(Sermon written on the day we remember Jo Cox MP.)
The news this weekend has been difficult to watch – how can we can best respond, best offer support, best understand what we can do?
But in today’s Gospel the disciples are sent out and the whole dynamic of the passage is a sending to heal, to proclaim the Kingdom of peace. And the first thing that strikes you sitting here in this church building that we come to every week on a Sunday is that Jesus sends the disciples out.
The Gospel today is a bit of an inbetweeny place, it spans chapters 9 and 10, but it is also the meeting place of two larger narrative tectonic plates in Matthews Gospel. We are in transition from Chapters 5 to 9 to the mission focused chapters 10 and 11. In the earlier block we have the sermon on the mount and Jesus healing and working miracles, in the later block the disciples are sent out to do the same; to teach and to heal.
Matthew has a very tidy mind, it’s a well organised Gospel. There is clarity here. But for the length of this mornings Gospel reading we are in transition, moving from one place to another, from receiving and learning to giving and acting.
The very first words of todays Gospel – chapter 9 verse 35, are almost exactly the same as the words of Chapter 4 verse 23, just a few lines before the beginning of the Sermon on the mount in chapter 5. It is a beautifully crafted thing – Matthew introduces Jesus the teacher and the miracle worker, Now he sends out the disciples to do the same things.
Throughout Matthew’s Gospel there is a sense that ‘knowing the story of Jesus’ is not enough, but that we, like the disciples are called to live it. We become disciples of Jesus not because of what we know but how we live out what we learn from Jesus. And we need to be able to make mistakes, to try things and get them wrong. We only really share the Gospel when one person embodies for another person the story of Christ.
To be honest I am not set on fire by todays Gospel, by this slightly editorial neatness of moving sensibly but steadily from the teaching to the sending, it all feels a bit organised – but what is dramatic or eye catching about it is that Matthew shows Jesus saying – Go out and get on with it, you are sent to heal and to teach.
For it is true to say that Jesus is the answer, the embodiment of the truth of God, but this is a truth which runs through the whole of God’s creation. God’s love is revealed in Jesus, but then we discover it is everywhere present in creation, in our living and loving.
In the next section of Matthew’s Gospel he will explain further what he wants them to do, to travel light, to tell people the kingdom has come near. Often our concern for the status of the church tempts us to employ desperate measures to ensure that the church remains socially significant or at least on people’s radar. But the church is not called to be significant or large, it is called to be apostolic – sent out! Indeed some have suggested that it might be the case that God is unburdening the church so that we can travel light again (see Hauerwas on Matthew)
The 12 disciples reflect the later Matthean community of the church but they also reflect us and our calling. Yesterday the national atmosphere, that potent mix of grief and anger, felt febrile, disturbing and unsettling. It is, I think right that as a nation we begin to ask questions about the closeness of multi-million pound houses to the poverty of some of the residents in North Kensington. But there is an anger about injustice which avoids some of the scape-goating of particular political figures on the Left or the Right.
The Queen this weekend called the National mood ‘very sombre’ but there are signs of hope in communities across the country. In our own community Monawar Hussein was honoured with an MBE, someone who has worked tirelessly for good community relations here especially between faith groups.
It seems to me strangely co-incidental that yesterday the nation celebrated Jo Cox – across the country, (and in our own community with Pat Green down at Tescos on the Cowley Road), people remembered that we had more in common, remembering Jo Cox’s great speech in which she said of her Batley and Spen constituency:
‘What surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us’
Remember her speech supporting the Dubs amendment in which she said:
“Who can blame desperate parents for wanting to escape the horror that their families are experiencing? Children are being killed on their way to school, children as young as seven are being forcefully recruited to the frontline and one in three children have grown up knowing nothing but fear and war. Those children have been exposed to things no child should ever witness, and I know I would risk life and limb to get my two precious babies out of that hellhole.
But what can we do? And how do we understand ourselves as sent?
It’s the very small things but this week this community purchased all the stuff for the parents bedroom of a family who have escaped war in Syria. This last Tuesday I was in the Benson hall after the Syrian Foodbank at 9.30pm as they broke fast. Food never tasted so good. Later this week I am going to meet with Jon at the porch to see how we can be more involved with helping the homeless here on the Cowley road especially next winter. Alice’s work creating the tea party for those with mental health issues and Bridget’s work setting up the dementia lunch. These are all signs of a community which recognises we have more in common than divides us.
Grief and anger still feels very close, the national mood is sombre, but today in our Gospel reading, we make the transition from receiving, receiving the message of the sermon on the mount and the healing and miracles that follow, to being sent, a call to action and to a new way of living.