Unlike what many people think, most churches are not in the businesses of getting rich. Churches have to manage their finances to be able to stay afloat, just like anyone else. Although churches might be exempt from some taxes, they still have employees to pay, utilities to cover, supplies to buy, insurance needs, and many other expenses.
All of these things together can be expensive and many churches today are struggling to pay the bills. This was something I realized when I worked at my first church, St. Peter, while I was still in seminary in Columbus, Ohio.
St. Peter had once been a large congregation, up until the 2000’s. It had been a congregation that promoted diversity and had a vibrant worship style. The church was once known for the African dancing that was part of its worship. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived at the church, its membership was down to only 10 people worshiping on a Sunday,
On a good day.
The sanctuary was no longer used, because the congregation couldn’t afford to heat it, let alone turn the lights on. Instead, we met in a small side room adjacent to the fellowship hall.
I remember the Pastor of the congregation bringing in bills and handing them out to the members of the congregation for us to pray over, with everyone knowing that there was no way for us to pay them.
The next year, when I returned to school in the fall, St. Peter in Columbus closed.
As you may or may not know, St. Peter’s, our church here in Port Jervis, at one time, not too long ago, was not far from closing its own doors.
In many ways, this has introduced a sense of fear into how we do ministry here at St. Peter’s. We want to see growth, to ensure that our doors do not close. We want to gain more members to ensure financial stability. We want to reach out to the community to benefit ourselves.
Instead of thinking outward, we begin thinking inward, and this inward spiral (towards ourselves) is essentially the root of what Luke refers to as “the power of the enemy”. It’s acting out of fear for yourself instead of acting out of love for God. It’s feeling inadequate to take on the call to follow Christ, even though every creature on Earth is called to a divine journey.
Luke reiterates this by saying that the Lord appointed seventy people, other than the disciples, to go before him into the world and prepare the way for him. Seventy most likely refers to the seventy nations described in Genesis 10, to be all the nations of the world. They were appointed to go before him, on a divine journey, acting out of love instead of fear.
Before they leave, Jesus gives them ten key points to travel by. (This is according to the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary, but I think there are really twelve points.)
These twelve points act like a handbook for all of us who are embarking on a divine journey, so I want to share these points with you today.
In the midst of a world living in fear of preservation,
Instead of living into a life of jubilation,
First, in verse 1 it says that Christ sends the seventy out in pairs. This was because in Mosaic Law, specifically, from Deuteronomy 19:15, two witnesses were required for a witness to be creditable. So, we are encouraged not to travel alone, but rather together, so that others will take us seriously.
Second, in verse two, it says: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” This is referring to how few will want to labor completely in love for God, but if they do the reward is great.
Third, Jesus uses the metaphor of a harvest because people would have understood that the harvest was also a time of haste. You had to move quickly before your food went bad. So with this journey, we are called to act now, not wait.
Fourth, we are told to: “ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” We are reminded to call upon God to help us in this journey. Jesus warns in verse 3 that we are being sent out like lambs into the midst of wolves. How can we call for help from God? Through worship, prayer, and singing.
Fifth, Christ says at the beginning of verse 3: “Go on your way.” Here, the message is simple. We are not called to imitate others, we are called to be ourselves.
Sixth, in verse 4, we are told not to be concerned about our own purse or bag or sandals, rather we should be focused on our journey into the world towards God. So, it doesn’t matter what kind of purse we have or how fancy our sandals are.
Seventh, at the end verse 4 we are asked to greet no one on the road. In other words, we should not get bogged down with the gossip of the world.
Eighth, in verse 5 it says: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’6 ……. and 7 Remain in the same house.” Do not move about from house to house.
Imagine you’ve just arrived in a new town and you stop at the first house you see because you’re thirsty. You ask for a glass of water, and after you’re finished you learn about a bigger house down the road that would also be happy to host you. They might have softer beds and better food. But instead you say that you’ll stay in this house, brining honor to the family who hosts you, no matter what status they are.
The message is still the same, go out into the world, and walk into people’s homes, wherever that may be, on the streets or in a mansion, and don’t insult those who host you. Honor them.
Ninth, in verse 7, the appointed are also called to eat and drink whatever is provided for them. The host is in charge. We do not seek to dictate or impose our own ideas on others. Rather we are to receive others as they are.
Tenth, in verse 9 it says we are then to 9 cure the sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’[b] This means that we are to proclaim a new way of life through both our actions (here referred to as curing the sick) and our words (referred to as saying to them that the kingdom of god has come near to you).
Eleventh, we also have to be prepared for rejection and resistance. In verse 10 it says: “10 But 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.” So even though we will not always succeed, we should simply shake it off and persevere.
And finally, at the end of verse 11 Jesus tells us that ‘the kingdom of God has come near.’ Christ leaves us with a word of assurance that what we are reaching for is much closer than we think.
So do not be deceived;
If you sow to your own flesh you will reap corruption from the flesh,
but if you sow to the spirit, you will reap eternal life for the spirit.
What Paul is really trying to say in Galatians is to follow this handbook from Christ into a divine journey and leave fear behind.
Lastly, I want to share another piece of joy with all of you gathered here today. Last week I shared a list with the congregation of everything we have accomplished in the last nine months. Now, I’d like to share with all of you how much we have been able to grow financially in the past nine months. (Handout provided)
This might not seem like much, but it is huge when you look at our budget as a whole, and know where we have come from. And do you know how a healing like this was possible?
It was because this congregation stopped acting out of fear and started a divine journey together, towards something new.
Forbes magazine puts it this way: “If you approach your finances from a place of fear or ignorance, you’ll be like a boat floating around the ocean without a motor.”
It’s the same with our life in Christ. If we decide to join this divine journey, instead of giving into fear, then the harvest will be very bountiful. Not only financially, but in every way,
Last week we had a new member class with 12 new members!
We should read this handout with joy and excitement, knowing that each of us are appointed by God, and then we can rejoice and be glad!
And all you who mourn over what once was—
11 may nurse and be satisfied
from God’s consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
from her glorious bosom.
(I think I can say these words from Isiah, now that I have my own child)
12 For thus says the Lord:
I will extend prosperity to my new creation, like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm,
and dandled on her knees.
13 As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted
When you join this divine journey to the new Jerusalem.