Sunday, 6 September 2009

A desire to preach

Readings: Mark 7 v 24-37

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The story in this morning’s gospel – of the woman who came seeking healing for her daughter is one of my favourite gospel stories. It’s an age old story of a woman who knows that, to get what she wants for her child, she is going to have to fight.

Fight against the prejudices of the day.

Fight against cultural norms.

Fight against religious exclusion.

But, apart from all that, as if that weren’t enough, it is in this story that we see Jesus’ mission being challenged and, as a result expanded.

Because this woman doesn’t fit neatly into the category of folk who were welcome in the kingdom of God.

So, it is in this incident that we find Jesus being challenged to dismantle the barriers, expand the mission and make room for those who don’t fit.

In this gospel incident and in the healing story that follows, we discover that:

Faith is found beyond Israel, a mother will fight for her child, an impaired man is healed and good news cannot be contained.

Important discoveries for the day.

Important discoveries for this day.

Because it’s as true today that the mission of the church needs to be expanded, our vision must grow.

Beyond all our imagining.

We think we know what we need to do.

How to be church.

We assume that there are places and situations that require our presence, where we can contribute something.

But God, with a huge smile on her face, waits around the corner, leads us down streets that we would never have thought to venture.

That’s the exciting thing about ministry – the work of all the people here.

There is always more to be discovered and new ways of being church together.

But it takes persistence to get that message across.

Still there are barriers to be dismantled and prejudices to be overcome and sheer stubbornness to be fought before we discover the wideness of God’s mission and the excitement of God’s vision that knows no bounds.

Some years ago, when I first felt called to ministry, I was interviewed by a rather scary panel of ministers.

Although its doesn’t seem that long ago, it was certainly in the days before political correctness had taken root and before equal opportunity and anti – discrimination practice was adopted.

Some of the perceptions and attitudes I was forced to endure in that interview were laughable had they not been so shocking.

And in those days, believe it or not, I wasn’t terribly good at standing up for myself.

That’s a much more recent development, forged by such encounters with prejudice.

I’ve tried hard to forget much of what happened in that interview, but one question that keeps coming back to haunt me is: do you have a desire to preach?

And my answer then was a definite no.

That was not in any way an element of my feeling called to go into full time ordained ministry.

And while, over the years I’ve come to enjoy the preaching element of ministry, that still wouldn’t be in any way a driving force, or even a priority of ministry for me.

A young divinity student, who became very tongue tied in front of any group of people was dreading the point in his ministry when he would have to go and preach a sermon.

His tutor, recognising this, decided that it would be helpful if his first attempt at preaching could be with people he knew and felt comfortable with.

So he arranged that the student should preach his first sermon before his class mates at their weekly chapel service.

He gave him plenty of notice.

Well, the day came and the young man stood up, red in the face, and blurted out: Do you know what I’m going to say?

To which his class mates answered: No.

And neither do I, said the student.

Let’s say the blessing together.

His tutor gave him another chance – again at their weekly chapel time.

Again, the student got himself into an awful state.

He stood up when the time came and said: Do you know what I’m going to say?

To which his class mates replied: Yes!

Great he said: then there’s no need to say it – let’s proceed to the blessing.

This time, his coat was on a shoogly nail.

His tutor said: right, I’ll give you one more chance.

Don’t muck it up this time.

Again, the day came.

The young man stood up and said: Do you know what I’m going to say?

Half of his class nodded Yes – the other half shook their heads, No.

Great he said: Those of you who know tell those who don’t know. Lets proceed to the blessing.

Those of you who know tell those who don’t know.

That’s what preaching is about – and its not a job just for full time ordained clergy.

It’s a job for all of us to share our faith – in whatever ways we can – wherever we are.

And though it would still shock many of my colleagues to know that I don’t consider preaching a priority – that’s the way it is – because I see ministry as much much more than preaching.

And as something that every member of the Christian community should be involved in.

Ministry is about sharing faith with those around us – in all sorts of ways.

Being adaptable as Jesus was.

And so often our actions speak so much louder than any words.

Jesus knew that when he encountered the deaf man.

Words would have been useless.

Jesus could have chosen that day, to preach to the crowds around him.

He could have chosen to explain the intricacies of the kingdom to the Syro Phoenician woman and then, when he was confronted once more with a demand for healing, Jesus could have chosen to attract attention to his ability to perform miracles.

Instead, it was only when the woman arrived home, she discovered that her wish had been granted and that her daughter was healed.

And, as for the man in the crowd who asked for healing, Jesus took him aside.

He took him away from the glare of the crowd.

And gently, by getting alongside him and by touching him, he healed him.

Jesus chose not to impress the crowds.

Instead, he ministered to individuals.

Individuals for whom personal, quiet attention was much more effective.

Jesus brought the woman into the kingdom, shifting the boundaries.

He made her feel special – just as he did with the deaf man, giving him his undivided attention, away from the glare of the crowd.

Both were included for once in their lives.

Jesus adapted his style to minister to the needs of the folk he encountered.

To make folk feel special, to make folk feel included.

The church, for all its preaching to the contrary is great at leaving people out.

Its possible to feel more isolated in a church than anywhere else.

To feel we don’t belong.

To feel excluded.

That’s why we need to reach out, beyond these 4 walls – or 6 walls as we learned at last night’s quiz.

We have to reach beyond that to make people feel special.

Unless we’re prepared to share with this community the love and compassion of God.

Unless we’re prepared to do as Jesus did, to see folk as individuals, to love them, to walk beside them, to touch them.

Then the kingdom that we build will always be too small.

Ministry is not about preaching.

Its not about being seen.

Its about walking beside folk every day and living our faith.

If we really want to see God’s kingdom grow, then all of us need to grow so that we can be ministers in our community.

We need to grow so that we don’t treat some folk as important and others as less important.

We need to grow so that our faith is matched by our actions.

We need to grow in order to accommodate others.

In this place, there is room for all of us.

As we share this sacrament today, God welcomes us.

But there is also plenty of room for others.

All children of God.

All loved by God.

There is nothing that can keep us out.

There is no one who should make us feel excluded –we are all children, loved and chosen by God.

When Jesus took the deaf man aside, away from the glare of the crowd, he put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, 'Ephphatha!' (which means, 'Be opened!' ). At this, we read, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly."

What will it take for us to speak plainly?

Oh, not in our words.

In our actions.

What will take for us to really to be open to hear God’s will for us and act accordingly.

Sometimes God does work through miracles.

But mostly, God’s work is done in the hard slog of God’s people.

We can’t afford to get weary.

We can’t afford to give up.

We can’t sit back and wait for a miracle.

We can’t keep on merely talking.

God’s love has to be shown.

Faith has to be lived.

And we all need to be on board.

We all need our ears to be opened – and our eyes.

Open to the needs around us.

Open to become involved.

Open to growing the kingdom.

Not by preaching.

Not by merely believing.

But by doing.

Doing quietly, out of the glare of publicity.

Showing our faith by our actions.

Loving because first, God loves us.

May you find in your life a desire to preach your faith – not in words but in action – to the glory of God who loves us.


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