Proper 9 2018
Does Theresa May have what it takes to be the Brexit Prime Minister? Does Gareth Southgate have what it takes to manage a team that will win the world cup? Does Venus WIlliams have what it takes to win the women’s title at Wimbledon this year?
And you: do you have what it takes to go out into the world as a Disciple of Jesus, to bring home the lost and bring hope to those in despair. Do you have what it takes?
You might think that the answer is ‘No – you don’t’, – but you’d be wrong. You do – you do have what it takes. There are all sorts of clues in today’s readings which lead to this conclusion.
Let’s start with David: he was the youngest of his family – the last in line for greatness. He was also a shepherd – not the most high powered of jobs. But God saw that he had what it would take to be King of all of Israel – not just the king of Judah. As we know, he was far from perfect – some of his behaviour was appalling. But God saw that he had what was needed to be King – and King he was.
And what about Saul – the man who became Paul. Did he have what it would take to bring the Gospel to the world outside Israel. On the surface, no, he didn’t. Rather the opposite. He was actively persecuting Christians, for a start. And as we heard in today’s reading, he had this mysterious ‘thorn in the flesh’. No one has any realm idea what this might have been: possibly he had poor eyesight, or perhaps epilepsy. But no-one knows. But in today’s reading we hear God saying ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made made perfect in weakness.’
In the Gospel reading we hear folk asking deciding that Jesus didn’t have what it took, even though the sick were healed and the teaching was full of wisdom and light and hope. They were cynical – we know who this man really is. He’s a carpenter – he’s Mary’s son – he’s a nobody – he’s really got ideas above his station.
And shortly afterwards Jesus sends out his disciples two by two. Just in case you think that you’re let off the hook because the 12 were all men and you’re a woman, the Greek words for ‘two by two’ are duo duo, exactly the same as the the description in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the animals going into the ark – duo duo – male and female. So it is possible that Jesus sent out 24 people at this stage, with authority over unclean spirits – with the instruction to heal people, in other words.
Now at this stage in the gospel story, the disciples are still getting nearly everything wrong. Peter has yet to notice that Jesus is the Messiah. This is before Pentecost when the Spirit came to empower and set on fire. These are just 12, or 24, ordinary human beings, not highly educated, wealthy or confident – sent out with a huge task .
What’s even more amazing is that there was absolutely no kit. No loudspeakers. No instruction manuals. No money. No food. No spare shoes, no change of clothing. Just a staff to help them over rocky places. And the result – they proclaimed repentance, they cast out many demons and they healed the sick – enough to make people sit up and pay attention.
And this is what Jesus’ followers have been asked to do ever since – on you hangs the future of the gospel message. So, when did you last tell someone about Jesus? When did you last say ‘come and see’? When was the last time you told someone about the difference having faith in Jesus makes in your life?
It is a good thing to do, from time to time, to get a paper and pen and write down what difference your faith makes to you. Sometimes we take it all for granted, accept it as the norm, and then, if asked, wouldn’t know where to start. Sometimes it takes someone without faith to make us realise what a difference our faith makes to us. I’ve just been reading the biography of Peggy Guggenheim, the American Heiress who became the collector of modern art in the 20th century. I haven’t finished the book yet, but, as far as I’ve got I can say with some certainty that,l for all her money and status, here was one very unhappy woman, someone who seems to be at sea without a compass or charts, someone with no framework in which to live. She reminds me rather of the Jumblies: ‘They went to sea in a sieve they did, in a sieve they went to sea’. This lead me to reflect on the rock which is my faith – a firm foundation on which to live, a set of values and principles to guide me, and the Jesus-centered belief that, in the end, love always triumphs over hatred, evil and violence. My faith helps me to keep going when I get something wrong – God always gives us another chance – just like he did to Saul, Peter, David, Mary Magdalene, Martha who was a martyr to her kitchen – the list is without end and has my name on it, and yours too.
I think we are more faithful when we have faced hardship (in all its forms) because it is here that we come to depend on our faith more, or maybe we think ‘where would I be without my faith’.
So that’s my challenge to you this week – to write down a simple list of the things your faith means to you. If you want to give me a copy, I would be delighted. It might be possible to put your thoughts on the website – anonymously if you prefer. That way, when someone comes to you in a mess, you might simply be able to say ‘have you ever thought about coming along to church – my faith really helps when I’m life is tough?’ Or something along those lines. Next week I’d like to be inundated with scraps of paper, which, together are a testimony of the faith and faithfulness of our little church.