Here at All Saints we believe that we are called to be closer to Christ and sent to be closer to others. During Lent we’re going to be exploring some of what it means to be sent to be closer to others. I know that many of you are doing this in your small groups, and we’re also going to be doing that in the sermons at our Sunday morning services. In this series we’re going to look at some examples from the Biblical accounts of people who were sent by God, think through the principles that we can draw from those examples, and see how we might apply them to our own lives and situations. This morning we’re beginning with the accounts of the sending of Abram and the sending of the seventy-two.
I wonder if you’ve ever had the experience of setting out for somewhere, but having got distracted along the way, you never make it to your destination? Just before I started preparing this on Tuesday morning, I was sat at my desk and I needed to look up some information on the diocesan website. I clicked on the browser and thought, I’ll just see if there’s anything interesting on Facebook before I go to the diocesan website. Sure enough there was something interesting, so interesting in fact that by the time I’d finished reading it I had forgotten entirely why I’d opened the browser in the first place, and closed it down without making it the diocesan website. So I had to start all over again.
Anyway, the same kind of thing had happened to Abram. His father, Terah had set out from their ancestral home, Ur, to go to Canaan, some years ago, but had stopped off at Harran on the way, and settled there. They’d set off for one place, got distracted and never made it. Now Terah has died and the Lord speaks to Abram – it’s time to get moving again – it’s time to complete the journey to Canaan. This was not a comfortable thing for Abram to hear. He was settled, with his family, prospering where he was. There was no good reason to resume the journey – except that God was telling him to. And why was God telling him to?
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great.”
There are good things for Abram and his family in the purposes of God. There is greatness and fruitfulness, flourishing and blessing. But there is more than this:
“and you will be a blessing … all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
This is God’s primary purpose – to bless all of humanity through the descendents of Abram. This is God’s mission – to bless humanity, and God’s people are sent to be take part in that mission. Abram’s part in that mission, at that time, was to get himself unstuck, leave behind his father’s household, and to go where God was sending him, a place that he didn’t know. He had to step out, obedient to God’s command and trusting in God’s promises.
I wonder how you feel about going to new places? Perhaps you’re a natural adventurer, who loves the experience of experiencing new things, meeting new people, seeing new sights. Perhaps you’re more of a homebody, preferring the comforts and familiarity of what you know. Even for the most adventurous of us, I suspect that there are some prospects that would make us feel a little apprehensive.
I wonder how the disciples felt as Jesus sent them off on their field trip to put into practice some of the things that he had been showing and teaching them. I’m not sure that if I’d have been there, I’d have found the send off very encouraging, “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” I know what wolves do to lambs, and I’m not sure I’d have wanted any part of that. I think that I would rather have stayed in the safety of the sheep pen, in the company of the flock, and under the close care of the shepherd. Nevertheless, they go, as commanded. So let’s have a look at how they are sent.
He sent them two by two. Although he was sending them away from the mass safety in numbers, he did not send them alone. He sent them out in pairs so that they could support each other, help each other, encourage each other.
“ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go” Now, I don’t think we can be sure about this, particularly as these folk were likely to have been from the area, but from the fact that we know that Jesus hadn’t been to these places yet, and from the instructions about what to do if where they are welcomed, and what to do where they are not welcomed, it seems to me likely that the disciples were sent to places that were not familiar to them. Places they hadn’t been before. Places where they could not be confident of a warm welcome. Even if they were places they knew, and where they were known, they were going to do a new thing, and share a new message. Perhaps that would be even more difficult.
“Do not take a purse or bag or sandals”. He sent them empty handed, dependent on God and on the people they were to meet for their sustenance.
“heal those there who are ill and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” That is what they were sent to do, exactly what they had seen Jesus doing. They were sent to bring the practical blessing of the Kingdom to people, and to point them in the direction of the source of that blessing. They were sent to be a blessing, not in the sense of a nice fuzzy warm thought, but in the sense of making a clear difference to people’s lives by practical action, and sharing of the good news of Jesus.
So, Jesus sent them together, empty handed, to places they didn’t know, with a clear task and message. And so, they stepped out, obedient to God’s command and trusting in God’s promises.
So, what about us? I wonder what threads we might pick out of this?
Have we got stuck or distracted? Abram and his family had got comfortable in the Harran, they were prospering. Jesus warned his friends not even to stop to greet people on the road, not to stay too long in any one place. They were to do what they had been sent to do and move on. I wonder if we have got too comfortable in the place that we’ve found ourselves in, and if God is sending us further, deeper, beyond what we find comfortable?
I wonder how good we are at doing things together? I love the fact that we have good relationships with other churches in Wellington, and that we have joint events, especially those focused on reaching out to the people of Wellington. After Easter we are planning to run an Alpha course in partnership with Gratitude cafe. As a side note – who are you going to invite? Back to the main point, I believe that we can do more together than apart, but it will mean making decisions to do that, and to get stuck in to things that don’t originate here.
What does it mean for us to go empty handed?
Thomas Aquinas was a monk and deep Christian thinker in the 13th century. The story is told that on one occasion he was visiting the Vatican and entered the room of the Pope, before whom a large sum of money was spread out, the Pope observed, “You see, the Church is no longer in that age in which she said, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’”—“True, holy father,” replied Aquinas; “neither can she any longer say to the lame, ‘Rise up and walk.’”
Aquinas names a problem that did not just afflict the church in the 13th Century, but which continues to this day in churches which depend on their own resources, on material wealth, on the natural power and gifts of their members. It is only when we empty our hands of the things that we are most tempted to grip most tightly that we are able to receive from God the blessings that release us to be a blessing to those we are sent to. We need to release control, self reliance, and pride so that we can travel empty handed and be open to receive from those that we are sent to. It is that attitude of humility that helps protect our confidence in the gospel from coming across as arrogance.
What places might we being sent that we have not been before, that we do not yet know? King Street mosque is having an open afternoon today – there are leaflets about it in the lobby. As Nick said last week, CAP are looking for befrienders to get alongside people as they journey out of debt. The hospital visiting team is looking for people to go with them into the hospital. There are geographical areas of our parish that are significantly underrepresented in our congregations, might some of us move into them? On the other hand, are we being sent into places that are familiar to us, our work places, schools, social groups with a renewed commission to share the message of the good news?
What is our task, and what is our message? What is the blessing that we are going to be to those that we are sent to be among? The message, I think, is the same. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe in Jesus. There are, of course, different ways of sharing that message, but the message itself is unchanging – we are to share to winsomely, wisely, with gentleness and humility but also with confidence and boldness. It will offend some, and some will refuse to hear it – that is not our responsibility, our responsibility is to be faithful and careful in sharing it. And our task? That will depend on the context – sometimes it will be praying for healing and other miraculous signs for people. In other contexts it will be those acts of grace and kindness that demonstrate the values of the Kingdom of God.
I’ve posed a lot of questions this morning. I don’t have the answers to them all. They are for us to work through as individuals and as a church community. We can do that over Sunday lunch, in our small groups, over coffee. They are questions that we will need to keep asking ourselves as we go on in our journey with Jesus, I don’t think that they are ever completely answered, because the answers will change as the situations we find ourselves in change. Having said all that, I am sure that we are being sent to be closer to others, and so will we, following Abram and the disciples’ example, step out, obedient to God’s command and trusting in God’s promises?