Fifth Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Ezekiel 1 1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12, 2-10; Mark 6,1-13
Hymns: Jesus lover of my soul; May the grace of Christ our Saviour; We’ll walk the land with hearts on fire; We have a gospel to proclaim
The founder of the Melanesian Brotherhood, Ini Kopuria, died during the Japanese war in Melanesia, on one of the Solomon Islands north of Australia, now called Kiribati, along with other Brothers and teachers who were martyred. The statue of one, Lucien Tapiedi, now adorns the West Wall of Westminster Abbey in London, along with eleven other martyrs, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Orthodox, from a dozen countries. Martyrs, or witnesses, walk the talk of God. Six more Melanesian Anglican brothers, killed during the 2003 rebellion in Kiribati, are also remembered in our lectionary every year. You might wonder what their lives of witness have to do with Jesus’ command to his followers to travel without any burdens, and to stay, teach and heal where they are listened to and welcomed, but to turn away, shaking the dust off their feet, where they are spurned?
Look at the picture on your service sheet. The three Brothers – there are Sisters too- take nothing with them. True, they do have a small bag over one shoulder, but Jesus’ injunction not to carry a bag may refer more to a food bag which observant Jews carried to ensure they ate only correct things, rather than the little purse we see in the picture for sweat-rag and water bottle. The Brothers accept hospitality from all who offer, and give hospitality of the mind if not the hearth to all who wish to hear, listening without pre-judging. Their way is not to demand hosts or guests take heed, but rather to be with, to wait with, and to share with those who will receive them. They know, how can they not, that speaking for love and justice, honour and fairness, amid the socio-political problems of the western Pacific can be dangerous: but they commit, and they stay. That is why they have something to do with the Gospel story of the twelve being sent off without extra clothing or means of survival, to speak to and stay with those who would listen, and turn from those who, like Ezekiel’s Israelites, block their ears
You might again say: What do the Melanesian Brothers, or the itinerant ministry of the disciples, have to do with us? Well, post-Reformation churches all stress ‘the priesthood of all believers,’ as has the post Vatican II Roman Catholic church. The collect for today said: ‘kindle in us, for we each minister the gospel, your countless gifts of grace.’ If you heard it, you may have thought, ‘Well, I don’t minister! It’s been hard enough getting myself here on this dreadfully hot day, and anyway, that’s what we pay the rent of the clergy flat for, to have a minister.’ Glad though I am that that and other expenses are paid, I beg to differ from those who reckon I’m the only minister here! True, the priest, having prepared in the long term by study and in the short term by setting time aside from yesterday evening onwards, presides at the Eucharist at which the bread and wine are for us as the Body and life-Blood of Christ, sustaining till we meet and eat again. But all here take part in that prayer, which is why standing during the Great Thanksgiving is a better expression of collective ministry and collective responsibility than sitting or kneeling. Were there none here to share that Eucharistic prayer, there would be no Eucharist, for certainly in the Protestant tradition that demands co-ministers. Co-ministers, mark you, not concelebrants, an active gaggle of priests at the altar underlining the difference between ordained and lay.
So much for co-ministers: what of the harsh ‘shake the dust off your feet?’ Far from being antagonistic, I find a certain respectful realism there, reminding me of a recent discussion with a new University lecturer, complaining that the student working on her speciality arrogantly and patronisingly ignored her lengthy advice during the dissertation proposal meeting to which she was invited. ‘Your job,’ I wrote, ‘was to offer him a rope, his job is to choose either to use it to reach the other side with a successful dissertation, or to bind his wrists together and fail. Having set out the issues, as you did, respect his choice.’ Some Christians ignore this Gospel line and insist on telling those who do not attend church, or have another faith, about God and the love of Jesus for all, whether or not such words are welcome: responding to a question, a gesture of interest, is a different matter. In insistently pushing, well-meaning people fail to practise the respectful hospitality as host or guest of the disciples, or the Melanesian brothers in a mutual exchange which respects others’ rights.
If proselytising in a crass and disrespectful manner is not the way, what should we all as ministers be doing? Let’s turn to Paul who, referring to the vision of Jesus he had on the road to Damascus, in which he learnt the things of God, recognised he could have boasted of his special knowledge. He did not do that, preferring to be assessed only by what he said and did. Again we are back at witnessing: Paul put up with a tough life of travel and privation for the sake of Christ.
All well and good, but we are not Paul, and when things go wrong, we do not usually rejoice! That’s where today’s psalm in the modern translation by Gordon Jackson comes in: ‘Show us your mercy O Lord, show us your love, we have so much to put up with: I don’t think we can take me more.’
God is merciful to all who do not know God, all who hope to, all who do, all who wait to know. As we each minister, witnessing to the journey of hope and love Christ offers and respectfully interacting with and caring for others, let us know that God embraces our frailty and our hopes, our doubts and our very being. Travelling light like Melanesian Brothers and disciples, untrammelled with luggage and free of past baggage which has been forgiven, let us make the journey for the love of God.
Revd Dr Elizabeth Koepping
Heidelberg July 5th 2015