Sermon for Sunday, July 3, 2016

Dr. Simon Fricker

 

We are God’s instruments of peace and healing to a broken and torn world

 

How many of you know that old Sunday school hymn:

Tell me the stories of Jesus I love to hear;

Things I would ask Him to tell me If He were here:

Scenes by the wayside, Tales of the sea,

Stories of Jesus, Tell them to me.

 

As a child I imagined Jesus and his disciples walking through Galilee. I have this vision of rolling green hills leading down to the calm Sea of Galilee with little fishing boats bobbing on the water. An image of sheep being led by shepherds on the hillside, and of farmers sowing seed. An oil painting of a rural idyll.

Having had the privilege of going to Galilee on the St Stephen’s Israel pilgrimage I have seen the green hills leading down to the Sea of Galilee. Yet the fact is that Israel in Jesus time was not a rural idyll.

Israel was a torn and broken country. Ruled and governed by Rome, enforced by an occupying army. A country disillusioned with puppet leaders on the thrones of local kingdoms. Kings who were more concerned about preserving their own position of privilege than looking after the people they were supposed to rule over. Religious teachers who were more concerned with interpreting obscure details of a complex religious law than looking after the poor, sick and homeless. Religious leaders who were so concerned to maintain the status quo and the fragile peace with Rome, so afraid of unrest and violent uprising and acts of terror, that they could no longer hear the word of God.

This was the land into which Jesus sent seventy missionaries, like lambs into the midst of wolves we are told, into a land in need of peace, a land in need of healing.

There is a great sense of urgency. There is never much time for standing still in the gospel narratives. Last week we heard that Jesus didn’t have anywhere to rest his head, that His is a restless ministry. The comparison with laborers going out to take in the harvest suggests that the disciples need to get out there and get the job done. Harvest time is a very busy time. There is a short window of opportunity to get in the crops while they are ripe but before they spoil or the bad weather gets in the way. The work done in that short period of time can determine success or failure for the farmer. There is no time for delay, but there is time for prayer. We are told in the gospel that Jesus prayed with them “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers.”

The seventy are then given very strict instructions. Travel light, don’t stop for idle chit chat, accept hospitality when you receive it and be grateful for what you are given, and if people don’t want to listen don’t waste time but move on.

And they are given two tasks.

The first thing they have to do when they enter a house is to say “Peace to this house.” The peace they offer is not a simple courtesy. This is God’s peace. A peace that the world cannot give. A peace that is beyond human and worldly understanding. There are no strings attached. The disciples don’t have a questionnaire for the home owner before they enter, they don’t sum up the worth of the household, financial or moral. As soon as the door is opened to them they immediately offer the gift of peace, a salvation gift. An unconditional gift from God.

The second task is to heal the sick. Healing is a visible sign of compassion. But in this case it is not simply human compassion for another person, it is God’s compassion. The healing the disciples offer is a visible sign of God’s love because the healing comes with the message, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” The deed is a concrete witness to the holy and divine gift of love and peace. And the seventy were amazed and what they could achieve when they did it in Jesus name

We only have to take a look at events in our lives and world today to know that we and the world are in great need of that same holy and divine gift of love, healing and peace. The recent images of the suicide bombings at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, and the shooting in Orlando still fresh in our memory, are a sharp reminder of how dramatically violence can strike in the modern world. We continue to hear of civilians being bombed in Syria, murders in Israel and Palestine, desperate migrants drowning in the Mediterranean fleeing violence in an attempt to find a better life. Meanwhile there is distrust and disillusionment with politics and politicians in North America and Europe. And locally you just have to drive into Boston or Cambridge to see people with hand written posters proclaiming their needs, homelessness, poverty, no jobs, families to support. Shop in the large food stores in Westborough and see the containers for the food bank asking for donations for local people, or our little red wagon at the back of our church.

All these things are real and tough reminders that we need peace and healing in our own torn and broken world. Things are not so different now as they were when Jesus sent out the seventy missionaries.

When you go into Fay hall for coffee you will see on the table stickers like this (SHOW STICKER) with the message “Sow a seed.” This is a message from the Community Harvest Project which is based in Brigham Hill Farm in Grafton. The Community Harvest Project is a non-profit organization which relies on volunteers to plant, grow and harvest produce which supplies the Worcester County Food Bank.  Over one hundred thousand Worcester County residents, 12% of our neighbors, receive food assistance. This project provides over a million servings of fresh produce to local families.

A short while ago a group of men from St. Stephen’s went out to the Grafton farm for a time of fellowship. Like the seventy who went out in pairs we worked as a team. One member of the team went ahead and marked out where the plants were to be planted. Another member of the team made holes for the plants with an implement that bored holes in the ground. Others came on behind and planted the young seedlings. And then there was clean up.

Together we planted nearly three hundred butternut squash plants which will provide one thousand seven hundred (1,700) servings. And like the seventy we prayed before and after work. We were making our own small contribution to acting out God’s love in the world. We may not have cast out demons but the Holy Spirit was moving among us that day as we worked. For a short time we were messengers proclaiming the kingdom of God, declaring God’s gift of peace and healing to a broken world.

This is just one example of the many things that you in this church do to bring healing to our broken world.

Many of you work and contribute to our Fathers Table to bring meals to those in need.

You make contributions to the food bank from the little red wagon and the St. Joseph’s feast.

Send valentines care packages to students living away from home and to the home bound.

The yarn club knits blankets for those who need warmth.

Some work on diocesan committees with a wider reach into the community and wider world

The peace and justice ministry send care packages to veterans

The Pastoral care team take God’s peace to those who are in nursing homes or home bound

And yet there is still an urgent need. Jesus didn’t send out the twelve disciples, he sent out a larger group of seventy missionaries. The work wasn’t restricted to the inner circle. Like the seventy we are all called to the work of bringing God’s peace and healing to a torn and broken world. We are all called to proclaim that “The kingdom of God has come near.”

Jesus sent the seventy out with a prayer so I would like to end with a prayer, as we go out in the Lord’s name.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let us sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

Amen.