As we journey through these uncertain times, each day Sean will seek to post a thought or reflection, a Bible verse or a prayer.
Sunday 14th June 2020
‘Receiving and sharing the Good News’
An American minister tells the story of a woman who travelled many miles to a church conference held in a certain place every summer. When she was asked about her regular attendance, the woman explained that as a child she had been in that place when the preacher of the day was handed a message as he went up into the pulpit. The preacher opened the note and announced that World War II had come to an end. Ever since, the woman explained, she had come to that gathering hoping for news as good as that.
Perhaps during this time of lock-down, while our buildings have been closed, you have had an opportunity to think about why you attend Church regularly (or for that matter why you don’t!) Today our Bible reading reminds us that the message the Church has to proclaim is good news – the good news of God’s love for the world. Jesus tells his disciples to go and proclaim that, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.
In this passage we see Jesus at work forming leaders with people as different as Matthew the tax-collector, who collaborated with Rome, Simon the Zealot for whom such collaborators were traitors, John, the beloved disciple and deep thinker, Peter the impulsive activist. So many underlying tensions in that group! And yet Jesus brings them together and sends them out to work for the kingdom of God. After his death and resurrection, they (with one exception) will be the leaders entrusted with the good news – “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” - God’s reign of love has begun - and that good news is the same good news with which we have been entrusted today.
The first disciples had to learn how to share that good news. And in the same way we too need to allow ourselves to be shaped and formed into people who can share the good news in our time. So how can we learn from the way Jesus teaches his first disciples?
Well first of all Jesus leads by example. We are to look to Jesus example. In one short verse Matthew gives us a summary of Jesus own ministry – Jesus has travelled around the whole area, proclaiming the good news of the coming of God’s reign of love - teaching people and healing them. The disciples have been with him. They have seen this for themselves. And it is their turn now – what they are being asked to do is follow Jesus own example.
The second thing that the followers of Jesus need is to have compassion – Jesus views the people around him with compassion – they are wandering around aimlessly like sheep without a shepherd. He recognises they are “harassed and helpless”. They are powerless to change their own situation. If you have been listening to the daily coronavirus updates and briefings as the weeks have gone by, you will no doubt have noticed the increasing frustration expressed by media and individuals as they question the speakers – surely that is partly caused by the sense of helplessness we have about our current predicament – physical, mental, social, economic. Harassed and helpless is not a bad description of society today. Compassion it seems is in short supply. How do we learn to view the world with more compassion?
We need compassion but compassion on its own is not enough – Jesus call to go and share the good news is a call to action – the disciples are to go and do what Jesus has been doing. Go and cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons – just like that! And there is a challenge here as we struggle both with the snail’s pace that is often the way of the institutional church and with the very cautious approach to moving out of lock-down. How in the present circumstances do we balance the Gospel call to action with its call to have compassion for those who are vulnerable? And what about those who have now been rendered vulnerable because of the economic crisis?
The challenges that face us a society and as a community of faith today are huge but they were huge for Jesus first disciples too. Rejection, poverty, persecution, – they would experience all of these and more besides. They must have felt vulnerable as they visited the villages. But still Jesus sent them out and he made sure that they were empowered for the task. And that empowering came in two ways. Firstly, the disciples are named and sent out in pairs– they were to be company and support for each other. And secondly Jesus gave them his own authority. The disciples would make mistakes as they sought to exercise that authority. Jesus was no fool he knew that. But he gave them permission to do just that.
Later, after Jesus death the gift of the Holy Spirit was a sign and seal of that authority. And today Jesus invites us to go out and share the good news, in his name and with his authority. How will we do this? Where do we see God’s reign of love at work in our families and our communities at this present time? What are the situations in which compassion is needed? Who are the harassed and helpless who need to hear the good news of God’s love for them? How will the Church proclaim the good news of God’s love to them when our buildings are closed? Telephone calls are a great start but where do we go from here? There are no easy answers to these questions but that should not prevent us from asking how we might each day share the good news of God’s love with our neighbours.
And in case you need a reminder of that good news, let me tell you about Catherine of Genoa. In 1473 Catherine of Genoa, an influential lady of her day, had a powerful experience of God’s love for her. As a result, she gave up a privileged life to care for the sick and poor at a hospital. And she wrote these words
“As for heaven, I guess you’ve noticed, God put no doors there. No God did not. And don’t you wonder why? That’s how God’s love works. All merciful – standing there with arms wide open, God is waiting - this very moment – to embrace us and take us into splendid beauty and kindness.
And so let me leave you with a couple more questions to ponder. How can we help to ensure that the message the Church proclaims is always the good news of God’s reign of love? Think about what might God be asking you and me to do today and throughout the coming week to proclaim the good news of God’s reign of love in our homes and in our communities? Then let’s go and do it.
Pointers for Prayer
• Those suffering from or bereaved by the corona virus
• The NHS, its staff in hospitals and GP practices as well as the other emergency services and volunteers
• Scientists and others engaged in the struggle against Covid-19 •
• The Government and Scottish Parliament as they guide us out of lockdown
• Family, friends and neighbours, those most affected by the lock-down and those finding it difficult to move forward
• All those in education as they seek to reorganise schools for the safe return of children to classes
• The Church that we might offer a faithful witness to Christ through this time
• Other people and situations who are in your hearts today
Let us pray
For all whose day starts with anxiety,
as they leave the security of home
worrying about the risk of infection;
particularly those whose health
or age classifies them as vulnerable.
Loving God, be close, keep them safe,
along with all whose tasks today
includes the care of frail and elderly.
And for all of us, grant wisdom
to make sensible choices, not just
for ourselves, but for everybody.
Help us to put aside preconceptions about other people,
because that alters our behaviour, and simply accept
that they, like us, are precious in your eyes.
Loving God, we give thanks for the extended family
of local communities assisting with the needs
of both frail and elderly confined to their homes.
May every gift of love,
every encouraging word, bring hope into lonely lives
and a blessing to the giver.
The Lord’s prayer
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
you will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power
and the glory are yours
now and forever.
There is much to be done, but not all things are of prime importance.
There is much to be done, but each person can only do so much.
There is much to be done, but out confidence and strength lies not in ourselves
but in the grace of Christ who loves us and gives himself for us.
Go and do what you can,
put all your trust in God,
and your days will not be in vain.