A sermon by Kevin Bright
Luke 10.1-11, 16-20, Galatians 6.1-16, Isaiah 66.10-14
The weather has been hot and sunny for a few weeks now, exams are coming to an end and those of us tied to school holidays are beginning to think about the great getaway. I’ve been hearing from many who have already been away on their holidays but for those of us lucky enough to still be looking forward to going away this year thoughts will soon turn to packing our bags.
On the assumption that the weather is warm we don’t really need to take a lot of stuff do we. No big coats, wellies or thick jumpers, just a few pairs of shorts and some tee shirts.
But somehow it always ends up being just a bit more than that doesn’t it. Are you a person who likes to write lists just to ensure nothing important is forgotten? What if the weather turns unseasonably cool, then there are all the creams lotions and potions not too forget a few things to wrap around ourselves on the beach so those impossibly toned bathers all around us can’t see our lumps and bumps. Don’t forget some good English tea because they don’t have proper tea in Foreign countries and when you go finally go to put a few tea bags in why is it that you have to get someone else to sit on the lid of the suitcase so you can close it properly!
On our reading from Luke today Jesus is appointing 70 (or some translations may say 72) people to be sent out in pairs. Previously to this Jesus himself has been through towns and villages, curing people telling stories and drawing huge crowds. Then he sent out the 12 disciples with instructions similar to those given to this 70 whose turn it now is to go out and make God’s love known.
Interestingly they are not given a list of things to carry for their mission but are told to leave all the things they would most naturally pack at home. ‘Carry no purse, no bag no sandals and greet no one on the road’ Jesus tells them. A bit like being told to take no swimming costume, no towel, and no toiletries on your holiday, if you were told this you would think this must be urgent stuff, this is no holiday, I’m going to have to rely on people I meet when I get there. All this was of course true for those sent out.
The 70 were clear that they had to focus on their mission but what did Jesus mean when he said ‘greet no one on the road’? I don’t think it was so much about blanking people if they said hello more a case of stressing that they were to get to their appointed towns at top speed without time for idle chit chat and usual courtesy’s, nothing was to distract them from their appointed task.
Focus, dedication, determination, courage, purpose, faith, love. When these things come together surely it’s inevitable that there will be a remarkable outcome in the vast majority of cases. And so it is as we hear that they returned with joy saying ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us’.
For all the benefits that new technology has given us I also think it is one of the major reasons we, and particularly ‘the we’ younger than me, find it hard to focus on tasks. Whilst working on the computer all sorts of messages and updates pop up automatically, then you can give in to the temptation to check your Facebook, MSN, news, sports scores, share prices and much more. You can have them all open at the same time if you like and have the TV on in the background.
Whilst I appreciate that there are always some who have too much quiet time on their hands for many there is a real need to rediscover the ability to separate time and focus on important matters one at a time.
There’s a BBC 2 programme called Rev (10.00 pm Mondays) which is a sitcom that has a sense of coming from the vicars perspective and the view felt as if it were straight from the pulpit as a we observed a ‘worshipper’ sit down for the service with a Starbucks coffee and a copy of the Sunday Times.
On thought for the day last week Oliver McTernan stated that our own use of personal technology can change the way in which our brain works. The constant use of the internet, mobile phones and video games, it is claimed, can lead to a loss of the ability to focus properly on a single task like reading a book. Extensive research carried out by neuroscientists at one of the top universities in America has reached the conclusion that despite what we may think, it's impossible to focus fully on two things at the same time as our brains, they claim, have a limited capacity for processing information - in other words we're not wired to multitask. (Evidently this even applies to women!)
And here’s the serious bit…It was the eighteen century French Jesuit and ascetic writer, Jean Pierre de Caussade, who became acutely aware of the need to focus entirely on the present moment, which in his writing he describes as a sacrament in the sense that it offers an opportunity for a real encounter with the divine. He believed it was to the degree that we learn to be fully engaged in the present we can discover the God given purpose for our lives and our full human potential. "The present moment", he wrote, "holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams".
Surely it has got to be worth regaining some self discipline and setting aside even 10 minutes of time a day which can become sacred to us in many ways if we don’t already do so.
The riches which Jesus speaks of for the 70 who focus on the task he sets them is ‘that your names are written in heaven’. But he also wants them to teach many others about God’s love for them, about his kingdom and what it could mean.
Jesus told the seventy to tell others that the kingdom of God had come near, but what exactly does that mean? Note that Jesus also tells them to heal the sick, one of the signs that God was at work in the vicinity. Jesus' idea of evangelism had little or nothing to do with getting people to believe the right things about him. Instead, evangelism was all about letting people, especially the poor and excluded, know that God loved them and cared about their problems. Healing their illnesses was a concrete way of showing God's love.
If we take a little time to focus on what Jesus stands for then it’s hard not to respond positively. There is no shortage of opportunities share God’s love through service or support. All around us we can see ways that we can make peoples lives better, it can be as simple as making time for a ‘phone call or a letter to let someone know that we care about them, right through to providing practical care and support.
The prophet Isaiah points out that all love is from the Lord even love like a mother’s and we know how, at its best, that involves considerable patience, care and guidance and forgiveness.
There’s also the small matter of how we deal with each others shortcomings. In his letter to the Galatians Paul offers realistic and timeless advice when he encourages a spirit of gentleness among us to those who are struggling to follow Christ’s ways. So, realistically that’s all of us. It’s so much easier to observe someone’s behaviour and condemn it than it is to engage with the person in an effort to make Christ like choices a realistic option for them. It would help to think about relating to each other in Christ rather than confronting others with what we interpret as Christ’s view of another’s opinion or behaviour.
All in all I’d say today’s readings give us an excellent reminder of what Christian life is all about, an invitation to reexamine our lives and make necessary changes. An inspiration to win time and space back for God from the multi media intrusions we’ve created and rediscover something far deeper. Most of us here have a good idea what we need to do but sometimes the baggage of life gets in the way. Maybe we haven’t learnt to travel light and focus on the important things yet.
Jesus had his reasons for installing urgency in the 70 but we also need a sense of urgency for our own lives. Time is not unlimited and good intentions will come to nothing if we don’t get focused, set time aside for God and find the joy of his ways.
I was amused to note that Paul wrote ‘see what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand!’ As this comes at the end of his letter it seems it could have a number of possible meanings. It could simply be that he personally writes the final part as a mark of authenticity, with more than a hint that his sight is not all it could be. However there is also a sense that, since bold type hasn’t been invented yet that he wants to emphasise whole heartedly that Christ should be the focus, that the time to hedge your bets is over.
At the strawberry tea and in Maggie’s garden yesterday many of us have eaten delicious strawberries, lovely cakes and drunk much tea outward signs to many of what they expect from a church, particularly the Anglican Church.
Yet we also know that through the people of this church Christ’s important messages are being spread, people are being served and supported and forgiven, often in a typically understated way. The Church of England will always provide good material for a sitcom but we are the very people who can make it real and relevant to others around us today. So let’s focus on God, separate some sacred time and rediscover the joy of his service.