Sermon: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Text: Amos 7:12-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
There’s only so much you can learn sitting in a classroom. At some point, you’re going to have to get some real life experience! If you want to be a teacher, you need to practice working with real children! If you want to be a plumber, you need to work on real pipes. If you want to be a priest, Rev Mother you need (as you know) to say to Mass. Your education is not complete until you get out there and use what you’ve learned!
The same thing is true with the Christian life. In Mark chapter 6, Our Lord teaches his disciples how to do the work of the ministry. And now, he’s taking them to the next level. He’s saying, “You’ve heard me preach. You’ve seen me do the healings. You’ve observed me driving out demons. You’ve watched me love people that have never been loved before, and now it is the time for YOU to do it! I didn’t pick 12 apostles so that you could stand around and watch me do all the work! It’s time for YOU to get some experience!”
And so our Lord sends out the twelve to do the work of God. Notice that Christ doesn’t wait around for the faithful to come to Him. He goes out to them!
We talk a lot about getting people to come to our church. But we don’t talk enough about getting Church to go to the people. Christ does not say, “Pray for people to come in and fill the pews (or chairs, or benches or whatever we end up with).” He’s saying, “I want the people in the pews to go to them!”
The Church is not this building. It is not its furnishings: fine and beautiful or knocked and worn by time and decades, centuries even of prayer. The building is not the Church, it is a tool of the Church, a vehicle for us to reach out to the people of Elson, Hardway and Priddy’s Hard who sense they need something, but havn’t quite understood the transformation that faith can have in their lives. That is done on the street corners, in the youth club, in the pub and in people’s individual homes. The Church is its people – the Ekklesia (from which we get the word ecclesiastical) – the community of God: You.
Christ gives us ministry in community. Scripture says “he sent them out two by two.” It was customary in both Jewish and Greek culture to send messengers in groups of two. That way, if something were to go wrong, there would be two witnesses to testify on behalf of the sender. But the bottom line is that God never intended you and I to do the work of the ministry by ourselves. We need help! We need encouragement!
Look at the apostle Paul. As great as he was, when the church sent him out on his first missionary journey in Acts 13, they didn’t send him out there all alone. Does anyone remember the name of the saint that went him? Barnabas! ’Barnabas’ means Son of Encouragement! We all need sons of encouragement in our lives. We all need people who will love us: people who will build us up when the Christian life gets tough.
Ecclesiastes 4:9 says
“Two are better than one, because they have a better return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”
I pity the person who thinks they can do God’s work all by themselves. Because when they fail miserably, usually because they are seeking not God’s glory but their own, there will be no one there to console them. No one to help them up.
Before you try anything new for the Lord, I want you to pray to God that he will send you a Barnabas. A son of encouragement. Someone who will pray for you and work with you and love you. Don’t try to do everything by yourself. Get some help.
Christ sent out his disciples, in addition to his own work. We are all disciples of Christ, we are all missionaries.
The old way of doing it, with the Priest running around lugging stuff and doing all the work will simply not stand the test of scripture. As we saw with the summer fayre, when the people of God work together, then they are hugely powerful, and you are all engaged in the mission of this church.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians (4:11) saying,
“It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare god’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up!”
So in other words, the work of Mother Margaret and I is to prepare you to do YOUR job! We are called to serve God through the grace of our holy orders, through the administration of his holy sacraments, but YOU – you are the people of God, you are called also.
The Summer Fayre, and many other examples of our new life in Christ: advent and lent courses, our BBQ this afternoon, the Strawberry Tea and many more showed that God never intended for us to be spectator Christians. We all need to be involved in some kind of ministry.
How on earth am I going to do that, you may ask? Worry not – Christ equips his saints in their work: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.”.
One of the principles of Kairos was that we should ‘Travel light!’. Burdened down with baggage, we start to rely on what we carry with us, rather than rely on God. If we seek our own help first, and seek God’s help only when all other options fail us, then it will be too late.
Galilee was a very hilly and rocky place. So no traveller would be without his staff. The staff was a very useful stick. It helped you to steady yourself when you climbed up a rocky hill. And if a wild animal or a thief attacked you, you could use it as a club and beat them over the head. So for a traveller, the staff was an indispensable item. And so Jesus very graciously allowed the disciples to take one along. But that was about it: they could take the clothes on their back and a pair of sandals.
‘Travel light’, Christ says, so that we can be flexible to meet changing need.
One of our principles should be to focus down on what matters: not hassocks and hymnbooks or woodwork, but our relationship with God. Strip away what is extra and focus on prayer, on God’s holy word, on his blessed sacraments; use tools which bring us into God’s holy presence but which might not be so fancy, or so old, or so layered with the Church/State establishment.
If we were to focus on our relationship with Christ, then all our anxieties about funding, about quotas, about re-ordering would be nothing.
In Luke 22:35: Our Lord, asking the twelve to reflect on their mission, asked, “When I sent you without purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” And the disciples said, “Nothing.”
Our giving is a key element of our mission, but it is not a tax. Paying the bills of this fine church, is not taxation, but is the natural extension of our love for God. Underwriting youth ministry in both this parish and in Romania is not a levy, but an outpouring of our love. God gives everything to us, and asks only a little of it in return.
I have heard some people this week speak about why we should pay our quota. Quota is not a necessary evil, it is an essential statement of our life in Christ. Christ and the twelve did not keep their own money, they had a common purse. They shared. The early Church described in the book of Acts pooled their resources. We pay an amount, and we get much more in return: believe me, a single Priest with national insurance, pension as well as a stipend, costs significantly more that the £20,000 we pay. Some parishes can afford to pay more; some cannot afford that. It is our duty to pay into the common purse, to support parishes that I know (and I can think of one very close to us across the harbour) which is desperately poor, in a poverty-striken area and which so much good, front-line work and mission.
The issue is not so much therefore, whether we can get a reduction, or keep some money back, as if withholding from the common purse was something the disciples were able or willing to do, but how much our relationship with God means to us.
I did not intend this to be a homily on stewardship, but I might as well say it now: how much is our relationship with God, who gives us everything, is worth? How can I efficiently make my contribution to the disciples common purse?
Can I make it regular? If you have always just “put something on the plate”, then consider how the common purse suffers when you go away for two weeks to the Costa del Sol, or when you are ill. Would it help our perilous cashflow if you paid by a regular standing order. I don’t care if this means that you put an empty envelope on the plate if you want to make a show of making a donation (but remember the story of the widow’s mite, please – God doesn’t want the show, he wants the heart), but making a contribution consistently each week will make such a difference.
We all have direct debits and standing orders coming from our banks, it’s not rocket science, and Julia has the forms. If a substantial number of us changed to making a contribution by standing order, then we might we able to pay our bills on time.
I’m not even going to go on and mention how much you give, because that is a matter between you and God and is something which frankly, I have no knowledge of – it is a purely financial and private matter and nothing to do with the clergy. Our giving is an outpouring, an expression of our love for God, a return for his love for us.
We are all called. Whether it’s Bible study, or evangelism, or visiting the elderly, or encouraging other believers. Whether it is examining our giving, Gift Aiding, planning a legacy or simply making out a standing order, each one of us needs to transform our experience with hands on Christianity. Without that, your Christian education isn’t complete. If you’re not using what God gave you, then you’re not really learning anything. Just hearing the word of God and receiving the foretaste of heaven in the sacraments each Sunday simply isn’t enough.
Pray on that, please, my dear brothers and sisters.