Materials for Worship on 18th June

Nerys writes:  Jesus made it all look so easy, swanning around the cities and villages of Galilee, teaching,  evangelising, curing every disease and every sickness, casting out demons and even raising the dead. But as he sends out his followers to do the same in today’s Gospel passage, Matthew 9.35-10.23,   he makes it clear that it won’t be as straight-forward for them. They are to  be welcomed by some and rejected by others, flogged in the synagogues and dragged before governors and kings.   This was probably the experience of the community for which Matthew’s Gospel was originally written. It was certainly  the fate of  the apostles, including St Paul who talks in today’s epistle, Romans 5.1-8, of boasting in his suffering. But what about us? What do these  instructions tell us about our role in the continuing mission of the church here in Scotland today?

Some would say that we have in this passage a blueprint, a template, a manual for mission, but I prefer to see it as a chart of the waters we venture into when we take the good news of God’s kingdom out to our local community. It warns us of the hazards we will need to navigate, and  points out the safe havens which will provide us with sustenance and support. The exact route isn’t  drawn for us. We are called to go with God’s flow, blown by the winds of God’s Spirit.  We are told to travel light, trusting that God will resource and equip us, to be ready to accept the kindness of others, to expect difficulties along the way, knowing that sometimes we will fail but that we will never be alone on our voyage.

The twelve disciples would have had little idea as they set off that day where their mission would take them and what they would encounter along the way.  They would, however,  have had a strong sense of being sent. The instigation comes from Jesus who was literally ‘moved in his guts’ as he looked at the crowds that were following him. He is stirred by the great spiritual need of his people. He is aware that they are harassed and helpless like an abandoned flock of sheep, unaware that their true shepherd is at hand. He sees them as a field full of golden wheat with only a few workers to help the farmer to bring in the harvest. And he urges his disciples to pray for people to join in with what God is already doing. As they obey, they hear him summoning them to him so that he can give them what they need to do God’s work of healing and restoration.

Next to nothing is known about most of the twelve listed by Matthew. They were a motley crew of ordinary, imperfect people drawn into relationship with Jesus. They knew and trusted him and because of that they were  ready to take up the challenge he was setting before them.

During this last week I’ve been praying with this painting of the apostles by a Filipino artist, Edguardo de Guzman  I wonder what strikes you about it.

Its composition is very different from traditional images of the twelve where they are usually arranged in a row, often at the Last Supper. Here they are clustered together as almost one body with many hands, most stretched out in worship or in readiness to serve.

The shades the artist has used are from different parts of the colour spectrum but they all work in harmony with one another. The shapes and segments fit together perfectly too, like a jigsaw, with no gaps.

The disciples’  eyes are closed in prayer but their faces are turned towards the almost imperceptible figure of Jesus in the centre as they accept his call,  listen to his instructions, receive his authority.  There are no  feet to be seen but for me there is a sense of movement in the picture,  conveying perhaps a final drawing together in communion before the sending out.

There is space at the front of the painting for the viewer to step into the assembly. I find that as I do this with my imagination, the flat picture becomes three dimensional and I become aware of details that I hadn’t noticed before. I sense the presence of Judas with his hands clasped tight, a reminder of the opposition to the Gospel within and without, and I notice that Jesus is looking straight ahead, aware perhaps of the difficult path that he and his disciples are called to tread.

The thought of doing mission is no doubt daunting but Jesus makes it clear to the twelve that it his flock, it is the Lord’s harvest. We don’t do God’s work in our own power. We are not called because we are strong or good or clever but because, like Paul, we’re aware of our weakness and of our dependence on the grace of God.  We  hear the call because we are ready to welcome Christ into our lives and to be transformed by the  power of God’s Spirit. When we have a loving, personal relationship with Christ, we experience that peace with God which Paul talks about. With God’s Spirit of love poured into our hearts,  we are able to achieve much more than we ever imagined we could.

This week, I invite you to take some time to look with compassion at your own household. your workplace or your circle of friends. As you do so,  ask God to show you how you can get alongside someone so that they can experience Christ through what you say or do or who you are. 

Look also with compassion  at your local community asking God to show you ways that we as a church can get among our neighbours,  to give and accept hospitality and work together with them to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in our midst.

Today marks the beginning of Refugee Week. As you pray for displaced people all over the world, pray also for more opportunities for our church and others to join in with what God is doing for and through  the  New Scots, refugees and asylum seekers who have settled among us.