7 July 2013
St. Mary’s Hadlow
Readings Galatians 6: 1-6, 7-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Heavenly Father, may the words of my lips this morning, reveal something to us of your written word, and so lead us ever closer to your Living Word, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I should start today by saying that Brother Jai of the Delhi Brotherhood was due to speak to us this morning, but that had to be cancelled because he could not get a visa to come. Given the visa difficulties that our friends in Tanzania are also having one gets the impression that things are afoot in the Home Office. Let’s just take a moment of silent prayer to bring before God both the Delhi Brotherhood and the parish of Kibakwe.
One day, when I was a student living in London, aged about 20, I was sitting at home on a Friday afternoon and the door bell rang. I answered the door and there, standing on my doorstep, were two smartly dressed people carrying brief cases. I will be honest and admit that I can’t remember their exact opening words, this was about two and a half decades ago, but it was something along the lines of: “Are you interested in learning more about God?”
They were probably expecting me to say something like “Not today, thank you”, which they probably got a lot and possibly even ruder, but, as it happened, I was interested in learning more about God. I may have mentioned previously that I had started coming to faith in my late teens and I was probably quite unusual as a 20 year old student in that the publications under my bed included brochures from the Catholic Enquiry Agency. At this point in my life a discussion about God seemed a lot more interesting than reading a text book on Land Law, or whatever I was supposed to be looking at.
Anyway, I rather shocked this pair standing on my doorstep by saying that I was interested in learning more and I invited them in for a chat. I am not sure that this had ever happened to them before. In fact they seemed so unprepared for anyone who actually wanted to speak to them that we didn’t talk for very long – they gave me some copies of the Watchtower and said that they would come back the following week with someone else who could talk to me in more detail.
The following week, at the same time, one of them came back with someone else a bit more senior, we had a chat and they sold me a bible. They must have thought that they were onto a real hot prospect here. However, although I was young and naïve, I knew enough by now to know that I didn’t want to be a Jehovah’s Witness – I had had a Jehovah’s Witness friend at school and not celebrating Christmas seemed like a deal breaker to me. The problem then became avoiding them because every Friday, for weeks afterwards, they came back and I had to hide. I probably ended up reading my Catholic Enquiry brochures in my room, which is not what they intended.
So that was the Jehovah’s Witnesses. My sister and her family are neighbours and good friends with a family of Mormons, or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as they are more properly called. I once went to a lunch hosted by that church and I introduced myself as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Olden Day Saints. They laughed politely, through gritted teeth.
Anyway, my sister and her family lived next door to this Mormon family who have a number of children about the same ages as my nieces. As they have grown up, the Mormon children have always known that when they reach of age of 18 that they will be going ‘on mission’. For them this means that they will go to America, spend some time being trained and then spend a year going out in pairs and knocking on doors and asking people if they want to learn more about God.
Now, whatever one’s reservations and concerns about the theology of both the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons, and there are deep concerns about matters such as the divinity of Jesus and the use of non-biblical scriptures such as the Book of Mormon, the undeniable fact is that both of these churches take today’s gospel a great deal more seriously and literally than we do.
They are going out, two by two, like sheep amongst wolves and they are declaring, in their own way, that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.
Today’s gospel reading is taken from the beginning of Chapter 10 of Luke and is an interesting parallel to the events at the beginning of Chapter 9. In Chapter 9 Jesus called the Twelve original disciples together, he gave them power to heal the sick, to drive out demons and he sent them out to preach the coming kingdom of God. He told them to take nothing for the journey; they were to rely solely on the provisions given to them by God through whomever they stayed with.
We heard last week that as Jesus travelled towards Jerusalem he had many requests from potential disciples and he spoke then about the high personal costs of discipleship. At yet, despite those challenging words, it is clear that the disciples kept coming because in today’s reading he sends out seventy or seventy two disciples (the reason for the uncertainty is that early manuscripts exist with both numbers) and he gave them the same commission that he gave to the Twelve. In the space of one chapter we have gone from 12 disciples healing and exorcising and preaching to 70 or 72 – it feels a bit like a snowflake turning into a snowball turning into an avalanche as it rolls towards Jerusalem. Jesus said that the workers are few compared to the size of the harvest but that is not a bad rate of growth. Admittedly not as high as Canon Andrew White who got up to 3000 within a month, but not bad going.
So the 70 or 72 went out in pairs – to save you the bother that is 35 or 36 pairs of disciples. Now, given the fact that time was short – don’t forget they were told not to even waste time greeting people on the road – and the workers were said to be few they could have covered a great deal more ground, in theory, had they travelled alone – they could have gone to 70 villages at a time rather than just 35. But the importance of ministering in pairs took precedence even over the need for speed. And this same practice seemed to apply amongst the named disciples too: Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Silas, Peter and John, Barnabas and Mark, Judas and Silas.
Bearing in mind that they were travelling in hostile territory, and they were sheep amongst wolves, it was doubtless physically safer to travel in pairs. Also I have no doubt that there was an element of mutual support and encouragement involved – in the reading from Galatians St Paul urged the Christian community to bear one another’s burdens and to correct each other in love when one goes astray, but you simply can’t do that if you are on your own. Finally, unless you are John the Baptist I suspect that if one person arrives in a community and starts preaching on their own they are too easy to dismiss as a loony, but two people together can give legal testimony and already look like the beginnings of a community.
We live in a society which encourages individualism and self-reliance as virtues, and I am as guilty of that as anyone, but we are reminded today and time and time again that being a Christian is not a solo mission but is best done in company and, preferably, in community.
And so this band of 70 or 72 disciples went out in pairs and they did all the things Jesus commanded them to do. And, guess what, it worked. The sick were healed, demons submitted to the name of Jesus and the coming kingdom was proclaimed. Interestingly there is no mention of people being converted to become followers of Jesus through this mission, but the disciples were not sent to convert but to proclaim. And the disciples returned with JOY because of all the things they had seen and done in Jesus’ name. Jesus says that yes, they should rejoice but not because of the things they have seen and done but because their names are written in heaven. Throughout the bible, from Exodus 32, through Psalm 69 and onto Revelation 3 we are presented with the image of the ‘book of life’ in which are recorded the names of the citizens of heaven. In Revelation 3:5 it says:
“If you conquer you will be clothed like them in white robes and I will not blot out your name from the book of life.”
Now you might expect me to say that we ought to form up into pairs and start knocking on every door in Hadlow. Well, I don’t actually think that today’s reading requires us to do precisely that, not least because this was a specific mission given to those disciples and there was no evidence that the early church in the Book of Acts required every member to evangelise in quite that way.
But, and there is no getting out of this, we are all subject to the Great Commission to go and baptise and make disciples of all nations and we should never stop asking ourselves whether we are doing enough to proclaim the kingdom of God here. We may be afraid of rejection or even ridicule, and we may even feel like sheep amongst wolves, but that is nothing new.
Finally, it is interesting to reflect that for a 20 year old student interested in faith but not quite sure where to turn the Jehovah’s Witnesses were much more on my radar than the local Anglican church. We need to get ourselves on the radar of the people of Hadlow and we can only do that by working with God and with one another.