Sermon: DAT, Bishop’s Lodge, 12 July 2017
Gospel: Matthew 10: 1-7
Preparing to preach on today’s Gospel I thought I might have stumbled on my way to fame and fortune.
The latest model for creative ministry in the church.
Who needs Myers-Brings, Personality Types or the Enneagram when you can have my new book Detective Disciple Duos?
How about these for chapter headings?
The Sweeney: (Regan and Carter) – for spiritual warfare
Morse and Lewis – for the way of the prophets
Holmes and Watson – for the wisdom tradition
Sapphire and Steel – angelic help
Cagney and Lacey – for a feminist hermeneutic
Starsky and Hutch – for muscular Christianity
Nobody really knows why the apostles are listed in pairs, by Matthew, although there are, apparently, some rabbinic lists structured in the same way. The most obvious reason is the simple explanation in Mark 6:7 that Jesus sent them out two by two.
I am going to reflect on this model of mission that Jesus presents because it is so radically different to our inherited, sub-conscious images of ordained life.
I was partly struck by Jesus pairing the apostles up because now – at the end of my first academic year in post – I am determined that we should do more to support our headteachers.
They are under huge pressure and stress. One of the questions I’ve asked each of them is “What keeps you awake at night?” and the answers come immediately.
Synod discussed clergy well-being this weekend and Archbishop Justin described parish ministry as the most stressful job he has had.
It seems to me that many of the clergy I meet are as stressed as our headteachers.
When I ask them how they are they are busy, too busy or don’t have enough time. Quiet days, retreats, prayer, study, get overwhelmed by the whirlwind.
Despite almost universal acknowledgment of the death of Christendom and that we live in a mission situation; the model that most clergy, and most laity have in our heads and hearts is a vicar in ‘his’ parish. Knowing his people and his families, baptising babies and marrying the young and burying the dead. So where clergy have more than one church and parish, the model hasn’t changed, it is just diluted and the clergy stretched more thinly.
One of the things I love about the Transforming Wigan project is that it tries to look at the structures differently.
As some of you know I was in New Zealand recently. Among the people I met is a rather unusual bishop, the bishop of Wellington, Justin Duckworth, who is doing something interesting. After five years in post, over half his parishes are now growing.
For Bishop Justin residential communities, ‘apostolic communities’ are at the heart of renewal. Not spreading Christians thinly but creating centres of intense Christian living. This is mostly groups of young people, including in his own home, but also clergy and one long term residential community including several families. Justin himself is moving out of Wellington in the next few weeks to a small rural town where the congregations of five churches have recently combined into one. Far be it for me to suggest that Bishop Paul should move to … say, Hindley Green … but we could fit a good sized community in here …
Perhaps today’s gospel could challenge us to think about structural ways that we can reduce isolation and create intense communities, using vicarages such as that at St Agnes, Ullet Road to bring people to live together or even bringing clergy housing to be gathered in groups around a single church along the lines of the old Minster churches.
I’ve only ever ministered alongside others in parishes as an assistant priest and in two parishes shared a vicarage with – as it happens – the vicar and his family. It creates a different dynamic and energy in the ministry team when you live together.
The second thing I thought about when reading Matthew 10 was the support available for clergy as part of our diocesan culture.
In the secular world counsellors should not practice without supervision. In our schools we are trying to set up two new things to help build resilience and support it at difficult times:
A ‘school of prayer’ to teach techniques and methods of prayer and meditation and a pool of Spiritual Directors.
Heads deal with as much tragedy, darkness and evil as any parish priest. We need to resource them for that task if our schools are to be as distinctive as we hope.
I belong to a community of priests which has as part of its rule of life that we will all have a Spiritual Director. However, when we reviewed our observance of the rule half of the community did not currently have a director. I wonder how many of us do?
Part of the problem I think is that there is a mystique about being a Director. It doesn’t have to be an ordained person. there are no gurus. Anyone who is trying to live a serious Christian life is qualified to direct others, anyone in this room could do it, but, obviously not for someone we have another work or personal relationship with.
My final point from the Gospel returns to television. If our internal images of ministry are formed by the inherited tradition of Christendom-Christianity they are also informed by popular culture. We cannot escape being formed, and being being perceived by others who have been formed by The Vicar of Dibley, Rev and Father Ted.
Jesus, says St Matthew at the start of today’s Gospel, gave the apostles authority.
Some translations render that ‘power’ and I assumed the word would be dunamis. But in fact it is exousia. Quite simply ek – out of ousia – being. From, ek – estin, literally out of ‘I am’. Out of ‘I Am’ we have authority and power. And we know who ‘I Am’ is. Not ourselves but God.
Spiritual Directors, Schools of Prayer, living in community: you are probably thinking that Heads and clergy have enough to do already. But these are only worthwhile if they give heads permission, freedom to act.
The word exousia, occurs over and over again in the new testament, especially in 1 Corinthians where it is almost always translated not as authority, but as freedom. The freedom we have in Jesus.
Stress comes when we have no control, no freedom, no power. Jesus gives us the freedom we need.
It is only when we preach with power and authority that we will convince others and remain resilient in this task.
Of course, we are broken, sinful people, but if we only proclaim that, we are proclaiming nothing at all. ‘Wounded healer’ is a phrase first used by Carl Jung in 1951; it is not a biblical phrase.
Our weakness allows God’s power to work and be evident, but the weakness without the power is an empty vessel.
Jesus sends the apostles out in twos because he knows they need community and support for what they do. He gives them his authority because he knows they will need to preach powerfully. He never said it would be easy. But then very little that is worth doing is easy.
So, back to Detective Disciple Duos. My sermon prep last night was watching clips of Starsky and Hutch.
says Hutch to Starsky in one of them,
“I’ve been in love with ships and the sea since I was old enough to read. I was a Sea Scout when I was a kid.”
Starsky: “Hutch. You were born in Duluth, Minnesota. That’s 1000 miles from any ocean.”
Hutch: “It’s 1,500 miles.”
Starsky: “Then how did you become a Sea Scout?”
Hutch: “It wasn’t easy.”