Welcome + Worship + Witness

Revd Jonathan Cain: “The kingdom of God has come near”

18 October 2015

10.30 Sung Eucharist

Luke the Evangelist

Revd Jonathan Cain

Acts 16:6-12; Luke 10:1-9

During a visit to the NASA space centre in 1962, President Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom.  He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?”

The janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon, Mr. President.”

Some of you may have heard this story; it is certainly over-used in management consultancy circles, and many have called into question its authenticity. If we are able to suspend any skepticism that we might have for a moment, I wonder what the story might reveal about the organisation, NASA, and about the janitor.

NASA must have been pretty good at setting out the big picture. Everyone working there was playing an essential part in their goal to put a man on the moon.  The janitor could have replied, “I’m sweeping the floor;” a more stroppy response would have been “what does it look like I’m doing, Mr. President?” but he, for his part, had taken sufficient interest in the big picture to understand his part in it.  One might imagine a certain sense of purpose, delight, joy even at being part of such a grand vision.

Today we celebrate Luke the Evangelist and so we have readings from Luke and Acts, the two volumes of the evangelist’s writings. Across these two volumes Luke’s narrative spans about 60 years, but the scope of the vision that he outlines spans millennia; from Adam, the beginning of humanity, to Luke’s own day.  In Luke’s Gospel the direction of the narrative is towards Jerusalem.  Through this movement the evangelist illustrates how Jesus fulfils God’s promises to Israel. In Acts the direction of the narrative is away from Jerusalem; through this movement Luke illustrates how God extends blessing to the rest of the world through the Apostles and the Church.

Mindful of this over-arching scheme, there are two things that strike me from our readings today: the first is to do with prayer and discernment and the second with shared ministry.

In the passage from Acts we hear how Paul is twice prevented by the Holy Spirit, a.k.a. the Spirit of Jesus, from courses of action, before receiving a vision in a dream to travel to a man in Macedonia. The episode may sound a little strange, but is really to do with prayer and discernment.  Faced with a large number of possible actions, Paul waits on God, he prays and is guided by a dream, before making a move. If we read on in Acts we see how this prayer and discernment is rewarded.  In Philippi, a leading city of the district of Macedonia, Paul meets a certain businesswoman called Lydia. Lydia becomes an important figure in the missionary work of the early Church.  Prayer underpins Paul’s ministry.

In the Gospel passage, Jesus appoints seventy of his disciples to go before him and cure the sick. He predicts that the work will not be easy, describing the seventy as lambs sent out among wolves; but send them he does, telling them that every time they cure the sick the kingdom of God will come near. Elsewhere in the Gospel narrative Jesus teaches his disciples; here he puts them to work as labourers in a ministry of healing. Jesus shares this healing ministry and importantly connects the work of the seventy to the bigger picture; the vision of the kingdom of God.

The Strategic Vision for the Priory includes the development of a regular ministry of healing, a ministry that the Church of England report, ‘A Time to Heal’ describes as having three dimensions:

visionary … Because it beckons us towards the future and a glimpse of the kingdom, the hope of creation renewed in perfect health and wholeness.”

prophetic … Because it calls us to reconsider our relationship with God, each other and the world, and to seek forgiveness and a new start in our lives.”

dynamic … Because Jesus is with us to the end of time: when we pray for his help, he comforts, strengthens and heals us, responding to our deepest needs.”

What these statements make clear is that the Church’s understanding of healing is holistic; healing of body, mind, spirit; repentance and forgiveness, the reconciliation of people with God with each other and with the whole of creation … Our Christian hope is nothing short of the hope of the whole of creation renewed in perfect health and wholeness.

Like all our ministry, and following the Biblical pattern as we read it today, the healing ministry here at the Priory is underpinned by prayer … Individual and corporate prayer which is in continuity with centuries of prayer in this place and, as we approach our first dedicated healing service in Lent next year, more intentional prayer for the healing ministry.

To follow the Biblical pattern the healing ministry here at the Priory must also be shared. The first, and perhaps most important step in that sharing, is the recognition of our own need for healing … Not always easy to do, and yet we must remember that in the Gospel accounts when Peter says to Jesus, “you will never wash my feet;” Jesus replies, “unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

… Unless we acknowledge our own need for healing, we will not be healed nor can we be agents for the healing of others.   Our healing ministry involves all of us.

NASA’s bold vision in the 1960s was to put a man on the moon. It was a vision that captured a whole generation.

As disciples of Jesus Christ we perceive our lives as part of a larger, divine plan … The cosmic vision of the kingdom of God … the hope of the whole creation renewed in perfect health and wholeness. This is a vision with an eternal dimension, which has captured and given purpose to countless people over many generations.  When we sense that “The kingdom of God has come near” it is and will surely be a source of delight and great joy.

Amen.