In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
On my way into church one day last week, I decided to count the number of other churches I passed by on my way in. It surprised me that I counted eight in total because I only live four miles away from door to door. As I was passing by these local neighborhood churches, I thought twelve men started all this. Twelve men, who lived a very long time ago and half a world away, were responsible for these wooden and stone churches in towns and in a country that wouldn’t exist for another 1700 or 1800 years after they all died.
Today’s Bible reading tells us how that happened. In the reading we just heard, mention is made of a number. It’s an odd sounding number. It says “The Lord also appointed 72 others, whom He sent ahead of Him in pairs to every town and every place He Himself intended to visit.”
These are 72 people in addition to the 12 Apostles. So, who were these 72 people? Where did they come from? What were their names? Whatever happened to them? No one knows for certain because they are never mentioned again. So, why are the mentioned at all? Why is this detail written into the Bible?
The reason, in my opinion, is this. They represent us. We are called to be the co-workers of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ. The calling of these “72 others” is the calling of all of us to live out our faith. It’s essentially a “call” to live out faith, hope and love, to live out the Lord’s Prayer and to live out the Christian faith wherever our life leads us.
• It is to face life with confidence and courage.
• It is to face life knowing that we will encounter people who will be challenging—unreasonable and difficult and self-centered, but we are to love them anyway.
• It is to know that even if we are good and our intentions are good, people will accuse us of ulterior motives, but we are called to do Good anyway.
• It is to know that, the Good we do today, will be forgotten tomorrow but we are called to do Good anyway.
• It is to realize that what we spend years building up may be destroyed overnight, but build for the Glory of God anyway.
How often do we hear people complain that God is not doing this or not doing that? How often do we hear complaints that God allows people to become ill or wars to rage on? How often to blame God for every wrong in our world and in our lives? We hear questions like “Why doesn’t God feed the hungry people of the world? Why doesn’t He provide a home for the homeless?”
I hear questions like “Why doesn’t God pick me up in life when I fall down? Why can’t I feel God holding me when I am upset or lost or afraid?”
Today’s Bible reading addresses those very questions and it tells us that God has chosen to do something. It is through us that He has chosen to do something through those “72 others” and through those who come after them. He has chosen to carry out His work in the world through you and me through the people of His Church.
Have you ever wondered when you walk into an Armenian Church anywhere in the world why you don’t see the Crucified Christ on the main altar? If you walk into many Christian Churches around the world, you will see either a plain cross at the altar or a cross with a Crucified Christ on it. But when you walk in to an Armenian Church, you don’t see those images on the main altar. Instead, we see the beautiful face of St. Mary holding her Son. Why? Why do we see the image of St. Mary holding the infant Jesus on her lap? I am not saying one is right and one is wrong. Without the Crucifixion and Resurrection, we would not be Christians and this faith would have no meaning to our lives.
The Crucifixion and Resurrection are the foundations of our faith. But when we walk into an Armenian Church, why do we see the image of St. Mary on the altar holding the infant Jesus on her lap? Why is the image of St. Mary so prominently placed on our altars? It must have a connection to our lives but what is it? Why is she holding the infant Jesus on her lap? What could that possibly mean for our lives?
Here is the connection. Icons, like we have on our main altar, are “mirrors” for us to see ourselves. When we look at the altar and we see St. Mary, we should see her as doing more than just holding her Son. What she is doing is much beyond that and that is why she is depicted so prominently. What she is doing is offering her Son to the world. She is carrying the Son of God into the world, presenting the Savior, the Messiah, the second Person of the Holy Trinity to the world. So the icon is a “mirror” telling us to be like St. Mary and bring Christ and present Christ into the world and everywhere we go. When we do that, the world experiences the love and power of God.
St. Mary is showing us the way. She is our “mirror” and she is telling us that we are today’s Apostles of the Christian faith. The world needs us to be that because every day people battle depression and anxiety and anger. Every day people battle fear and substance abuse and physical abuse and mental illness and the list goes on and on.
God calls us to live out our faith and present Jesus Christ to the world just as St. Mary did. Today’s Bible passage is like a commandment to all of us that says when you see a need for teaching the ignorant, ask God to teach through you. When there is a need for love, let Him love through you. When there is a need for understanding, let Him show patience through you. When help is needed, let Him help through you. Because by meeting the needs of others, we are presenting God to the world just as St. Mary hopes we will.
In the eyes of God, each one of us matters. Each one of us has the honor of carrying our faith into the world to help make it a better place. The altar icon behind me is our reminder. Something we should all bring to mind when we look upon the beautiful face of St. Mary.