Sunday 3rd July - Sending out
Hymn 165(JP): May the mind of Christ my Saviour
Time for all
Hymn 127(JP): I will sing the wondrous story
Reading Luke 10: 1-12 7 17-20 Amanda
Hymn 616: There’s a spirit in the air
Hymn 617: Great and deep the Spirit’s purpose
Welcome to our reflection for 3rd of July.
Last Saturday we had a big event in Stirling Presbytery when the fifth version of the presbytery plan was shown to the presbytery and the hope being that this would be the one that eventually saw the churches getting a vision of how they move forward.
So we have this reading today of Jesus sending out the disciples on a missionary tour.
The impression was that it was wonderful,
and huge amounts of people started to hear and respond to the message of Jesus.
And maybe we get the idea that if only we would be courageous and move forward in faith like those disciples then our churches would blossom and grow.
These stories of success can be a message of hope, but sometimes, when you are trying really hard and seem to be sowing lots of seeds but getting no plants growing, it can be a message that fills us with despair.
Why are we not successful?
What are we doing wrong?
I wonder if there is a more subtle message going on here, one that we need to hear.
And we will look at that after Amanda leads us in our prayer and readings for today
Ok so at a quick glance here is the message.
Jesus is sending out the disciples to towns that they will pass by on their way to Jerusalem.
Preparing the way for their travel and hopefully creating a positive feeling as they walk closer and closer to Jerusalem.
They have a simple message. ‘The Kingdom of God has come near you.’
That is the message wither the people accept the message or reject the message.
‘The kingdom of God has come near you.’
So off go the disciples, probably a bit uncertain, a bit unsure.
Unsure because they weren’t the best disciples. They weren’t part of the elite twelve disciples, the ones that were with Jesus all the time.
They were the second stringers, the subs, those usually on the bench and with little chance to be on the pitch and score the winning goal.
This was their big chance to show what they could do.
And maybe they would do well, and maybe they wouldn’t, it was an uncertain time for them.
But then these disciples come back from their adventures with amazing stories of how well the message has been received. ‘Even the demons obeyed us when we gave them a command in your name!’
Jesus is then debriefing them and comes out with his lesson to be learnt...
And it isn’t what they think it is going to be.
It isn’t, ‘Just trust in God and amazing things will happen.’
You would think that might be Jesus message.
He had sent them out and told them not to have any food or water.
He didn’t even send them out with a beggar’s bag.
That would be a bag that disciples of rabbi’s would have as they did their work,
a sign that they trusted in God to provide through the goodness of the people,
a sign that the disciples were going to concentrate on the work of God and let God provide for them for everything else.
Jesus could have said, ‘All you needed to do was trust. If you trust then God will provide. So be free to just trust in doing God’s work and God will look after you.’
If Jesus had said that the disciples would have believed him. They would have said, ‘You are absolutely right Jesus, for even the demons obey us. From this day forward we will trust absolutely in you and we will see the power of the kingdom grow and grow.’
And you know why Jesus didn’t say that?
Because it isn’t true.
And it is worse than being untrue; if people follow that belief then they end up with all kinds of trouble in their lives.
For a while in America there was a lot of mega churches; churches that would have 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 people at church on a Sunday and throughout the week.
They were run by, usually men, and usually charismatic men.
And they would hold seminars round the world that told us mere mortals the secret of our churches becoming mega churches.
And usually the story went like this.
We gave everything to grow God’s church, all we had was faith...and God sent us out to places that had hardly any church people, and through the power of God and so much faith, we overcame lots of barriers and people saw that God was working in our wee place and it grew and grew and grew until it was this amazing church of thousands.
I saw many of these guys as my hero’s.
Their stories were inspirational; their stories gave hope that my wee church could become great.
And then two things happened.
The first is that my wee church didn’t grow into a mega church.
And those inspirational stories that were meant to bring me hope started to bring despair.
From their stories I knew what was meant to happen.
I was to be faithful, I was to work really hard, I was to trust, and the church would grow.
And each time I went to another conference they gave examples of church after church after church that had followed the path and grown.
But instead of inspiring me those stories became like a whip to flog myself with.
What was I doing wrong that the church wasn’t growing?
What was the flaw that was holding us back, was it me, was it the people who came to church?
That was the first thing that happened...
The second thing that happened was that one by one these mega church leaders started to fall; a sexual incident here, fraud and corruption there.
This didn’t make sense.
Something was going wrong.
And I believe that in their head they heard a message that Jesus never gave, ‘All you need to do is trust. If you trust then God will provide. So be free to just trust in doing God’s work and God will look after you.’
It is a seductive message; it seems as if it should be right. But it isn’t the message that Jesus gave.
And it is wrong because now God’s love is conditional. Only if amazing things are happening is God with you. If amazing things aren’t happening then you are doing something wrong and God isn’t blessing you.
The problem was that their churches grew and grew, but they still felt empty, distant from others. It was as if they were trying to work their way into heaven.
And then one day they thought, ‘You know what, God owes me. So for this moment I am going to grab some pleasure to make me feel wanted and alive.’
So they got involved with that relationship that they shouldn’t have, or they gambled the church funds away because the church owed them, or they took that extra drink so that they could have an undisturbed sleep without the stresses of the church weighing them down.
What Jesus did say was ‘Don’t be glad because the evil spirits obey you; rather be glad because your names are written in heaven.’
It’s all about getting the order right.
The disciples have come back from an amazing outreach, and they feel great, they feel special, they feel really close to God.
The problem is that it is then very easy to believe that God loves you because you are doing amazing things, and confuse that adrenaline rush of something going well with the feeling that God cares for you.
And that isn’t what Jesus wanted.
When he sent the disciples out in the first place he basically said, ‘The message you give people is that The Kingdom of God is near to them.
Now some will rejoice in that, some won’t care at all. Their response doesn’t matter. What matters is that they GET to respond one way or another.
If they never know that God is near to them then they will carry on living as if God is far away from them and that God doesn’t care, that God doesn’t want to give them help.
If you are ill and don’t know there is a doctor nearby you will die believing that no one could have helped you.
But if you give them the message that the doctor is near, then they can find healing, if they want it, if they are ready for it.’
Jesus wanted to remind them that the reason that they gave the message was because they already knew God’s love themselves.
They had found hope, and they want others to find that hope.
They had found help and they want others to find that help.
The disciples were not loved because of the amazing work they had done.
They had done the amazing work because they were already loved.
But if the work hadn’t been successful; they would still have tried to give people hope, because they were loved and they wanted others to know that possibility for them as well.
This truth is what I want you to know; this is the message of Jesus to us today.
We are loved, you are loved.
Because we are loved that inspires us.
It inspires us to reach out to others and invite them into our community.
It inspires us to run food larders over the summer.
It inspires us to help our neighbour when we hear of their struggles.
That love will inspire us whether or not any of our projects are successful or not...
because in our hearts we keep on being reminded that we are loved.
We will be loved even if no one goes to our food bank.
We will be loved even if no one came to our youth group Zones.
We will be loved even if the presbytery plan suggests that our church building is closed.
The truth is we don’t do food banks, or Zones, or come to church or any of the other things to feel good or to feel loved or to gain acceptance or power.
We do these things because we are loved and are inspired to love.
So even if in the future they close the building we will still meet in community because of love.
Even if no one came to our food bank we would still give away the food to other food banks because in love we want those who are struggling to feel some comfort.
Even if no one came to our youth organisations we would still reach out to children because we love them enough to care about their future.
We are not loved by God because we reach out.
We reach out because we are loved by God.
That’s what we need to keep on reminding ourselves, we are loved by God.
Let us pray
It seems such a simple thing to hold on to....that you love us.
And yet we find it so easy to forget.
And when we forget we get a bit lonely,
a bit lost,
we concentrate on ourselves trying to find happiness, usually in things rather than people.
Too often we end up with a full house, or a full agenda, or a life full of forced experiences, but an empty heart.
Help us to remember this simple truth...that you love us.
And may that be what inspires our heart to move forward in faith.