Third Sunday after Trinity 7th July 2019
Sermon preached at St. Paul’s Athens by the Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan.
There is a well-known idiom, ‘you reap what you sow’. It will be known by almost everyone, but not everyone knows that it comes from the pen of St. Paul. Not only is it important to Paul, he even mentions that he has written it in his own hand – and that it is in large letters! It is thought that St. Paul had some type of eye sight problems, so his hand writing would betray this.
A slight digression! Part of our holiday was on the island of Syros. In Hermoupoli we visited the Church of the Dormition; a rather fine church. One of the elderly priests happened to be greeting visitors and he pointed us to a picture on the wall of the narthex. Many of the icons and church furnishings in this church were brought by people expelled from Pontus, and each Greek tried to bring something with them from their churches. Some of the icons were sent to for inspection to Athens to be examined by experts.
One of the icons was, not surprisingly, of the Dormition of the Panaghia. Some cleaning work was done, and something rather remarkable was discovered. The icon was signed. The signature was that of Dominikos Theotokopoulos an artist from Crete who went to live and work in Spain, and is better known to us as El Greco. His art is notable for the elongated and sometimes distorted human figures, possibly caused by a stigma, a fault in his sight.
So, the ‘boss eyed’ St. Paul writes in large letters with his own hand, ‘you reap what you sow.’ It is a firm lesson for life, and certainly a firm lesson for the life of the church and church members – it is a lesson in gospel sharing and what we call evangelization. You reap what you sow. If a church sows sparsely it will reap sparsely, if a church sows generously it will reap generously.
Today’s gospel is an episode related only in St. Luke’s gospel. It is one of those episodes where the reader is left curious and wanting to know more. We always assume that our Lord was supported in his ministry by 12 disciples. Today we are told in the gospel of another 70 people sent out as apostles to prepare towns and places for the arrival of Jesus.
It would be wonderful to know what selection process took place. Would it be as thorough as the selection processes for ordination in the Church of England? How did Jesus choose these seventy – it would have been a risk, I’m sure, but then Jesus was not ‘risk averse’ as many of our leaders are in the church nowadays.
What training were the seventy given – books to read, essays to write, journals to keep, reflections on pastoral situations to write up, placements with ‘another type of Jesus different to the one you have been brought up with’ to broaden your horizons and experience? I think not.
However there is a mission statement a person specification and a job description. The mission statement is this – we are committed to sharing good news with people. We are recruiting people who can share in this challenging work.
The person specification is this – the suitable candidates will be courageous, humble, committed, and generous of time, energy and personality, and willing to rejoice in successes and live with failures.
The job description is this – be a sharer of peace, be hospitable, heal the sick, talk about the Kingdom, get folks ready for Jesus’s presence among them.
So the seventy successful candidates are sent out, and we are told that they return rejoicing in the power of the name of Jesus, having seen many wonderful things happening in his name.
Not quite a reflection on the life of most congregations, and yet why should it not be reflected in some ways in all congregations. Remember the encouragement of St. Paul to sow generously so that we might reap generously. Most of us, if not all of us, can do this. We can do it by way we treat each other, and the way we treat the visitor and stranger; we can do it by our concerns for society and how we respond to these concerns; we can do it by how we use what little wealth we have (we may have little, but you don’t need to travel too far in Athens to see what real need is); by how we fund the everyday life and witness of St. Paul’s; we can do it by engaging in so far as we can with the human issues that are impacting on God’s creation.
As we reflect on these words of St. Paul, and consider the fruitful ministry of the seventy, we would do well, each of us, to consider what type of ministry Jesus could appoint us to do. How do you think you can be someone who ‘goes ahead’ and prepares people to know the presence of Christ in their midst. Some might even consider a formal ministry, like that of a Reader. Last week your preacher was a Reader, Sherry Angelis. Some might feel the desire to explore the possibility of ordination. Only last week Julia Bradshaw was ordained deacon in St. Thomas’s Anglican Church in Crete. Deacon Chris preached at this ordination. All over the dioceses of the Church of England last weekend and this weekend our bishops will be ordaining men and women as deacons and priests in the church of God. For them and for their parishes and communities I am sure there is the sort of rejoicing experienced by the seventy as they returned from their apostolic work.
A church community that sows generously will reap generosity, and the riches we receive will not be shown as lots of euros in the bank account, but rather it will be this – the kingdom of God has come near.