In it for the long haul

Sermon Date: 
4 Jul 2010
Bible Base: 
Gal 6:7-16 and Luke 10: 1-11;16-20

David Jeans

For lovers of British sport there have been two great disappointments this week. First was the dismal performance of the England football team in the World Cup; the second was Andy Murray’s semi-final defeat at Wimbledon. Everyone thinks that English football needs radical change as the skill levels are just not high enough. Every other country seems to have more technically gifted players than we do. (Maybe because we have 2,500 UEFA qualified coaches while Germany has 35,000). We have not sown in the area of skills – so we have not seen the reward at the top level.
Some seem to think that Andy Murray needs to have radical change as well. But Murray has sown in the area of skills and fitness and strength. On Friday night Tim Henman and John McEnroe were asked to give Andy Murray ten words of advice – they both said ‘Carry on with what you are doing’. They know he is doing the right things and playing well enough to win a Grand Slam at some point. A secular example of Galatians 6:9 ‘Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up’.
Last week I was feeling weary on both Tuesday afternoon and Thursday afternoon. Both days I fell asleep in the afternoon and found it hard to get motivated to do anything constructive. Both days I had signed up to be in church between 5.00 and 6.00 so that the church could be open for prayer. There was that little part of me saying ‘why go, there won’t be anyone there’...Or maybe that wasn’t a little part of me at all.
Anyway, on both occasions I summoned up the energy to go – and decided to go a bit early because I needed to be at home a bit earlier than 6. On Tuesday I found a couple looking at the church and trying to see if it was open. I let them in, we got talking, and it turned out that they had just moved to Deepcar, and were thinking about having their baby baptised. They had found our church on the website (which they thought was really good), and had come along to have a look at the church.
On Thursday I had taken some commentaries on Luke to look at what they had to say about today’s Gospel reading. I had looked at a couple of them, and was just beginning to .look at the third, when someone came in in some distress and needing to talk.
God spoke to me through those people and then through the other reading from Galatians this morning:-
‘A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.’  
Hilda spoke last week about the fruit of the Spirit as opposed to the works of the sinful nature. The fruits of the Spirit include patience and faithfulness. In the similar list in 2 Peter 1, Peter speaks about perseverance.
Sometimes I think we follow our sinful nature in wanting instant results. The Holy Spirit of God dwelling in us produces patience, faithfulness and perseverance – because of the nature of God described so often in the Old Testament as gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (eg Psalm 145:8, Ex 34:6). I love that word ‘steadfast’. It comes from an Old English word for standing firm. The love of God stands firm, it is unwavering. God is with us for the long haul; he is not discouraged by apparent lack of results. We need to be in for the long haul in offering the good news to others. We need to ask God to make us steadfast, not becoming weary in doing what is right. For sometimes sowing to please the Spirit is simply being obedient to what God is calling us to do – and one thing I believe God is calling us to do is to have the church open for our own prayers and for the prayers of others. The harvest may be slow in coming but it will come.
Let’s look now at our Gospel reading – the sending out of the seventy two. There is so much that could be said about this passage.
On a weekend of ordinations of deacons in the Cathedral and Hilda being on retreat before being ordained priest on Tuesday, I am interested in Jesus sending out the 72 when in the previous chapter he had sent out the twelve. Our version says 72 others – that is not the twelve disciples. Perhaps for us this is a reminder that the task of proclaiming the gospel is not just for the ordained but is for all God’s people.
In his instructions Jesus talks about the harvest field; it is interesting what he says to his listeners. The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; so ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field. I can just hear the listeners at that point – Oh yes, we need more people to go out and spread the message, and I can just think of someone else who ought to hear that call. But in the next breath Jesus says to them – Go! Be the answer to your own prayers. We pray that the church can be open for prayer – but be prepared for God to answer that prayer by calling you!
When I was working with Church Army, we talked a lot about verse 6 and the man/ person of peace; the person in our mission field who is not yet in the kingdom, but in whom God is at work, and who will be our bridge to others in the community. Mike Breen used this principle in Brixton setting up what he called Bridge Groups, centred around a person of peace who provided a connection between the church and the community. (Interestingly, for him this began with youth work where he realised that things would be much better if they could reach the young people who were the natural leaders of their groups) . As we seek to share the gospel with our community, we need to pray that God will show us who are the people of peace – the people who are showing some interest in the things of God and who have contacts with others.
At the start of this sermon, I quoted Gal 6:9 – ‘Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up’. That is about patience, perseverance, steadfastness.
 But the Gospel reading reminds us that also we need great discernment to see where there is response and where there is not. In verse 5, where there is a welcome Jesus says stay there – do not go around from house to house. Be there for the long haul. But where there is no welcome, Jesus says that very hard saying – wipe the dust off your feet and go somewhere else.
These readings are telling us to be in things for the long haul – do not become weary in doing good. Because you will reap a harvest. But there is a condition about that. Are you working in the same part of the field that the Lord of the harvest is working in? If you are, then there will be response – but it may take time.
Mission has often been described as joining in with what God is doing. May God open our eyes to what He is doing, and may God by His Spirit give us patience and steadfast love for the long haul, so that we do not grow weary in following his lead.