Jesus is sending out fierce lambs with a cross-shaped love to face the wolves. Lexington Theological Seminary just graduated 14 of them!
Text: Luke 10:1-11
After this Jesus appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.
Tomorrow, Jesus is appointing fourteen of you, sending you out to every town and place where he himself intends to go. Jesus intends to show up in Westlake, Ohio. Knoxville, Tennessee. Daytona Beach, Florida. Midway, Kentucky. Kinston, North Carolina. San Antonio, Texas. Louisville, Kentucky. All the places where our graduates are doing ministry.
This is not to say that Jesus is not already present and working. We know that he is there and has been there and will continue to be there. Because, of course, this is not the first commissioning. In the chapter just prior to this one, Jesus sent out the first wave of laborers, the twelve disciples. Then the group of seventy was the second wave. It’s more than a five-fold increase because there is so much work to be done. Wave after wave of laborers have been sent out over the centuries to harvest the seeds planted by Jesus in every generation.
Tomorrow we will send out yet another wave of laborers for the harvest.
Through this seminary made up of professors, and staff members, and fellow students, and a dean, and a president, and a board of trustees – through this institution, God is appointing you, lifting you up for all to see as individuals whom she has designated to do this work in your own unique way, with your own unique gifts, in your own unique context.
Tomorrow marks a qualitative change in those of you whom Jesus is appointing to do this work. Your graduation with your Certificate, or your Master of Divinity, or your Master of Theological Studies, or your Doctor of Ministry from Lexington Theological Seminary is a powerful and visible signal and sign to the world that there is yet another wave of apostles – the sent ones – being deployed for the harvest.
‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the God of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.
Lambs in the midst of wolves? What is Jesus thinking? Lambs don’t stand a chance against wolves.
Ah, but these are no passive, fuzzy wuzzy lambs we’re talking about here. Jesus is sending out fierce lambs. Fierce lambs – I know, that’s an oxymoron if I ever heard one. Or more like a paradox. Here’s the thing about Jesus’ lambs – they embody the paradox of ministry. Yes, there is gentleness, compassion, pastoral sensitivity, vulnerability, and a willingness to show restraint when appropriate.
But Jesus’ lambs are also fierce lambs. To be fierce means to be intense and powerful. Relentless. A force to be reckoned with.
We need lambs who are intense when it comes to studying the Word of God, grappling with the theological implications of a cross-shaped love that has come into the world to confront the wolves.
And we are facing a legion of wolves, aren’t we?
Just a quick aside – I do not mean to imply that wolves as animals are evil. Wolves get a bad rap in our fairy tales and parables. But Jesus is speaking metaphorically here about the ferociousness and dangers that the servants of God face when they are out there working in the harvest.
That’s why we need fierce lambs who are ferociously aggressive when it comes to facing the wolves of, say, sexism and homophobia, for example. These wolves are not only baring their teeth to savagely protect the patriarchy, they are tearing women apart who dare to exercise their God-given intelligence, authority, and leadership. They are beating a lesbian couple who dare sit too close on a bus. These wolves are ready to execute a woman who refuses to submit to state-mandated pregnancy.
So we need fierce lambs who rise up together in the name of the Good Shepherd to relentlessly protect the rights of women and the LGBTQIA community.
We need fierce lambs unafraid to confront the wolves of white privilege, systemic racism, and the rise of vicious white nationalism. According to the FBI, the number of incidents involving hate crimes increased for a third straight year in 2017, rising by 17 percent compared to 2016. But the wolves are not just found in militant far-right extremists who shoot up churches and synagogues, who burn churches and proudly display swastikas and Confederate flags on their vehicles and Facebook profiles.
The wolf of racial bias is also found within our own police forces that target people of color. The wolf of xenophobia warehouses immigrant children in cages and tents, separating them from their family members like lambs with no defense.
The wolf of militant nationalism ambushes a Lutheran pastor named Betty Rendón who had escaped violence in her home country and sought refuge here in the United States.
Talk about a fierce lamb – Rendón stood up to guerilla fighters threatening her students and her family.
In this country she studied for ministry and was poised to begin her DMin program in preaching when the wolf tore apart her family and deported her and her husband, like so many other refugees.
Jesus needs fierce lambs to raise their voices together, to call out injustice, to advocate for the vulnerable, to work together using all of our skills in civil disobedience and non-violent protest to bring about justice.
Because Jesus knew that no matter how fierce the lamb, they cannot be sent out alone. Jesus sent them out in pairs. LTS grads – you do not go alone.
You are blessed with pairs of pairs. Pairs upon pairs of pairs.
You have a whole network of fierce lambs who labor alongside you, even if they are across town, across the country, or across the ocean. You know how to connect with each other. You have been equipped to call on your fellow fierce lambs when you need guidance on a sermon, input on a pastoral care situation, insight on a biblical passage, a shot of courage to confront whatever wolf is lurking and threatening the sheep of your fold.
Then there is the big, bad wolf of addiction masquerading as a kindly pain reliever, hiding within bottles, tempting us with an escape from emptiness and suffering, only to trick us and devour us whole.
Jesus needs fierce lambs who tear the mask off the wolves, who tell the truth about the predatory nature of these wolves, and who minister with ferocious compassion to those who have been victims of these wolves.
How does one minister with ferocious compassion – yet another oxymoron, another paradox?
Jesus said: 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.
See, we’re not talking about a passive, submissive kind of peace. We’re talking about a brave, bold, active peace exercised by fierce lambs who are willing to go to places where they have never been before. To build bridges across divides of culture and race, across chasms of disability and privilege, across the red-blue divides of politics in order to break bread and share a meal. In order to bring healing and proclaim that the Realm of God has come to near to you with ferocious compassion.
This is not to say that there is going to be some kind of Disney-Hallmark happy ending. Jesus is not that naïve. He knows that not everyone will want to step foot on the bridge or reach across the chasm, or enter the “purple zone,” as it were.
But notice that the peace does not dissipate just because some people will not share in it.
The peace comes back to you. It’s yours because it comes from God. Your peace is not dependent upon the reception of another because it comes from a divine, transcendent source.
Even still, there are consequences for refusing this peace. Jesus instructs those seventy sent-ones:
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.”
I hope you draw incredible comfort from this passage.
Because it tells you that even if you cannot accomplish the mission and ministry you had intended, even if the wolves get the better of you, even if you make mistakes, the Realm of God cannot be stopped. It’s coming because the fiercest, boldest, most courageous, most powerful Lamb of all – the Lamb of God – has come near and is coming nearer still.
I hope you also draw humbling perspective from this passage, recognizing that when you do bring in the harvest, when you do see the results of your ministry, that you will recognize what and who is truly behind your good work.
It’s like the image of the little yapping chihuahua growling at the massive pit bull, who gets scared and runs away. But all the time it was because the giant rottweiler was standing behind the little dog, backing her up.
All of the fierce lambs know that it is the Lamb of God who has their back and sends the wolves running. And the seventy come back with joy recounting how even the demons submitted to us in Jesus’ name.
He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’
Names like Risa, Heather, Betty, Linda, Andrew, Ken, Pamela, Jenny, Tonya, Peter, Brook, Melissa, Ottie.
Hear me, fierce lambs. The wolves may howl in triumph for a time. But I am here to tell you that they will not be able to drown out the roar of the Lamb!
Amen! Thanks be to God.
Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky. She is the author of Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019) and Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015).