ALWAYS DOOR-KNOCK IN PAIRS
A sermon preached at S.LUKE’S QUEEN’S PARK, BRIGHTON on 7th July 2019. Text: Luke 10:17-20
Here’s a rather embarrassing question: How exciting do you find the Christian life?
I mean, could we honestly identify with those early disciples who arrived back from their mission, flushed and panting, bursting to report their success?
Lord, guess what! Even the devils submit to us when we use your name!
I know, says Christ (probably smiling gently), I had a good feeling about what was happening .I had a vision of Satan falling from heaven. But don’t go on about your achievements. Rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven........
In other words, you have given your lives to my work and so you will be given the reward of eternal life in the bosom of the Trinity - now there’s something to shout about!
And when Christ commissions them before their journey, you can almost smell the tense anticipation of danger, the thrill of being fishers of men and the hope of a good catch.
Go. Go now. Don’t hang about. Don’t hesitate. Travel light. Take a chance on supplies and provisions. Cover as much ground as possible. Don’t waste time where you’re not welcome. Don’t be shy to accept contributions and hospitality. You deserve whatever is offered. Eat what is put in front of you. Don’t be finicky about dietary laws. Where you are received, preach the good news that the kingdom is here and prove it by healing the sick.
Anybody fallen asleep yet?
I hope not but I know it does all sound rather remote from our Sunday mornings, which are much more to do with our familiar church building, worshipping and praying together, fostering our communal life and looking after one another. All really wonderful but not exactly the same thing as missionary fervour.
My efforts to evangelize have always been, certainly sincere and earnest, but also a bit polite and reserved. I’m naturally rather shy. It may be the same in your case.
But every Christian has it in him or her to transmit and share some of the joy and peace which faith has brought.
I always thought Bishop Lindsay Urwin was on the right track when he insists that Catholics, just as much as evangelicals, can and should be charismatic.
Talking of Lindsay Urwin, he used to lead a post-Easter retreat for clergy and laity at Caister in Norfolk. I got rode in to play the drums in the group which accompanied worship.
A holiday camp on the Norfolk coast with services held in a glitzy auditorium called “Neptune’s Palace” seemed an unlikely setting for a deep religious experience. But God moves in mysterious ways. Sometimes it seems He chooses, with His divine sense of humour, to inspire us where we least expect it. Like a solemn mass celebrated in “Neptune’s Palace” with too much incense setting off the fire alarm sprinklers.
Another trick of the Almighty is to take us by surprise via a visit to the cinema.
I have preached before about (and indeed actually screened in our Lent cinema season) a film called “The Apostle” starring Robert Duvall. It’s about an American bible-belt preacher and you’d think it would be the usual phoney evangelist story about a hypocritical con-man in it for the money.
But you’d be wrong. Duvall plays (and he deserved an Oscar for his performance) a genuine man of God.
Certainly, he is a flawed human being, a sinner: He’s on the run because he has lashed out in anger with a baseball bat at his wife’s lover and accidentally killed him.
In the end, he’s betrayed to the police and surrenders to them but meanwhile he flees to a remote rural community, gives himself a new name and rebuilds a derelict tin-shack church called the “One-way-to-heaven temple” with the help of a retired black minister who recognizes and respects the white preacher’s authenticity.
Together they revive not only the poor building but also the congregation of poor black families. There is a spellbinding moment when a red-neck racist thug comes with his cronies and a bulldozer to flatten the tiny church and instead undergoes an utterly convincing and extremely moving conversion experience.
The Duvall character, the unoffical preacher who has a gospel to proclaim, is mesmerizing.
His arms flail wildly as he socks it to the local radio station audience. He walks everywhere urgently and purposefully and breaks into a little run every few steps. When moved by the spirit leading his ragbag of worshippers in prayer, he involuntarily starts dancing on the spot in an awkward, clumsy shuffle.
Do you know what this beautiful film puts me in mind of? the headlong, breathless mission of the seventy-two disciples in today’s gospel.
They were untrained (our Lord gave them minimal instructions and they had not been to theological college). They were very lightly equipped (no purse, no haversack, no sandals even).
But they had faith and they came back full of joy and excitement at having managed to spread the word.
This is something which all Christians - not just clergy and not just self-styled evangelists - are capable of doing - in fact are duty-bound by the love of our saviour to do.
It’s no big deal. You don’t have to go mad or try to perform miracles.
Simply kneel down in a quiet moment and pray the Father that He will send you the opportunity and the courage to show your family, your friends, your neighbours, your workmates, even the people you don’t get on with, that your faith has made you whole and is too good not to pass on.
Just a casual word about the love of God or, better still, a small act of kindness done for the love of God. He is itching to act through every one of us. He knows only too well that the harvest is rich but the labourers are few.
Anyone who simply turns up in church passively Sunday by Sunday out of a vague sense of habit is not much practical use to the Lord of the Harvest (although – don’t get me wrong – He loves you anyway and is grateful just for your presence).
But we can all do a bit better than that. It wouldn’t hurt just to mention to a few more people that we are Christians. Never be ashamed, in the words of the baptism service, to proclaim the faith of Christ crucified. Bringing others to faith is something that can happen and, if and when it does, it is the most exciting and rewarding experience you can ever have.
Notice one last detail in the gospel. Our Lord sent them out in pairs.
No-one can spread the word all on their own. The Robert Duvall charcter, for all his charisma, needed the help, encouragement and support of the retired black minister.
Even those nuts who door-knock on Saturday mornings and get you out of your bath to announce that the end is nigh are savvy enough to come in twos.
It’s not just about safety in numbers or moral support; it’s about the fact that a faith already shared is a faith much easier to transmit.
We are the body of Christ; we are the community of faith. There is no such thing as private Christianity, there is no exclusive individual hot-line to God in the privacy of your own heart. Other religions may teach a self-centred spirituality but we Christians can only do our thing together.
And so when we pray the Father for grace to touch the lives of others who are still in the wilderness, we must also pray for each other’s help and support so that we can come back rejoicing together, eager but not proud to tell our modest little story of success and be greeted by a gently smiling Christ with the words:
I know. I had a good feeling about what was happening among you lot at S.Luke’s. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.