Sermon: Proper 9 RCL C – “Passion for Souls”

The podcast is available here.

Photo by Kyle Cottrell on Unsplash

A few weeks ago I told you about Alexa, the virtual assistant from Amazon.  She’s a bit like Siri on an Apple device.  Ask a question, she’ll give an answer.  Order something from Amazon and she’ll even let you know when it has arrived, but did you know that you can actually order from Amazon through Alexa?  Just say, “Alexa, order such and such,” and she will have such and such shipped to you. 

Well, Phil Brookman, the pastor at Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City was talking to his 1,000 member congregation about this very feature and how you could order what ever they wanted.  As an example, he said, “Alexa, order toilet paper.”  And that’s where it gets even more fun.

Turns out that Memorial Road Church of Christ live streams their service through the Internet and on that day, one of their members was home with a sick child so she tuned into the broadcast.  She reports, immediately after Pastor Brookman said, “Alexa, order toilet paper,” she heard her own Alexa unit respond: “OK. I’ve added it to your cart.”  Pastor Brookman inadvertently ordered 60 rolls of toilet paper for his church member.  But wait, there’s more: having heard about the incident between services, Pastor Brookman tweaked his illustration.  Instead of saying, “Alexa, order toilet paper,” he said, “Alexa, donate $500 to the Memorial Road Church of Christ.”  (Source)

To that, I can only add, for those of you listening to the podcast of this sermon: “Alexa, donate $500 to St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 518 W. Randolph Ave, Enid, Ok 73701.”  I’ll keep you posted on how that works out.

Assistants: they come along in different forms.  There are Alexa and Siri who do pretty good for what they are designed to do.  They make life a bit easier.  When we ask for assistance, the reasons probably vary: we don’t know how to do something, we want help to do even more, or there is so much to do, that we can’t get it all done ourselves.  In the days of the Exodus from Egypt, Moses found himself in that last category.  There was too much to do, the people were being unreasonable, and he was pulling his hair out.  The Lord seeing this, provided him with assistants.

You’ll recall that as the Israelites were wandering in the desert, they began to grumble because they were hungry, so God gave them manna—bread from Heaven; however, they were not satisfied, so they started grumbling again because there was no meat for their pots.  Upon hearing this and fed up with the grumbling, Moses looked up to God and said, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me?  Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child.’”  A few verses on:  “I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me.  If you will treat me like this, kill me at once.”  Just kill me. I can’t deal with these whiny people anymore.  But instead of killing him, the Lord gives him help.  The Lord says, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you.”  Because the burden was too great for Moses, the Lord gave him seventy assistants to lighten the load, and a part of the Spirit that was on Moses, was passed onto these seventy to help in performing the work and caring for the people. 

Moses was given seventy assistants because the burden of carrying all of God’s people was too much for him.  As we read in our Gospel, Jesus also called seventy to assist him.  Was this because, like Moses, it was too much for him?  Would he have been unable to accomplish the mission without them?  The answer is, of course, No.  Jesus alone accomplished the work he set out to do, and not just for a single tribe like the Israelites, but for all of humanity: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  Jesus alone carried the burden of us all on the Cross.  Yet, for the work of God to continue, others had to be enlisted, so the seventy were enlisted to go before Jesus and perform the work.  The seventy are not assistants as Moses needed them.  The seventy are apprentices, learning how to continue the work.  And what was the work?

From our Gospel, Jesus said: “Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!’”  And then, “Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”  The work: proclaim peace—share with them that there is now peace between God and humankind.  The old sin brought on by Adam and Eve’s disobedience is being forgiven.  Demonstrate this peace to them by the healing of the sick and possessed.  Tell them that the Kingdom of God is near.  That just like God called to Adam and Eve as they hid in the garden, he now calls to us again.  He calls us into a life of holiness and righteousness with Him, made possible through His One and Only Son.

The seventy took nothing extra with them.  They were at the mercy of those they encountered.  Where Jesus is the Lamb of God, these seventy are Jesus’ enlisted chosen, his lambs of which he is the Shepherd, and as he did battle in the wilderness during the forty days following his baptism, he sends the seventy out into the wilderness, amongst the wolves, not to be devoured, but to proclaim this message of peace, forgiveness, and restoration.  As Jesus was successful, these seventy were also victorious.  “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

If it was as easy as saying, “Alexa, preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth,” then this work would be done.  But the Lord prefers a more personal touch.  He wants for us to go out and proclaim his message.  He wants us to have this passion for souls.  A desire to see others, not only enter into a relationship with Him, but to participate in this work of reconciliation between God and his children. 

In our Saints’ Book Club, this is one of the common threads that I’ve seen amongst all the Saints we’ve read about, this passion for souls.  A driving unrelenting desire, even beyond death, to bring others into the fold, whether through works or prayer.  The one we are currently reading, Thérèse of Lisieux says, “After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses.  I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth.  I will raise up a mighty host of little saints.  My mission is to make God loved… I want to spend my Heaven in doing good on Earth.”  

My friend St. Josemaría Escrivá writes, “We are children of God. Bearers of the only flame that can light up the paths of the earth for souls, of the only brightness which can never be darkened, dimmed or overshadowed. The Lord uses us as torches, to make that light shine out… It depends on us that many should not remain in darkness, but walk instead along paths that lead to eternal life.” (The Forge #1)  You are children of God.  You have been given a mission to bring light into darkness, to make God loved.  You are the seventy.

Immediately following our Gospel reading today, Jesus prayed, giving thanks to the Father for making these things known to his disciples, then he said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!  For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”  You have seen and heard what prophets and kings spent lifetimes searching for.  Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  But, don’t just ask the Lord to make others the laborers, have such a passion for souls that you ask him to make you one as well.

Let us pray: Father, hear our prayers for the salvation of the world. Grant Mercy to all souls that turned away from You. Open their hearts and minds with Your light.  Gather Your children from the east and the west, from the north and the south.  Have mercy O God on those who do not know You. Bring them out of darkness into Your light. You are our saving God Who leads us in our salvation. Protect us from evil.  We put the world in Your hands; fill us with Your love. Grant us peace through Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

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