Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Mission Impossible?

The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
18 October 2020
10.30 Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

Today is the Feast Day of St Luke the Evangelist

It punctuates the end of Ordinary Times and is a distinctive break in the calendar on what is otherwise the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

St Luke, as most of us know, is one of the authors of the Synoptic Gospels having written the Gospel bearing his name

He is also ascribed as the author of the Acts of the Apostles and so is responsible for having written over one quarter of the text of the New Testament

St Paul refers to him as a physician (Colossians 1: 14) and so was both a doctor, disciple and historian

Given the heavy load he carried in life, it is little wonder that he is often depicted as an ox

He is even painted on our Reredos (two from the centre to the right)

As well as being a saint, he the patron saint of artists, physicians, bachelors, surgeons, students and, peculiarly, butchers

It is not surprising therefore that a reading from St Luke Gospel has been chosen for today

It is about the calling of the seventy which records Jesus sending out seventy disciples ahead of him

“to every town and place where he himself intended to go”

It is reminiscent of the sending out of the twelve disciples in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 10) As well as a similar story in Mark (Mark 6)

Why Luke chose the number 70 is not clear

However, it might be deliberately chosen to reflect the numbers of elders which Moses chose to lead the people of Israel (Numbers 11: 16)

However, whatever the explanation, the story this morning is about mission and going out into the world

Indeed the passage itself is headed “The Mission of the Seventy”

And Mission is at the heart of the life of the Church and at the heart of all those who choose to follow Christ

In my previous parish, I decided to introduce a mission statement

I always believe that we should ask ourselves “what are we doing and why we do it?” and wanted to set out clear objectives

My mission statement acknowledged our place as an Anglican Church within the world wide Christian community

And our desire to worship God whilst promoting social justice and stewardship of God creation

Proposing a mission statement was viewed with deep suspicion and seen as me imposing some sort of secret Anglican blue print at a distance of 8000 miles

Those of you who know something of the history of Anglicanism will know that it is not always easy in far flung corners of world

The Chicago- Lambeth quadrilateral bears witness to how hard it is to export Anglicanism across the Atlantic

Like Guinness, Anglicanism does not travel well

Once bitten, twice shy, I have not chosen to do the same here but, in a sense, we have a very similar mission statement reflected in our Welcome where we state

“Bolton Priory is committed, not only to reflecting the glory and majesty of God in its worship but proclaiming the Gospel particularly by seeking social justice and stewardship of God’s creation”.

This is who we are and what we do and, in a sense, we are little different from the first disciples

However, mission is not easy and the disciples this morning are warned not to expect an easy ride

Luke’s Gospel spells out the dangers ahead “I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves”

In Matthew’s Gospel, the disciples are warned not to expect a warm welcome

And Marks Gospel records that King Herod thought they might threaten the State

But, despite the dangers, the disciples are given clear instructions

They have “authority over unclean spirits…and to “raise the dead and cast out demons”

However, Luke’s Gospel provides instructions that we can all relate to today

The disciples were directed to proclaim “The Kingdom of God”

Although this was written over two thousand years ago it is exactly what we do today

We proclaim the Kingdom of God

Like the disciples two thousand years ago we too are sent to prepare the way of the Lord

This time for his second coming

The first disciples were advised to travel light “Carry no purse, no bags, no sandals

They even had no food – instead relying on those who welcomed them into homes

These are wise words as they had to be flexible to respond to whatever befell them

However, I was taken by the advice not to “move about from house to house” because it reminded me of our own restricted times

Times when we are, again, locked down unable to move about from house to house

Expected to obey the “rule of six”, at best

But this is made all the more difficult today because, unlike the first disciples, we do not travel light

We now have far more than a “purse, bags and sandals”

We have a church which requires a great deal of sustaining but which suffers like everyone else

Despite this, our mission continues and we are still expected to go out and proclaim the Kingdom of God

But we have to be every bit as adaptable as the first Christians

However, I do not think we should despair

Because thanks to St Luke we have a record of the trials and tribulations of the early Church recorded in the Acts of the Apostles

So often we focus on the Gospels 

But sometimes forget that the response to the Resurrection is to proclaim the Kingdom and build His Church

And to that end, the Acts of the Apostles is such an invaluable record because it tells us that this not going to be easy

Although the early Church has no pandemic it has almost everything else

Persecution, shipwreck, imprisonment and martyrdom are all part of the life of the early Church

Not to mention inter-church squabbles, and misconduct

This is our Church and this is our mission, whatever might befall us

Just like the first disciples and just like St Luke who, like our Lord, ended his days hanging from a tree