A Sermon preached by Canon Gary Philbrick on Trinity 4, Sunday, July 14th, at St Mary’s, Fordingbridge and Sandleheath Uniting Church, on ‘Rural Mission Sunday’ and ‘Sea Sunday’
Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 10:25-37
If you were in a really, really difficult situation, who would be the last person you’d expect to help you? Just ponder for a moment. Who would be the last person you’d expect to help you? [Pause].
That person, Jesus says, is your neighbour!
And that about sums up the parable we call ‘The Good Samaritan’.
This is such a familiar parable, one we’ve probably all known since primary school, that it’s very difficult for us to imagine the impact it would have had on its first hearers.
But we don’t always take note of the context, the topping and tailing of the parable. Why did Jesus tell it on this occasion? Because, I bet he told his stories more than once, even though they are usually only recorded once in the Gospels. Why did he tell it on this particular occasion?
Firstly, the lawyer wanted to ‘test Jesus’. He’s already in an adversarial situation. ‘‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’’ [Lk 10:25f.]. The lawyer, of course, knows the law, so he can reply, using the formula derived from the Shema in Deuteronomy 6 [:5] and the law of neighbour love in Leviticus 19 [:18, See Green, ‘The Gospel of Luke’, p. 428], using what Jesus himself in Matthew 22 [:34-40] describes as the Great Commandments: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself’ [Lk 10:27]. Had the lawyer simply accepted that, perhaps Jesus would have told the Parable of the Good Samaritan! But the lawyer didn’t want to lose face, he wanted to justify himself – so he asked ‘And who is my neighbour?’ [V. 29], and so the parable is told. ‘And who is my neighbour?’
But note the question Jesus asks at the end of the parable: ‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? [V. 36].
The lawyer asked ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus asked ‘Which of these …was a neighbour?’ Jesus turns the question around, and gives it a significantly different meaning for the lawyer and for us.
The lawyer was wanting to know whom he should regard as a neighbour; what sorts of people should he regard as a neighbour? To whom did he have an obligation under the law? Who were the ‘in’ people to whom he had a duty, and who were the ‘out’ people, whom he could ignore? Jesus reply turns that around: to whom should the lawyer be a neighbour? ‘Don’t worry who your neighbour is,’ Jesus seems to be saying. ‘Just learn how to be a neighbour and you’ll discover who your neighbours are’ [For some thoughts on this, see ‘Reconciliation’, Muthuraj Swamy, pp. 93ff].
If we could learn to be neighbours to those around, the question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’, would fall away.
Or to put it another way: if you were in a really, really difficult situation, who would be the last person you’d expect to help youThat person, Jesus says, is your neighbour!
It’s Rural Mission Sunday, a day of prayer and reflection on the particular ministry and gifts of the Rural Church. How do we become neighbours to all of those living in our small towns and villages? Who are the people we ignore in our communities, often the ones who are in most need of a neighbour?
And today is Sea Sunday? How do we become neighbours to all of those whose work is on the seas, providing us with many of the things we need and want as they are imported by sea?
I thought one way of reflecting on these issues would be through some images, which are on the sheet sheet HERE. You might like to have a look at them, and either think about them on your own, or chat with a neighbour – what do you see in the images? Which appeal to you, or don’t appeal? What do they have to say about being a neighbour?
I’ll end with an anonymous poem, which you can also read on the sheet with the link above:
Good Samaritan Poem: On the Road to Jericho
We invested in goods to sell in the trade city of Jericho
and I walked the long journey with my loaded donkey.
I stopped that last night at an inn
poised on the edge of Jericho’s wilderness valley.
The neighbours at my table did not look promising;
holy men who carried scrolls not knives,
shabby companions on this last stretch
where you need someone who will stand firm beside you,
someone good for a fight.
That next morning I left the inn alone,
the dawn just crowning;
leaving the door open in my haste,
the innkeeper slammed it as she hissed after me,
“Born in a barn, were you?”
In half-darkness I led my donkey down the steep road.
It was mid-morning when it happened.
I heard them before I saw them,
the six bandits clattering down the rocks.
Enough time for me to assess the situation, ‘grim’,
to muster my courage and grab my knife.
‘Give us what you have’, they yelled,
which only made me smile,
picturing my sons, and me telling them,
‘They asked for your inheritance, so I gave it to them’.
And so I fought, but the odds were against me.
They broke my arms, and beat me
and took everything, even my clothes,
and left me on the side of the road,
listening to the sound of our savings being led away.
I drifted in and out as the pain overpowered me,
but I knew that help was on its way.
Those holy men were on the road behind me,
an hour or two at most and I would be saved.
I woke to see that priest’s heels walking away.
My voice also deserted me, too dry to call for help.
The vultures arrived at the same time as the levite,
I was watching them trace lazy circles in the cloudless blue
as he circled wide around me,
the blood and flies too unclean for his hands, no doubt.
I lay baking in the hot son, waiting for death.
A man on a donkey appeared on the road from Jericho.
A foreigner, he greeted me with the words, ‘Friend, I’ll help you’.
He put me on his donkey, no mean feat with my broken arms,
and took me to the inn I’d left that morning.
The innkeeper shook her head as she looked from my wounds to my face,
‘Ah, the man born in a barn’.
They tended to me day and night,
and now weeks later I still sit here mending, on the Samaritan’s tab.
Last night the holy men, the priest and levite,
were neighbours at my table as they took their homeward journey.
They would not meet my eye, which is not surprising.
I do not know whether they noticed that I could not meet theirs.
I have no bitterness at what they did not do,
instead my mind is haunted by what might have been.
Had they set out first, and I came upon one of them, broken and bleeding,
would I have unloaded my donkey, left my fortune by the road
and carried them to safety?
Or would I have minded my own business?
I received mercy, but would I have given it?
Each day, I am forever on that wilderness road.
Preached by Canon Gary Philbrick on Sunday, July 7th, 2019, at St Mary’s, Fordingbridge, at a Benefice Service at which the Revd Mike Trotman presided for the first time.
Gal 6:7-16, Luke 10:1-11,16-20
Lord Jesus, stride into this mess of words and make some sense of them. AMEN.
It’s a great privilege to have been asked by Mike to preach this morning, and it’s a moment to thank all of our wonderful Ministry Team here – most of whom offer their ministry voluntarily – and to say how much we’ve enjoyed having Mike, Heidi, Sam and Phoebe among us for the past year or so. It’s always really sad when much-loved Curates leave us – but then God sends us the gift of someone else who is just as wonderful, but in a different way, and we find there is enough love to go around for the new Curate as well! And it’s always a huge privilege to be accompanying those new in ministry on their journey, and learning so much from them. So, thank you, Mike and family, for joining us in our ministry here at this significant time in the life of the Avon Valley Churches, as we shall soon be known.
Well, it’s been a remarkable week or so.
Last Saturday evening, many of us were at Mike’s Ordination as a Priest in Winchester Cathedral, which was a most impressive and moving occasion. The eight women and men who had been ordained Deacon the previous year were now returning to the Cathedral to be ordained as Priests. As we worshipped, and prayed for them, the evening sun was streaming in through the stunning West Window of the Cathedral, and all were bathed in the golden Light of Christ.
The next day I and Mike and others were back in the Cathedral for the Ordination of Deacons, as my son Craig, and eight others were launched on their ordained ministries. Again, a wonderful, joyful Service, made even more poignant for me as it was the 33rd anniversary of my own Ordination as a Deacon in the same place.
And then on Wednesday, Mike, Ian Newman and I, and many others from across the country and the world, had the privilege of being in St Paul’s Cathedral for the Ordination and Consecration of Debbie Sellin, the new Bishop of Southampton. She was Consecrated along with three others, all women on this occasion, in a magnificent Service, at which the President was the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Preacher, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams, and the Archbishop of York was also there as a Presenting Bishop for one of the candidates.
It’s very unusual to be able to attend the Ordinations of Deacons, Priests and Bishops within just a few days, and they were all wonderful occasions.
In between all of that, the week has been filled with an unusual number of Benefice, Deanery and Diocesan Meetings, all of which were reflecting, in one way or another, on the worship and mission and ministry of the Church in these challenging times.
But returning to the Ordinations, one of the things which struck us was the similarities between the three Services. They all have the same basic structure, with variations depending on the ministry to which people are being ordained.
And each begins by putting the ordained ministry into the context of the ministry of the whole Church of God, of all of the baptised, the priesthood of all believers. Each of the Services begins:
The Church is the Body of Christ, the people of God and the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit. In baptism the whole Church is summoned to witness to God’s love and to work for the coming of his kingdom [https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/common-worship/ministry/common-worship-ordination-services#mm013].
To be baptised is to be in ministry. Twice in today’s Gospel, to which we shall return in a moment or two – twice Jesus commands his Disciples to say to the people, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’ [Lk 10:9, 11]. All of us are in ministry – ordained, authorised, commissioned or lay – all of us are in ministry, and all of us are commanded to say, in words or by our examples, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’.
And there is an infinite number of ways in which people express that ministry. Ordained ministry is one of those ways, but that’s a minority calling. It would be a terrible thing if everyone felt they needed to be ordained to have a place in the ministry of the Church. You’ll know what is said about the clergy – they’re like manure: really useful if spread around, but in a heap they stink!
People express their ministry in their daily lives and work, through doing a good job in their working lives; through caring for family; through working to change the world by supporting environmental projects, or trying to bring justice in their local communities or in the wider world. Just yesterday I heard of a project to help those of our armed forces who have been terribly affected by the awful things they have seen in Afghanistan and other places, and who are being helped by working on archaeological digs. Through that ministry of healing, the Kingdom of God is coming near to them.
People express their ministry as Pastoral Visitors, by caring for our Church buildings, through hospitality, by serving on the PCCs, through music or serving or reading or praying in Church.
For some people, their calling to ministry will take them away from their communities, and lead them to other places, as mission partners abroad, or ordained ministers here, or as teachers, doctors, care workers, financial experts, scientists or engineers in different parts of the world.
Wherever we are, and to whatever we are called, our ministry as the people of God is to live, and to pray, and to speak as people who know that ‘The kingdom of God has come near’.
And part of the ministry is to reflect on where we are, and whether God is calling us to something new. There are many areas of our lives in which God may be calling us – and not all of them are ‘Churchy’. However, some may be being called to Confirmation – we have a Confirmation Service planned in Ringwood at the end of September; some may be being called to go on a ‘Bishop’s Commission for Mission Course’ – Heidi is on one at the moment, and so you can ask her about it afterwards; BCMs for Worship Leaders and Pioneers are beginning in the Autumn not too far away. Speak to one of us if you might be interested.
Some may be wanting to explore a calling as Licensed Lay Ministers, as Preachers, as ordained ministers – if you think any of those things might be for you, talk to someone about it.
Others may be feeling a call to develop their ministries in other ways, in the community, at work, in the wider world. Again, if you are feeling like that, talk to someone.
It is together, as the whole people of God, ‘each of us in our own vocation and ministry’, that we make up the whole Church.
In the passage from Luke which Nicky read for us, Jesus sends out the 70, in pairs, to all the places where he himself intended to go.
He had what we might call these days a ‘Mission Action Plan’. He knew where he was planning to go, what he was planning to do; and he sent them out in pairs – all ministry is collaborative, we should never be in ministry alone.
And he sent them. The Greek word is ἀπέστειλεν, from which we get the English word, Apostle. He ‘apostled’ them to go out to the towns places and proclaim the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near. He says that twice – once when they are told to cure the sick; once when they enter a town which doesn’t welcome them. In both cases, ‘the Kingdom of God has come near’. Whether we accept Jesus or not, ‘the Kingdom of God has come near’. Even before Jesus himself has visited the towns and places he intended to go to, ‘the Kingdom of God has come near’.
Sometimes we get mission wrong, and think it’s all up to us. The fact that God always gets there first is sometimes lost on us. Wherever we go to serve, God is already there. It’s not all up to us; God’s presence and his grace always precedes us.
We are sent out in mission, but we are sent out to places where God is already ‘alive and at work in the world’ [Prayer of JV Taylor]. We’re sometimes tempted to get things in the wrong order, and think that the whole future of God’s mission is up to us. But, it’s not the Church of God which has a mission in the world; it’s the God of mission who has a Church in the world.
Just as Jesus sent out the 70 in our Gospel reading, God is always sending us out into the world. We gather for worship, so that we can be sent out in God’s name in love and service.
At his ordination last Saturday, Mike was given some particular responsibilities – if you look up the Common Worship Ordination Service on-line, you can read them all. The terrifying Prayer of Ordination says of Priests that ‘They are to call their hearers to repentance and to declare in Christ’s name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins’, which Mike has already done in the Prayers of Penitence; and ‘They are to bless the people in God’s name’ [ibid], which he will do at the end of the Service, sending us all out to fulfil our ministries in the coming week.
But before that, after having received Communion or a Blessing, we’ll pray together, ‘Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory’ [CW, Order 1]. ‘Send us out… to live and work to your praise and glory’.
Jesus sent out the 70 to announce that ‘The kingdom of God has come near’. Each week we gather, the whole people of God, each of us with our own vocation and ministry, and we are then sent out to live and work for the Kingdom of God. The God of Mission, the Latin word for sending – the God of Mission sends each of us out with his Blessing to fulfil our calling as his ministers in the world.
What a glorious calling for each of us. AMEN.
A Sermon preached by Canon Gary Philbrick at St Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge, on Sunday, June 23rd, 2019, Trinity 1
Gal 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39
That Gospel Reading, sometimes known as ‘The Healing of the Gerasene Demoniac’, has got lots of difficulties, both textual and interpretive.
As we look at some of the details and problems, I’d like you to keep in mind a question and a command: ‘What is your name?’ and ‘Return to your home’ [Lk 8:30,39].
Jesus is travelling around Galilee, teaching preaching, healing, arguing. At the beginning of chapter 8 we hear, ‘[Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the Kingdom of God’. So, it’s quite clear, his mission is about the Kingdom of God – he’s proclaiming it, and bringing the good news of it – interesting words to use.
And, as if to emphasise that, a great crowd gathers around him, and he tells them the Parable of the Sower, which in Luke’s version, he interprets for the disciples with the words, ‘to you it has been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom of God’ [Lk 8:10].
Soon afterwards, and immediately before the passage we had read to us, Jesus calms the storm, showing his power over the forces of nature, and astonishing the disciples, who exclaim, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’ [Lk 8:25].
Our passage begins: ‘They arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee’ [Lk 8:26]. Immediately, we have our first textual problem – the ancient manuscripts have different names here: Gergasa, Gadara, and Gerasa – Gergasa is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee; Gadara is about 5 miles South-east of the lake, but with lands that stretch down to the shore; and Gerasa is about 33 miles South-east of the lake [See Green, Luke, p.337]. The strongest textual reading of the manuscripts, Gerasa, is also the most difficult, and that’s the one the translation we use, the NRSV, has opted for, and it’s also the one chosen by the NIV. Just a little insight into the difficulties that Bible translators have to face.
The critical thing, however, is that it is ‘opposite Galilee’ – opposite in the literal sense of being on the other side of the Lake; but also opposite in the significant sense that Jesus has moved from Jewish territory into largely gentile territory, a Hellenistic area. The poor man who is possessed by demons not only lives in a gentile area, where ritually unclean pigs were reared, but is also ‘naked’ and living ‘among the tombs’ – both of which mark him out as separate from normal society. In every way, he is an outsider.
The way the narrative is told is carefully crafted. In v. 28, the man says, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’ – but in v. 29, we’re told that Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him – followed by a description of what the unclean spirit had been doing to him. The story is told in dramatic order, not in chronological order. Here we see something of Luke the Evangelist’s work in re-telling the material he had received through the tradition of the Church to express the message about Jesus he wants to convey to his hearers.
Jesus then asks the man, ‘What is your name?’ [V. 30], and he replies ‘Legion’.
This is a curious response, a Legion being a Roman military unit of around 5,000 men. What’s happening here?
Well, clearly, it’s an indication of the severity of the man’s possession – ‘many demons had entered him’; but it’s also an indication that it’s not only Jesus’ compassion which extends to the gentiles, but also his power and authority [See Green, op cit, p. 339].
In the previous passage, Jesus’ power over the winds and the waves has been proven – and now, it is the turn of the unclean spirits, a whole legion of them, to know his authority to command them. They recognise with whom they are dealing as they beg him not to order them to go back into the abyss, that prison reserved for the punishment of demons [See Green, op cit, p. 340], but rather negotiate a transfer into the nearby herd of swine, from whence they are driven to their deaths.
In an unusually long narrative, the swineherds then rush off to the city and tell everyone what has happened, and the people rush back to see for themselves, finding the man who had been possessed ‘clothed and in his right mind’ [V. 35]. Understandably, they are much disturbed by the presence of one who has such power, and who has saved a man by destroying a herd of swine, and presumably, disrupting the livelihoods of the swineherds. They ask him to leave – ‘so he got into the boat and returned’ [V. 37].
But, once again, we’re told the story out of sequence. Having got into the boat and returned, we’re then told that the man begged Jesus that he might join his band of followers, but Jesus tells him to ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you’ [V. 39] – and that’s just what he did.
Now, I’ve spent a bit of time looking at that passage in detail, partly to reflect on the difficulties of biblical translation, and the choices the translators have to make, partly to reflect on the way that the Four Evangelists consciously shape the material they have to emphasise the message they are trying to proclaim through their writings, and partly to begin to delve into the multi-layered narrative we’re reflecting on this morning.
But I’d like to go back to the question and the command I mentioned in the beginning: ‘What is your name?’ and ‘Return to your home’.
‘What is your name?’ – Jesus is literally asking him to name his demons. Names in the ancient world, and still to some extent today, were believed to give power over the person named, in a rather ‘magical way’. The demons name Jesus as ‘Son of the Most High God’, a largely pagan usage, recognising his power over them. And he in turn forces them to reveal their name – Legion – using his power over them.
On the journey of faith, we also are invited to ‘name our demons’, to look honestly at ourselves, to see where the blockages are that are hindering our progression in the Christian life. What are the things which stop us from being fully open to God and to other people?
At Bernard Warner’s Funeral Service here on Thursday, I’d asked his neighbour, Nelson, to read a passage from the end of John Bunyan’s ‘A Pilgrim’s Progress’, which he did wonderfully well.
After this it was noised abroad that Mr Valiant-for-Truth was taken with a summons, and had this for token that the summons was true, that his pitcher was broken at the fountain. When he understood it, he called for his friends, and told them of it.
Then said he, I am going to my Father’s: and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at, to arrive where I am… So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.
Mr Valiant-for-Truth enters the Pilgrim’s Progress quite late on, and has to struggle single-handedly against three rogues who challenge him either to join them, or to turn back on the life of pilgrimage, or to die on the spot. He chooses the last and fights ‘till my sword did cleave to my hand’. Scarred in the battle he yet emerges victorious as his opponents flee.
In spite of the difficulties, he continued with his journey, and came to a glorious end, as ‘he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side’.
We need to ‘name our demons’, to look at what is holding us back, and to ponder, ‘What next?’ To what service, or ministry, or act of kindness, or challenge, or prayer is God calling me now?
And at the climax of the Gospel Reading we heard this morning, the demoniac begged Jesus that he might join his band of followers, but Jesus tells him to ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you’.
The man wanted to go with Jesus, to join with this marvellous man who had healed him; but, as on other occasions, Jesus says, ‘No, stay where you are – become ‘a kind of gentile evangelist’ [CT, 21/VI/19, p.19] where you are’. And so he does, he ‘proclaims throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him’ [V. 39].
There are those who are called to leave their homes, their jobs, sometimes their families, to be missionaries or evangelists, or ordained ministers in other places.
But the much more customary calling is to ‘blossom where you are planted’, to stay in your family, your job, your community and to make a difference there.
If we were all able to ‘proclaim throughout the town how much Jesus has done for us’, what a difference that would make.
‘What is your name?’ ‘Return to your home’.
As we progress in the Christian life, were called continuously to look at ourselves, and see whether there are things that are holding us back.
And, for most of us, we are called to stay where we are, and to live the Good News of the Kingdom of God in our own communities, families, places of work and leisure – and to make a difference there. AMEN.
All are welcome to attend on Friday, June 28th, 11.00a.m., the Memorial Gardens, Fordingbridge (Opposite the Car Park for the Rec), when a Memorial Plaque will be unveiled on the Centenary of the Treaty of Versailles, which officially brought the First World War to its end.
A short ceremony, followed by refreshments.
The Archbishops have asked us once again to make the 10 days between Ascension Day (May 30th) and Pentecost (June 9th) a special time of prayer.
There are lots of resources on the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ website – click here
As well as praying during our Sunday Worship, there will be prayers each day as follows :
Thursday 30th May 7.00pm Patronal Festival Communion, Holy Ascension, Hyde
Friday 31st May 10.00am at St Boniface, Woodgreen, before Coffee Morning
Monday 3rd June 9.00am at St Mary’s, Fordingbridge
Tuesday 4th June 9.45am at Sandleheath Uniting Church, before Coffee Morning
Wednesday 5th June 10.30am, Communion at St Mary’s, Fordingbridge
Thursday 6th June 9.00am Informal Communion at The Church Office, 39 Salisbury Street, Fordingbridge 7.00pm at Fordingbridge Church Hall (followed by Joint PCC Meeting)
Friday 7th June 9.00am at St Mary’s, Fordingbridge
Sunday 9th June 4.00pm at the Christchurch Deanery Celebration Service at St Peter and St Paul, Market Square, Ringwood BH24 1AW