Sunday, 7 July 2019

Where is ‘The Prophetic Voice
of the Church’ heard today?
Who speaks ‘Truth to Power’?

The High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddeson … the venue for the USPG Conference this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 7 July 2019, the Third Sunday after Trinity.

11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Brendan’s Church (Kilnaughtin), Tarbert, Co Kerry.

Readings: II Kings 5: 1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6: (1-6), 7-16; Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Our readings this morning are very much readings about mission.

In our Old Testament reading (II Kings 5: 1-14), we meet Naaman, a victorious general who is faced with the physical defeat of skin diseases.

Naaman suffers from leprosy, a word used for several skin diseases and disorders, many of them incurable. At an advanced stage of these skin diseases, people also suffered severe social isolation.

Naaman has great expectations but they can only be met by responding to simple commands. Naaman thinks he can buy God’s healing, but finds he receives faith freely in the free-flowing water.

Naaman finds healing and wholeness among a strange people. It is an interesting model of mission in reverse, for instead of Elisha going to him with good news and the promise of healing, Namaan goes to the prophet in the hope of healing and hearing good news.

In our Epistle reading (Galatians 6: 1-16), Saint Paul concludes his Letter to the Galatians, a church divided between those who say new converts to Christianity must first become converts to Judaism and people from the local Gentile community who were mainly Greek-speakers, many of them descended from Celtic tribes that had settled in central Anatolia.

Last Sunday, we heard Saint Paul telling these people that the whole law is summed up in one single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Galatians 5: 5). He reminds them that ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Galatians 5: 22-23).

Now, Saint Paul ends this letter telling these people to bear one another’s burdens, and to be honest about themselves and with each other. Within the church, he tells them, there is no place for adhering to old divisions or boasting about being Jew or Gentile, circumcised or not circumcised. What truly matters is the new creation.

In the Gospel reading (Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20), Christ is on his way to Jerusalem when he sends out 70 disciples on a mission of healing and proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God. They are to go ahead of Christ, to the places he is about to travel through on his way to Jerusalem, preparing the way for Jesus’ own mission, and he tells them how to respond to both acceptance and rejection.

They are sent out with the understanding that the ‘harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few’ (verse 2).

The Seventy are sent out ‘like lambs into the midst of wolves’ (verse 3). But this is not a threatening image. You may recall how the Prophet Isaiah describes the coming Kingdom of God as an era of peace and reconciliation, in which ‘the wolf and the lamb shall feed together’ (see Isaiah 65: 25).

The Seventy are to bring peace with them, and when they meet a person of peace, God’s peace will be with that person. They should accept whatever hospitality and food they are offered, and to show their faith by their action, healing people and sharing the promise of the kingdom of God.

When the 70 return, they come back surprised and filled with joy following their experiences.

I am just back from the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

The conference theme this year was ‘The Prophetic Voice of the Church.’ Over a period of three days, we heard stories of mission and reaching out as people described and shared their experiences of mission, in these islands and across the globe.

The general secretary of USPG, the Revd Duncan Dormor, spoke of how USPG lives out its mission in the midst of the world’s challenges. Climate justice and inter-religious living, as well as other key challenges, like migration and gender justice ‘are truly global in nature and remind us of the fundamental interdependence of the world, and the deep sense of connection between the churches of the Anglican Communion ... They shape the mission priorities of our partner churches,’ he said.

There was an opportunity for a long meeting with Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya of Swaziland, who has had close links with this diocese. Our Bible studies each morning were led by the Very Revd Gloria Mapangdol, a theologian from the Philippines.

The world of mission has shifted from a one-way process to partnership, we were told by Bishop Dickson Chilongani, from Central Tanganyika in Tanzania. He spoke movingly about suffering and trusting in God. We are not merely human beings but ‘human becomings.’

Bishop Dickson said to be prophetic is to speak on God’s behalf. He reminded us that the majority of prophets in the Old Testament were not priests but lay people, ordinary people, like Amos the farmer who was a shepherd and who was looking after sycamore trees.

These lay prophets told the truth about power and society, spoke on behalf of the poor and the oppressed. For the ‘Prophetic Voice of the Church’ to be heard today, lay participation is crucial, he said.

Canon Kirilee Reid, chaplain and refugee projects officer in Calais in France, spoke movingly of her work with the 550 displaced and often forgotten people living in Calais.

In one of her Bible studies, Gloria Mapangdol brought us through Mary’s song in Saint Luke’s Gospel, Magnificat, and then left us with three questions to discuss:

● How can we become the prophetic voices of our communities?

● Are we willing to take risks to give voice and hope to those who do not have them?

● How can we in the Church strengthen or recover our prophetic ministry in today’s world?

If someone like Naaman came to the Church today, expecting healing and to hear a prophetic voice, what would we have to say to him, and would he hear the ‘Prophetic Voice of the Church’?

If we were sent out like the 70 this morning, to prepare the way for Christ in our society, what would people hear from us?

Would they hear the ‘Prophetic Voice of the Church’?

Would we proclaim the promises of the kingdom of God in our words and in our actions?

Would we like Saint Paul this morning, be able to ‘never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 6: 14)?

And would we come back rejoicing?

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘Bear one another’s burdens’ (Galatians 6: 2) … suitcases belonging to delegates at this year’s USPG conference in High Leigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20:

10 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”

16 ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’

17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ 18 He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

‘He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments’ (II Kings 5: 5) … old coins in an antique shop in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Almighty God,
you have broken the tyranny of sin
and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts
whereby we call you Father:
Give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service,
that we and all creation may be brought
to the glorious liberty of the children of God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 6: 14) … an icon cross on the nave altar in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Hymns:

492, Ye servants of God, your master proclaim (CD 28)
456, Lord, you give the great commission (CD 27)
443, Sent forth by God’s blessing, our true faith confessing (CD 26)

‘May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 6: 14) … a cross on the sand dunes in Laytown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

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