Sunday, 18 October 2015

Can't make it to church - 18 October 2015

Some of us will celebrating the life and ministry of St Luke, the Physician, a man who gave us a Gospel and the account of the early Church that is Acts. Our Gospel reading is taken from the book that bears his name.

The Isaiah passage we begin with carries a promise from God to those about to endure great trouble in the shape of exile and separation from the familiar places and the apparent blessings of God. There is this promise that, standing fast and 'keeping the faith', they will be restored: healing, wholeness and peace will be theirs. And yet when the trials come, when we complain of being desolate and far from God, how often is this not because God has removed Himself from us but because we have removed ourselves from Him?

My daily life is taken up with people who have trials and tribulations; those whose lives have turned to dross and whose hopes are dashed. Some of these cling to God and others fall away because God isn't, 'Giving them what they want or deserve!' It is then that my thoughts turn to this passage from Isaiah. for in them we have a life raft and a shelter from the storms.

And this reality is reaffirmed in the words of 2 Timothy as we are told to, 'Keep our heads - no matter what happens!'  When it goes pear-shaped, we need to keep on keeping on: 'Don't give up - keep the faith, spread the Gospel and keep walking the walk that was so easy to talk about when it was going right!'

Too many (including me at times of course) are great Christians when the going is easy and all they can see is blessing. But it's like running: A gentle jog is almost a walk in the park, but when the pace quicker and the hills arrive and the effort is needed - that's when the training and the being prepared comes to the fore. Are we testing ourselves and training for the day when the conflict and tests will come knocking?

And so we come to the challenge of the Gospel. The sending out of the seventy-two ahead of Jesus. Take nothing, trust God (and the kindness of people) for your daily bread and take the bare minimum of stuff. Anyone can look like a great Christian when they turn up with a motor home filled with food, clothes and all the needs of life. But here the guys are being sent out with nothing. They are facing hardship from the very first step and yet in this will bring blessing to others and to themselves.

When working in the rural areas of Africa, we would sometimes find those accompanying us complaining because we slept on the ground and the accommodation was crude, the food potentially dodgy (you get to know what faith and trust are when you see the dead sheep upstream on the river the plates were washed in!) - and yet this is the way the Gospel was communicated most powerfully.

Come before the people as ordinary people rather than arrive with the flash cars, big hair, flashy jewellery and motor homes and you bring an authenticity. Come with all those things and you are merely the circus arriving with their faux images and flashy unreality which distracts for a moment and them flies away.

Which sort of life are we going to choose to lives today? Luke, the doctor, had the potential of an easy life with everything that makes for comfortable living: But he choose to take up his cross and follow Jesus.

Now that's a lesson to learn - isn't it?

The Collect
Almighty God,
you called Luke the physician, whose praise is in the gospel,
to be an evangelist and physician of the soul:
by the grace of the Spirit and through the wholesome medicine of the gospel,
give your Church the same love and power to heal;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Isaiah 35.3-6
Strengthen the hands of those who are weak.
Help those whose knees give way.
Say to those whose hearts are afraid,
“Be strong and do not fear. Your God will come.  
  He will pay your enemies back. 
  He will come to save you.”

Then the eyes of those who are blind will be opened.  
The ears of those who can’t hear will be unplugged.
Those who can’t walk will leap like a deer.  
And those who can’t speak will shout for joy.
Water will pour out in dry places.  Streams will flow in the desert.

'Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning'  Psalm 30.5

2 Timothy 4.5-17
But I want you to keep your head no matter what happens. Don’t give up when times are hard. Work to spread the good news. Do everything God has given you to do. I am already being poured out like a drink offering. The time when I will leave is near. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is a crown waiting for me. It is given to those who are right with God. The Lord, who judges fairly, will give it to me on the day he returns. He will not give it only to me. He will also give it to all those who are longing for him to return.]

Do your best to come to me quickly. Demas has deserted me. He has gone to Thessalonica. He left me because he loved this world. Crescens has gone to Galatia. Titus has gone to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you. He helps me in my work for the Lord. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring my coat. I left it with Carpus at Troas. Also bring my books. Most of all, bring the ones made out of animal skins.

Remember Alexander, the one who works with metal. He did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will pay him back for what he has done. You too should watch out for him. He strongly opposed our message. The first time I was put on trial, no one came to help me. Everyone deserted me. I hope they will be forgiven for it. The Lord stood at my side. He gave me the strength to preach the whole message. Then all the Gentiles heard it. I was saved from the lion’s mouth.

Luke 10.1-9
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

Post Communion Prayer
Lord God, the source of truth and love, keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, united in prayer and the breaking of bread and one in joy and simplicity of heart, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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