Sunday July 2, 2017
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Turner
Getting the Message Right
Speaking about mission and evangelism last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury said this: “Evangelism is the proclamation, the setting forth, the holding out of the Good news of Jesus Christ, in ways that do justice to the beauty, integrity, joy and power of the one who was dead and is now alive…Above all, he calls and enables us to be his heralds - those who proclaim the Good News.” 
This Good News is at the heart of all that we do here at Saint Thomas Church. It is at the heart of our mission statement, ‘to love and serve our Lord Jesus Christ.’ It is at the heart of our worship and why, as a church within the catholic expression of Anglicanism, we reverence the Book of the Gospels carried through our midst. The liturgical proclamation of the Gospel is accompanied by various ceremonies but one of them, I believe, is very powerful. When the Gospel is announced, the reader makes the sign of the cross at the beginning of the passage – a reminder to him or herself that these are sacred words - and many of us with the reader, then make three small crosses – on our forehead - that this Good News will be understood; on our lips - that this Good News may be heard by others; and on our heart - that this Good News may take root in our lives and make a real difference.
I have always found it moving that the traditional minister who reads the Gospel liturgically is a deacon. Priests, of course, are ordained deacon before they can be priested and remain deacons as well as being priests, but from the days of the early Church, before presbyters were even invented, it has been the role of the deacons who assisted the bishops as successors to the apostles to proclaim the Gospel. Why do I find that significant? Because the ministry of a deacon is, primarily, a ministry of service and originated in the Acts of the Apostles out of concern for the widows and the orphans and the need to share resources in the community of faith (see Acts 6:1-7). Deacons have always cared for the poor and the marginalized in the community and, at the same time, have been charged to carry the book of the Gospels and proclaim the Good News.
The Gospel passage that we heard today comes at the culmination of a period of teaching about mission. Jesus is preparing his disciples to proclaim the good news and, in so doing, he prepared them for persecution and hardship. Getting the message right is important and messengers will be held to account. Did you ever play that party game when you were children? Someone whispers a sentence in your ear and then you whisper what you heard in the next person’s ear, and she, in turn, whispers in the next person’s ear, and so on. The first person then says what they whispered in the first person’s ear and the last person says what they have heard…and (oh my!) how the final version can be so different from the first!
From the earliest days of the Church, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in an authentic and an authoritative manner mattered: Getting the message right.
The Old Testament lesson today is from Jeremiah who, let’s admit if you have every read the book, is not the kind of person you would choose to spend a Sunday afternoon with. But in today’s reading, Jeremiah is being refreshingly sarcastic. Following the prophetic voice of Isaiah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had deported King Jehoiakin and the Royal family, the nobles, all the skillful people, and the finest of the army and placed a puppet king – King Zedekiah -on the throne of Israel. Jeremiah’s pretty depressive preaching regularly got on people’s nerves and, today, we heard of the prophet Hananiah. He puts quite a bit of spin in his prophecy but the people love it – it’s upbeat and uplifting; in fact, it’s just what the people want to hear. The problem is, it’s not going to happen. Jeremiah kind of flatters him and wishes him well in his prophecy that everything will be alright. Of course, everything was not going to be alright and the rebellion of the puppet King Zedekiah led to massive reprisal and the destruction of Solomon’s Temple – the very sign of God’s presence with his chosen people.
Getting the message right matters.
As Jesus send out his disciples on a mission he tells them that he himself will be received by their ministry. In the Jewish tradition, to receive a messenger or envoy was as if to receive the person who had sent them; treating messengers with respect and hospitality honored the ones who had sent them. Even giving a cup of cold water made a difference. This little gospel passage, if you wish, is a precursor to the great gospel passage of Chapter 25 when Jesus says that at the day of judgement, people will be judged according to how they searched for him and ministered to him – how they received him and welcomed him: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 35: 37-40)
Now you see the significance that the deacon whose ministry originated in caring for the poor and the marginalized is the one who is to proclaim the liturgical Gospel. And we, my friends, are called to leave this place and taken the Good News that we have heard and received and share it with others. And here is the really hard bit – we are also called to search for Christ in the least expected places. I think it is also hugely significant that the very word mass, which describes what we are doing now,is rooted in the word mission; for at the end of the liturgy we are dismissed – sent out from the mass – not simple to coffee hour or brunch or left our own devices but into active service. The dismissal links the Eucharistic offering to our mission in the world. Over our last two meets, the vestry has committed funds for grants to all kinds of projects reaching out to the most vulnerable and attempting to make a difference – another example of attempting to live out our mission.
As you know, there has been a lot of disturbing terrorist activity in the world in recent weeks and months and much of it aimed at dividing communities and faiths. As we step out onto Fifth Avenue today, we take the Good News of Jesus Christ with us and within us and we are charged to make a difference: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” or, “Put your mission statement into action,” or, “Go and make disciples; go and look for Christ.”
Preaching at Southwark Cathedral last week, Archbishop Justin said this:
“Hope flowers in the desert of suffering when it is watered by communities of love, for through them Christ comes, light dawns, and lives shattered in grief and pain find astonishingly that they will live again.”
 Archbishop Justin Welby speaking to the General Synod of the Church of England, Tuesday, February 16, 2016