When one picks up a novel in a shop or the Library and reads the story you often find yourself wondering how this will end. Who did it and so on? The temptation is always to turn to the last page in order to find out.
But the gospels are not like that. The first hearers or readers of the gospel knew how the story would end. Indeed the church existed long before the first gospel ever appeared. There’s a hint of this in our gospel passage for today where a list of the disciples is given including Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.
So why were the gospels written at all? I think the answer to that is also given in today’s passage. The purpose of the gospel is to answer a threefold question being asked by the Church then and by the Church today. That threefold question is this:
Who are we? Are we being sent and if so where? And what do we do when we get there?
Well who are we? Here the answer is clear. We are those whom God has called. That is to say we are a holy people-those who are called to be saints.
The first bunch listed here were not particularly impressive people but then nor are we. One is a tax collector, another will betray Jesus and another will deny him-that’s three out of twelve. But they are witnesses to Jesus and so are we.
We are discipleship movement called to mission. So what would we be doing if we were able to meet as usual. Although it is quite true to say that we gather together to meet our friends, enjoy a bit of social solidarity, sing the hymns and pray for others as well as ourselves there’s a bit more to say.
We come together to fortify ourselves. To check up on those things which really matter and be strengthened in those beliefs that are at the heart of the faith.
The second question: are we being sent? Yes we are. A disciple is one who is a follower but an apostle is one who is sent. These are words from the original Greek. In the story of the Jesus movement disciples become apostles-they are sent.
A phrase from the creed that may not speak to your hearts is nevertheless relevant here. We believe in a holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
Holy because called by God.
Catholic because we are a pretty mixed bunch-or we should be if we take God’s mission seriously.
Apostolic because we are a group of disciples who are sent on mission.
And where are they sent? Well in the passage Jesus says to them: don’t go to the Gentiles. Samaritan towns! Don’t go there. Now that reads oddly to us because let’s face it we are gentiles and so is practically everyone with whom we come into contact. So how do we find a message for ourselves here because believe you me there is one.
Remember Palestine then was a mixed community just as it is today-gentiles and Jews together. Jesus and his disciples are Jews –the house of Israel. So Jesus’ instruction is clear: go to the people you know and the ones who need to hear the message of the Kingdom and are capable of hearing it. –the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
So for us I would interpret the message like this. Start where you are. We must fulfil God’s mission in the place where we are now. We are for God’s kingdom but God’s kingdom in Sutton Park.
And that I am quite sure is where you are and what you are doing.
So we are being sent but what do we say and do when we reach the place to which we are sent.
Jesus instructions are clear: preach, declare that the kingdom of God is at hand, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and cast out demons. That’s quite a commission but it is given to them all even to Judas who later betrayed him. We are given no clear idea at least in this gospel as to how they get on. Let us simply assume that guided by the spirit they have an impact.
What are we to make of this? And in particular could we cast out demons and raise the dead. There are many demons at work in our society and in the hearts of our neighbours. But as Christians we believe that love is stronger than hate and that kindness is better than cruelty. We can do our bit by a smile here; and a kind word there and random acts of kindness here there and everywhere to cast the demons out and we know there are many. In this way we bring in the kingdom here there and everywhere.
But what about raising the dead? Well there are many ways in which people can lose their hold on the real renewed life that is at the heart of the gospel promise. People can become strangers to one another, dead in their sins. Our mission as Jesus disciples is to summon people out of their tombs to the renewed life that is at the heart of the gospel vision.
As for those who sleep the sleep of the death of the body our faith in the raising of Jesus declares our confidence in a world restored and a place in it for those who wait to pass from death to life.
For myself I would only say this. Over the years I have taken many funerals and I still continue to lead them. When I started out I felt that that my job was to give comfort and mange grief but nowadays my emphasis is a little different. Following Jesus, as I must, I now feel that I must share the good news, give hope and encouragement and in effect raise the dead by emphasising the Christ’s victory over death and the joy we feel in the Easter faith. Sometimes that even means sharing a joke for heaven is the place where we will all be right merry together.
In our worship we meet Jesus who is with us not only in the bread and wine but also in each other. We call to mind the reality of who he is and what he has done to set the world to rights. That work of restoring the kingdom continues and now belongs to us to go forth and tell, to heal and save and to bring forward the better world that is His promise to us. That’s a wonderful promise and a wonderful charge to each and every one of us.