The Good News about Evangelism, Part 2 – Who’s Hospitable to Good News? Luke 10:1-12, 9/22/13

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Sep 222013
 

Rev. Jeff Chapman, Faith Presbyterian Church

 

1After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.

 

2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.

 

8“Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.” (Luke 10:1-12, NRSV)

 

 

How many of you like roller coasters?  I’ve always enjoyed a good roller coaster but I have to confess that the older I get the more and more I pay attention to those warning signs that always greet you at the entrance.  Roller coasters are meant to be a thrill, but they are not meant for the faint of heart, or for those with high blood pressure, or neck or back trouble, or pregnant mothers, or for the too short or too tall.

 

Evangelism is a roller coaster.  At points it can be a thrill like no other, an opportunity to see the grace of God eternally impact another life.  At other points, however, it is not for the faint of heart, and Jesus is quick to point this out to his disciples before he send them out.  “Go on your way,” he tells them.  “But remember that I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”  Some of you may want to reconsider before strapping yourselves into this ride.

 

Christ sends us out to bring a message of good news to the world.  We should be under no illusions, however, that this message will be well received by everybody we come across.  Even when they have come in love, Christians have been attacked, persecuted, scorned, and in some parts of the world even killed for sharing the Gospel.  It happened to Jesus so why should it not happen to his followers?

 

In spite of this potential hostility, Jesus makes clear by his analogy that evangelism is not a triumphant crusade.  We are not sent out as wolves ready to conquer but as lambs ready, if necessary, to be sacrificed.  In fact, the most faithful and effective evangelists in the history of the church have gone out ready to sacrifice time, reputation, status, pride, even life for the sake of the Gospel.  Christ suffered great persecution for the sake of bringing the good news to the world.  So must we.  Evangelism is not for the faint of heart.

 

After this warning, Jesus goes on and tells his disciples that when they go out they should pack light.  No purse, no bag, and no sandals.  In other words, we are to go out with a spirit of dependence.  First we are to depend upon God to provide for us along the way.  This is, after all, God’s mission and he will make sure it is well supplied.  Second, we must depend upon others.  If you go into a village with no money, no clothes and no friends, you have no choice but to depend upon the hospitality of strangers, and as you’ll see in a minute the hospitality of others has everything to do with evangelism.

 

In verse 5, then, Jesus says this.  “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.”  It is here that we finally begin to see what sorts of people to whom Jesus wants us to bring the good news.

 

Notice something.  Does Jesus say anything about what sort of house his disciples should approach?  Does he tell them to start on the poor side of town or on the rich side of town, to go to neighborhoods full of Jews or neighborhoods full of Gentiles?  No.  Whatever house you go to.  Go to any house.  The first house you see.  Whatever people cross your path, whoever they are, go to those people.  That’s what Jesus says.

 

Leonard Sweet is a theologian and writer who has done a lot of thinking about evangelism.  He writes that no Christian is fit to go and share the Gospel unless you believe that these five things are true about everybody you ever meet.

 

Every human being you will ever see was created in the image of God.

God is already present in the life of that person in the form of some “burning bush”.

The best things about that person are blessings from God.

The worst things about that person are arenas for God’s redemption.

That person is hungry for encouragement and love and needs help noticing the presence of the divine in their life.

 

Sweet says that if you do not believe these things about every person on the planet then it is going to be difficult for God to use you to spread his good news.

 

Do you believe these to be true about every person in your neighborhood, your school, your workplace, your family?  Do you?  You must.  Because they are true.

 

When we come to believe these things to be true then we are able to approach any person we meet along the way, optimistically wondering if they might be ripe to hear the good news we have to share.  When we approach Jesus gives us very specific instructions.  First off, Jesus tells us to say, “Peace to this house.”  When we meet people along the way, whoever we meet along the way, the first thing we are to do is to offer them peace.

 

This Hebrew greeting in Jesus’ day was “Shalom Aleichem.”  It literally meant “Peace be upon you.”  But shalom does not just mean an absence of conflict.  Shalom is a much, much fuller peace than that.  Shalom means wholeness and harmony, equity and justice.  When shalom is present, everything is as it is meant to be.  Shalom, therefore, is only something God can bring.

 

Understand that when the disciples went out into these villages they did not go undercover.  People knew who they were.  These were Jesus’ followers.  They were associates of this man who had been proclaiming that he came to establish the Kingdom of God.  You might say, therefore, that when they showed up at a front door and said to the people who lived there, “Peace upon you,” it was spoken more as an invitation than a declaration.  They were not declaring that peace was on that house; they were asking whether or not that house desired such peace.  If they did, if the door was opened wide instead of slammed shut, then that was a house into which the disciples were instructed to go to bring good news.

 

Here is something very, very important.  When God sends us out into the world to bring good news, how do we know which people we are to share the good news with?  How do we know which fruit in the field is ripe for picking and which fruit we should leave on the vine?  Jesus only gives one precondition and it has nothing to do with race, age, gender, culture, lifestyle, personality, status, religious persuasion or political views.  The one mark Jesus gives us to look for in people is the mark of hospitality.  Though this person knows you are a Christian, do they nonetheless extend you hospitality?  Though this person knows what you stand for in life, the shalom of God, do they still open wide the door for you?  If so, then no matter what else may be trust about that person, he or she is the person to whom Jesus has called you to bring good news.

 

This past spring about a dozen of us from Faith went out one Wednesday evening with a ministry here in Sacramento called Love INC.  Some of you know their work.  Love INC collects donated household items and furniture and then uses volunteers to deliver these things to people in our city who have very little.  You would be surprised, for example, just how many people in our own city, even children, don’t even have a bed to sleep in at night.

 

That night two of my kids and I, along with my friend Paul from church, were assigned to deliver two truckloads of furniture to a family in the Arden-Arcade area.  The address, once we finally found it, was a small apartment complex in a very low-income neighborhood.  As we pulled into the parking lot I found myself immediately uncomfortable.  I hate to admit this to you, but I still struggle in my life with stereotypes and as I parked the car some of those stereotypes were setting off alarm bells in my mind.  Several people were hanging around outside on their porches and the arrival of these strangers and their furniture-laden trucks was not met with smiles.  Rap music was bursting out of one of the downstairs apartments, loud enough to be heard two blocks away.  This was not a neighborhood in which I could consider taking an evening stroll.

 

Quickly we found the apartment scheduled for the delivery and the man inside, as you might expect, was grateful for what we were doing.  He had several kids and very little furniture and in one delivery we basically furnished his entire apartment.  As we were hauling things up the stairs a woman approached us from one of the neighboring apartments.  A cigarette hung from her lips. She was dangerously overweight, covered in tattoos, and had, at best, five or six good teeth left in her mouth.  As soon as she spoke I could tell that college, perhaps not even high school, had certainly not been a part of her background.

 

This woman comes right up to me and wanted to know who we were and what we were doing.  I told her we were from a church and were delivering furniture to her neighbor upstairs.  At once her countenance changed and the next thing I know she has turned to my 10-year-old son and invited him to follow her into her apartment.  “I have some guinea pigs I want to show him,” she told me.  “He’ll love it.”  Honestly, I didn’t even consider her offer.  At once I thanked her and politely told her that he needed to stay outside and help with the rest of the delivery.  She seemed to understand and stepped aside to watch us carry the last of the furniture up the stairs.

 

It wasn’t until we finished and were about to leave that she approached us again.  “Come on in now,” she repeated herself.  “Let me show your boy my guinea pigs.  It will just take a second.”  I looked at my son.  He looked anxiously up at me.  And then for some reason we did something which, at the time, I did not think was a very good idea.  We went inside.

 

Now, I have to tell you that I can’t remember the last time I have been in a house that was so cluttered and filthy.  Let me just say that I barely noticed her husband on the couch because the old newspapers and trash were piled up so high around him.  Let me also tell you, however, that I can’t remember the last time I have been in the house of a complete stranger where I was shown such genuine hospitality.  With pride she showed us her pets.  We learned more about guinea pigs than I ever wanted to know about guinea pigs.  She offered us something to drink.  She introduced us to her family, told us a bit of her story.  In spite of all my first impressions, I found her warm and kind and generous and, above all, full of hospitality.  I have to say, I truly felt welcome in her home.

 

When we finally came outside I noticed that the music was much quieter than before.  I looked over and there was Paul standing at the open door of the man with the booming stereo, the two of them talking and laughing together.  Later I learned that the young man had also come out to ask what was happening and, having learned we were from the church, engaged Paul in a friendly conversation, at one point even sharing with Paul how he was committed to, but struggled with, being a good husband to his wife and a good dad to his kids.  Once again, here was hospitality in the very last place I expected to find it.

 

I learned a lesson that night that I’m afraid, slow learner that I am, I’ll probably have to learn again and again.  It is never my job to predetermine who are people of peace and who are not people of peace.  From a distance that night I never would have pegged that woman as a person of peace.  She was.  So was that young man.  And that fact left me humbled, and amazed.  Too often I place limitations on the sorts of places I imagine God is at work making people ripe to hear good news.

 

According to Jesus, evangelism is all about hospitality.  Not just hospitality that we show to others, but even more importantly hospitality others show to us.  We’re not just looking to welcome people, but looking for people who, even when they know we are Christians, welcome us.  For you see – follow me here – when I graciously receive the hospitality of another the ground between us levels out.  No longer do I operate from a position of superiority.  When I invite you to my home or into my church you’re still on my turf.  When I am invited into your home, it’s different.  I’m on your turf.  I become dependent on you.  You are serving me.  I am put in your debt.

 

BaylorUniversity scholar Andrew Arterbury puts it this way, “Hospitality establishes a truly interdependent and reciprocal relationship that requires disciples, whether they are hosts or guests, to view the stranger as a valuable child of God.”[1]  When somebody who is not a follower of Jesus knows you are a follower of Jesus and, nonetheless, still extends you genuine hospitality, that person, according to Jesus, is a person on whom peace rests.  God is preparing such a person to hear good news.

 

So think for a moment about the people you know who are not Christians, people you know from work or school, friends or neighbors, even family.  Which of them, though they know your faith as a Christian, which of them are still ready, even eager, to share life with you?  Do you know non-believers who show interest when you start talking about what you are learning or doing at church, people whose eyes don’t immediately glaze over when you share from your own spiritual journey.  They may not agree with your faith, but they at are least interested in your faith.  Maybe they are even willing to support you in your faith.  They’d be happy to sponsor you on a mission trip, or help you with a church food drive, or watch your kids while you attend a Bible study.

 

Anybody come to mind?  These are people of peace and sometimes they show up in the most unlikely places.  When we meet these people, Jesus’ instructions are simple.  “Go into that house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, whatever it is that is set before you.”

 

Notice – this is important! – Jesus does not say that the first thing we are to do in these relationships is tell people about him.  A time may come for that, but not right off the bat.  What comes first is simply relationship.  Enter into the life of somebody else.  Take an interest in what they are interested in.  Eat their food.  Spend time where they spend time.  Expose yourself to their music, their art, their hobbies.  Try something with them that you have never tried before.  Learn more than you ever thought you would possibly know about guinea pigs.

 

For you see, it’s friendship, really, that Jesus is after.  And not – get this clear – not friendship with strings attached.  We’ll talk more about this next week, but I do not believe Jesus calls us to accept the hospitality of others and enter into relationships only as long as those others are being converted.  Any person who wants to become your friend only so that they can change you to be more like them is not really your friend.

 

Now, do we hope that people we know will come one day to trust their lives to Christ and find salvation?  Of course we do.  But that is not our work.  That’s God’s work and God alone will open hearts in his time and in his way.  Our calling from Christ is simply to go where we are offered hospitality, live life with these people, and then pay attention to how God works, in their lives and in ours.  A time will likely come when we are called to share good news with those who have welcomed us into their lives and we must be ready when it does.  But even if it does not come, that does not change our commitment to such people and to such friendships.

 

I may have told you before about my habit of trying to wave at everybody in my neighborhood.  When I drive down the street and see somebody walking I always try to wave.  Even if it’s somebody I highly doubt will give a wave in return, I still wave.  Try it sometime.  You’ll be surprised.  Sometimes the people you think will undoubtedly wave back do not.  More often, the people who suspect will never wave back, the ones who would otherwise simply stare you down as you drive by, they are often the ones immediately softened by a wave which they happily return.

 

In a way, this is what Jesus is calling us to do.  Not wave at people necessarily, but go through life without discriminating.  Boldly extend peace to everybody you meet.  When that peace is returned, know that Jesus is calling you into those relationships, calling you to share life and to love, to watch and to wait.  Some day, likely, he may call you to share good news with them.

 

And the other people, those to whom you extend peace and it is not returned, they are not, at least at this time, your concern.  In Jesus’ words, “10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.”

 

In Jesus’ day Jews had long been taught that when they traveled to a foreign land they were to stop before they came back home to Palestinian soil and shake the dust off their feet.  It was a symbol to remind them that they were not to bring anything unclean back into a land that was holy.  In those days, the people were divided by ethnicity.  The Jews were God’s people; all others were not.  That was the boundary.

 

Jesus came to change the boundaries.  No longer were the dividing lines to have anything to do with race, or gender, or status, or economics, or past history.  From now on the only dividing line was between those who had faith and those who did not have faith, between those who welcomed the peace of God and those who did not welcome this peace.  Again, the shalom of God, the peace of God, is a gift we are to offer to everyone.  But keep the receipt, Jesus says.  Sometimes the gift will be returned unopened.

 

This will happen, Jesus says.  And when it does, Jesus gives his disciples, gives us, something to do.  He tells us to “shake off the dust.”  But understand, this dust shaking is not some symbol meant to berate or condemn those who have not received God’s peace.[2]  In fact, Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples to shake off the dust right there on the doorstep.  Go back out into the street, he says, away from the people who have just rejected your invitation, and there shake the dust off your feet.

 

You see, Jesus is trying to encourage us here.  This is a pep talk we are to give ourselves and one another when the world rejects us and our message.  Jesus told us this would happen.  This is not unexpected, nor is it our responsibility.  It is not our job to make people receive the good news.  We couldn’t do it if we tried.

 

Of course, we may feel genuine regret for those who reject God’s peace.  We ought to.   It is tragic.  Persistent un-receptivity to the good news of Jesus Christ is the greatest human offense and its seriousness cannot be overstated.[3]  Jesus doesn’t mince words about it, saying that those who spend their entire lives showing contempt for him and his invitation to life will choose for themselves a fate worse than the fate of Sodom[4], a city which was, by the way, completely destroyed because they were inhospitable in some of the cruelest ways you could ever imagine.  Once again, evangelism has everything to do with hospitality.  Hospitality offered and hospitality received.

 

When people reject God’s peace we are filled with regret and sorrow, but we do not have to carry away with us the heavy burden of responsibility.  If there are people in your life who are simply not open, at least yet, to God’s peace, that is not your burden to carry.  You must let it go.  At least for now because, of course, you never know what the future holds.  Again, we must believe that God is present in the life of every person in the form of some “burning bush.”  God does not give up on people he loves and God loves all people.

 

In the end, Jesus’ warning brings us back to where we started.  Evangelism is not for the faint of heart.  As we put ourselves out there and extend an invitation of peace to people we meet, some people will return our invitation with rejection.  If this possibility makes us timid, or ashamed of Christ or ashamed to be identified as his followers, we will stop extending these invitations and, as a result, we will never be able to know who receives them and, in turn, who are the people of peace to whom God is calling us to go.

 

In a way, therefore there is line we must cross, a death we must die, before we become people ready to share God’s good news.  Like lambs, we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of finding people of peace and willing to face rejection and opposition from those without peace because we know that we cannot have one without the other.[5]  The good news, of course, is that as we embrace Christ’s call to go, regardless of the cost to ourselves, we will experience the thrill that comes when we get to watch the grace and power of Christ enter willing lives and, even through us, change things for eternity.

 

Amen.

 

The Next Step

A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application

 

Read Luke 10:1-12.  What do you notice this time through this passage?

 

When Jesus sends his followers out to bring good news to the world he tells them he is sending them out like lambs into the midst of wolves.  What does this mean?

 

Do you believe the following are true about every person you will ever meet?  Which one of these do you typically find the hardest to believe?

Every human being you will ever see was created in the image of God.

God is already present in the life of that person in the form of some “burning bush”.

The best things about that person are blessings from God.

The worst things about that person are arenas for God’s redemption.

That person is hungry for encouragement and love and needs help noticing the presence of the divine in their life.

 

Jesus says that when we go out to share the good news we are to look for people who “share our peace.”  What does this mean?

 

Why does evangelism seem to have so much to do with hospitality?

 

Who is somebody in your life who, even though he or she is not a Christian, extends you hospitality?  Could this person be somebody who in whom God is at work?

 

What would it look like for you to “shake the dust off your feet” in regards to somebody in your life who has refused to share your peace?  What does this even mean?

 

Do you have the courage to extend God’s peace to others knowing that some may slam the door in your face?  If not, how will you ever know who is open to God’s peace?



[1] Andrew Arterbury, “Enterataing Angels: Hospitality in Luke and Acts – https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/53378.pdf

[2] See Luke 9:51-55 where Jesus actually rebukes the disciples for wanting to condemn those who do not receive them.

[3] John Calvin once wrote, “God is offended by no crime so much as by contempt for His Word: not for murder or adultery or for any other crime are we told to show detestation in so serious a rite.”

[4] Read the story in Genesis 19.

[5] I’m borrowing some thoughts here from an excellent blog on this subject by Ben Sternke – See  https://bensternke.com/2011/11/the-key-to-recognizing-a-person-of-peace/