A sermon from The Revd Canon Mike Gibbs:
When Father Paul preached last week for Trinity Sunday he expressed the thought that Trinity Sunday produced problems for preachers every year! The complexity, he told us, of the theology behind the concept of the Triune God is not easy to explain or understand.. I cannot disagree with that.
When I started to prepare for this week’s service and read the lessons appointed for today – the thought did cross my mind that preaching on the Trinity might have been an easier option than preaching on today’s readings!
Preachers are fortunate in that they are given more than one passage of scripture to consult to find what particular teaching the church would have us share with our congregations today. So with the help of some commentaries prepared by preachers more scholarly than I can even pretend to be I hope that I have found a message that is perhaps relevant to some as individuals, and perhaps to us as a group, representative of the church in Walthamstow.
Our Gospel reading started with Jesus warning his disciples as they are about to set out on their mission journey to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He warned them that people will speak ill of them. Indeed, they will be derided even more than he has been.
We, as followers of Jesus, must expect to ‘bear the abuse he endured’ (see Hebrews ch13 vs 13). In reality that may not be our experience. We live in an easy going age, and, most of us, the worst we will have to put up with will be mild ribbing from our companions or rhe accusations of foolishness by the likes of a Richard Dawkins. But having said that, in the light of the readings we have heard this Sunday we may be foolish to pooh-pooh the possibility that times may change and that we may end up being mercilessly mocked for the sake of whose we are!
An interviewer, should the situation arise, might ask what does it feel like to be hated and vilified for the message one brings? There is someone in the Bible who answers that question, and we heard a bit from him this morning. The prophet Jeremiah was active throughout the most turbulent period of Biblical history. He witnessed the invasion of the Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians. He witnessed the siege and sacking of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple and the deportation of the community’s leading citizens into exile.
Jeremiah saw the hand of God in this unfolding history. He proclaimed that the Babylonian armies were instruments of God’s judgement on His faithless people and told them very plainly that the best thing for them to do was to surrender to the Babylonians. This was no way to make friends!
Jeremiah’s public witness, despite the abuse that this brought to him, was fearless and unwavering. That outward confidence masked a different inward experience, as, day by day, year after year and indeed decade after decade there was only contempt shown to Jeremiah for the message that he was God driven to deliver.
Our Lord spent a few hours in Gethsemane – Jeremiah was there for upwards of forty years. We would know nothing of what Jeremiah experienced if it weren’t for the stories we can read in the Book of the Bible that bears his name. In that Book the prophet bares his soul and berates God for the harsh happenings that he has had to endure.
These so-called ‘confessions’ of Jeremiah reveal the personal cost of prophetic discipleship. Let me just re-read a part of that lesson we heard read earlier by Frances: O Lord you have enticed me and I was enticed: you have overpowered me and you have prevailed. I have become a laughing stock all day long, everyone mocks me. (some translations have seduced instead of enticed)
Jeremiah is explaining that every time he speaks he is ridiculed and that when he keeps silent he suffers from a “fire in his bones” that he cannot contain. Jeremiah’s life was a hard one. The task he was given to perform and that he carried out makes him worthy of Sainthood – not something we hear of in the Old Testament!
In our Gospel we heard that the disciples being sent out to teach and heal will suffer contempt and scorn. The description we have from Jeremiah of his sufferings has planted a little seed in our minds as to what we can expect as we obey the instruction we receive to go out to preach the Gospel. But in this Gospel we hear Jesus being solicitous for his friends – and he is being solicitous for us too.
Jesus told his disciples not to be afraid and tells us the same today. I believe that if God calls us to fulfill a task he will strengthen us and empower us to do it! So let us look at what the disciples were being sent out to do and hear the promises of help that they were given and look for the encouragement that we are being given to help grow the church here from St.Peter’s.
Jesus told his disciples to go out and tell and teach what he had taught them. To tell and teach that Jesus is the Messiah. We have a great advantage over the disciples – we have our scriptures, we know the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We know that the events we are asked to teach happened in history and one of the most reassuring teachings that is in today’s Gospel is that we are known! We are told that the hairs of our head are all counted (easier on some of us than on others) and even if that is not a literal truth it does describe an attractive level of knowledge that our maker has of us. It is also good to know and be assured that we are “of more value than many sparrows”.
I personally have not faced opposition as described in our Gospel, nor (fortunately) have I suffered as Jeremiah did. I do know that Christian witness is a difficult task in many parts of the world. It needs courage to let our own relationship with Jesus be known to others. God’s Kingdom is worth telling about and God’s love is to be trusted. If Jesus is real to us we need not be afraid to say so.
Let us pray:- Lord Jesus Christ, let my life make you known, through my silence and my speech, in ways that will bring others to know and believe in you. AMEN