Benjamin Harrison was a rather rotund founding father. The father of future US President William Henry Harrison and the great-grandfather of namesake and also future US President Benjamin Harrison had come to Philadelphia on this hot summer day in 1776 for the second meeting of the Continental Congress. The Virginia Assembly had elected him one of their delegates, representing the interests of patriots in the royal colony of Virginia; the largest and perhaps most powerful of the thirteen.
After several rounds of voting and heated debate, the congress finally came to agreement on revisions to Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. Following John Hancock’s famous signature, a line formed for the delegates to come up and sign the document that would cross the Atlantic to be delivered to King George III, a document in which their signatures sealed their status as traitors to the crown.
Elbridge Gerry, future US Vice President and rather skinny founding father, found Harrison after they had both signed. In front of many other founding fathers, mindful of the treason they had just committed and the penalty of death for such treason, Harrison slapped Gerry on the back and jokingly remarked:
“When the hanging comes, Gerry, I shall have the advantage. [My weight means] you’ll still be hanging there a half hour after it’s all over with me!”
Our founding fathers were known to have such a morbid sense of humor, knowledgeable that their actions on this hot July day in 1776 amounted to treason. They knew such treason came with costly consequences to their life, their liberty, and their pursuit of happiness. They took tremendous risk individually for the benefit of their community. And in fact, many of them suffered great personal losses, whether the loss of property, the destruction of houses, the loss of the lives of family members, or imprisonment under the harshest conditions imaginable. They were willing to sacrifice everything for their enlightenment principles, for the cause of liberty.
Sometimes, our beliefs require sacrifice. In our scripture this morning, Jesus makes clear that to follow him requires sacrifice; even more sacrifice than the founders took upon themselves! As he commissions seventy-two new disciples to spread the gospel, he tells them to take nothing with them but the clothes on their back. They are to risk even their shelter, hunger, and thirst as they go from town to town. To proclaim the Kingdom of God has come near requires nothing less than a full giving of themselves to the cause of Christ.
Let’s hear about these seventy-two now, from Luke chapter 10.
Jesus commissions seventy-two disciples to go out in his name, bringing the good news of the Kingdom of God. They are to go to homes, carrying nothing but the clothes on their backs, hoping to be received warmly. But Jesus issues a warning: “I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” This will not be easy. There will be grave risk involved. Some will reject these new disciples when they try and enter a home. For others, they will experience the rejection of entire towns, which is when they are to shake the dust off their feet.
They are to go out like lambs into the midst of wolves. That might sound strange to them because following Jesus, at this point in the gospel of Luke, doesn’t carry a ton of risk. At the time, it was fashionable to follow Jesus. He was popular in Galilee and the surrounding area. Many purported to follow Jesus. Not unlike the feeling of many contemporaries of the founding fathers.
Jesus, in Luke’s account, was hugely popular. He had attracted a large following. Jesus was already known as a miracle worker, someone who spoke with authority, someone who, in short, could change lives and be transformative. His ideas were spreading across the countryside. One can imagine that the first century versions of parlors, salons, coffee shops, and bars were alight with Jesus’s ideas. The cool kids, at least early in his ministry, followed and discussed and raved about Jesus.
But Jesus won’t just let the cool kids be cool. They must be committed. They must be willing to take risks. They must be willing to sacrifice. They are to go to the towns, carrying nothing but what’s on their back, having no provisions, completely reliant on the generosity of the people. Jesus won’t have fashionable followers, people who just want to be known for adhering to what Jesus is teaching. He will be no Kant or Locke; Jesus is here to bring the Kingdom of God to bear, and his followers must be willing to make sacrifices.
And consider what Jesus is asking these seventy-two to do. Go to strangers and proclaim the gospel. Be willing to be rejected. Having no provisions, that rejection could mean no water or food, perhaps for days. They will be completely reliant upon God to take care of them. They also risk violence when a whole town rejects them. While Jesus was popular, there were corners where he was unpopular, where the rule of the pharisees was complete. These seventy-two risked being run out of towns like those lest they be stoned. The risks were great.
Consider as well that these seventy-two probably had day jobs they’re leaving behind to go and proclaim the kingdom. They’re leaving behind wealth, livelihoods, giving up their worldly pursuits for the Kingdom of God. They’re probably also leaving behind families, whom they may not see for a long time. Jesus makes this clear right before our scripture when he says to those who want to follow him but won’t sacrifice to make it so, “‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” This isn’t a short-term mission trip; it’s not a mountain top experience, because this is not a short-term commitment. There’s tremendous risk and sacrifice being made by these seventy-two as they commit their lives and their futures to Jesus Christ.
While we don’t know what happened to these seventy-two, we can imagine based on the experiences of the twelve. Fast-forward toward the end of Luke. The eleven remaining after Judas’s betrayal feared for their lives during Jesus’s trial and crucifixion. Even after the resurrection, John’s gospel tells us they were hiding in a room out of fear for their lives. And after they had begun ministry following Pentecost, they still risked persecution and torture. Peter, we know, was martyred at Rome’s main cemetery, Vatican Hill, which is now the site of St. Peter’s basilica at the Vatican. Thomas may have journeyed to India, risking greatly crossing the deserts of the middle east and dying in obscurity. Many of the disciples fates we do not know, but we know that the first hundred years of Christianity was a difficult time to be called a Christian and any follower risked persecution, imprisonment, torture, and execution! The disciples’ decision to follow Jesus and proclaim the Kingdom cost them dearly.
The disciples were willing to sacrifice everything for the Kingdom of God, to follow Christ and share his gospel. What would cause them to be willing to take such risks?
Our two thousand year history as a religion is full of stories of those who have risked greatly, from the Apostle Peter to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Oscar Romero who stood up against the power of the state. Their stories are the stuff of legend, the risks they took were great and in many cases, such as for Peter, Bonhoeffer, and Romero, it required their very lives. The Kingdom of God, proclaiming that it is here and now, comes with risk and sacrifice.
But they were willing to take risks and make sacrifices because they were so bought into the mission. They believed so fervently in the Kingdom of God, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, that they could do nothing that would get in the way of following Christ, of adhering to the mission. It’s like we’ve been saying when talking about practicing simplicity: focus on the mission, be authentic in doing so, and trust God with the rest. Focusing on the mission sometimes involves risk and sacrifice, requiring that we trust God with the rest, even with our life, liberty, property, and families.
These seventy-two disciples were so bought into the mission they were willing to take risks and make sacrifices. And that’s the answer to our question this morning. What would cause them to be willing to take such risks? They were fully bought into the mission to announce the gospel of Jesus Christ, that the Kingdom of God has come near.
But it leaves another question: what about us who are comfortable?
When I think of all this, those forebears in the faith who made great sacrifices, I feel a little guilty. I don’t know about you, but I live a comfortable life much of the time. For much of my life, I tend to fit in, I tend to hold fashionable beliefs and opinions. I don’t have to risk much. So what does this mean for me? If you can relate to this, what does this mean for you? What does this mean for our church?
Several years ago, I found myself facing a hard decision, one that if I stayed true to the mission would be risky and require sacrifice. Like the seventy-two of this scripture, I heard what God was saying to me, but I knew it could be costly. I thought specifically about verse 11: “even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.” I had a joke about where I was working in North Georgia at the time. I would say, in the opposite of those Visa commercials, that the sidewalks took you everywhere you didn’t want to be. As the campus had grown, the sidewalks had not been rerouted, so I often found myself having to cut across patches of grass and dirt. That usually meant, upon arriving to a classroom for teaching or for a meeting, I had to wipe the dust and grass off my feet.
Within months of beginning that position, I found myself at a crossroads. I either would sacrifice my beliefs and my calling to keep my job and my comfortable life or I would stand up for my calling and my faith at the risk of my livelihood and my job. Opportunity came. I expected to speak to the board, and so I wrote a speech, where I commented on the poor sidewalks, the dust on my feet, and then declared to them that I was shaking the dust off my feet in protest against them. I was ready to make the sacrifice.
But then, the way things went, the opportunity never came. I never had a moment to speak truth to power. I did lose my job about six weeks later, but in a quiet way that didn’t afford me the opportunity to speak against the injustices and unethical practices that I had witnessed; the ones causing me to lose my position. That loss required great sacrifice. And to this day, I’m not fully sure what impact, if any, my actions had. I have no idea how God has used any of that.
But of course, that’s not the point. The point is to be faithful to God’s calling, to act as we understand God to be calling us to act, and trust that God will make good come out of it, even if we never see that good.
So I share this story to say this: it’s easy to hear a sermon on risk taking and sacrifice for the mission and think that we need to sacrifice today, or that we need to take risks today, or that if we don’t feel a call to sacrifice or take risks today there’s something wrong with our faith. That is simply not the case. Consider that the disciples, whether the twelve or the seventy-two, were also comfortable and happy before Jesus called on them to take risks and make sacrifices.
A call to take risks, a call to sacrifice, isn’t constant. But we must be ready to make sacrifices and take risks when the call comes. That’s the point of this scripture. Sometimes in life will be comfortable and happy and we are blessed by those moments. But as disciples of Jesus Christ, a people who have given ourselves to the mission to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near, just as it says in our scripture this morning, we must stand ready to take risks and make sacrifices.
That goes for our individual lives and goes for our life as a church. We are moving forward in mission, as we practice simplicity. When we focus on the mission, that will at times require that we sacrifice and take risks as a church. In being our authentic selves as a church, we will take risks. To be authentic is to take risks because it means we are no longer trying to please everyone. To be authentic means we are more likely to be rejected. And to trust God with the rest means that we must be willing to take risks when they come.
Indeed, this church has been taking risks and making sacrifices already. There have been sacrifices as we have lived into our current financial reality. This church is taking a risk on me and the new staff we have coming in. There have been sacrifices over these past several years. And while we must stand ready to make additional sacrifices as a church, for that is the calling on our lives, we have this guarantee from Jesus Christ: good will come of it. It may take a while to see it, we may never understand the goodness in its fullness, but good will come about. God will provide. As I said in my first sermon, faith is believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse. The calling on our lives is to be willing to sacrifice and take risks in advance, trusting that those risks and sacrifices will make sense in reverse.
Risk taking is hard. Being willing to make sacrifices is hard. But it’s worth it. The Kingdom of God is worth it. The gospel of Jesus Christ is worth it.
So the calling on our lives, both individually and as a church, isn’t to take risks or to have to sacrifice today. Maybe not tomorrow. No, the calling on our lives is to be ready; to be willing to take risks and make sacrifices when God calls on us to do so. We must be willing to do so because we see, in the stories of the disciples and our forbears in the faith, that God takes our risks, our sacrifices, our willingness to follow faithfully, and causes great things to happen. God takes what we do and builds the Kingdom of God.
Let us commit this morning: we will take risks as individual disciples and as a church, as God calls us to do so. Let us stand ready to do so while we practice simplicity by focusing on the mission, being authentic, and trusting God with the rest. God will make incredible things happen through our church, through our labors, through our sacrifices and risk taking. The Kingdom of God has come near! The harvest is plentiful. Let our prayer be, as a church, that we, God, stand ready to be your laborers, whatever the cost.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.