Saturday, July 03, 2010

Travel light - a sermon for Selsley, Trinity 5 Yr C

It’s the season of school trips and family holidays and that of course means packing.
I think the world is divided between those, like me, who over-pack (I never leave home without at least 3 good books in my luggage) and those who spend the first few days of their holiday stocking up on the things they’ve forgotten. Just a year ago, Jack was preparing for his great expedition to Uganda, and his kit list was formidable. He and his group were to spend 2 weeks on their own in the bush, fending for themselves – but with Explorer Scouts you NEVER go unprepared.
Of course, he had to be able to carry all of it himself – food, clothes, medical equipment, as well as his part of the tent (his group arranged things so that the tent was split between them, and someone else carried cooking utensils). It all went into his back-pack, which was a pretty towering affair by the time he’d finished for he was encouraged to imagine any eventuality, and then prepare for it.
it made for a heavy load – but it also made him pretty well self-sufficient.
But here we have Jesus, sending out the 72, and their kit-list is daunting in its simplicity.
Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals...
I bet their mothers were beside themselves with anxiety…Not even enough money to get out of trouble – and it seemed possible that trouble might well be on the agenda. It seems that Jesus was expecting it
“I'm sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves”
Can you picture it. Innocents abroad, heading boldly towards all sorts of horrible dangers...It sounds like a Disney cartoon...and I'm possessed by the urge to yell
“No...Don't GO there”
But that's not what Jesus says.
The response to his own ministry has been less than 100% positive – and now he sends his friends out to extend his work, with no extra support at all…He invites them to set aside all their props, all the realities of their daily lives in their home communities…and just go.
Actually, of course, he'd already done this himself.
He was asking them to empty themselves, to let go of everything just as he had let go of everything. They were to live the truth of the incarnation, as he was living it. They too must depend on the welcome of others, - however uncertain. With no bag, they couldn't stock up on supplies in a friendly place, but would continue to rely completely on the kindness of strangers.
Utter vulnerability.
The polar opposite of Jack’s self-sufficiency.
Are we feeling uncomfortable yet?
Do we have the faith, the courage to practice radical dependence on God, to let
go of everything we think we need?
Honestly, I don't...
The nearest I've come to it might just be that moment at the end of the ordination service 6 years ago today when +M, rejecting the ceremonious formality of our entrance into the Cathedral, led us purposefully down the aisle, 14 new deacons each armed with a New Testament and setting out without more ado to join in God's mission.
But I knew that a comfortable curate's house awaited me, that there were dozens of ordination gifts piled in the study...and a whole structure of support and training to ensure my survival.
We seem, as a church, to have come a long way...prizing safety above the gospel challenge.
Is it surprising, then, that our mission to herald the kingdom seems to fall flat?
Jesus never offers static security but rather life in all its fulness – a fulness that often involves risk. God calls us out of safe stasis…and he doesn’t want us to try to creep back into shelter by any sort of compromise.
We’re to trust him, and set out. That’s all that is required.
No emergency supplies, just in case.
Possibly not even emergency fabric funds or reserve accounts.
Just us, relying on God and on the life changing power of the Gospel.
Put like that it sounds almost more exciting than frightening.
So, Jesus gives the group authority, and has high expectations of their success but he doesn’t suggest that they work on their PR skills…Quite the reverse. He actually tells them, very firmly, that if people don’t like their message they must give up on them…just like that. No attempts at soft sell. No reworking the gospel to make it more accessible.
You tell it like it is, and if people aren’t happy, tough!
Not exactly the preferred pastoral strategy of most clergy I know, but there isn’t a lot of room for misunderstanding here
Whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into the streets and say “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off”
There it is.
Don’t linger.
Forget your failure and move on.
That may not sound very diplomatic, but it’s certainly entirely practical.
Remember, Jesus' followers were a tiny, obscure minority in the Roman Empire. The vast majority of people knew nothing of Jesus and cared less. Perhaps that too might sound familiar.
There would clearly be no point in endlessly repeating the same message if your hearers showed no sign of having really heard at all.
A pointless and disheartening waste of limited resources.
If at first you don't succeed – move on, without dragging guilt, disappointment, failure along with you.
Shake off the dust.
Sound advice, and not just for missionary preachers. Dragging around the dirt that represents our failures is never helpful, though somehow it seems almost inevitable . In the face of success, we choose again and again to dwell on our failures, to carry them around as an additional burden, a wearisome albatross around our necks.
For example, in the past 6 years I’ve conducted literally scores of funerals. At most of them, I’ve felt that my words have helped a little, that those who are grieving most have experienced something that may be the beginning of the beginning of healing through the service. But the services I remember long afterwards are those where it has been clear that nothing has got through to the mourners at all…that I might as well have read the yellow pages aloud for all the difference my words and prayers made. I’d be surprised if similar things don’t happen for some of you…it’s tempting to allow ourselves to be weighed down by negative experience, to allow past failures to hamper future ventures. Churches can do it too…we tried that in 1974 and it didn’t work…so we’ve no courage to strike out now.
Here, Jesus gives us permission to set our failures aside and leave them behind.
If at first you don’t succeed….move on, move on…there’s a whole world that needs to hear the Gospel.
Strip yourself of all extraneous support, then set out in the strength that God supplies – and to Him be the glory.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. As usual God manages to get through to me through your words.

Anonymous said...

You know, you're a lovely person. Actually you're rarely beautiful. Sometimes you're less than truthful though. You are a rich woman. You certainly own valuable property,and your children are priveleged. Your goodness is genuine, but you don't have any real experience of deprivation. You have always known where the next meal is coming form.

Today I have no money in my purse. My children are hungry but will have to wait. And you probably worry about whether your kids are going to get a first rather than a second.(degree). Tomorrow I will get some money. My children are clever, but tomorrow they will eat properly. Until the next time. I don't care if they're clever or not, I just live one day at a time.
Lots of other children in the world have a worse deal. I know that.

Kathryn said... are absolutely right. I have NO experience whatsoever of real deprivation, - I'm blessed in ways that I'm not even truly conscious of - and in some ways that was part of the point of this sermon. I DONT have the faith or the courage to set out empty handed, and depend on the kindness of strangers, for the sake of the Gospel....That's something I regret & struggle with - but realistically, to be on a "lower income" in the UK is still to be privileged beyond belief.
I acknowledge that, and hope that my words (specially in preaching) don't suggest that I think otherwise. I am, honestly, thankful - and I try to express my thanks in practical ways that might make a difference to the many children who won't eat today.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your reply because I know I was a bit rude. So sorry. The thing is that it is so difficult to manage and some people have it so easy. My children don't have the same life chances as others..just an accident of birth. I feel so sad if I run out of money but I know that things are really ok. I have bread and rice and filling stuff. There is no one going to starve.

My eldest has been offered a half scholarship to a private school but I have no way to come up with the other half so that is useless. My youngest is also clever. It's so frustrating that I can't give them stuff that other people take for granted.

End of rant. Love to you.

Kathryn said...

I'm at the risk of sounding like the guy in the parable who looks at the person in the pit and says "I wish you well" rather than doing something practical.
IS there anything practical that I can do? I have had experience of feeding my family on pasta for most of a week pretty regularly when they were younger, & clothes solely from charity shops & hand-me-downs, so tho I don't know about real poverty, I do know about having alot less than those around me.
Have you told the school that there's no way you can afford for your son to take up the scholarship - sometimes there are bursaries etc for that sort of situation.
But private education isn't necessarily the answer anyway: mine went thro the state and flourished because they were bright and we cared. Yours also have those huge advantages.
Take care...and do say if there might be something I could do to make a difference.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much. Yes, the school know but there is nothing they can do. The stupid thing is that the half scholarship will probably go now to subsidise someone who could easily afford to pay. As I said to the headmaster/principal what good is a half scholarship to the poor folk. He had no answer to that.

Our local comp is not great but it's not too bad. I went there and I can write and I read a lot from the library. In a way I think it is better that my kids go there. I'll help them out. Last week I helped my middle boy with his homework and we got given an A. What a laugh. The teacher said 'what a wonderful piece of work. Well done.' We both enjoyed that.

Kathryn said...

There you go...I thought you might just be your children's secret weapon! hooray for the A...and please DO say if there's anything...
I'll pray, at least.