Sunday 5 July 2015

Training Apostles

In today’s Gospel St Mark (6:1-13) tells us how Jesus sent the Twelve out by themselves, two by two.
The same story is also told in slightly different words by Matthew and Luke.

The Twelve have been chosen and called specially by Jesus. They have given up everything to follow him. They have watched as he carried out his travelling ministry. Now Jesus decides the time is right to send them off by themselves, on a training exercise to prepare them for their future role as apostles – the Greek word apostle literally means ‘one who is sent out’.

The story conjures up the memory of the training exercises I took part in as a member of the School Corps – they were called manoeuvres. We went off in a bus, in battledress with boots and spats, with a packed lunch, a map and a compass. We were dropped off in pairs at different grid-references with instructions to march across country to rendezvous at another grid-reference some miles away where we would find our tea. I’m much too bolshy to make a good soldier. But I did learn one useful lesson – a map is completely useless if you do not know where you are!

Jesus gives the Twelve precise instructions as he sends them off.
Their task is to practice what they have seen Jesus do, to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God is near, to call people to repent, and to heal the sick. And to bolster their confidence he gives them ‘authority over the unclean spirits’, which were then believed to cause illness.

They are to travel light - to take with them just the minimum they need, a staff, sandals and a single tunic – no food, no bag to carry stuff, no money, no spare clothes. They must rely entirely on the hospitality of the people and the villages that they meet. That means of course that they will have to look outward, to constantly engage with others around them.

And they are to avoid any confrontation. If people in a place do not welcome them and offer traditional hospitality they must simply leave, ‘shak(ing) off the dust that is on (their) feet as a testimony against them’. This is what pious Jews did when they returned after visiting an unclean gentile village so as not to pollute Jewish soil. I wonder if Jesus did the same as he left his home town of Nazareth, amazed at the unbelief he found there.

Mark tells us that they did as Jesus asked them. ‘They went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.’ And when they came back, they ‘told (Jesus) all that they had done and taught’ – in other words Jesus de-briefed them. No doubt the Twelve learned important lessons from the whole exercise. And no doubt Jesus too would have understood their individual strengths and weaknesses much better.

We shouldn’t forget that one of the Twelve was Judas Iscariot, who would later betray Jesus. I wonder which of the others went out with him. And I wonder how Judas scored on the training exercise.

Jesus calls a specially chosen few of his disciples to be Apostles.
Apostles are those that are called to give up everything else to follow Jesus, and to travel light as they continue Jesus’s ministry in the world. They’re not perfect – they share our common human faults and weaknesses, as the Twelve did. The difference between them and us is the gift of their call. 

The rest of us Christians have other gifts and are called to different forms of discipleship. And as St Paul had the insight to see, our gifts as well as theirs are necessary to build up the body of Christ, which is the Church.

At their ordination, the presiding Bishop exhorts every priest ordained in the Church of Ireland in these formal words:
‘We trust that … you are fully determined, by the grace of God, to give yourself wholly to his service … that you will devote to him your best powers of mind and spirit’.
All ordained clergy in the Church of Ireland make this commitment to give up other lives they might have led, in order to follow Jesus and devote their lives to his service.

Theirs is an apostolic ministry which we need to receive. We do not always give our clergy the recognition which they deserve. We should give thanks for them and for their commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ and to us, often at great personal cost to themselves.

At the same time that Revd Lucy is ministering among us during the current vacancy, she is holding down a full time job as a carer, and doing what she can to care for her mother at a distance. Let us give thanks for her ministry and show her how much we appreciate it.

The formal process for appointing a new Rector to the Nenagh Union of Parishes will begin shortly with a visit by the diocesan Ministry & Resources Committee.
In consultation with the parish, their job is to identify our needs, to confirm we can fund and house a new Rector, and to recommend a way forward to Diocesan Council. Diocesan Council must then issue a ‘Certificate of Stipend’ – in September we may hope – before the post can be advertised and the search process proper begin.

Let us pray that the appointment process will run smoothly, so that we can welcome a new Rector without delay, and receive the blessings of her or his ministry among us. Please turn to the top of p149 in the Prayer book, and let us pray together the prayer ‘During the Vacancy of a Parish’:
Almighty God, the giver of every good gift,
look graciously, we beseech thee, on thy Church,
and so guide with thy heavenly wisdom
the minds of those to whom is committed
the choice of a minister for this parish,
that we may receive a faithful pastor,
who shall feed thy flock according to thy will,
and make ready a people acceptable unto thee;

through Jesus Christ, thine only Son our Lord. Amen