Joyful Harvest

Text: Luke 10:1-20
Date: Pentecost VII (Proper 9) + 7/7/13

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Once He came accompanied by the joyous songs of angels over Bethlehem, then to His hopeful disciples by the sea of Galilee, through dark rejection, hatred and death in old Jerusalem, nevertheless finally to His joyful victory through the cross and resurrection tomb. Now saints and angels praise Him with endless, joyful Alleluias. And we are invited to join our joyful voices with theirs now and forever.

Last Sunday we took notice of how the Lord’s rejection in Samaria is reflected in the growing animosity toward Him and His Church in today’s world. It is a sad and troubling thing for those of us of faith to bear in our own lives the sharp denunciation of the unbelief, skepticism, agnosticism and even rank atheism so rampant in our days. Nevertheless, though the situation hasn’t changed, today the Lord surprises us with a symphony of joy. As He once had His face set toward the old Jerusalem cross, now He sets our gaze toward the new Jerusalem of heaven.

What a wonderful touch those who put together the lectionary for today made by greeting us in the first lesson with the words of Isaiah, “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy” (Is 66:10). For with these words our eyes are lifted above the Jerusalem of old, the Jerusalem of history, the Jerusalem of Holy Week, the capital of the nation of Israel located at latitude 32 degrees 5 minutes North and 34 degrees 48 minutes East. No, Isaiah is singing about the new Jerusalem, what St. John saw in his Revelation, “a new heaven and a new earth…and the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:1-2). It is this joy to which our Lord points when He says, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:20).

It was a strange sort of joy when our Lord sent out seventy-two of His followers, as He said, “I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” This is the picture of the Church in this world, His members in constant danger of those of unbelief who would bite and devour. They were told to pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest, and then to be those laborers at Jesus’ sending. They were to deliver God’s peace to all and to rely solely on God’s provision for them as they proclaimed to all, “the kingdom of God has come near.” To some that message would be a blessing drawing them to faith. To others it would be the confirmation of their unbelief left not with peace but only the evidence of the dust of judgment.

But whether faith or unbelief resulting, those sent to preach have the Lord’s assurance, “the one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” This is the preacher’s confidence and comfort, as long, of course, as he is faithfully speaking the Lord’s word and not merely his own opinions. It’s a tough job to not let your own frustrations, anger, hurts or ignorance interfere, affect or colour the message of the Gospel we are sent to proclaim, to apply the Gospel of peace to individual situations and people’s lives. In fact, I’m certain that there is no pastor who has a clean and pure record, including even the now “Saint” John Paul II, the Great![1] That’s why we all, pastors and popes included, need to walk in daily contrition, repentance and faith, begging God constantly to forgive and renew a right spirit within us, to make us “to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:15).

We’re not told of any rejections of the seventy-two as we were last Sunday of those sent to make preparations for Jesus in Samaria. We’re only told the amazing, joyful, positive reaction, “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’” Sometimes, occasionally, the sermon goes very well, the children, youth and confirmands experience the joy of faith, those divided by conflict in church, in family, in a marriage, are brought together in true forgiveness and love. Occasionally things go very well. But even then, the glory belongs to the Lord and not the messenger. On another occasion Jesus said to His disciples, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10).

The Gospel of the Lord goes out into the world and accomplishes that for which He sends it, namely, repentance, faith and salvation. As long as and wherever the Gospel is proclaimed there Satan falls, is disarmed, rendered impotent.

Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!
Drop your ugly accusation, I am not so soon enticed.
Now that to the font I’ve traveled,
All your might has come unraveled,
And, against your tyranny,
God, my Lord, unites with me! (LSB 594:3)

So, “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Dearly beloved, fellow baptized into Christ: your names are written in heaven. They are written by Christ Himself who knows His sheep who have come to faith in His blood shed for the forgiveness of their sins, who have endured tribulation and remained faithful.

Through toil and tribulation
And tumult of her war
She waits the consummation
Of peace forever more
Till with the vision glorious
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest. (LSB 644:4)

“As lambs in the midst of wolves” for now, nevertheless the victory is assured. For it is not dependent upon us, our works, our successes or failures. The victory is dependent solely on our risen, ascended and reigning Lord Jesus Christ. He keeps us safe in His care, richly and daily providing us with all that we need to support this body and life (Catechism, Creed I), and the simple but strong faith to have the assurance of the life of the world to come. That would be New Jerusalem, the Jerusalem of great joy, gladness and eternal peace.

[1] Approved July 5, 2013 by Pope Francis to be designated for sainthood.