Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
7 July 2019
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Today we going back into the lectionary cycle after several weeks when we have stepped aside from the lectionary to focus on the key phrases in the great commandments: Love God with all our hearts, with our souls, with our minds and with our strength.
The passage served up in the lectionary this morning happens to be the mission charge as Jesus sends out his disciples in pairs to extend the reach of his own ministry and activity.
This offers a fascinating glimpse into the dynamics of the activity of Jesus himself; as well as the activity of those disciples of Jesus who were based in the Galilee and continued to do the ‘Jesus thing’ in the first few years after Easter.
We have two versions of the mission charge, the version here in Luke 10 and a parallel version in Matthew 10. They are very similar. In fact, in places they are word for word the same.
Were Matthew and Luke students handing in essays at a university they would be up on a charge of plagiarism, since they have clearly used a common source – or perhaps copied from each other.
This takes us back into the earliest transmission of the gospel traditions, to an ancient version of the Gospels which scholars call simply ‘Q’, from the German word Quelle, meaning source.
These days this ancient source is more commonly referred to as the Q Gospel, and the people who produced it unknown as the Q community.
While it is hard to name any individuals who were part of that earliest community of Jesus followers in the Galilee after Easter, we can learn quite a bit about them as we read between the lines of the Q gospel.
To reiterate, these were people who lived in the Galilee in the years immediately after Easter and were followers of Jesus. Many of them knew Jesus personally. They had seen him at work in their villages and towns. They had heard him speak. Perhaps they had shared a meal with him. Maybe he had healed them or another member of their family, or at least somebody from their village. One of them was probably the little boy with a basket containing five loaves and two fish, for sure another one was Mary Magdalene.
What a fascinating bunch of people.
How we wish we could have a conversation with them and gain an insight into their experience of Jesus way back in the first century.
These Q people, the very first followers of Jesus, were essentially overlooked and written out of the story as the Christian church developed and gained a foothold in the Gentile world around the Mediterranean and throughout the Middle East. After Easter, we never again hear of the Jesus people from Galilee.
But their voice is heard in the Q Gospel, an ancient source which was used by Matthew and later by Luke as they prepared their expanded and updated editions of the gospel according to Mark.
Enough of that for now! This is not the time and place for a lecture on the earliest Christian communities or the formation of the new Testament Gospels!
But what I do want to do is to draw your attention to the dynamics which are preserved for us in the mission charge.
These people remembered Jesus as acting in certain ways, and it seems they continued to act in precisely those ways themselves in the first years and decades after Easter.
Like Jesus, the early Q communities had a strong sense of being sent by God to share good news. They had something to share, they had something to say, they had things they could do which would make a difference in people’s lives.
So the first question for us today is whether we can describe ourselves and our Christian community in similar terms?
Do we have a sense of being sent by God to share some good news which is going to make a real difference in the lives of other people? Do we have something to share? Do we have something to say? Do we have some contribution to make to the well-being of our community, our neighbours and our families?
It’s clear from the example of Jesus himself—as well as the example of Paul and the other early apostles—that the instructions given in the mission charge reflect the actual practice of Jesus and his earliest followers.
They were to travel light.
They were to carry no purse, they were to carry no bag, they were to wear no sandals and they were not to be diverted from their missions by others they might meet along the way.
When they reached the village or an isolated farmhouse, they were to greet the residents and seek a place to stay.
Wherever they found hospitality was the right place for them to be.
They need not look for somewhere else. Somewhere better. More comfortable. More amenable to their lifestyle.
They were not TV evangelists or megachurch pastors. Not even cathedral Deans.
They were not to move from house to house, but to stay for a short period with the one householder before moving on to the next village.
They had few resources and there was no infrastructure.
This is the pattern we see in many of the saints, in the founders of religious communities, and in the pioneer clergy who established church in this valley.
Our institutions have grown complex and wealthy, but our impact has diminished.
We need to learn afresh how to travel light.
The program of Jesus and of his earliest followers was quite simple and yet it was radical. It changed lives, it transformed communities, and it turned the world upside down.
PEACE: they came proclaiming the arrival of peace, Shalom. Not power, not conquest, not empire building of any kind, but the ‘kingdom of God’, the reign of God experienced in their own lives and in their own communities. Shalom indeed. Your kingdom come …
HOSPITALITY: at the heart of so many gospel stories there is the experience of shared generosity. Some scholars have joked that Jesus ate and drank his way across Galilee, and that flippant remark captures one aspect of the earliest Jesus movement. This movement took root in those times and at those places where ordinary people gathered for meals: in homes, in the marketplace, beside the road, by the lake, out in the fields. At its heart, the Jesus program was simply for people to share what little they had and discover it was more than enough.
HEALING: both Jesus and his followers gained a reputation as healers. But they were not healers who set themselves up in a sacred grove and waited for the sick and suffering to come to them, charging a fee for their prayers and their potions. Rather, Jesus and his followers were healers who spent their time out amongst the broken and the sick. In the ancient world to be sick was to be excluded. In the absence of effective medication, a simple public health measure was to isolate the person with a disease. The individual was sacrificed for the sake of the herd. Jesus and his followers invited people back into the community, declared them clean, and offered them hospitality. Followers of Jesus were a community of outcasts, desperately poor and socially excluded. As they found healing they also discovered community.
We’ve come a long way. And it is not all good. The distance between the practice of Jesus and the practice of the church gives us pause to stop and think.
As we rediscover what God is calling us to be and to do in a post-Christian secular Australia, these three fundamentals from Jesus and his earliest followers in the Galilee may well represent ancient wisdom that we need to embrace afresh:
- Travel light
- Do good
- Share (whatever you have)(all of it!)
This is the call of God on us as individuals, as families, and as a cathedral community.
May God give us the courage to do what has to be done.