The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s126g06 St Barnabas Orange East Sunday 14 9/7/2006
'he sent them out' Mark 6.7
I want to first point out that those with the unclean spirits are most likely not people who had mental illnesses, they are much more likely those most often found in synagogues -- people who had no faith, those who questioned Jesus' credentials and those who failed to recognise and acknowledge good when they saw it.
Secondly I want to point out that Jesus sent his disciples out with a minimum both of possessions and directions. How often do we think that we have to have a strong Church so that others are attracted to join our ranks? The disciples were to take no bread to distribute to the hungry, no money to help the poor, not even a bag to carry any other possessions in. If they had two tunics they might be tempted to give one away to gain a convert.
Jesus told his disciples to stay with people and accept their hospitality. They were not to be fussed if someone didn't want to entertain them. This is all he told his disciple to do. He did NOT give them the message that all should repent, or tell them to cast out demons, or to anoint and cure sick people. He simply told them to go, stay and accept the hospitality of those who cared to offer it.
John Macquarrie (Principles of Christian Theology p374) says the ministry of the Church is quite simply .. 'the ministry of reconciliation' and later 'the ministry of reconciliation is the ministry of responding to those in need, and without this, any other kind of ministry is empty' (p376). Somehow I think Jesus had a different conception.
It is important to realize that the disciples were sent out, it was not just the apostles, after the Spirit descended on them. Being sent out is fundamental to being a Christian. We are not Christians during the time we are in Church, we are Christians after we are sent out into the real world.
One of the favourite stories of Jesus is the story of the good shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to seek out the one who is lost. (Matthew 18.12, Luke 15.4) So often we think that this is the task of the Church, to go out and rescue the one or two who have lost their way. The only problem is that it is not just one or two who we consider lost -- it's at least 90% of the population.
Our gospel story for today tells us that the opposition to Jesus came from those who knew him and his family so well that they could name his siblings. The companion passage from the Old Testament -- from Ezekiel -- tells us that it is the people of God -- the nation of Israel -- who are 'a nation of rebels'.
The constant temptation of religion is that it separates us from other people. The Christian Church fails as frequently as the ancient people of God did in this. But again and again, God caused his people to be driven amongst others. Abraham was sent off to a promised land. Joseph was sent to Egypt to prepare for the tribes' stay in Egypt. Later the nation of Israel was sent into exile into Babylon. Here we see Jesus sending his disciples off into the real world. Later the Spirit sends the apostles out. It led to the conflict between Peter and Paul as to how far this extended -- to just Jews or to Gentiles as well. In a crucial passage the Spirit gives Paul no opportunity but to cross the rubicon of the Dardenelles, from Asia to Europe. (Acts 16.3-11)
Going back to the story for the good shepherd -- the one who strayed is therefore most likely to be the person who separates him or herself from the rest of humanity. The good shepherd brings that person back to the mass of humanity.
Now we see that this nice little story of the kind shepherd actually scandalized the orthodox Jews as it may well scandalize good faithful Christians like us. Jesus was crucified because he associated with people other than the religious. He went out, just as he sent his disciples out, just as the Spirit led the first apostles to be sent out -- from the 'security' of religious orthodoxy and to accept the contributions of others. This scandalized them and it may well scandalize us.
We do not go with a message to help others -- we go because this is where we belong. We are no different from anyone else.
If we have separated ourselves off from the mass of humanity, then we are the lost sheep that the good shepherd rescues us and brings us back to where he always was -- amongst all people.
I mentioned John Macquarrie earlier and he reflects what is general currency among Christian people. When he talks about reconciliation, it is about others being reconciled to God and the Church.
But my whole thesis is that primarily reconciliation is an activity of the Church inspired by God to bring us back into the ordinary mass of humanity. Our atonement with God is entirely dependent on our atonement with other people -- all other people -- how we go out, empty handed and identify with other people. Sometimes we have to be taken 'kicking and screaming' -- following Jesus to the place where he always was.
So there is no difference between the ministry of the laity and the ministry of the clergy, for we are all to be a part of the humanity in which we are placed. The clergy only do this with a bit more authority -- that we do this not out of choice -- not because we think this might be a good idea -- but because God commands it.
It is not that we want to be wishywashy liberals with no message -- it is because atonement with other people IS THE MESSAGE.
Jesus gave the disciples authority over those with unclean spirits -- those found in synagogues, churches, mosques and temples alike -- all those who in the name of some god or other -- look at others with distain.
Some may perhaps be startled about my first statement about those with unclean spirits being those in his home town who knew Jesus well enough to know the names of his siblings -- people who had shared the same synagogue worship all of Jesus' life. The parallel passage in Luke tells us that they tried to kill Jesus by throwing him off the brow of the hill. People with unclean spirits try desperately to get rid of people who tell them that they are just ordinary people. (Luke 4.28-30)
Reconciliation happens not when others come to Church to admire the contributions we have made, the ministries we undertake, our devotion, manifest in this building -- but when we go into the community accepting the contributions that others offer -- perhaps not to the church at all -- but more importantly to their fellow human beings. It happens when we go, as we are sent.
Finally it may be thought that I've been critical of the disciples, but when you actually do as Jesus says, there can be no doubt that demons of self doubt will be cast out, and people will indeed be healed!
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