Vicar’s Sermon -18th October 2020

Luke 10. – St. Luke’s Day 2020

‘Fish and visitors stink after 3 days’. Have you ever come across that saying? It’s ascribed to the American Benjamin Franklyn, and, my guess is that we all know what it means: A visitor who overstays their welcome – a short overnight stay that turns into a gruelling 2 – 3 weeks of upheaval in a household – well, no one wants that.

Our gospel passage today is more than familiar to folk at St. Mary’s. We spent most of last year reading and re-reading it in our Church Council and in our church services, sharing our thoughts about its details, wondering what the shape of this ‘mission’ that Jesus sent his followers on might mean for us.

There are two things that stand out for me today. The first is there right at the top of the reading where Jesus sends the 70 out ahead of him. ‘Go’ is the command. It strikes me that the one place that Jesus’ friends cannot be is with Him: they have to go ‘ahead of Him’ to prepare the way for his arrival as he makes his way from Galilee up to Jerusalem. Now I know, and you know, that Jesus promises to be with his disciples ‘always’: as Matthew’s gospel puts it ‘even to the end of the age’. There is a sense that we are never alone as Christians: Jesus is ever-present. And yet, here, Jesus sends his friends from his side. ‘Go’ – no ifs, no buts.

The other week I heard of a church that, in response to Covid 19 had put a notice on the church door. It reads ‘The Church has left the building’. We as disciples, gather each week. We enjoy one another’s company, we value the chance to worship together, to learn together and to pray for one another. But most of the time we ‘have left the building’: most Christian discipleship is lived out beyond the church building in our homes and families, with our colleagues and friends, in our communities. Whilst the temptation of the pandemic is to withdraw into ourselves, to be safe, Jesus still says ‘Go’. There may be more obstacles to meeting with others now but we must always be looking out for God’s kingdom beyond the church doors ,not especially to bring people ‘in’, but so that we might rejoice in the rule of God over the whole world – in our schools, in our businesses, our community organisations, our politics and economics, our healthcare and labour market and so on….not just in the church.

And back to those guests and the vexed question of offering and receiving hospitality that sits at the middle of this passage. Did you notice that, in their going, the disciples are told not to take anything with them (no purse, no bag, no sandals). When they arrive in the villages to which they have been sent they cannot ‘call the shots’: they are not in charge, they must learn to be dependant upon the hospitality of others

It strikes me that this is a hard lesson for Christian people (especially Church of England Christians) to learn. Centuries of being ‘the established church’, of being respectable and respected, held in high regard have left us with a mindset that says ‘we have all the answers’ and we can give them to you (sometimes whether you want them or not). Now I do believe that the good news about Jesus is a treasure that needs to be shared, that the wisdom of centuries held by the church offers us much that can be of value as we journey into a rather uncertain future. But these first Christians were sent out and told to become dependant upon others. They had to learn humility. They had to listen before they spoke. They had to be respectful of those to whom they were sent. They did not take the kingdom with them, they announced its presence amongst the people to whom they were sent.

The kingdom of God is not locked up in the church. There are people of peace all around us who don’t need the church’s latest programmes or projects instead, we need to learn to receive their gifts and pronounce God’s blessing upon them. We need to be guests of others on their terms perhaps more than we need to be hosts on ours …and for that matter, welcome guests, not the sort others can’t wait to shut the door on and bid farewell.

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