Luke 10v 1-9; 2 Timothy 4 V 5-17; Psalm 147v1-7; Isaiah 35v3-6
The Gospel and New Testament readings today are both about mission and community. Jesus knew that the message of salvation needed to be passed on by his followers to the rest of the World – and we know that they did that as the message of salvation flooded across the Middle East in a very short time after Jesus’s Ascension.
A few weeks ago we had Harvest Festival, when we gave thanks for all the good gifts produced by the Earth for us through God’s generosity. And, here we are, thinking about harvest again. But this time in terms of the work God has for us to do as his disciples in the World.
God has a wonderful message for the World and it is the responsibility of Christians to spread it. This is much more of a challenge now than it has been in the past. Even fifty years ago it was still the norm to go to church in this country and even if people did not go, most of them knew the basics of the Christian faith. Now we read in the media that about only 1 million people attend a Church of England service on an average Sunday. This does not of course mean that only one in 65 people go to church. There are many other churches – the Catholics and Pentecostalists among many. But church going is no longer the norm and many people do not even know what we believe. Just as in Biblical times, it is our responsibility to tell them.
Jesus sent seventy of his followers to spread the Word. These are described as “others”, so we can assume that they were not of the twelve disciples. We know little of these people except that they were joined together by a shared task, having all received the same instructions from Jesus. They were sent in twos, no doubt so that they could encourage one another when the going got tough.
Jesus was sending out those who had been his followers, people who had seen his miracles, heard his words, and responded with faith and enthusiasm, asking questions to which they did not necessarily receive answers that were easy to understand. It was quite a tough commission. This was before the passion, before Jesus’ death and resurrection. It must have been taking them outside their comfort zones, when they did not perhaps themselves really understand what it was all about. What they had to so was to explain that in the person of Jesus, God was bringing his love and his peace to the World. They needed to bring this message simply and openly. And clearly. It was quite a challenge and quite a sacrifice to ask of them and it required them to be brave.
Sacrifice and bravery. Being a follower of Jesus is not for the faint-hearted. Jesus sent out these anonymous disciples to spread the Word. And he sends us too and, similarly, we have to accept being sent out with only what he gives us, because he will give us what we need.
What struck me when I read the Timothy and Gospel passages together was that Jesus named no names – he sent seventy people. There was no favouritism, no compliments to one or complaints about another. We do not even know if he sent only men or if some were women. He was starting the massive work of Christian witness and mission that would follow over the centuries. Work for all Christians.
And then we read Paul writing to Timothy and he makes it all much more personal. He talks of several individuals. Those who had stayed with him and helped him and those who had not. We know that Titus and Tychicus were loyal followers away preaching the Gospel. Crescens is believed by Biblical scholars to have been a worthy missionary and perhaps even one of Jesus’ seventy. But Demas had fallen by the wayside and Alexander was a non-believer making Paul’s work more difficult. It all sounds terribly human – those who were useful and helpful and those who were indifferent or a hindrance. The contrast with the calling to all without differentiation of Jesus and the detail of Paul brings home to me the universality and yet the individuality of our faith.
We may feel small and of little value in spreading the good news. But we are all challenged by Jesus’ sending out of the seventy to spread his word. Are we willing to be sent out by Jesus as they were? They may not have felt safe or secure, they may have felt inadequate, they no doubt had their doubts and their fears, but they went for him nevertheless and so must we, bearing witness to our Lord and our faith in our everyday lives and contacts with the World.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, the God of bravery and boldness, who encourages the weak and timid, grant us the courage to be your agents to those we meet in this World. For the sake of Jesus, in whose name we are sent. Amen
Matthew 22 v 1-14; Philippians 4 v 1-9; Isaiah 25 v 1-9; Psalm 23
When I was serving our country overseas, I received – and it has to be said – sent, many invitations to events. Most of these were to things like diplomatic dinners or other countries national days. I hosted the Queen’s Birthday Party on several occasions in both Panama and Mongolia. Invitations usually said RSVP or Regrets only – meaning you only had to reply if you could not come. But when people could not come this was accepted at face value without any further thought. I never received an invitation which had to be accepted on pain of death, I am glad to say! And I never served in another country which had a Monarch. But, had I done so, I think I would not have regretted an invitation issued by a King, I would have been there whatever!
Like many parables, on the surface the parable in today’s gospel all seems like a huge example of overreaction all round. But when we look at the serious message behind the story, it all makes much more sense.
God has prepared a wonderful place for us in heaven. All are invited and he hopes that all will come. But many reject him and his love and all that he offers us. Many do not believe or do not care or have much better things to do with their time than worship him or thank him. You cannot blame him for being at the very least disappointed.
One could think of the first people who were invited as the people of Israel, to whom Jesus was sent, but who rejected and killed him. Perhaps. But then we come onto the main point of the parable. God invites everyone.
I am reminded of the lovely song “The Holy City” – where it talks about the dream of the writer about Heaven, the new Jerusalem:
The light of God was on its streets,
The gates were open wide,
And all who would might enter
And no-one was denied.
Many are called, but few are chosen. God’s invitation is an open one, everyone is invited. This is the point the parable is making. The Gospel is for all people and all nations. Everyone is called to the heavenly feast. We ourselves are to help invite everyone. Not all will respond. Some will be ambivalent. Others will reject it with hostility. Many people may think that have autonomy to live their lives any way they want. Well they do, up to a point. But everything has a cost – we can reject the invitation, we can be luke-warm about it, but if we really love God, we will accept it with joy and enthusiastically. The chosen are those who take the invitation seriously and come with keenness and faith and true acceptance of the message they have received.
Hmm, but then we come to the man improperly dressed. Poor chap, he had been dragged in off the streets with no time to change or prepare. Bit rough perhaps to be cast into the outer darkness. But if we look at it another way – was he just perhaps treating his fabulous invitation a bit too casually. Was he hoping for the benefits without any effort or input or devotion? Worth pondering on.
So, let us examine ourselves today as we come to the holy table. Why are we here? Are we coming with the right motives? Are we ready? Are we thankful that Jesus died for us? Do we really appreciate that when we take the holy sacraments, we are placing ourselves at the commemoration of the most central part of our Christian lives and preparing ourselves for heaven? Jesus said: “This is my body” and “This is my blood” – the best banquet we could ever had as it cleanses our souls, puts us right with God and prepares us, not only for the week ahead, but for the joys to come. No better bread and no better wine have ever been offered at any banquet. The world often looks at this celebration with contempt or indifference. It has no appreciation of just how precious the body and blood of Jesus really are.
As Christians we look back to Cavalry, but we also look forward to the joys of the banquet in heaven. In this World we will have trails and obstacles. We need to prepare ourselves for the journey ahead with its bumps and problems. But, without a shadow of doubt, the goal and reward will be worth it all.
He said to his disciples, ’Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing’.
I have to admit straightaway that one of the bonuses of moving to where we now live, here in Kew, is the fact that M&S is less than 10 minutes walk away, absolutely great for both food and clothes!
Well today we celebrate Harvest Festival and it is I feel a double celebration, for we are also celebrating the return of Junior church.
How wonderful it is to have more children joining us here in St. Luke’s. So it is a double ‘thank you’ to God, firstly for our bountiful Harvest, all that the land and sea provide us with, and a ‘thank you’ for creation itself, and for our children.
As we know from the story in Genesis, after God had created the world and all that lives in it, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it”, Genesis 2.15. Well, in all honesty human kind has made a pretty bad job of it ever since, and here we need to come together to say sorry. Sorry firstly to God, but also a very big sorry as adults to our children, grandchildren and all future generations, because it is these young people who are and will suffer from our greedy and reckless handling of the beautiful and bountiful world God created for us.
Just one simple fact to demonstrate, we in this country waste up to £9.7 billion pounds in money, not in weight, in food each year with 65% of adults admitting to buying more food than they need, while 9 million people die from starvation each year, with a child dying every 10 seconds somewhere in the world.
“And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work…..for God loves a cheerful giver.“ Words heard in our reading from 2 Corinthians.
As Jesus told in his Gospel parable, we can be very good at storing things up for ourselves, especially at the moment with the Pandemic, without stopping to think of others and actually being realistic and reasonable about our own needs. Do we all really need 50 loo roles in our cupboards?
Yes, we are all human and we panic buy and we do worry about how we look and what to wear, and what our next meal will be and if we will be able to afford next year’s holiday, that is if we are even allowed to go. Yet Jesus is saying to his disciples, and to all of us, where is your faith? “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you- you of little faith!”
We are, perhaps at last, beginning to understand what Sir David Attenborough and Princes Charles, with many others, have been saying for years, and echoed now by Greta Thunberg and Prince William, we cannot keep taking more and more and leave behind only our waste. We do not live in a disposable world, although there still remain some, even in places of authority and great influence, who believe so.
God provided us with a wonderful world full of great beauty and wonder, full of abundance both on the land, in the seas and in the skies. Who cannot be touched by the beauty and fragrance of a rose garden, the wonder of a rainbow or a sun set, and the grandeur of the mighty Himalayas, or an awe inspiring elephant?
How lucky we are in Kew to have the Gardens and the 2,360 acres of Richmond Park on our doorstep, no wonder Sir David Attenborough was happy to spend a lot of his time in ‘lock-down’, just listening to the birdsong near the Park. No one, not me not you, are going to change the world overnight, or reverse the damage done to God’s world all at once, but as David Attenborough replied when asked what one thing would he advocate for us all to do, it was ‘don’t waste anything, squander nothing!’ Therefore each and everyone of us can make a difference in how we live and manage our lives, so that we may be truly thankful and joyful at God’s great Harvest and leave to our children and grandchildren a cleaner and healthier world than the world we now have, so that we can truly say, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”
Readings: Psalm 145:1-8 Jonah 3:10-4:11 Philippians 1:21-end Matthew 20:1-16
From school age right up to adulthood we have all done it; at one time or another we have all felt aggrieved, even on occasions slightly hurt, at what we perceive to be an injustice. When someone else gets more than we do, or we even get left out all together. That History Prize that Jones received instead of you, or the promotion Smith was given, even though you were far more hard working and able.
As we grow up we learn to smile sweetly and pretend, at least outwardly that it really doesn’t matter, ‘good luck, well done’, while we silently boil inside. Most of us to a point, can feel for those workers who toiled all day, in the parable Jesus told, while others were paid a day’s rate for an hour’s work. In truth if it had been us wouldn’t we have felt a little hard done by?
Then we had part of that great book from the Old Testament, the Book of Jonah. If there was anyone in the Bible, apart from Job, who felt hard done by then it is probably Jonah. Why does God waste his time getting Jonah to tell the evil people of Nineveh what their fate would be when God intended to forgive them all the time. No wonder Jonah was angry and in a massive sulk with God.
Jane Williams writes in her Lectionary reflections on today’s readings:
“It is easy to see Jonah and the all-day workers as rather comic caricatures, responding as surely we never would to God’s generosity to others. Which is why you have to take seriously not just their selfishness but also their concern about justice. Is Jonah not right to think that God will cheapen forgiveness, and will end up encouraging wrong-doing, because people can point out that God doesn’t really seem to mind it much? Are the workers not right to suspect that the vineyard owner will have increasing trouble getting people to work for him all day, if they know they can turn up at the last moment and get a day’s pay?” Jane Williams goes on to quote the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks in his book The Dignity of Difference, where he ‘“speaks, among other things, about what might happen if you dare to let go of the language of justice and rights, and speak instead in the language of ‘covenant’ and forgiveness. If God can bear to filter justice through the lens of mercy, who are we to forget how much we have been forgiven, and demand harsh ‘justice’ for others?”’
Now, I know, it is indeed easy at times to forget our own many blessings and look with unjustifiable envy at others, or indeed fail to take proper concern for those who struggle in their environment. So often across our world we see those who have so very little being so grateful for what they are given. As one of the refuges on the island in Greece whose camp was destroyed by fire said, ‘we are people too, we are human beings’. It is too easy at times to forget our own good fortune, our extremely comfortable lives and look with disdain on those less fortunate and with envy on those we perceive to have more.
Jesus’ parable was no doubt aimed at the Jewish people of his time, who saw themselves very much as God’s chosen nation, His people, and looked with disdain on Gentiles and many others whom Jesus associated with, the poor and sick, the tax collectors and those of ill repute. Jesus was trying to make it clear to his disciples that God did not have favourites, that His love, compassion and forgiveness was open to all those who seek it, available not on conditions or length of service but was, and still is, free and unconditional love for all.
So at the final judgement it is not our opinion, our prejudices or even our Christian faith and service that ensures our passage to eternity, for God will be the final judge, for us all here today and for all peoples and all generations.
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last”. Amen.
Beverley and I really want to thank everyone at the Barn & St Luke’s for the incredibly generous gift you gave us on our last Sunday in Kew. These past months have been particularly difficult for all of us, and we weren’t able to meet together for such a long time. To be so kind to us through this period and the return to public worship shows a remarkable level of care and engagement across the parishes.
We shall always remember our time in Kew. We have done so much together, we have marked family events amongst you. It has been wonderful to share 16 years with you.
May God bless you all, keep you and guide you always.
Matthew 18 v 21-35; Exodus 14 v 19-31; Romans 14 V 1-12; Psalm 114
We have been hearing quite a lot about Peter over the last few weeks.
It wasn’t long ago that he received Jesus’ blessing after answering correctly the question of who he was. “You’re the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” Peter had said, but then he was firmly put in his place a few verses later for rebuking Jesus when he tried to tell him and the rest of the disciples just what it meant to be the Messiah. That he must suffer—and what it would mean for them to follow him—that they must suffer too.
Last week’s Gospel reading was about how to deal with people who fall by the wayside. And that brings us to this morning. Today we find Peter trying to get it right again, trying to understand exactly how often to forgive people. He takes Jesus aside and asks how many times do I have to forgive someone? Surely, you can’t keep on forgiving, said Peter, so I’m thinking, perhaps that seven times would be good. What do you think, Jesus?
Now, two things here: First, Peter gets part of it right. He understands that the aim is to bring people back into the fold, perhaps a new concept in Biblical times under the Romans, when rehabilitation of offenders was not a common objective. Cruel punishment to set an example to others was more general.
The second point is that Peter thinks he’s being generous! And by most standards he is. To forgive someone seven times seems quite reasonable. But Jesus tells him it’s not enough. Not seven times, he says, try seventy times seven! The number of times is not important, it is the principal of keeping on forgiving, however hard it may be. Because we all need this and this is what Jesus does for us.
And then Jesus tells the parable about a king who wishes to settle his accounts with his servants. He listens to the pleas of one who cannot repay what he owes and then forgives him. And what does that servant do? He doesn’t reciprocate the mercy that has been shown to him, but instead refuses to forgive someone else.
We will probably tend to think that this is not quite right. And others thought the same and reported back to the King. The King then brings this unforgiving servant before him, gives him what-for, and in anger hands him over to be jailed until he could repay his debt in full.
And again, maybe we will think that he has got his just reward. But how often do we ourselves forget to be forgiving, to harbour grudges and resentments perhaps over many years, to expect behaviour in others that we do not demand of ourselves? We expect and accept the loving forgiveness of God, but can be slow to forgive others from our hearts.
It’s when we really think about the mercy and grace and forgiveness we’ve received from God, that we can try to find the strength to offer the same to others. Mercy should give rise to mercy, love to love, compassion to compassion and forgiveness to forgiveness.
While I was researching this sermon, I came across a, probably apocryphal, story about a monastery that was not prospering – fewer monks, fewer visitors. The Abbot consulted an ecclesiastical colleague, who said that his congregation was declining too. As they parted, the other cleric said “But I know one thing, the Messiah is among you”. The Abbot was a bit confused and when he told his fellow monks what his colleague had said, they were confused too. But then they started to wonder who among them the cleric had been referring to and they started to behave towards each other as if Jesus was among them, watching their every move, being one of them and with them. It changed the way they lived. Their feelings of failure and decline left them as they treated one another as they would their Lord. The monastery became somewhere that people wanted to be as the place was filled with love.
How much better life is for us all when we remember that Jesus is with us, walking with us, supporting us, loving us and forgiving us.
How many times must I forgive? Peter asked. Jesus responded, If you’re counting you’ve missed the point.
The way Jesus offers, the way of love, the way of mercy, the way of forgiveness, isn’t a checklist, it’s a way of life for us all.