The Lord Jesus appointed seventy-two disciples whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the labourers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out labourers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the labourer deserves payment. Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.’”
Thank you for inviting me. I remember a lovely ordination at which I preached here just over four years ago, and remember what a lovely bunch you were – the car engine is running in case this is no longer true. Seriously, it’s a great pleasure to be back here, and I bring you greetings and prayers from St Stephen’s House in Oxford as we celebrate our life together in this wonderful patronal mass. And I beg you forgiveness because, like so many at this time, I am suffering from a certain tenderness on the throat region which was made worse by a particularly incompetent refereeing performance which I witnessed at the football yesterday, and which occasioned a robust outpouring of the spirit.
A number of years ago – more than I can confess – I was a curate, in a town in Yorkshire. For a Lancastrian such as me, this was a problem, and I questioned Gods purposes in sending me to such a place. How had I incurred his displeasure? (My sister told me it was ‘Missionary work in the Far East).Well, there were blessings too, one of which was the family who lived just across the road, and with whom we are still the very best of friends. Part of the reason was the fact that they had children who were the same age as our children, and they all naturally teamed up, as children do. Our elder daughter Rebecca is still very good friends with their eldest, Jo, even now, with both of them in their mid-twenties. The reason I’m telling you all this is because at the age of about 8, Jo made her career intentions plain. She was going to work, and work, and work, and she was going to become a doctor. Well, this summer, sixteen years later, I’m pleased to tell you that she became Doctor Jo, and she too will start her working life in Yorkshire, so please pray for her.
There is something wonderfully pleasing about doctors. they are a reassuring presence, a sign of God’s continued love and care, and a source of great pastoral Wisdom. I asked Doctor Jo whether they received lessons in bedside manner. In classic Yorkshire fashion she replied ‘I just tell them to MAN UP.’ (Why is it always men? Are we the only ones who whinge when we’re ill? I think not.) By the way, is there a doctor in the house? Well done if you are. Fantastic.
(If not) well, never mind – remember that you have a doctor in heaven. Of course, you know well where this is heading. Tonight we celebrate another doctor – our patron, our great friend in heaven, St Luke. Not just a doctor, either – an author, a writer and recorder of two of the most widely read books on the planet – his account of the life of Jesus – which we heard a bit of tonight – and the other one – that incredible account of the miraculous growth of the church after the decent of the Holy Spirit – the thrill-a-minute, rich, fast moving and astonishing story which we know as the Acts of the Apostles. Luke records the whole thing, from before the birth of Jesus through to the arrival and preaching of the Apostle Paul in Rome.
Luke tells it all. Not because he wanted to write a blockbusting best seller (although he did) but for an entirely different reason. And in tonight’s gospel we learn why.
What Luke experienced about the risen Jesus, and heard from his friends, and wrote down so carefully, was for a reason. Jesus appoints seventy two people to go out, in pairs, to tell people what’s happening, to tell people who he is, to take his peace and share it with them, and to cure those who were sick, reminding them – and us – that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
I love the fact that Luke – who must have known how hard it was to heal people – just throws in that line about healing the sick. Just go and do it. Do it in my name, says Jesus. Do it through me, with me, in me. And through it people will know that the Kingdom of God is here. And that sums up what Luke is doing in writing the story down. He knew that those words were some of the most important that could ever be spoken – The Kingdom of God is at hand. Luke wrote it down so that these words would reach people who would be around centuries later – people like us, tonight, reminding us that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Our friend in heaven, our Dr Luke, is also our witness. Thanks to Luke, we know that the Kingdom of God is at hand, available, here and now, tonight.
And tonight we do what Jesus asks. Bread, Wine, broken, poured, body, blood, remembering, celebrating, growing, healing, loving, giving. It’s grace and gratitude, grace and gratitude. It’s what this wonderful church is for, so that we can grow in grace, love and faith, so that we can say thank you, live in joy, in peace. And coming here is like a real shot in the arm, because here God pours on us the things we need to live for others, live for Him.
Jesus appoints seventy two people to go out, in pairs, to tell people what’s happening, to tell people who he is, to take his peace and share it with them, and to cure those who were sick, reminding them, or telling them for the first time, that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Tonight, those people – those (72), 50,100 people, are us. Tonight we obey one command – to do this in memory of him. Let’s resolve, tonight, to obey some more of Jesus’ commands: tell people who Jesus is, tell people what’s happening, take his precious peace to them (because heaven knows, we could all do with some of that), be ministers of his healing, and tell them what our dear friend Luke longs for them to hear and understand: that the Kingdom of God – is very much at hand.
May you be richly blessed, encouraged, healed, restored, and royally fed tonight in this Mass. May you receive from our Lord grace upon grace, to give you everything you need to be who God wants you to be. And may he give you the confidence tonight, as you approach him at the altar, to ask him again what he wants from you. How am I telling people about Jesus? How am I making Him known? How am I telling other people who don’t know about him what’s happening, and making his peace known among your neighbours, and being agents of his healing and reconciliation? Above all, how am I living my life? Am I living as someone for whom the promises of the Kingdom of God are here and now, tonight, and not just something we point to after we have died? Dear brothers and sisters, I am going to finish by saying the most vital and important words that I have in me to say to you, or indeed to anyone. The Kingdom of God – is at hand.
Preached at the Patronal. Festival Mass for the Parish of S Luke, Kingstanding, Birmingham on 20th October 2013