john davies
notes from a small curate

updated regularly
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    On being sent out

    Good Shepherd 4/7/2004

    2 Kings 5:1-17, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

    Today's gospel story is about Jesus sending out seventy of his followers ahead of him to every town and place where he intended to go.

    So I'd like us to think this morning about our own experiences of being sent out.

    My earliest memory of being sent out comes from junior school when I was sent out of class for talking too much. I didn't like being sent out - it was lonely in the corridor and scary outside the head's office but I'm afraid it happened more than once because I think I was a bit of a chatterbox back then.

    But there are other ways of being sent out. I remember often being sent out by my granddad, to the corner shop for 10 Woodbines. And if there was any change I could buy myself sweets with that. I liked being sent out to do that.

    It's quite a responsibility, being sent out on a message for someone else. If you lose the money or forget the thing they asked you for you've let them down. I did an apprenticeship in an engineering company in the Dingle and every morning I'd be sent out to get the bacon or sausage butties from a cafe on the dock road, and at lunchtime I'd get sent out again to get the fellahs' chips and pies and cakes and put on their bets for them and get them a paper if they hadn't already got one.

    If I got any of that wrong, I was for it. But it felt good getting it right, I knew they appreciated it; and also, the owner of the greasy dock road caff always gave me a free bacon butty while I was waiting, which made it all worthwhile.

    Funny, later on in my life I felt I was being sent out again, and I ended up on the very same streets I'd walked as an apprentice. When I felt I was being called into the church - sent out, if you like, by God, to a new place - I went to work at St Gabriel's, Toxteth, and found myself on Mill Street going to those very same chippies and newsagents all over again.

    [inviting sharing about being sent out, people responded with various stories, notably one about as a child being sent out from air-raid shelters on messages to the shops... ]

    All sorts of people get sent out - to do all sorts of things. Like those who join the armed forces. I've been reading the story of Frank Collins, which Irene lent me, called Baptism of Fire [1]. From an early age he felt called to be a soldier, prepared for it for years, eventually joined the SAS and found himself being sent out into the most challenging situations - jungles in the Far East, Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles. Tough, and bloody work.

    Later on he found himself being sent out again - as his new-found Christian faith became his life's mission; he became ordained, and is now an army chaplain, sent out to serve his colleagues in new ways on the battlefield.

    When we think of people being sent out by God we also think of missionaries taking Christ's message to places where it hasn't been heard. I always think of the people who centuries ago were missionaries to this country, travelling men and women who set up their own little churches and started Christian communities which are still in evidence today in the names of places -

    St Ives - Iva, an Irish saint
    St Albans
    St Asaph
    All those Welsh places which start with 'Llan' (which means 'Church' - Llanberis: Church of St Peris, etc)
    St David - "The gipsy of God" "going from shire to shire ... with the gospel and the altar in his caravan" (Gwenallt) [2]

    These weren't great saints with amazing stories, they were fairly ordinary Christians who were happy to be sent out by God to new places taking God's message with them as they went. One of them, Columbanus, said, "Christians must travel in perpetual pilgrimage as guests of the world." Which is just what those first disciples were - the seventy Jesus sent out: pilgrims, guests of the world with one foot in heaven.

    Can we compare ourselves to them?

    they had no purse, no bag, no sandals - we may not have much but we do have those sort of essentials;

    they were being sent out like lambs among wolves - we may feel more at home most of the time in the places we go and among the people we see;

    they were wanderers - we're more settled;

    they said to people, "the kingdom of God has come near you." - we may not always use those sorts of words, even if we feel them in our hearts.

    But despite these differences, we may feel very keenly that Jesus sends us out into the world.

    We would be right to feel this way. To feel that
    every time we leave the house we leave it with Jesus; every conversation we have Jesus is part of it; our places of work and leisure are places we've been sent out to, and where the kingdom of God has come near, if we could see it more clearly and help others see it too.

    The seventy came back rejoicing because they'd had some wonderful experiences sharing God's good news with those they were sent to. This can be our experience too.

    The old Celtic believers would say a prayer as they opened their door to leave the house each morning - it could be ours:

    Let us go forth
    In the goodness of our merciful Father,
    In the gentleness of our brother Jesus,
    In the radiance of his Holy Spirit,
    In the faith of the apostles,
    In the joyful praise of the angels,
    In the holiness of the saints,
    In the courage of the martyrs.
    Such is the path for all servants of Christ,
    The path from death to eternal life.

    And at the end of our communion services we say a prayer asking God to,

    Send us out
    in the power of your Spirit
    to live and work
    to your praise and glory.

    Jesus is still sending his people out today. Let us celebrate that he wants us as his disciples.

    [1] Frank Collins: Baptism of Fire
    [2] Gwenallt 'St David' translated in A. M. Allchin, Esther De Waal: Threshold of Light - Prayers and Praises from the Celtic Tradition
    [3] From Esther De Waal: A World Made Whole