What Next?

By Bill Lang

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

If you are like me you may have been to a meeting or convention, or even just participated in a discussion, or perhaps heard a challenging sermon, and you think – well that was fine, but what next?

I think that all of us who come here each Sunday or so, should have those words turning over in our minds on the way home each week.

Sometimes the things we need to do come by way of obligation, and others because of a passion. Anthony de Mello in his little book Awareness, tells the story of the father who walks into his son’s bedroom on a Monday morning: “Jamie, it’s time to get up, you need to go to school.”

“But papa,” says the son, “I don’t want to go to school. I can give you three good reasons why I should not go to school. It’s boring, I get teased, and I hate school.”

“Well, Jamie,” says the papa, “I can give you three reasons why you should go to school:

School is very important for a good education, second, you are 45 years old, and third, you are the headmaster, so get up right now and go to school.” Sometimes it seems we even lose sight of our obligations, even if we lose the passion.

Reading Luke’s gospel, we see a series of episodes the life of jesus and his followers, leading up to this wonderful missionary activity, and I have framed these episodes around those times when we might ask ourselves “What next?”

Jesus begins his ministry following his baptism and the temptations in the desert, at Nazareth at the synagogue where he makes the bold assertion that the spirit of the Lord is upon me – he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free.

That is not a bad Mission Statement is it?

“What Next?” Jesus probably pondered as he escaped by the skin of his teeth from the angry mob who were keen to throw him off a cliff to show what they thought of him.

What Next for Jesus was to clarify his mission and work out what this meant in practical terms. At the end of chapter 4 we read that after a short time of retreat and contemplation, he tells a crowd who wanted Jesus to stay to be their pastor – “I have a job to do,” he says, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to other cities for I was sent for this purpose,” and so he went on teaching and healing in the villages of Judea.

The What Next answers have been clear so far: Jesus is baptised and affirmed by God; he defines his role; and he clarifies what he has to do and sets about doing it.

Luke now reports that Jesus began gathering people to his cause. The fishermen, Peter, James and John, then Levi the tax collector all responded to Jesus call to “Follow me.” It appears that the number of followers was quite large, for at one point Jesus called all the followers together and selected 12 among them to be the apostles, or what we generally refer to as his disciples.

What follows then is the teaching that Jesus directs to his followers, which can be summarised:

Be merciful.
Love your enemies.
Don’t be vengeful.
Do good things and be merciful.

Rev Dr John Squires, in his blog on this text says that to be a disciple is to be a learner – that their first task is simply to listen.

But I can imagine these disciples pondering, as we might, What next? Are we simply to follow this man around Judea, listening to his gospel witnessing his miracles and healings. What are meant to do? What is Next for us?

Their curiosity is ended when the inner group of twelve is commissioned to do as Jesus has been doing – to go out in pairs to proclaim the kingdom of God and heal the sick and cast out demons.

Sending out the twelve to bear witness to the kingdom is told by Luke, and also by Mark and Matthew.  But only Luke goes on to report that, after sending out the twelve, Jesus then sends out a much larger group of his followers, to do likewise. There were seventy such disciples sent out to: “cure the sick and say to them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near’” (10:1–12).

“The disciples” in Luke’s account is a broad, inclusive group of followers. Time spent with Jesus involves not just learning from him, but also going to the Next Step – putting this into practice.

So seventy of the followers, having spent time with Jesus learning and listening, are now challenged to become leaders within the Jesus movement.

This mission of the seventy was not easy. This mission was in the region of Samaria – an area where Jews were not normally welcome. But the disciples are sent to bring a message of peace to the Samaritans and to declare that the kingdom of God is right here, for all people.

The seventy are thus challenged with moving on, from being learners and listeners, to become missionaries and leaders. Samaria was not an easy mission field – they would undertake activities for which they need to develop new skills and gifts –  initiative, resolve, and capacity. And such leadership means addressing the challenges of the context and plunging into the difficult situations with the message and actions of hope.

Luke reports that the mission was a great success – that the seventy returned exhilarated and with great joy at what they had achieved.

John Squires also makes the point that these stories from long ago are not simply historical reminiscences; they are narratives which provide stimulus and encouragement for us, in the 21st century, as we seek to be faithful followers of Jesus.

So, I am wondering what is next for us?

In a sense, our journey has been a bit like the disciples’. There likely will have been a conscious turning point – I time when we have made the personal commitment in response to Jesus’ call to “Follow me.” And we have followed, become learners and listeners, been part of the community of followers and helped to nourish its life.

Has Jesus given us a template for actually getting on with the job of discipling? To be sure we are generally quite good at the listening and learning – as long as it is not too long. And as a church I think we are quite good at inviting people on to our patch, to show compassion and hospitality, to be welcoming and inclusive, to advocate for a just world. We provide a caring and loving community for those who come within the circle of the community of faith.

Sometimes we even take tentative steps into Samaria, the places where the church and our message may not be quite so welcome.

What is our Next Step? How do we respond when Jesus says: “Okay, you lot – you seventy at Tuggeranong Uniting, go out into the wild lands of Tuggeranong to do miraculous deeds and to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God.”

But… but… We are too old, too weak, too busy, too tired, the work is too hard and demanding – these would be understandable responses. Jesus had already dealt with those who brought excuses.

Jesus acknowledges that it is difficult: “I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves.” When trouble or rejection comes, “brush the dust from your sandals and move on.”

“Brushing the dust off your sandals” is not simply a lesson in learning to live with rejection. It is a call to be persistent. You shake the dust off and move on, certain of the truth of gospel. And then you come back the next day and testify to the truth once again. And the day after that. And it is hard. For sure. Because the truth is, not everyone listening to us wants to hear that the Kingdom of God is near.

And it is comforting that Jesus doesn’t send the disciples out solo. Seventy is a large number of colleagues and comrades to accompany you and support you. We need each other in this mission. We shake the dust off and move on — but we never travel alone.

The work of the Seventy goes on through us.

So What Next for us? And that is not really a rhetorical question. Each of us is one of the seventy. What next in proclaiming the news that the kingdom is near, what next in proclaiming “Peace be to this house”; what next to curing the sick? How do we interpret all of that in our local context?

How would you re-state each proclamation in a simple sentence using everyday speech. How might you put into your own words Jesus’ proclamation “The kingdom of God has come near?” It doesn’t have to capture all the theological heft of the biblical proclamation. The goal here is to restate the words as powerful personal proclamations. An example might be: “I can see God’s love in your life right now” or “God is at work in what you do.” Do the same with “Peace to this house!”

Make one proclamation in your own words once a day for this week. Experiment offering it to a family member, neighbour, a friend or even to yourself. If possible, can you come back next Sunday and share your experiences from this experiment.

With God and in our faith journey, each day begins with a What Next, because he has left the amazing work of sharing the good news of the kingdom to us.

St. Teresa of Avila’s gives us some reassuring words, reminding us that now we carry on the ministry that Jesus gave us:

Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.

AMEN

Photo of Bill Lang

Written by Bill Lang

Bill Lang is secretary of the church council and convenor of the communications group. He has been a regular preacher at TUC since he and Jenny joined the congregation in 1975. He is a presbytery representative, and a member of the Karralika outreach team and the Child Care Advisory Group.

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