"A Small Number But Mighty"

Proper 9.C.22
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

At first glance, the sum of two doesn’t appear to amount to very much. And, given the words of commissioning, issued by our Savior, nor does it sound particularly comforting. Upon sending out the seventy in pairs of two, Jesus issues this rather ominous benediction: “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.” I don’t know about you, but if I were standing with the seventy, it would be about this point that I would be turning my head for a rather fond gaze toward the family homestead—and hoping that my will and insurance were up-to-date.

Faced with the immense task of carrying the Gospel to the ends of the earth, we might be tempted to ask ourselves what two people can really accomplish. If you’re thinking that such a small number is of little consequence, then consider the story of Rebecca and Abigail Bates—two young women who, during the War of 1812, averted a battle.

Rebecca and Abigail were locals—they lived near the village of Scituate. Their father was the keeper of the lighthouse, which stood at the entrance of the harbor and warned ships away from the rocky coast.

One day, Rebecca and Abigail were in the tower, polishing the great glass of the light. Their father and mother had rowed across the bay to the village, leaving the lighthouse in their daughters’ care. As they worked, the girls noticed a strange ship creeping around a point. It stopped and lowered two small boats, which turned and started toward the land.

At that time people feared every ship they did not know, for the year was 1814, and America and England were once again at war. British ships often sailed directly into harbors and sent their soldiers ashore to attack the villages. The British had already made one raid on Scituate’s harbor, and had burned ten vessels before putting back to sea.

Rebecca and Abigail stood frozen in the lighthouse, peering down and holding their breath while they waited to see what these strange boats would do. Closer and closer the boats crept, until finally they entered the harbor. They were full of British soldiers!

Rebecca and Abigail looked about. No help was to be seen. What could they do to warn the townspeople? Rebecca grabbed her sister by the sleeve and told her the plan.

The sisters raced down the winding staircase and across the lawn to their house. Abigail snatched up a drum, Rebecca grabbed a fife, and they slipped out, toward the beach, crouching behind bushes and sandhills to keep out of sight. The British boats were closer by now, and the soldiers were preparing to leap ashore when suddenly an order was given to halt.

From behind a clump of cedar trees came the beating of a drum, and then the squeak of a fife. It was not skillful, but it was loud and clear—the strains of “Yankee Doodle” floated over the sands.

The British soldiers quickly concluded that the local militia had seen them coming and so turned their boats around and rowed quickly, back to their ship.

Villagers soon spotted the British boats and raised an alarm as they hurried toward the lighthouse. When they reached the point, they found only Rebecca and Abigail Bates, sitting on a rock, watching a faraway ship put to sea. A drum and fife lay beside them. The American Army of Two had won the day.

The strength of numbers is frequently less relevant to success than the courage and belief which motivates people of faith—be they missionaries or revolutionaries. Jesus knew this. Our Savior wasn’t concerned about carrying the Good News to the people through glitz, glamor, and a huge media campaign in order to reach the widest number of people in the shortest amount of time. Jesus wasn’t interested in making vast numbers of converts, he was interested in training his disciples to be able to trust in the Spirit of God so that they could carry on his work after he left this earthly life. He knew that in order for the Holy Spirit to work, it doesn’t take vast numbers of people or more stuff—be it money, guns, camels or swag than the other person. What it takes are people unencumbered from the cares of the world and inspired to do the impossible from on high.

Today’s lesson encourages us to notice that Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to carry much with them—yet, surprisingly, they found they had all they needed. He didn’t barrage the towns he was visiting with advance teams, advertising, social influencers or media. He simply sent those who believed truly and deeply in his word, his work and his person, to speak to others who were hungering to hear the Good News. It didn’t take much. Yet, consider the results more than two thousand years later.

When pondering the “Sending of the Seventy”, I cannot help but conclude that this great send-off wasn’t so much for the sake of Jesus, but for the sake of the Seventy. They needed to know that God is sufficient. Consider the end of the reading.

“The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

On this Independence Day Weekend, we celebrate that we are blessed with a country honoring individual freedom. The same can be said of our faith. We are free to choose the path of life or death—and likewise, we are free to worship God in any way we deem appropriate. As we consider these twin blessings, we need to think deeply about how we are called to protect the rights and liberties of our country—not only for ourselves, but for all those who we hope will live one day under the banner of freedom; and also how we, as followers of Jesus, are to offer the liberating knowledge of salvation to those who have not yet heard of Jesus Christ. Go forth, and bring the Good News to the World. In Jesus’ name. Amen.