SEND US OUT IN THE POWER OF YOUR SPIRIT – A Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Trinity
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.