Then Jesus called the Twelve together ... and he sent them out (Luke 9: 1-2)
Wednesday 23 September 2009, 5 p.m., the Community Eucharist: Ezra 9: 5-9; Psalm 48; Luke 9: 1-6.
May all praise honour and glory be to God, +Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Our Gospel reading this evening looks like a good choice of reading for an ordination or a commissioning service. This incident comes after a number of well-known stories in Saint Luke’s Gospel, including the calming of a storm on the lake, the healing of a demoniac, the raising of Jairus’s daughter and the healing of a woman with a haemorrhage.
Now we are moving into a turning point in the public life of Jesus and in his relationship with his disciples.
This is, in fact, the third tour of Galilee by Jesus. On the first tour, he was accompanied just by the four fishermen he had called first – Peter, Andrew, James and John. On the second tour, all of the 12 were with him. Then, on this third tour of Galilee, we will find him left on his own after he sends the Twelve out on this on their own first mission.
In this reading, Jesus sends out the 12 on their first mission, their first time on their own without his being with them.
They are not to be choosy about where they go or where they stay. They are to stay in the first house that accepts them. Wherever they find that they or their message is not welcome, they are to shake the dust from their feet – for it is not the disciples who are rejected, but the Good News of Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of God itself, and the one in whose name they have been sent them that are being rejected.
And so the 12 go out, from town to town, proclaiming the Gospel and restoring people to wholeness wherever they went.
This is the same mission each one of you will be entrusted with within the next eight or nine months. You are being called, individually and together, to proclaim the Gospel by word and by lifestyle, to be sources of healing and wholeness, to live lives that are witnesses to the Risen Lord.
Now, I wonder how many of us would like to be sent out in ministry next summer being told to cure, to preach and to heal, but being told we have nothing to take with us.
The limits imposed on the 12 are even more restrictive than those I experience travelling with Ryanair: they are to take no bag, no food, no money and no change of clothes.
And if you think Ryanair habitually sends you to airports in places you never heard of instead of sending you to places you planned to visit, imagine how perplexed the 12 must have been about their prospective destinations.
What happened to the 12? We’re not told. Instead, the narrative is interrupted by a discussion of some of Herod’s delusions (verses 7-9).
By the time Herod has finished his self-questioning, the 12 are back. Jesus takes them off to Bethsaida. They’re followed by the crowds, and Jesus shows the 12 exactly what they should have been doing in mission: he welcomes the crowd, he speaks to them of the Kingdom of God, and he cures those who need healing (verse 11).
I imagine the story of the 12 being sent out as being a bit like your first pastoral placement in Year I. How many of us were left free to make a bags of it? And then, in the process of reflection and evaluation, we learned from those gaffes and those mistakes, from those times we went in with both feet first, when we found we weren’t welcome or said the wrong things, and were left to shake the dust from our feet.
When Jesus takes the 12 off to Bethsaida he tries to show the 12 how to do it. But do they learn? It seems not. Instead, they ask him to send the crowd away, to go out also and look for places to stay (verse 12). They haven’t healed them, they haven’t cured them, they haven’t spoken to them of the Kingdom; and now they’re reluctant to feed them or to shelter them.
We can see this is an image of their refusal to allow the outsiders to become the insiders, to invite them to hear the Gospel and to join in fellowship at the sacred meal.
And so Jesus puts the same questions to them that Herod has put to himself (verses 18-22), he challenges them to take up the Cross (verses 23-27), and offers some of them a vision of his glory (verses 28-36).
Perhaps it was because the disciples were aware of their weaknesses that they learned anew, that they didn’t resent the episode in the following chapter when the 70 are sent out 70 others, two-by-two.
There will be times in your ministry and mission that you feel not perhaps that you have failed but that you have only risen to second best.
But in our failures, in our weaknesses, in those moments when we rise up to being only at our second best, we must never be discouraged.
As Ken Rue reminded the NSM and MTh students who were here at the weekend, God does not call the equipped to ministry – instead, God equips the called.
A willingness to learn must include a willingness to learn by my mistakes – and believe you me, I make many of them.
We know the disciples made many more mistakes – Peter went on to deny Christ three times at the most crucial moment; Thomas doubted him after his death and resurrection; Philip was admonished (see John 14: 8); next Sunday’s Gospel reading comes just as the 12 are caught squabbling among themselves.
We, they, we all have our weaknesses. But when we accept our vulnerability we not only learn, but we also become humble before Christ, who accepted vulnerability and emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness … humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross (Philippians 2: 7-8).
In our ministry and mission, we must put our confidence and trust not in our own skills ands abilities, but be willing to learn from our mistakes, be accepting of our weaknesses, be open to our own vulnerability, and be confident that we will be continually equipped and continually strengthened by Christ who calls us and who sends us.
And so, may all we think, say and do be to the glory of God, +Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This address was delivered at the Mid-Week Community Eucharist on Wednesday 23 September 2009.