Sunday October 22, 2017
4:00 pm - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Turner
"Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary use words."
In our second reading today, Jesus sends 70 of his disciples out on their first great mission and there are spectacular results so much so that, when they return full of amazement, Jesus was filled with joy at their faith; the mission had clearly been a success.
A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated the feast of St Francis of Assisi. One of the most famous sayings on mission and evangelism is attributed to him, though there is no evidence that he ever said it. Whether it originated with Francis or not, it is a wonderful description of how the Good News is rooted in the Word made flesh:
“Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary use words”
At the heart of the Christian Faith is the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ – the Word made flesh who dwelt among us in time and space. Jesus of Nazareth – true God and true man – who came to redeem us and restore the broken relationship that people had with God. We read in the First letter of John:
“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:1-4)
This testimony of the infant Church – this declaration and bearing witness - was not of some philosophical argument, or an abstract idea, or even of a way of life; it was a bearing witness to the incarnation of the Word made flesh who died, was buried, and rose again for us. Thus, our mission and our evangelism is the sharing of this Good News which is, after all, the meaning of the word ‘Gospel’.
Because the Word was made flesh, the sharing of Good News is not simply a cerebral process but an encounter with the Risen Christ Jesus which makes a difference to communal living; he send out his disciples out in pairs, to bear witness to him. They were charged to proclaim that the Kingdom of God was coming near and given power to perform signs and wonders in the name of the Lord Jesus. They shared Good News because it made a real and qualitative difference to peoples’ lives. And, because they were in twos, they had each other for encouragement.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has said this about bearing witness:
“Witness always includes words, but it starts with actions because it is those that people around us understand most clearly.” (Sermon preached at Muen Church, Shanghai, China, May 31, 2015)
So what tools did Jesus give his first disciples for this first great mission? It is significant that he sent them with very little notice and very few belongings: Take no purse, no bag, no sandals... If this were happening now we can imagine Jesus saying take no credit cards, no rucksack, no Nike trainers, no laptops…and definitely no mobile phones! The disciples were to be unencumbered and we can learn something from this. Do you really think that those first disciples found it easy? Would we find it easy? Most of us would have been filled with horror if we had been told by Jesus not to take any money let alone pack anything; just think how much preparation most of us take just getting ready for a short vacation! How hard it is to travel light; yet Jesus does this, I believe, because the disciples will learn more about themselves on this journey than on any other they have taken.
The tools that they needed were found in the relationship that they had forged with Jesus. He was drawing out gifts in each one of them and he will do that for us today, whenever we bear witness to him by sharing the Good News.
The point that I am making is that we often surround ourselves with the things that we think we need for our journey without realizing that, at the end of the day, they are not necessary. Or, to put it another way, we spend a lot of time worrying about the things that matter to us in our Christian journey without asking the question, what if they were taken away from me? What do I really need to help me grow?
I think Jesus understood this very beautifully and I think that may be why he sent the disciples out with very little in the way of possessions but, importantly, in pairs – with a companion – with someone they could pray with and someone who also knew the Lord for those times when they were not received and needed to shake the dust off their feet.
Pope Benedict says this in his apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini, on the bible and Catholic Church, “It is not a matter of preaching a word of consolation, but rather a word which disrupts, which calls to conversion and which opens the way to an encounter with the one through whom a new humanity flowers.” (n. 93).
The Good News is not necessarily comforting news; Jesus prepared his disciples for setbacks and rejection. The Good News is a call to repentance and a turning to Christ. We, too, are charged with this task; it is part of our baptismal covenant:
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
I will, with God's help. (The Book of Common Prayer)
Word and example.
Rooted in the reality of the risen Lord.
The Word became flesh.
Our mission is to ensure that Jesus does not become mere words.