference offers a retreat for pastors before the start of its Annual Meeting in early June. This year was no exception and I went.
One of the exercises the retreat leader asked us to do was easy for me. Why? It was something I had already done. In fact, I did when I was in the eighth grade.
She said whether or not we know it, everyone has either their own life motto or a family motto. These are words we live by, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes quite consciously.
I already had a motto. You see, when I graduated from grade school, everyone in the class got a signature book. Many pages were blank and they were multi-colored, and the idea was you could get your classmates to sign the book or write things, memories of you and for you.
But the first pages of the book were pre-printed with places to fill in your name, the names of family members— that kind of personal data. At the top of one of those pages it said: “Your Motto” and then there were several lines on which to write.
I thought about what to write for a day or two. Then I came up with this. “Pray like everything depended on God. Work like everything depended on you.”
Now, I’m not recommending that course of action. Here’s why. To be a Christian, to do the work of Christ, is not meant to be work, at all. To be a Christian, to do the work of Christ, is meant to be a way of life.
Indeed, that Christianity is a way of life is precisely what our society has a hard time understanding. Why? I think we live in a society where work and the success we believe springs from that work is an ultimate for us. Success, thereby, becomes a goal.
But we need to live in a society in which faithfulness is a goal. We need to live in a society in which being aware that there are life transforming possibilities right here, where we are, within our reach is real to us. We need to live our lives as if we know God is hear, God with us.
All of which is to say, planning is important. But sometimes you travel 3,000 miles and suddenly your plans change.
Planning is helpful. But God is good. And being open to where God takes us is imperative. And when we are open to God, the Dominion of God and its fruits will await us. Amen.
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “I want to call your attention to the Thoughts for Meditation found in the bulletin today. ‘Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.’ — Isaac Asimov. ‘Power is not sufficient evidence of truth.’ — Samuel Johnson. Please notice when Jesus sent the seventy-two out they were not told to pillage and burn. They were not even told to be successful. Faithfulness was, however, a given.”
BENEDICTION: Redeemer God, Who sustains us, visit Your people; pour out Your courage upon us, that we may hurry to make welcome all people not only in our concern for others, but by serving them generously and faithfully in Your name. And may we love God so much, that we love nothing else too much. May we be so in awe of God, that we are in awe of no one else and nothing else. Amen.