|Minister's Sermon - Friday 5th July 2019|
|Rev Sue Keegan von Allmen|
|Sermon for Shopper’s Service |
Friday 5th July 10.20am 2019
Epistle: verses from Ch 6 of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians
Gospel: Luke 10.1-11, 16-20
Luke is the only one of the Gospel writers who tells this story about Jesus appointing seventy “others” as the climax of Jesus’ mission strategy. Mark and Matthew begin with Jesus going through towns and villages, curing people, and gathering huge crowds to hear his stories and see his miracles. Then, after a while, he sends the 12 out to cure the sick, cast out demons, and tell people that the kingdom of God is near. But they both stop there. Only Luke has a third stage in which seventy “others” are sent out with the same instructions and task as the twelve. And Luke’s reasons for including this in his Gospel were good ones. He wrote to encourage and inspire the early church to continue God’s mission in their own time. He understood that Jesus had many more disciples than the original 12 apostles. He believed that everyone had a part to play in God’s mission and this was Jesus’ intention. And that Jesus invited everyone to share in his work, not only the apostles who became the leaders of the early church, but numerous others ordinary people who would share their work.
At various times in history, the church has got itself in a pickle, when it’s focused its mission on ministers and others who work “for the church,” forgetting that all Christians are called to “cure the sick … and say … the ‘kingdom of God has come near…’” And I mean all Christians. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whether you’re in work or education, out of work, looking after children or elderly parents or retired – I think you get the point. You – like me - are called to share in God’s mission. Whenever the church has forgotten this it has declined, because God’s mission should be at the heart of everything we are, and everything do. Not just when we’ve finished the work we earn our daily bread with, taking care of our families or what we need to do to ensure church life continues, but woven through everything we are and do. Every day and not just on Sunday.
This isn’t about doing lots more. It’s about how we live out the Gospel in our everyday lives, wherever we are, and it’s about the choices we do or do not make. For we have choices. We can choose life, God’s kingdom and the good of all. Or we can choose death. But we can’t choose both. Paul reminds the Galatians that the old world of death had all kinds of standards that those who accept that Jesus’ death and resurrection changed everything. The old world was cut-throat and competitive world. In the new world people help bear one another’s burdens. In the old world, people measured themselves against each other, rather than seeking their own worth in God. It was a world so far from God that people thought God wouldn’t notice what they were doing. The only problem is, that the new, life-giving creation comes through the cross. And it is not easy for the world - and for some Christians – to understand this. But we cannot escape it. The way of the cross is the way we are called to share in God’s mission.
Jesus sends the 70 out soon after he’s “set his face to Jerusalem.” When the Gospel writers use this phrase, they are reminding us of the journey Jesus is going on, and that that journey will lead to the place of his death and resurrection. He sends the 70 out, with challenging words. Most of them echo what he said to twelve a chapter earlier. Go to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. Take nothing for your journey. No bag, no sandals, no money. If you’re welcomed into a house, stay there, but leave if you’re not. Eat and drink what you’re given. But some of his words are new. To the 70 he also says. “I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” “...lambs into the midst of wolves.” The mission Jesus sends the 70 on will make them vulnerable. Because proclaiming God’s kingdom is not popular with those whose power or security is being threatened. For when it is, those of us who have power or more than sufficient to live on may react with violence, in an attempt to cling on ever more strongly to what we love and know. It’s in this context that we have to read Jesus’ instructions about travelling light. It isn’t possible to leave as quickly as you’ve come if you’re encumbered by too much. It isn’t possible to eat and drink what you’re given if you have strong likes and dislikes. It isn’t possible to stay focused on what really matters if you need to be liked and received well. If we’re too attached to things like these we’ll not be free to choose life. We’ll not be free to choose what’s best for God’s kingdom. We’ll not be free to choose the good of all.
In her lectionary essay this week, Debie Thomas says that, “the task Jesus sets before the seventy is hard because it is easy. In fact, it’s so easy, it feels both counter-cultural and counter-intuitive.” (1) Listen to Jesus’ instructions again. “Carry no purse or sandals. Speak peace when you enter a house. Eat what is placed before you. Invest in one home, one family, one town…Don’t linger in hopeless places…remember that the kingdom of God comes near whether you are accepted or rejected. Trust that any peace which is spurned will return to you; nothing in God’s kingdom is wasted.” (1) The task is “so easy, it makes us wary, suspicious, and cynical.” (1) So, what is the task? The task is to live simply and vulnerably. To rely on the grace and hospitality of others. To stay in one place — to encounter, to engage, and to go deep. To live as guests, sharing our faith with others, as if they're our hosts. To speak peace. To let go in love. To believe always in the abundance and nearness of God’s faithfulness. (2)
And that task is for all of us – though we often think it’s only for extraordinary people – for people who live like this, are don’t see that they are extraordinary until someone else recognises them. Last autumn, Dr Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, were joint winners of the Nobel Peace Award. Dr Denis Mukwege has devoted his life to helping 50,000 survivors of sexual violence, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2012, he and his family survived an attempted kidnapping, and murder. He fled to the US, but returned after three months, to continue work. But now, he can’t leave the hospital, and he continued his work watched over by UN peace-keepers. Nadia Murad is a Yazidi survivor of rape and captivity by ISIS. She relives her experience of being a sex-slave, every time she talks about it, yet she insists she must in order to fight for justice for the victims of war crimes all over the world. Another Nobel Peace Prize winner is Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager, who is now at university in Oxford. She was shot by the Taliban, because she campaigned for girl’s education, and was considered by them to be too “Western-minded” so they wanted to stop her before her ideas “infected” others. After her recovery she has continued to campaign, visiting the UN, and is speaking up for girls all over the world. Each of these ordinary people have chosen life and made themselves vulnerable in the process. They’re seeking justice and peace. They’ve giving confidence to others to speak out, to let go in love, to rely on the grace and hospitality of others. And they are showing us that it is possible to make choices that bring good for all. They are doing what Jesus calls us all to do. And I don’t think it matters for one moment that they are not all Christians. Their work is kingdom work. And it challenges me to wonder about my daily life and work and yours. What is our kingdom work? How do our lives express God’s desire that we live for the good of all? And do our lives inspire other people to make life-giving choices?
When the 70 return, they’re bursting with stories about what’s happened as they describe all the wonderful things they’ve experienced, Jesus says “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” It’s a strange thing to say, but what he means is, that when we travel the path of vulnerability, humility, and peace-making, “evil trembles. Demons fall. The world changes. God’s kingdom comes.” (1&2) He doesn’t talk with them about the number of converts, the content of their preaching, or their mission strategies. And he ends his conversation with them by saying “…do not rejoice at this … but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” I think that the point he’s making is that the most important aspect of God’s mission is, not the extraordinary events that happen, but the everyday faithfulness of God’s people. It wasn’t what they’d done, but that they’d kept on choosing life that mattered, most. For when each day we choose life, rather than death, life is experienced by others too.
In Luke’s Gospel there’s a great sense of urgency in Jesus’ words when he commissions the seventy. All around them, the fields are full to bursting with food, waiting to be harvested. 12 apostles weren’t enough. God’s kingdom needed many more. Today, we often bemoan the fact that our church is declining, thinking that we must grow before we can engage with the world beyond our walls. But this thinking is the wrong way round. We are already engaged with the life of the world. Every day, we make choices about what to do, to eat, to buy, who to associate with and who not, what to do for our holidays, and so on. We make choices at work, at home, in the shops – I think you get the point. And if millions of Christians were to make life-giving choices, for God’s kingdom, and the good of all, amazing things could happen. But it needs us to wake up and to realize that we can use our lives to be the change we want to see. Whether or not we will do this, is a choice, a choice that is about life or death. So what will you choose? Will it be life or death? Will you choose for God’s kingdom, and for the good of all, and will you choose today? Amen.
(2) Adapted from https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=2272
Sue Keegan von Allmen
4th July 2019