Sermon for Pentecost 4C – Sunday 3rd July 2022

Isaiah 66:10-14Psalm 66:1-9; Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Most of you here this morning will know that for most of my working life I have been a primary school Head Teacher and I have absolutely loved being in the classroom and supporting children to become the best they can be in so many different ways. The bright little sparks who know everything there is to know, the shy retiring types who need coaxing out of their shells and the rambunctious attention seekers who simply must have your full attention – they are all just fantastic!

As your skills develop as a teacher you learn many different strategies to help individuals focus on what they need to be doing and to regulate their more ‘exuberant’ behaviours – and sometimes these strategies can result in unexpected surprises. Let me tell you about little Lewis. A little stick of dynamite with freckles and shock of bright red hair – full of energy and enthusiasm – a happy-go-lucky chap who, when he needed to tell you something, just could not wait for others to finish their conversations with you.

I remember one day when I was talking to Lewis’ teacher and he shot towards us across the classroom obviously eager to tell me something. He tried to interrupt the teacher as she was talking to me. Now one of the strategies that you learn is to acknowledge the presence of such a pupil without directly speaking to them – letting them know you are present with them, but that they need to wait until you are finished to get your full attention.

As Lewis was blurting out something about his dad’s cows, I placed my hand gently on top of his head, but continued to listen to the teacher. Lewis, knowing that I was coming to him next, stopped talking and waited. After the teacher had finished, I turned to Lewis and he told me all about his dad’s latest calf. I took my hand away from Lewis’ head to find it covered in a sticky, thick liquid. “Oh goodness Lewis” I said, “I’ve got your hair gel all over my hand”. “That’s not ‘air gel” Lewis corrected, “It’s nit shampoo…. mi mam drowned me in it this mornin’ – me ‘eads crawlin’!    

Teachers know that being close to a pupil holds a lot of power. Good teachers move around the room a lot, getting close to pupils as they work. The teacher’s nearness does two things: it raises a child’s level of concern enough to encourage them to pay closer attention to what they are doing, but more importantly it also makes the teacher more available to answer questions and offer children encouragement and support.

Closeness to the teacher offers safety, and at the same time it holds children accountable for what they are doing. Closeness to the teacher increases the probability that the pupil will learn. And maybe this is why we almost always see the disciples staying really close to Jesus. He holds them accountable, but at the same time he offers them safety.

But of course, at some point, pupils have to leave the safety of the school they know. P7s and High school leavers across our Highlands have done that this week. They have to take the lessons they’ve learned on into the next stage of their lives and practice those lessons on their own. The safety net of the school and people they know is gone.

Last week, Jesus began his long journey to Jerusalem. His face is set with determination to accomplish his mission. We saw his disciples, James and John, fail in their first attempt as the advance team for that mission. Instead of reaching out to the Samaritan village effectively, they were ready to call down fire from heaven to destroy it.

So, you’d think Jesus might want to change his strategy because maybe his pupils aren’t quite ready to leave the classroom. But instead of having a re-think, rather Jesus expands the same strategy. Instead of a couple of disciples, he sends seventy (or in some translations 72) ahead on the road to announce that the kingdom of God is near.

So here we are in our gospel this week, traveling toward Jerusalem as Jesus sends an advance party to the places he plans to go. He tells them to offer healing and peace, and to announce that the Kingdom of God had come near.

It sounds like a contradiction: Jesus sending his followers … ahead of him. You’d think he’d have them working as the clean-up crew, but instead, he sends his followers out ahead, to heal and offer peace.

Would it not be better for Jesus to go first and for the others to follow? Wouldn’t the disciples be more readily welcomed if Jesus had gone on ahead, performed a few miracles and explained that he’d deputised them to do likewise? Wouldn’t a showier display of power get people’s attention and move the cause of salvation ahead with greater speed and efficiency?

It seems a little bit backwards, but this is the order of things that Jesus chooses: sending an advance team of 70 or so followers. This is how the disciples become the apostles – 70 or so people who are given the task of spreading peace, healing the sick and announcing the Kingdom of God.

Each Sunday, I usually welcome you to worship with the Apostle Paul’s words, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This kind of greeting or peace is exactly what Jesus taught his disciples to offer. But notice that this kind of peace is never wasted. It rests where it is welcome. If it isn’t welcome, it returns to the one who offers it. God’s peace means wholeness is constant.

When Jesus sent out the seventy, he warned them that the work they were to do, this Kingdom work, might not always be easy. We might consider that he made it even more difficult with the instructions he gave: take nothing with you, accept whatever hospitality is shown to you, and don’t go looking for the softest bed or the best cook in town.

In other words, allow yourselves to become vulnerable and trust in God to provide for your needs. When people welcome you, receive their hospitality with grace. And isn’t it interesting that Jesus expects hospitality from the same people who will be the recipients of the disciples’ ministry?

Instead of thinking of themselves as the givers of grace, Jesus is telling the disciples to receive grace from the very people to whom they will offer God’s peace and healing. Vulnerability and humility are to be the marks of true discipleship and apostleship.

And therefore such vulnerability is important to Christ’s mission: opposition to that mission is a given. Not everyone is going to want to hear this good news.

“Sometimes,” Jesus tells them, “your message will not be received very well. When people don’t welcome you, move on. But whether they welcome you or not, the Kingdom of God has come near, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”

When Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God has come near, he says “near,” not “soon.” You can reach out and touch it, it’s so close to you.

This is the power of closeness: When the kingdom of God is near, you get a front row seat to watch it at work. When the kingdom of God is near, you are empowered to be the kingdom to others. When the kingdom of God is near, your own weakness and vulnerability are exposed. But Jesus says, “Go anyway. Heal and proclaim the nearness of the kingdom.

But my friends, we need each other to fulfil Christ’s call on our lives. Jesus sent out his followers two-by-two because he knew how important it is to have others around you on who you can depend.

Being ‘church’ together holds us accountable for keeping the work going – just by being present with one another.

We must offer encouragement when other’s need it most, when we recognise that they are feeling weary, and when we feel rejected and that our work is in vain. Being church together helps us to stay focused on our mission: to offer healing, to spread peace and to share the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near.

Jesus sends us out into the world like sheep in the midst of wolves, making ourselves vulnerable, allowing ourselves to be touched by the need around us. He gives us authority to act in his name, encouraging one another, rejoicing that our names are written in heaven, where we will feast at Our Lord’s Table in the company of all the saints. As we anticipate that joy, Jesus invites you to his table.

Come to this sacred table, not because you must, but because you may; come to testify not that you are righteous, but that you sincerely love our Lord Jesus Christ and desire to be his true disciples; come not because you are strong, but because you are weak; not because you have any claim on the grace of God, but because in your weakness and sin you stand in constant need of God’s mercy and help; come, not to express an opinion, but to seek God’s presence and pray for his Spirit.

Adapted from Winward & Cox, Worship Manual, World, 1969; p. 14.

Come, for the Kingdom of God has come near to you, and Our Lord Jesus Christ invites you to be part of it.

May God Bless you and and all those you hold dear in this coming week.

Fr Simon

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