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The 4th Sunday After Pentecost; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

He was a young man, a pawnbroker’s apprentice in Nottingham, living in two very different worlds; Sunday a world of Methodist chapel, respectability, clean Sunday-best clothes; weekdays a world of poverty, dirt, blasphemy, drunkenness. Monday morning to Saturday night in the pawnshop he dealt with the poorest of the poor and the lowest of the low of 19th century England. Two worlds, yet only one Christ. Christ had to be brought to those pawnshop customers, but the churches, established and non-conformist, neither attracted them, nor wanted them! The English world back then was pretty well divided into two sorts of people; the righteous, and the unrighteous, and it has been said with some truthfulness that it was the righteous that did the dividing!

And so this young man began a market-place ministry, standing on a chair, proclaiming Christ to declared outcasts and sinners. Righteous people laughed and scoffed, but he went on preaching. In time he moved to the East End of London, a place of even greater poverty, misery and ignorance. He preached, was stoned, and went on preaching. He gathered some like-minded friends; before and after sermons they sang simply-worded hymns to cheery tunes played by small brass bands, and together this little band taught and brought Christ to Christ’s own poor people.

Meanwhile in Derbyshire, a delicate young girl was growing up in a very strict religious home. She was not allowed playmates, because they might make her worldly. She was not allowed to play on Sundays, because that meant damnation. She was not allowed to read books, because they might contain morally questionable material. But before she was twelve she had read through the Bible eight times, and was writing letters on temperance and what we would call social justice to the Press.

Despite her severe upbringing, she had learned the message of the Gospel as good news for the poorest and lowest. There was within her a spirit which flamed into anger at the thought of injustice or cruelty, and showed itself as pity with no thought for social conventions or restrictions. One day, as a teenager, while she was in the street, a prisoner was being taken to jail by the police, followed by a jeering crowd throwing garbage. One look at the shabby captive, and she was at his side to show that he had at least one friend, and she marched beside him, all the way to jail.

This young man and woman in time met, married, and carried on their ministry in the slums of Victorian England. He brought his gift of preaching Christ, she brought her passion for doing the work of Christ. Together they were a formidable team for Christ. Her name was Catherine Mumford, and his was William Booth, and they are mother and father of the Salvation Army, which to this day follows the footsteps of its founders into the slums of our world’s cities, bringing by word and deed Christ to those who need his good news most.

What is significant about the Salvation Army is that from the beginning it was a ministry of the laity; neither Booth, nor Mumford, nor their friends, were religious professionals. Even today, most of the visible presence of the Salvation Army is lay; strictly speaking even the professional leadership, the “officers” are lay, as they are not ordained but “commissioned”. The Salvationist you see beside the Christmas kettle in our shopping centres, or distributing the “War Cry” in pubs and coffee shops and late night eateries, or serving hot coffee and donuts to the homeless on the city streets on cold nights, or working in downtown shelters, all these are mostly lay people, not trained and paid professionals. The Salvation Army still works on the principle of visibly preaching and bringing Christ into the darkest places of our world through the work and witness of lay people.

Today’s reading from St. Luke’s Gospel speaks to the concept of the ministry of the laity, the ministry of all the baptized. In our Church and others, including some that no longer have bishops, the ordained are seen as successors to the apostles, the group whom Jesus ordained and the Holy Spirit empowered to be the first clergy of the new Church. In our Church and others this succession is expressed in ordination by the laying-on of hands with prayer by someone (or several) who was also ordained in this way, all the way back in an unbroken chain (at least in principle) to the apostles. (Certainly I, and every Anglican cleric in Canada, could, using official church records, trace their ordination back to at least 7th century England, and likely further back than that in Europe.)

But today’s Gospel, telling of the sending out by Jesus of seventy, commissioned to preach and heal, clearly excludes the apostles. Listen closely to the first sentence:

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. (Luke 10:1)

Jesus appointed seventy others, from outside the circle of the apostles, to proclaim the coming Kingdom, and to heal. In today’s language, Jesus sent out seventy to preach, teach, and do pastoral care. These seventy did not become part of the small group of apostles, appointed by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit to the work of what we would call ordained ministry, or sacramental ministry. The seventy were lay ministers, again using today’s language, and I’d like to suggest that they form a prototype for the ministry of all the baptized – of all those who follow Jesus.

Christians are made ministers at baptism. They take mature responsibility for that obligation at confirmation, and at every baptism at which they renew their baptismal vows, and at every Holy Eucharist. If you are baptized you are a minister. To restrict ministry to the clergy is to lose sight of that fact. It also perverts the nature of the ministry of the ordained.
What is the ministry of the ordained? Their ministry exists in order that the ministry of all the baptized can guided, nourished, and facilitated. St. Paul puts it well in his Letter to the Ephesians, when he writes of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to those who hold special office in the Church:

… his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ … (Ephesians 4:11-12)

That’s the only reason for the existence of the clergy, to equip the saints – that’s you, the baptized – to equip you for your work of ministry. Apart from the ministry of all the baptized the ministry of the clergy has no reason for existence. The ministry of the ordained is not something that exist in a vacuum; it exists as just one of many ministries of the Christian community, to empower, and instruct, and inform the ministry of the entire community.

Taking that seriously leads to a very different vision of the Church. In the not-so-distant past the assumptions were of a Church in which a kind of professional “super-priest” is in charge of comforting all the afflicted (and afflicting all the comfortable), healing all the wounded, teaching all that needed to be taught, managing all that needed to be managed, liturgizing all of the liturgy, and evangelizing the unchurched and bringing them into the fold – preferably in large numbers; with the laity confined to providing money and the odd bit of moral support. That, folks, was (and still is) a prescription for clergy burn-out!

We are moving towards a new vision, we’re not quite there yet in my opinion, of a church in which all do pastoral care of one another, visiting those who are sick and alone and on the margin – but most of all, of each other. It is a church in which all are evangelists – sharing in word and in deed the Good News of Jesus Christ which has transformed their lives and willing to help others transform theirs. It is a church that grows, because its members are so obviously empowered and renewed by their faith, that others, when invited to come, are eager to do so. It is a church in which Jesus Christ makes a difference in the lives of members, a difference so visible that others want it for themselves.

It is this last part, that is the most exciting part of this vision of the Church. “Evangelism” has a bad name among Anglicans – with connotations of pushiness and annoying demands for money – but it only means sharing, in deed and in word (for me, that order is important), the Good News of Jesus. If your Christian faith really transforms your life, you have a great ability to convert others. Serious Christians are made by other serious Christians. Let me illustrate:

The great preacher, Phillips Brooks was asked why he was a Christian. He pondered for a while, and said, “I think I am a Christian because of my aunt who lives in Teaneck, New Jersey.

Canon Thomas Tallis said, “A Christian is someone who knows one.”

Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “If I have faith it is because I have met faith; I have seen it in action. And this faith is never a vague, pie-in-the-sky kind of thing but made real in a person of faith.”

And if I review my journey, I am serious about my faith because Terry Lindon, a Holy Cross Order Roman Catholic priest, reached out to me in a time of difficulty, and brought Christ to me.

Finally, you might want to note, that research into church growth has shown that about 80% of people who joined a church did so because someone who was already a member asked them to come and worship with them!

Jesus sent out seventy. On this Summer Sunday, that’s not far from our total attendance. When those seventy came back, they could not believe the miracles they had accomplished, and because of their work Jesus said that he had, “watched Satan fall from heaven.”

I am not Jesus, only his unworthy servant. However, I challenge you to go, to share the Good News of Jesus that brought you here this morning. Share in deed and word the Gospel. You too will be surprised what that can accomplish.

Copyright ©2019 by Gerry Mueller