A Call to Mission
Ordinary Sunday 11: 18th February, 2017
Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster, Vicar of St Peter's, Eastern Hill
Ex 19:1-6; Ps 100; Ro 5:6-11; Mt 9:36-10:8
Jesus said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest."
Today's gospel reading is from the opening of Matthew's Mission Discourse between our Lord and the apostles. It tells us of the great sending out of the Twelve; the great broadening and building of the Messiah's Mission. The scene is full of hope and purpose. But it has been a long journey to this point. Let's look back for a moment.
Back in chapter four we heard how Jesus began his mission in Galilee alone, following a gruelling 40 days and 40 nights of soul searching in the wilderness. He then starts to gather a few unlikely followers, those mad enough to leave everything and go on a road trip with this idealistic preacher: Simon Peter, a leader yes, but one of those leaders we know is going to crack under pressure, enthusiastic but with foot-in-mouth, always saying the wrong thing; and his kid brother Andrew, constantly living in his brother's shadow; James and John, nick named "sons of thunder," they probably should have gone to anger management classes first!
Then the healings begin, the crowds gather, and our Lord soon realises that he needs to teach the growing group of disciples something about God. He takes them up a mountain, away from the crowds, and his first words are: "Blessed are the poor in spirit ..." (Mt 5:3). His priority is for the poor and needy. He urges the disciples to forgive those they are angry with, to love enemies. They need to learn how to get along with each other and model Christian community. He teaches them how to pray: "Our Father ..." (Mt 6:5-15). He stresses that they must serve God, not wealth; they really don't need to worry about material things; they should take the log out of their own eye, before judging others; they should treat others as they would be treated; and for goodness sake, practice what you preach!
And then they all come down from their mountain teaching retreat, they return to the crowds, and the healings continue: the centurion's daughter, the demoniac, the paralytic, the blind, and the mute. The ministry is growing exponentially; it is hard work. And this is where we pick up today's gospel. Our Lord says to the disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest" (Mt 9:37). It's time for you to pick this up; I can't do everything.
There are twelve of them now, but they are still a pretty rag-tag bunch: Matthew the tax collector has joined them, half businessman, half crook turned good; Judas, the greedy one; Thomas, the doubter; the other Simon, the Zealot, the political fanatic; Philip, Bartholomew, James, Thaddeus. They are a small and fragile group, eccentric even, but God has drawn them together, and there is work to do, much work to do.
Jesus sees the crowds, sees those who flock for help, the poor in spirit; he has compassion for them, because they are harassed and helpless, "like sheep without a shepherd" (Mt 9:36). The disciples are not ready; they've just been up the mountain for a while, no theological college, no academic training, no C.P.E., but now is the time for action. "As you go, proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons" (Mt 10:7-8).
So what are we to take from this gospel reading today? I'd like to make three points about our call to mission today:
Firstly, humility. God calls you as you are. God is not calling someone else into mission; not you in three years after studying at theological college even. God is calling you just as you are this morning. As Bishop Stephen Cottrell said of us, so flatteringly at the Parish Mission a couple of years ago: "You are a rag-tag bunch. Look around. But there is no Plan B. You are it. You are the disciples here at St Peter's. There is no one else. And he is calling you into his mission."
You might feel unprepared, but look at what you have been given. How many sermons have you heard? How many of Bishop Graeme's seminars and retreats have you been to? How many ISS talks? How many Lenten study groups? How many Bible studies? You are ready, just as you are.
The second point I'd like to underline is the opening verse of the Beatitudes, which is the bedrock of Jesus' teaching; it sums up the whole of Christ's mission and ours: "Blessed are the poor in spirit ... ." Or Luke's gospel makes it even more clear: "Blessed are you who are poor" (Lk 6:20). Christ's priority was for the poor, and as Anglo-Catholic Christians, it should be ours too.
While I was away there was a fuss about people sleeping rough at St Peter's. The Melbourne City Council has banned rough sleeping. Let me make it clear: so long as I am Vicar of St Peter's we will not! Our homeless sister and brothers will be welcome to sleep here if they need to. We will feed them. We will help them find housing, or psychiatric help, or employment. St Peter's has long been a sanctuary for the poor. Our Charitable Foundation raises money each year to help support the Lazarus Centre and our other ministries to those in necessitous circumstances. It is a challenging ministry, it is a ministry that may make us feel unsafe or uncomfortable at times. But it is a core gospel imperative, a corner stone of Anglo-Catholic concern since the days of the slum-priests in London; it is in our DNA here at St Peter's.
Thirdly, Christ's call is now! Like the disciples in today's gospel, now is the time for mission for us too, as Christ's disciples in this time and place. Just look at the world around you: your family, your friends, your neighbourhood, this city of Melbourne, the wider world. There is so much need for the gospel of Christ; as much as there has ever been.
And what is the Mission that Christ is calling us to? Well, the disciples didn't go out as one big group; they went in pairs. The harvest is plentiful, and the Mission is varied. Some of you might like to volunteer at the breakfast program, or on the new ISS committee, or with Colleen and Katherine in children's ministry, or perhaps you could help with the Atrium development, or with the Pilgrim Course for newer Christians. Or there may be a new mission initiative that you have a vision for.
Whatever element of mission God is calling you to, just come as you are, remember God's priority for the poor, and get cracking … the time is now!
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.