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A Toolbox for Mission

Ordinary Sunday 12: 25th June, 2017
Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster, Vicar of St Peter's, Eastern Hill

Jer 20:7,10-13; Ps 69; Ro 5:12-15; Mt 10:26-33

I'd like to begin with an old Jewish folk tale; it is called "Bad Business." [1]

The Evil Spirit once came dejected before God and wailed, "Almighty God — I want you to know that I am bored — bored to tears! I go around doing nothing all day long. There isn't a stitch of work for me to do!"

"I can't understand you," replied God. There's plenty of work to be done only you've got to have more initiative. Why don't you try to lead people into sin? That's your job!"

"Lead people into sin!" muttered the Evil Spirit contemptuously. "Why Lord, even before I can get a chance to say a blessed word to anyone they have already gone and sinned!"

It is a sinful world we live in. Just look at your own life, your own temptations, your own secret struggles; let alone turning on the news, or listening to the latest Hollywood gossip, or listening to St Peter's gossip for that matter! St Paul summed it up well (Ro 3:23): "for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

So how audacious to think that we, sinners, should be called to go out into the world and proclaim the gospel. I imagine the 12 apostles would have felt much the same. Who am I? A humble fisherman, a hated tax collector, a parish priest, a lawyer, a retired school teacher, a housewife. I am too old, too young, too shy, not experienced enough, not educated enough, over educated, too practical, not practical enough. We can always find reasons not to engage in Christ's mission.

Today's gospel reading is part of the Mission Discourse that Jesus delivered to the 12 apostles before he sent them out on their mission. It is a toolbox of sayings and sage advice for these early missionaries. And it is pretty good advice for us too!

The overarching message the Lord is giving to his disciples is clear: "have no fear" (v.26) "do not fear" (v.28) and "do not be afraid" (v.31). It is a fearful thing to stand up publically and proclaim that you are a Christian. I remember when I first started working as a Lay Assistant in a parish in New Zealand, my Vicar asked me to wear a wooden cross on my pastoral visits. It was a really hard thing to do. I became really self-conscious, even a little afraid, of this public display of my faith. What would people think of me? Today I still struggle from time to time with wearing my clergy collar in the CBD. Will people hate me, call me a paedophile, think I'm a crazy religious person?

The apostles were clearly and understandably anxious about their call to publicly proclaim the gospel. In today's gospel passage, our Lord gives his disciples five pieces of advice for their missionary toolbox:

  1. Don't be afraid of the power of secrets. The light of truth disempowers those who peddle gossip and secrets. Honesty and integrity always shine through in the end. Be real. Be true.
  2. Don't be afraid to claim your voice. You have got something really important to say. You don't have to have a theology degree to talk about God. Be bold. Proclaim it from the roof-tops. Even talk religion at dinner parties!
  3. Don't fear being hurt. If I was to worry about being stabbed, or knocked down by a car, or attacked by a terrorist, I'd never get out of bed in the morning. If you have to fear anything, Jesus says, fear spiritual corruption, fear the destruction of your body and soul in hell. Be bold. Step out into life and grab hold of it.
  4. Don't be afraid of being belittled or devalued. It can be quite a humiliating thing to stand up for our faith. People don't value religion, or religious people, in the way they used to. That's OK says our Lord. Look at the sparrows; God values them. Even the hairs on your head are of value to God.
  5. Don't be so afraid that you deny Christ before others. This was the very trap that our patron saint himself fell into. We can worry so much about what others think of us, or the harm that they might do to us, that we deny the very life-blood of who we are, our faith.

So, as you leave church today — you might like to start practising in the parish hall over a cup of tea — don't get caught in the fear of secrets, whispers, hurts, devaluing and denying. Take out of your missionary toolbox the five tools: truth, proclamation, boldness, valuing and acknowledging your faith.

You are a sinner, of course you are, so am I, but let's give that Evil Spirit some work to do by focusing more on our faith and Christ's mission, and less on our fears and selfish pursuits.


Notes:

  1. from A Treasury of Jewish Folklore: Stories, Traditions, Legends, Humor, Wisdom and Folk Songs of the Jewish People, ed. Nathan Ausubel (NY: Crown, 1948).


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