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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon


8th July 2007

Fr David Shepherd

Trinity V

‘The Lord appointed seventy others & sent them on ahead in pairs to every town & place where he intended to go.’ Luke. 10.1

You’ll remember the 1970’s – not an especially happy decade! Remember all those awful fabrics, cars that always rusted and broke down, the three-day week and strikes all the time! Otherwise ‘seventy’ is a good round number. It’s our allotted span according to the psalmist. Times it by seven and it’s the number of times we are to forgive. In Genesis it is the number of the nations. It also seems to be about the number of people the average church can mobilise.

Jesus must have liked the number seventy for according to St. Luke he chose an extra seventy disciples to act as pioneers, to go before him. Today’s gospel passage is all about Christian vocation and ministry and it has much to teach us.

It is a good foil too much of contemporary church life – or lack of life. It is direct and realistic but also encouraging. Much church life revolves around the settled nature of modern congregations. Our concerns are often local and parochial, concerned with caring for buildings, fearful of apparent decline. It is a life too often expressed in structures and committees, not something that Jesus seems to have been much involved with!

It is not that any of this is necessarily wrong. After all the church is always essentially local, the body of Christ here and now in this place. There is however a danger that we can lose sight of the essentials and get a warped view on things. Back, then to the passage.

  1. Appointing and sending. Jesus appointed seventy and he sent them on ahead in pairs. All of us as baptised Christians are appointed by Our Lord; chosen, called to do his work. The church has been weakened by talk of vocation that speaks only of the ordained. Baptism is the primary call, ordination a secondary one. We are called and we are sent. Sending out is the great Gospel imperative. Jesus sends us out in the power of the spirit. This is the opposite of any beleaguered holy huddle.
  2. Seventy in pairs. If I’m right in saying seventy is about the number most churches can mobilise then we often see that as a problem – ‘we have only got seventy so we can’t do very much!’ In the gospel it is the other way round twelve can’t do much, they need help, with seventy it will be different. It just so happens that at St. Matthew’s last week the twelve or so we rely on to carry us were all away. We missed them but we did fine! Quite liberating in its way, good for our confidence! Twelve can’t do much but seventy can. How can all be mobilised. Therein lies a challenge. These days the clergy are encouraged to collaborate and to share ministry with the laity. That is true of all Christians we are called to share. The seventy were sent out in pairs because two can encourage and support each other.
  3. Realism – travelling light. Jesus is realistic about the task – the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few. We often beat ourselves up because we fail to accept this fact. But what we can do, all of us, is to pray. ‘Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out more labourers into his harvest.’ We also carry far too much baggage. (We’ve begun to sort out stuff for our holiday – will it all go into the car boot I wonder!) It is the same with church life so much spiritual and material baggage. We need a good clear out. As lambs among wolves we are to carry no purse, no bag, no sandals and to greet no one on the road.
  4. The task. On arriving at a house the disciples were to offer peace. Peace will either be accepted or it won’t. If hospitality is offered, a bed, food, drink, it is to be accepted. The labourer deserves to be paid. This can be set against a Christian reluctance to accept any reward or recompense. Lay expenses should be met; if we don’t wish to keep them we can always gift-aid it back! Ministry is to be focused, specific – no moving about. The ministry is two fold, to heal the sick and to proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom of God.
  5. Realism again. Often we won’t be welcome – hospitality won’t be offered. No matter says Jesus; the Kingdom has still come near. We can wipe the dust off our feet and move on. The important thing is the doing, not the reception that is given. To hear that is actually very liberating.
  6. In the name of Jesus. If we are listened to, it is Jesus who is listened to. If we are rejected he is rejected God is rejected. No need to take it too personally save in knowing the deep joy that comes from knowing we do his will and that like the seventy our names are written in heaven!
We can see what a marvellous passage this is. It calls us to the basics of our faith, that we are called and sent to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God, a kingdom of healing and the driving out of evil. It is realistic accepting of the true nature of the task, acknowledging opposition but open to tremendous possibilities. Rooted in prayer, in asking, Christian ministry is essentially practical. Out task today is to receive this gospel as a Christian community, to work out what it means and to put it to good effect. What impact might it have if we sent out 35 pairs of disciples to the streets of Oxhey, greater still if each of our churches did that!

Amen

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Comments about this site or problems? Contact Webmaster (Colin Richards) at webmaster@stmatthewsoxhey.org.uk Last updated 0707/2007 19:30 Author: David Shepherd