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Sunday 22 May 2022: Aldersgate Sunday (or John and Charles Wesley, 24 May)  

Proclaiming the good news
Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

By Claire Hargreaves
Recently retired Methodist presbyter

Context: a semi-rural village chapel, small elderly congregation
Aim: to encourage the church to take the good news of Christ into the wider community

I wonder which phrase in that reading you found most memorable. Quite possibly it was verse 2 that struck a chord (‘the harvest is plentiful but the labourers few’)? Perhaps the idea of gathering together enough enthusiastic supporters to go and knock on the doors of the new build developments in the village to tell them the good news of Christ, seems so unrealistic as to be an impossible aim?

Concern with numbers should not distract us from the essential heart of this text, which holds a clear message of hope and joy. The narrative here overflows with positive encouragement to reach out to those who do not yet know Jesus. The seventy-two disciples may have had their own worries about their mission, but the joy they received made it all worthwhile. They were so overwhelmed by their success that Jesus had to remind them that they acted not in their own strength but in the power of God. Their true reward was not in self-congratulation but that their names would be written in heaven (verse 20). This is an honour in which every believer would rejoice.

Despite the historical and social differences between Jesus’ age and the twenty-first century, there are some relevant and helpful lessons to be learned from Jesus’ words and the experience of the disciples.

Firstly, Jesus acknowledged that the task of taking the good news to others is not easy. The disciples were going into dangerous unknown territory, where they would be ‘like lambs among wolves’, said Jesus (verse 3). Proclaiming the good news of Jesus outside the church doors to a mostly indifferent community today is a daunting challenge. We would rather they came through our doors than us go out to them. We are reluctant to leave the comfort of familiar buildings and styles of worship. Offering prayers in the pub may be one step too far for even the most faithful of church members. The world beyond the church doors is scornful, too busy, or even actively hostile, but go out there we must, for that is what Jesus calls us to do. We are his workers, even if few in numbers. It is our task to tell others about Jesus and help them begin their own walk with Christ.

Thankfully God knows our frailties, our fears and anxieties about mission work (Psalm 139). So, secondly, the disciples were not sent out on their own and neither are we. They went in pairs and in the power of God. Jesus also equipped them with a set of practical instructions. They were to travel light, to keep focused on their task, to find a welcoming host and not to feel guilty about accepting hospitality, and to heal those who were sick and in need, in Jesus’ name. If the disciples met with hostility or aggression, they were not to argue or debate but to leave the area.

Experience of prayer walking, in pairs, in a village high street was encouraging. Most people welcomed the offer of prayer and some asked specifically for prayer for healing. Visiting new neighbours to tell them about church services might not be as difficult as one imagines. It might even result in an invitation inside for a cup of tea. If this turns into an opportunity for prayer, so much the better. If not, a polite goodbye is sufficient.

Thirdly, if taking the good news of Jesus into the community still seems an impossible task, remember the second part of verse 2. ‘Ask the Lord of the harvest therefore to send out workers into his harvest field.’

Even Jesus’ chosen seventy-two disciples would not have been enough to reach the thousands of people who had still not heard the good news. Instead of feeling discouraged, Jesus simply says ask God for more workers. The starting point for taking the good news to the people then becomes prayer, rather than lament. Faithful prayers may well bring other concerned Christians to help take the good news to people who are not yet believers. All things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26).

The disciples fulfilled their mission and returned to Jesus full of joy that they had seen the power of Jesus’ name transform people’s lives. This is the good news: that Jesus comes to save, forgive and offer eternal life to those who believe in his name. That’s a message which should be heard by everyone. Will you help proclaim the good news?

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