08 July 2018

Getting to the roots of
radical mission as we
set out, two-by-two

Getting to the roots of radical mission … at the USPG conference in High Leigh, Hertfordshire, last week (Mark 6: 8-9) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 8 July 2018, the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VI).

11.30 a.m. Morning Prayer, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Readings: II Samuel 5: 1-5, 9-10 Psalm 48; II Corinthians 12: 2-10; Mark 6: 1-13.

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

Sending people out from the Church seems to be the theme of this weekend, indeed of this past week. In Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, yesterday afternoon [7 July 2018], Nicky White came in separately, but she and Rob Foley went out together, hand-in-hand, as a newly married couple.

It is sad – it is inevitable, but sad – that at times people do not have, or lose the joy of the intimacy of being a couple. Despite our hopes and our expectations, marriages can come to an end for all sorts of reasons.

But the goodness of marriage is meaningful to all of us because we know that it is not good for us to be alone.

That does not apply only to marriage. It applies to family, to community, to sports, to business, to work, and as we see in this morning’s Gospel reading [Mark 6: 1-13], to mission too.

Jesus has been travelling through the villages teaching. He calls the Twelve and he then begins to send them out, two-by-two. They are told to travel lightly on the journey, to take only what they need, and out they go, proclaiming the Good News, countering all that they find that is evil, and caring for the sick in Christ’s name.

Earlier last week, I travelled lightly too, only one cabin bag, and spent three days at the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) in the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire [2 to 4 July 2018].

I chaired one of the conference afternoon sessions, when the Revd Dr Pervaiz Sultan, the Principal of Saint Thomas’s Theological College, Karachi, spoke of what it is like to live as a Christian and as part of a tiny minority in Pakistan, which is an overwhelmingly Muslim-majority country.

This is an exciting time for USPG, as we take a fresh look at the meaning of mission not only for USPG, but for Anglicans around the world.

On Tuesday evening, the council of USPG re-elected me as a trustee for a second, three-year term, and we have a new chair, John Neilson, and a new general secretary, the Revd Duncan Dormor, who presented us with a new vision, a new strategy, for 2018-2021.

On Tuesday afternoon, he spoke of sharing in God’s mission worldwide, and he challenged us not to forget if the Church forgets mission we become a club: a nice club, with nice members, but just another club.

We are a pilgrim church, a pilgrim people, sent out into the world, like the disciples in this morning’s Gospel reading.

Duncan reminded us that the story of Jesus is a story of constantly crossing ethnic and religious divisions. We discover who we are through the other, and we find ourselves transformed and humbled when we listen to the stories of others and their faith.

USPG is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential and champion justice.

The agency has four core values. Duncan’s strategic vision says that in mission USPG is faithful, radical, stands in solidarity and respects context.

He outlined three broad strategic aims: to rethink mission, to energise Church and community, and to champion justice.

One way that USPG carries through on these visions and delivers on these aims is through a large number of volunteers who go where they are sent, and then come back and share their experiences and their journey in faith.

Bishop Donald Jute of Kuching, in Malaysia, spoke of the way our concepts of mission, our ways of doing mission as a church, have changed in recent decades. He identified the move from paternal to fraternal relations in mission, and from divisive concepts of donors and receivers to the concept of partnership.

And he used the word partnership in a witty way when he pointed out that the word partnership is made up of the words ‘partners’ and ‘hip.’

When Churches are partners in mission, it is like we are joined at the hip. He could have been drawing on this morning’s Gospel when he told us: ‘Together we are called and together we are sent.’

Every part of the Church is supposed to be both sending and receiving. We cannot exist as isolated, individual Christians on our own. And similarly, parishes and dioceses cannot exist without giving and receiving, without sending and welcoming.

In this morning’s Gospel reading (Mark 6: 1-13), I imagine, the disciples went out filled with doubts and uncertainty, full of fear and anxiety rather than with full suitcases.

But what the disciples would soon learn is that for the people they would encounter along the way, it was not food or money or clothes that they needed most. What those people needed most was healing. And so, Christ requires the disciples to give what is the hardest thing in the world for us to give: the hardest thing to give is ourselves.

Sometimes, the moments when we put aside the comforts of home and step out into uncertainty and risk are moments when we find we are closest to God.

Perhaps this morning’s Gospel reading is challenging me to ask myself, as I asked myself at the USPG conference in High Leigh last week:

What baggage have I been dragging along with me on my journey of faith, in my journey in ministry, in my journey in mission?

Have I been carrying this baggage around not because I need it, but because I have become too comfortable with it?

What unnecessary junk am I still carrying around with me in life that I ought to have left behind long ago?

I know that I cannot engage in the ministry and mission I believe God has called me to without accepting how dependent I am on the support and care and love of others.

How often do I depend and rely on what I think are my own strengths but, in reality, are my own weaknesses?

And as a parish, I honestly believe that if we find fresh ways of engaging creatively with the Church out there that we may find not that it draws away our energies and makes too many demands on us, but that it may strengthen us and help us to grow as a parish, in love and laughter, in caring and in joy.

Please do not get me wrong: I know we are wonderful people in this parish, and I do not for a moment think we risk becoming just a club. But I think we may find new potential, new talents, new opportunities, new growth and new life if we accept the challenge Christ offers the disciples this morning, and step out in partnership with neighbouring parishes, with the wider diocese and with the wider church with the message of the Good News of God’s Kingdom, and the offer of healing, wholeness and love that is at the heart of being the Church.

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

‘He … began to send them out two by two’ (Mark 6: 7) … two walkers on the beach in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, at the end of the day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Mark 6: 1-13 (NRSV):

1 He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

When I set out on journeys, too often I take too much with me (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical colour: Green.

The Collect:

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
Pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


529, Thy hand, O God, has guided;
593, O Jesus, I have promised;
618, Lord of all hopefulness.

The High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire … the venue for the USPG conference last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

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