Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Apostles all!

See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.

Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals;
and greet no one on the road.

Sent into the world

The word apostle literally means ‘one who is sent’. Unfortunately, far too often we fall into the trap of thinking that there were only 12 apostles. This is because we are so immersed in Christian jargon and imagery that we have enshrined the 12 disciples as the only ones whom Jesus sent, as the apostles.

In the story that Luke includes of Jesus sending out seventy others we are reminded that the apostles are not simply those 12 disciples chosen by Jesus but any who are sent into the world to witness to the good news of Jesus and share in his ministry.

This includes you and me. Every week at the end of the service we are all commissioned and sent into the world to be agents and ambassadors of the good news of Jesus Christ: to prepare the way for Jesus.

Looking back at the story in Luke the world in which the seventy were sent out was distinctly different to our world. Transport was for most people what they had on the end of their legs – their feet. There was no technology as we know it – phones, cars, fridges, washing machines, air con, computers, TVs and the list goes on. Social media involved actually walking into a room and talking with them. Things were basic and the people to whom the 70 were sent had within their basic lives some religious belief already established.

It was into this ancient world that those 70 people took the message of Jesus and of God’s love. They were sharing in Jesus ministry and preparing his way to come and fulfil what he himself had proclaimed about his purposes in this world.

At the beginning of Jesus ministry in the gospel of Luke Jesus declares his purpose as this:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.

Of course alongside this is the broader message of Jesus’ life which is the reconciliation with God established through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and the promise of the new creation. A promise and hope which surpass what we see and experience in this life.

Alongside this overarching message of grace, that we are called to share as apostles, we are tasked with sharing in Jesus ministry as well – a ministry or healing, of restoration, of reconciliation, of release... a ministry of love.

When we are sent out at the end of the service we go to share in this daunting and rewarding ministry.

When Jesus sends out the 70 he is under no illusion as to the task that is set before those men and women: “The harvest is plentiful and the labourers few.” There is much work to be done and only a few to do it and realistically the situation has not changed that much in 2000 years.

In considering our own sending I want to highlight 5 brief points for your consideration:

The first is that we do not need expert qualifications. We do not know much about the 70 people that Jesus sent other than they went out in faith but I suspect that they were average folk not unlike yourselves, people who believed and were willing to respond.

Too often we can list 100 reasons or more as to why we are not ready to engage in the task of ministry in our daily lives. Often I think this means we over complicate the task.

Yet you have been equipped by your baptism to this work, you are strengthened to serve as you share in worship and the bread and wine, the Spirit has been poured out upon you and you go not in your own power but in the power of God. Just because my title is Minister that does not mean that my presence can be used to excuse any of you from participating in Christ’s ministry to which all of us have been called.

This brings me to my second point that we cannot assume the message that we share will be accepted by others. Jesus says to the seventy, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”

There is vulnerability and risk that comes with being apostles. If we share our faith in word or action we expose ourselves and there are those in our world that will savage you because of your association with the church.

On an intellectual level many people in our society reject God and Christianity and anything of religion and do so vehemently arguing that religion is the root of all evil.

On social and political level if we share in Jesus’ ministry then when address issue of justice in our world and point out the inequities that exist we cannot expect ourselves to be popular with those in power.

Jesus work of peace-making often created conflict with people who did not want the kind of peace and the kind of changes that Jesus sought – when we go into our Australian context we need not to be naive and think people will greet us with open arms.

The third point I would make is that our possession can weigh us down. Our wealth creates opportunities for leisure and the things we own can distract us from what truly matters.

I am not necessarily saying we should sell all we have as Jesus suggested to the rich young ruler. However, when what we own gets in the way of our helping of others and distracts us from sharing the good news then maybe we have a problem, one that may involve personal sacrifice and change in the way that we live.

Number four is that when we go sharing in Jesus ministry I believe we will experience the kingdom of God coming near. This is not because we have a monopoly on God’s kingdom and take it to others but that in our encounter with others we find that Jesus is already at work where we go – our task is that as we discover this that we name it to those to whom we are ministering, or sometimes even more surprisingly might be ministering to us.

The last thing that I want to pick up from the idea that we are apostles sent out each week is that it works.

When the 70 returned to Jesus there is an excitement in the air – carrying his message and love into the world had amazing results. All of us can doubt the outcomes but the witness of the scriptures and the fact that the church has grown so immensely over the centuries reminds us that this stuff works!

As the Uniting Church we claim to be a part of the one, holy catholic and apostolic church. There are many ways that the word apostolic is understood in this phrase but I would like to suggest that an apostolic church is one that continues to send people, to send apostles, into the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.

At the end of today’s service you will once again be sent out into the world, like lambs among wolves, taking maybe only your faith with you, to share a message of grace and hope more important than the millions of advertising images that will bombard your senses this week. You are to be a light among the nations

God’s love has broken into the world bring healing and hope to all people everywhere, water washing us clean, bread and wine at this open table reminding us all of a future in store for the whole creation and all peoples when God will dwell among God’s people and we will be his people.

Take a moment of silence to contemplate that you are an apostle. Whom you are being sent to this day, this week?

by Peter Lockhart

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