We are the “70 Others”

By Rev. Louis Tonsmeire

[Luke 10:1-20.]

Sermon at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Calhoun, GA; July 8,2007.

When you heard about these “70 others” who were appointed and sent out by Jesus, I hope you were confused and intrigued, with me, “just who are these people?”  For surely you do remember, with me, that, earlier, Jesus sent out, “the 12”, with the same instructions and a similar mission.  We can assume that the “12” sent out earlier was that “inner corps” of followers, also called “the 12 apostles.” We read of them in the Gospels frequently, and know their names.  But, these “70 others” are never named.  They are not called “the 70 best;” simply “the 70 others.”

Were they “the part-timers” in the band of followers?  During the three years of Jesus’ public ministry, they had kept “their day jobs.”  Were they like the people who go out now “on a mission trip?”  Or, was this the way that the Gospel writer, Luke, the first Church historian, wants to make the point, that ALL members of the Church share in the MISSION OF THE CHURCH?

If this is so, this means that ALL the members of the Church share in the task of PROCLAIMING and of HEALING.

This is surely the current understanding, our present “theology”: about the ‘who’ and the ‘what’ of the Church, through the eyes of Episcopalians.

In the Catechism, in the Book of Common Prayer, hear carefully the ‘Q AND A’ (Questions and Answers) about the Church:

Q.  What is the mission of the Church?

A.  The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Q.  Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?

A.  The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of ALL its members.

Q.  Who are the ministers of the Church?

A.  The ministers of the Church are LAY PERSONS, bishops, priests, and deacons.

Notice the hierarchy of the Church, at least – in “theory” or “the ideal” – according to that written document we hold in our hands frequently, The Book of Common Prayer.

Conventional wisdom is turned on its head, so that at the top of the chart, the primary responsibility is with ALL PERSONS, primarily, the lay persons.  Here is where and how the Kingdom of God is proclaimed in offices and homes, in schools, in community meetings, and in government.  It is through the ministry of lay persons that healing of bodies and souls has the most frequent opportunities.

Properly, “laypersons” does not mean “unskilled.”  Nor “part~time.”  Lay persons is the contraction of the word “laity,” meaning “people.”  and is used in the New Testament meaning “the people of God.”

By sheer numbers and their ‘strategic’ placement in offices, kitchens, factories, schools, neighborhood meetings, , and administrative offices, the laity give the primary witness to the “mission” of proclamation and healing.  This is how we are all “sent out.”

All of us are “lay persons”, that is, belong to and are members of the “laity”, the people of God.  By training or commissioning, some may have additional responsibilities and roles, through such offices as deacon or bishop or elder or priest or pastor.

Like yourselves, I can do my MINISTRY – through the Chamber of Commerce or City Council or “John Q. Citizen” – as member of the LAITY.  On such occasions, with purpose, I wear that funny attire of white shirt and tie.

With much anticipation, I look forward to the trip this week to Mobile, for the 50th year celebration of ordination as a DEACON.  The joy of this occasion is increased because Dewey and Carolyn Clines will be there also.

It is important to remember that ordination as a deacon or priest – is NOT a rejection of the status we share together. We all share in the ministry of the PEOPLE OF GOD, THE LAITY, THROUGH BAPTISM.

I hope that I have shared a plausible way of understanding who these “seventy others” are.  Is it reasonable that this is Luke’s way of saying that ALL PERSONS share in the mission of proclamation and I healing?  If this is so, then the instructions and warnings, from Jesus, will have some application to ourselves, ALL of us.

Recall, just two of them.

1. The first might be this: the value and absolute necessity of partnership, “traveling in pairs.”  We need each other, at least one other person, as a companion.  It’s the warmth of friendship ‘but more.’  We need at least one other person to whom we can be accountable.”  This is more than the need for “atta-a-boys.”  This is also that person who

can ask a challenging question, check if each has considered ‘all the options’.  All of us have been warned.  Often, we are sent out as ‘Iambs in the midst of wolves.’  It’s easy to get discouraged, even “Unappreciated.”  Another person, the ‘right kind of person,’ a real “partner,” can help us to keep perspective.  “Loners” are seldom as effective as “collaborators.”  Jesus sent them out, “two by two.”  It’s worth remembering.

2. The second reminder is introduced with these ‘irreverent’ words: “It’s hard to remember your mission was to drain the swamp, when you are up to your ankles in alligators.”  Be clear about our mission, our purpose.  “Heal the sick and say to them, the kingdom of God has come near to you.”

‘HEAL THE SICK.”  We pray and teach, and advocate.  To ‘heal the sick’ is about the healing of all kinds of brokenness and disease.  Isn’t this also about HEALTH CARE? ECONOMIC FAIRNESS? PEACE AMONG All PEOPLE?

Say, “THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS COME NEAR.”  This is to point to Jesus as the One who can restore the unity we desire with God and with each other.  We proclaim Jesus as the Witness of the God who is the Creator and Judge, who also is the BRIDGE Who overcomes – all separation caused by human Sin.  But words are easy.  Our task is to live with the consistency of the people who have been reconciled – and who are active reconcilers to all people everywhere. Reaching out is a posture of vulnerability.

We – all of us – are these “70 others.”

We are the missionaries, “sent out”

  • to homes on Boston Road and elsewhere;
  • to schools on River Street and elsewhere;
  • to businesses on Richardson Road and elsewhere;
  • to offices on Wall Street and everywhere;
  • to the dozen of places, where we work, and play, and share meals.

After we receive the Communion, we pray that the Grace of this Sacrament will help us to “do all such good work as God hast prepared for us to walk in.”

When the liturgy is completed, the “service” begins – when we go out to heal and to proclaim: open your eyes, open your heart, the Kingdom of God has come near.

[Rev. Louis Tonsmeire; Pastor at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church (since 1994), Calhoun, GA, Served as Coordinator of the Gordon County Ministerial Association for several years, Served on the Cartersville City School Board from 1972 ti 1980, Member of the Cartersville City Council since 2002.]