Once again, the Lectionary speaks uncannily into a very present situation. Luke 10, verse 1: ‘After this, the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.’
It is such a pleasure to be able to finally welcome David and Vickie formally into their new ministries among us. They come to us as a pair, sent by God, just as Jesus sent out those seventy disciples in pairs.
What is it about pairs? What is the significance of Jesus sending out his disciples like that – two by two. not one by one? I find my mind taken right back to God’s assessment of Adam’s circumstances at the beginning of Genesis. Then, he said “it is not good for the man to be alone”.
I know that my own Clare would agree wholeheartedly with that statement. We are closing in fast on our 30th wedding anniversary…and I have no doubt that she often says to herself “It is not good for that man to be alone”! Left to my own devices, I would undoubtedly eat chocolate for breakfast, and chips for dinner every day. My clothes would never be ironed, and I would be late for every meeting! Clare – as the opposite side to my ‘pair’ – provides balance. She helps with the tasks I need help with. She reminds me of what I need to do and where I need to be. She nudges me towards good choices about food…never nags, just nudges!
The fact is that when Jesus calls us, he calls us into a series of relationships – first with God, and then with one another. We are called out of ourselves, out of our mistaken belief that we don’t need anyone else to help us function.
It is of course a complete fallacy to imagine that we can live our lives in total isolation. Some of us dream of doing so…I confess that there are very busy days when I dream of running off to live in a wooden cabin somewhere! But even then, in order to get to such a cabin, I would need to drive on a road built by others, in a car made by others, to build my cabin from tools manufactured by others. If I wanted even the most basic of amenities – running water or electricity – they would be supplied by others. If I became sick, I would need others to care for me. No, it is all but impossible for any of us to function for any length of time without the companionship of others along the way.
This has always been the case. Adam was given Eve – both created in the image of God who is himself defined by the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Noah had his family. Abraham had Sarah. Moses had Aaron. Elijah had Elisha. Even Jesus drew companions and friends around him – not just disciples to be taught, but friends whom he could love and who he could lean on.
So Vickie and David come to us, as newly minted curates, already with that inbuilt support-structure of a family life, and their own marriage to sustain them. Our task, as their new church family, is to add to that support structure. Our task is to help them grow towards, and then into, the ordained ministries to which the church believes they have been called. And their task is to offer themselves to us – offering the gifts and talents God has built into them for the good of this community.
St Paul, writing to the Galatians in our second reading, reminds us of what the character of a Christian community should be like. To the Galatians, he says “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ”. It’s worth just pausing for a moment and thinking about that instruction. Paul tells us that to fulfil the law of Christ, the sovereign instructions of our Master and Lord, we should ‘bear each other’s burdens’.
Here then is a call out of our comfort, and into the messiness of all human life. We are to be there for each other – each supporting the whole body of Christ as best as we can, with the talents and abilities we have. For some, that means bearing the burden of leadership – such as sitting on the PCC and helping to steer the whole community into the future. For others it is the burden of caring for our buildings to be able to better serve the whole town into which we are called. For others, it is bearing the burden of visiting the sick and the lonely – those whose physical circumstances deprive them of the fellowship and companionship that every human being needs.
We do these tasks together – bearing each other’s burdens. None of us can do all the tasks that are required. I frequently find, for example, that bearing the burden of leadership leaves me precious little time for bearing the burden of someone else’s loneliness or illness. So I rely on our Pastoral Care team for that. David and Vickie will find too that there simply isn’t time to do all the things one would like to do in ministry.
But that’s ok. None of us are called to do the whole work of the people of God. If that were so, what would be the point of being the body of Christ? But each of us, ordained or licensed, lay person or Reader, we are all called to play our part…to be a hand, or a foot, or an eye, or an ear, of the body of Christ. To quote again from St Paul, writing to the Galatians: “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”
Today, we joyfully celebrate the arrival of new ministers into our midst. We give thanks that they have heard and responded to God’s call on their lives – the call to enter even more deeply into the loving service into which God calls us all. Their offering of themselves can be an inspiration to each one of us. Each of us is called too…out of our individualism, and into community. What are the ways in which each of us could respond?
This is not just a calling to do more in the immediate community of the church – though more burden sharing would be greatly appreciated! It is also a calling to bear the burdens of our neighbours – those we encounter in our workplaces and social clubs, in the post office queue and the foodbank. There are a million and more ways in which our community could become more like the Kingdom of God, if the people of God would roll up their sleeves and live out the calling of God.
If there is anyone here today who would like to think through what such a call might mean for them, I encourage you to get in touch. Come and chat with me, or indeed with David, Vickie, Damon, Sandra, Mike and Bishop John – and we would be glad to think and pray with you about God’s call for your life.
In the meantime, Vickie and David, Jake and Freddie too – welcome! It is good to have you with us.