Sermons from Rev Canon Dr Ian Davies
Sunday 5th July
Can you remember the first time you did something really unusual in public in front of your parents? It’s 10 years ago now but I can remember the first time I got up in a pulpit and preached in front of mine. It was after my ordination as priest and mum & dad were attending my first Holy Communion service. It wasn’t the same as the other things I’d done. They’d heard me play the guitar and sing in public before (& listened to the band I belonged to practising on numerous occasions at all hours of the night); they were there when my grammar school rugby team reached the Cardiff Schoolboy finals and we played on the old Cardiff Arms Park- and got thrashed!) – but this was different – preaching is something dangerously ‘out there’ in public – and yet is also about something intensely personal. Parents and others that you know when you’re growing up, are inclined to be embarrassed at you talking so personally about something deep and important – in this case Some-One who has clearly and profoundly shaped your life – and now it’s out there for all the neighbours and peers to hear. It’s a vulnerable moment – as it was for the ordinands last week – in front of friends and family who knew them warts and all – as the preacher pointed out.
Okay – so now you have to crank that picture up quite a few notches and allow for the fact that Jesus’ message was completely different from everything his listeners would have ever heard before. He wasn’t just another synagogue preacher telling people how to obey God’s law, or offering hope for the future coming of the kingdom. This was Jesus, apparently on his own authority, saying that it had actually arrived – there and then – in their hearing. Where Jesus was, the kingdom was. And if anyone had any doubts, he was doing amazing supernatural stuff that demonstrated that something new was happening.
And notice where this was all happening: in his hometown of Nazareth – and there was doubt amongst the people (including his own family to be honest, who, if you recall, at one point thought he was bonkers!). We read that as a consequence, Jesus wasn’t able to do very much – and this is actually quite odd because they’d heard what he’d done in the town of Capernaum nearby and around the Galilee lakeshore – but here they were teasing, mocking, challenging him to do the same back home where everybody knew him.
And there’s probably more to this than just putting the local boy back in his place. This kind of kingdom talk – implying that they needed to change their lives and priorities and come under the authority of a whole new rule and reign – well it wasn’t exactly what they wanted to hear – and certainly not from the one whom they thought they’d got nicely pigeon-holed.
Julie helped us to see last week with the woman who’d been haemorrhaging for 12 years that there’s this mysterious connection between healing and faith. Lack of faith – trusting that God is right there - it seems - seriously hinders the power of Jesus to do what he would want to do – and it’s an important lesson for all who try and preach and struggle to live the kingdom. If even Jesus was ‘kyboshed’ – stopped in his tracks – by people’s unbelief – their lack of trust - then we shouldn’t be surprised if sometimes we don’t seem able to do what we think we should – or see the blessing we’d hoped might happen...
I love the little glimpse of Jesus’ earthly family. It’s a reminder that he had many blood relatives who continued to be important in the life of the early church. The most famous of his brothers was James, to whom Jesus appeared after the resurrection (we’re told that in 1 Corinthians 15) and who then became the great leader of the Jerusalem church – the ‘anchorman of early Christianity’ as Tom Wright calls him – while Peter and Paul and Barnabas and the rest went off on their travels. Isn’t it encouraging to be reminded that at this stage James was simply a puzzled and perhaps angry, jealous, younger brother? At such an early point in the unfolding story, of course, James simply shared in the general unbelief of his hometown Nazareth – how easy it is to go along with the cynical flow. Yet within 30 years James’ name would be known throughout the land and across the world as a faithful and persuasive teacher – a man of prayer – intensely loyal to his older brother, Jesus the Messiah.
Now onto the guidance Jesus gives to his disciples... These are emergency instructions for a swift and dangerous mission. What do you make of them?
I guess there’s only so much you can learn sitting in a classroom. At some point, you’re going to have to get some real life experience! If you want to be a teacher, you need to practice in front of real kids! Or a mechanic, you’d better start getting your hands dirty on a real engine. If you want to be a nurse or doctor, you need experience working with real sick people! Our education isn’t complete until we get out there and use what we’ve learned!
And the same thing is true with the Christian life. Jesus is teaching his disciples how to do the work of the kingdom. And now, he’s taking them to the next level. He’s saying, "Alright. You’ve watched me preach. You’ve seen me heal. You’ve observed me driving out dark, destructive stuff from people. You’ve watched me love people that have never been loved before. Now it’s time for YOU to do it! I didn’t pick you lot so that you could stand around and watch me do all the work!”
God hasn’t hidden up in heaven and told us what to do from a distance. He’s come down here, himself - in his Son - rolled up his sleeves (so to speak) and showed us! And notice this: Jesus doesn’t wait around for the villagers to come to him. He goes to them!
In Christian circles, we talk a lot about getting people to come to our church. But we probably don’t pray and talk enough about getting our church to go out to the people (even though we pray this week by week in our Diocesan Prayer). But that’s what Jesus is talking about here! He doesn’t say, "Wait in the church or chapel and pray for people to come in and fill the pews." He’s saying, "I want you people in the pews to go out to those who really need me!" – and not with placards and a hard sell – just be yourselves where I’ve placed you.
Most of the serving, the ministry, that God calls us to do is outside the church. It happens when we reach out to the people in our own village. Yes it’s a witness when we love our families and teach our kids right from wrong; but also when we take time to be genuinely interested in our neighbours: reaching out with the love of God beyond the walls of this building....l listening to what concerns people and makes people tick. And there are principles behind what Jesus says that still hold.
For one thing, this kingdom business is urgent – which is why they were to take a minimum of bits and pieces, to rely on local hospitality, and to focus entirely on the task at hand. After all they were heralds, ambassadors - proclaiming that something different was about to happen – and that people needed to get ready for it by turning their lives around: repenting – which is not just being sorry, but having a totally new outlook. So there was no time to waste.
And Jesus anticipated that some places were not going to welcome that message. And there are always some who would almost rather stay sick, or stuck in an old lifestyle where they are, than face the bracing new challenge of a different way of living and being?!. But the disciples weren’t to get angry about any of that, they were instructed to respond with a symbolic action – wiping the dust of the place off their feet. No petulance or fits of pique, or bearing grudges, because there wasn’t any time to waste.
There’s so much good learning that can happen for us here. We have Mark’s breathless gospel account where things proceed at a cracking pace; where the mission is of utmost urgency – and if people won’t have it, there’s no time to lose. Onto the next place, and woe to those who have missed their chance…!
Of course our life as a church has to be carried out with much more discernment and sensitivity, in many ways. We have to know when an emergency is on, and what steps to take. But keeping together – and keeping focussed is what we need to make sure we do. Keep short accounts if something goes wrong; if someone offends you. Shake the dust off and move on. Forgive me (because I get things wrong – I know I do). And forgive each other – don’t store away resentment – allow the Holy Spirit to deal with the hurt and (here’s what it’s all about it about really) let’s fix our eyes on Jesus and let him shine out in all we say and do, in all our relationships – people are watching – and they want to, need to see something different – in us.