Preparing the way

Do you remember learning to write a story, when you were a child? Perhaps you remember painstakingly practicing your penmenship until you could write it perfectly. Or perhaps you remember filling out worksheets, sort of mad-libs, fill in the blank style that taught you a bit about what makes a compelling story tick. Or perhaps, like me, you remember the incessant chant that your teacher or your mother would keep saying—”who, what, when, where, why, and how”?

Who. What. When. Where. Why. How. These are the pieces of information that make even the simplest short story make sense. And this is true for not just short stories—novels, series, t.v. shows, any good public relations statement… we need to know who, what, when, where, why, and how. It’s part of what makes us tick.

And this gospel lesson from Luke certainly has all of those pieces.

Who? Jesus, and 72 disciples.

What? Jesus sending 72 disciples in pairs.

When? Now, already. Get a move on it!

Where? To every town and place where he was going.

Why? Because the harvest of the kingdom is plentiful and the laborers are few.

How?  No purse, no bag, no sandals, no idle chitchat, with urgency, with purpose and focus.

And from there, the story feels like it goes into a list of instructions: here’s how you interact with people who want to hear the good news. Here’s how you respond to people who will not hear what you have to say.  

“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. He 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. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 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. Remain 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. 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.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `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.’”

What do you hear?

When I read this, I keep coming around to that unmistakable, sinking feeling that this is just one giant to-do list. Yes, it’s a great story, and it tells us who, what, when, where, why and how. But there’s so much detail here that I think it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

And you know, I think the reason I feel overwhelmed, and perhaps you do to, is because it feels like there’s just so much to accomplish. There’s so much to do. So many people to share the good news with. So many people who are not going to be interested. So many people who might be interested if perhaps we could just muster up enough courage to say something. And so many requirements—no purse, no bag, no extra pairs of shoes, no other distractions.

Part of me just wants to give up right now. Lord, you have the wrong person. I can’t do all of this.

I can’t do all of this.

But I wonder, if that’s not the whole point. I wonder if acknowledging the fact that I can’t do all of this is, perhaps, the right response.

I think it’s really easy in an individualist culture to hear a lesson like this, and feel overwhelmed because I can’t possibly, as one person, manage all of this. If our filter, the lens through which we see the world is set on applying everything as personally as possible, then of COURSE this feels like too much.

Because it is too much for one person. And we might say, yes, of course. That’s why the 72 were sent out in pairs. But it seems like an awful lot, even for seventy-two people divided into pairs.

It’s too much because it wasn’t meant to be done alone. It wasn’t even meant to be done just in pairs. “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.”

He sent them on ahead of him to every place where he himself intended to go.

I’ve read this passage so many times over the years, and I’ve never noticed that little line. In the midst of telling this important story about telling the good news, and what it means to be a disciple and an evangelist, Luke thinks it’s important for us to know that Jesus only sent the disciples to where he intended to follow later.

He sent them on ahead of him to every place where he himself intended to go.

It’s almost as if, in my individualist desire for self-sufficiency, and a checklist of who what when where why, and how to get this evangelism job done, I missed, really, the entire point of why I was going to a town, or city, or neighborhood, or friend’s home in the first place.

What’s important here is that the disciples are not only sent out to do this work, but that reporting back to Jesus and checking the evangelism box is not the end of the story. The seventy two evangelists, as we might call them, go out knowing that the work they do is important, but they do it knowing that Jesus will soon follow them into the same place, the same village, the same city and neighborhood.

I think what’s sometimes intimidating about the idea of evangelism is that we have to do it all ourselves. That we have to grab a friend and put on suits and knock on doors. That we have to go stand on a street corner and figure out what kind of sign to carry. But in reality, evangelism is more than just doing these things. Evangelism can be entering the spaces that you already inhabit, the neighborhoods that you already visit with intentionality.

Intentional evangelism. That’s what Jesus is giving instructions for—to be aware of who is willing to hear, who is curious. To be aware of who isn’t ready, and to respond without anger. To be focused, ready to share. And most importantly, to walk into wherever you’re called to be knowing that it’s not all on you. Because Jesus is following us. And our work, as evangelists–and yes, you are an evangelist—is to intentionally find ways to engage this story—this marvelous insane story of Christ’s love—in the places we find ourselves.

So as you prepare to go out into the world today, consider what spaces you’re called to be an evangelist in. Where are we preparing the way for Jesus to enter?

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