Sermon preached on 15th July 2012 by Rev. Steve Smith
Gospel Mark 6.6b-31
In our reading today Mark, the gospel writer, starts off the story of Jesus sending out the twelve disciples, then goes off into the long tale of King Herod, and John the Baptist’s execution – then finishes up going back to the twelve disciples and what had happened to them on their travels.
In the account of John’s death it sounds like Herod is reluctant to have John killed – although other historical accounts say that Herod was eager to get rid of him because John was criticising Herod’s morals. He was calling him to repent – to stop, turn around and go the right way. In John’s case it was what today we call ‘speaking truth to power’ – one example of the call to repentance and it is of course very threatening…
Because being reminded of our guilt reminds us also perhaps of what we used to be like in more innocent times; what we could and can still be like, perhaps – and even of how God actually still sees us, through the lens of Jesus’ all- compassionate, all encompassing, all-consuming death and resurrection; I was speaking yesterday with someone who in his life has had more than his fair share of misfortune – and going astray. He said for him it’s like God sees him as he really is, “..without all the crap. The crap’s still there, but so am I underneath it all.”
To some, that inner knowledge, that awareness is somehow just unacceptable because it sets up such a conflict within; to others it’s a doorway to freedom from the demons that beset us…
It’s also strange how those with power act so often in a foolish and seemingly powerless way; how they can be so easily overpowered by those who seek to manipulate them by using their weaknesses. Herod would even have given away half his kingdom, blinded as he was to the mother’s wickedness by the young girl’s dancing.
However, the real meaning of this story is to demonstrate that just as John suffered execution at the hands of the powerful for daring to preach the message of love and repentance, so would Jesus. And the story, as so often in Mark’s telling of the gospel, is bounded at either end by another little story split into two – the sending out of the twelve disciples – and it’s this little story that interests me in particular. Jesus sent them out, two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits; told them to go with precious few resources – a tunic, sandals and a staff… no bread, no bag, no money… and so they went and what was it that they actually did? They:
· Proclaimed that all should repent.
· Cast out demons
· Healed the sick
For us – looking at how we are going to go on in the coming years, whether we should stay in this building or leave it; how to get, and maximise and use the money we need to sustain our ministry, our worship, our mission… whether it’s in this building or not – these words of scripture have a lot to say. Let’s have a look at it in a little more detail:
The twelve went out with very little by way of assets; but what they did have was more important and ultimately more valuable and more powerful:
1. Firstly, company. He sent them in twos – and one of the marks of the Christian message is that it is about community – about us as the faith community having a message that is important for the communities to which we are sent. There’s also something for us here about ‘speaking truth to power’; ‘naming the elephant in the room’; those powers amongst us, around us and within us that seek hold us back, divide us, make us fearful or mistrustful; stop us from engaging with other people, in or outside of the church, without our baggage getting in the way; prevent us from being honest, open, friendly, positive, generous…
2. Secondly faith. Jesus doesn’t make it clear, in our gospel reading, what exactly they were to do or say. He ‘gave them authority over unclean spirits‘… but there are no specific orders for them at this point. It’s only when they are out there that what they say and do appears to come naturally, they proclaim repentance… knowing it was the very thing John the Baptist had proclaimed – they knew well what had happened to him yet they carried on in faith.
3. So they walked in company, by faith, and thirdly they walked with authority – an authority that came, not from knowing what was going to happen; not even what was meantto happen – but an authority which came directly from Jesus himself. We don’t know how he gave it but he gave it and it was there, it was real and they discovered it when they started to obey the command of Jesus – by just going and being and discovering that God was there before them having prepared the way with all that he wanted them to say and do… it was an authority that evidently gave them the confidence to do what they might have baulked at had they known what it was going to be… casting out demons and healing the sick… those very real inner demons that we today know all too well about ourselves and each other: the things that weigh us down, cut us off from each other and from God and keep us from receiving God’s grace and blessings.
In these matters we Christians have a great deal to offer, to give to a world in need of healing. It’s no co-incidence that as well as Christians, many of our Muslim and Sikh brothers and sisters in particular hold the name of Jesus in the highest regard precisely because they know of his power to heal – a power he gives to us to use in his name. In the New Testament reading today we read,
Eph 1.3-14 – ‘Blessed be God… who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing … redemption and forgiveness according to the riches of his grace ..with all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will (to bring healing and peace to a broken world)… glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us… in Christ we have obtained an inheritance and been marked with the seal of his promised holy spirit…’ He’s given it all to us… so what do we do with these things?
How are we supposed to use them? How are we supposed to knowhow to use them?
4. We need to have the faith to listen to what God wants us to do and just do it… because faith leads to authority and confidence and power and real results– in verse 30 we hear of the twelve returning and telling Jesus all that they had done and taught – people learnt of the message of Jesus and love and compassion and peace from them as a result.
5. And interestingly, in the closing verses of that little ‘epilogue’, the second half of the story that sandwiches the account of John’s death, Jesus says to them ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.’ – Jesus is concerned that his disciples get some rest and a little peace after all their travelling and hard work. And ‘they did, and found themselves in a deserted place’And we, when we walk in company, by faith, with authority, confidence, and in the power of God’s Spirit,- that’s when we truly ‘find ourselves’….
Here at All Hallows we’re at a stage where we’re debating what God is calling us to. To some it’s repairing and improving this building and developing it as a resource for the church and the local community in particular. To others it’s moving out of here, worshipping in another building that would save us money and could open up new forms of mission. Whatever we do, I am convinced that we must first find out what it is God wants of us, then we sort out how we’re going to resource that. And when you want to know something of God, the way to go about it is – pray. Pray fervently and honestly and constantly.
The diocese is aware that there are lots of churches in the same boat as us – churches re-imaging their mission and ministry so they’ve come up with something that might be of help. It’s called ‘Ambition for Mission’ and it’s an offering of some practical ideas about finding out what is God’s purpose for us.
One way is called the Mission Action Plan, and the PCC is in the process of outlining our plans for All Hallows’ mission over the coming five years.
One of the things the bishopshave come up with under the ‘Ambition for mission’ banner is a booklet called ‘PREPARING THE WAY WITH PRAYER” and copies are available in church so please have a read.
It has four sections: Being a church with a Heart for mission; being a church with an understanding of the Context for mission; being a church with an eye on the sustainable use of Resources for mission; and being a church which has a Plan for mission… Let us pray, determine and act to become such a church.