7th Sunday after Pentecost.

Sermon Title: 7th Sunday after Pentecost
Date: 3rd July 2016
Preacher: The Reverend Jonathan Chambers
Lectionary Reading: Luke 10:1-12, 17-24
As I read this story of the sending out of the seventy for their missionary journey, it reminded me of the days when, as a chaplain I’d go into the Melbourne Assessment Prison in Spencer St, or the Dame Phyllis Frost, women’s prison at Deer Park to take services. Jesus’ words of warning felt true

“See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”

You may think that the wolves were the prisoners, but in fact no, it was the prison guards who had control of gates to let you in and out of the various units and who could make life very difficult, if they chose to. If you wanted to access a unit, you would press a buzzer to notify them you were outside the door waiting for them to let you in. They could see you via the camera, but you couldn’t see them. Often they would leave you standing there for some time; until they were ready- which could be after they had finished making a cup of tea or talking to their colleague. Consequently, I often felt very vulnerable.

4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.”

Chapel services were often conducted in multi-purpose rooms. Unlike church here when you have the security of your own space and liturgical supports. I’d carry a case with the bread, wine, chalice and pattern and orders of service. Maybe a Cd player for the music. It was often awkward trying to juggle these, particularly when endeavouring to negotiate heavy prison doors and at times I felt like an overloaded door to door salesman as I made my way to set up for church.

For many years I went twice a month to the women’s prison on Sunday afternoons. Because I could never know what was going to happen, I’d fear going and on a few occasions I cancelled altogether, because I didn’t feel up to it. But when I did go, I always came out feeling blessed, by the encounters I had with the prisoners. Honoured that I was able to travel with them in their struggles.

At other times, when not taking services at the MAP, I’d just hang out in the exercise yard, where around 150 men would sit in groups or walk the perimeter, during out of cell hours. Here I’d carry nothing, but wander up and start a conversation. I’d never quite know how I was to be received and so for most I’d simply say ‘Gidday, I’m the Chaplain, how are you travelling?’… and I’d hold my breath waiting to hear how my greeting was to be received. Some would say, “So what’s a chaplain?”!, others might say “yeah okay” and move off…. and others would be overwhelmed that somebody was genuinely interested in their well-being. For those who had recently been detained, they were often worried about their family, their home and whether it was secure, maybe if their pets were okay or maybe they were consumed with shame and fear as they pondered what punishment they could receive, how they could ever enter normal society again and whether family and friends would accept them.

I recall wandering up to stand beside a man who was in the sun gazing into the middle of the yard. I said who I was and asked him how he was travelling. After a silence he said “Oh yeah okay…” and then there was silence… He didn’t move away, and so I just stayed there, looking into the yard too. It seemed like about half an hour I waited, and waited. He said nothing, but I sensed he was testing to see if I was genuinely interested… whether I’d lose interest and walk off. Eventually he started talking about his partner and kids and how he got into the trouble he was in. We talked for probably more than half an hour.

5Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”

As Chaplains we didn’t literally cure the sick, but I came to understand Jesus’ words. By listening and caring we did bring healing and the men and women did know that the kingdom of God had come near.

At the end of our service here each week the Liturgical Assistance sends us out with the words “Go in Peace to Love and Serve the Lord”. And in case you forget, it’s written on the back of the church Notice Board. So it’s an imperative for each of us as Christians to go out to make a difference. Declare the Kingdom of God.

Jesus missionary model is to go to where the people are, not to try to convert them to our way of thinking or to get them to come to church, but to meet them in their need. In my supervision work we would call it ‘appreciative enquiry’. A genuine interest in the person, without any agenda.

When people sense that you really care, they appreciate the opportunity to share what’s going on for them. Even if they ask your opinion about what they should do, most don’t really want your opinion, they just want to know that someone else understands how they feel; and that they’re not going mad.

By listening well, you bring peace, reconciliation and Good News in a world of Fear (Like what’s going to happen to Britain now, fear about the CFA being abolished and whether the Libs will privatise Medicare).

Being a non-anxious loving presence you can bring healing to family feuds and healing to troubled lives.

“The seventy* returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ 18He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

Each time when you help to heal a hurt, or through your care another let’s go of a fixation which is consuming them, we metaphorically see Satan falling from heaven in a flash of lightening. The Kingdom of God is present… as it is heaven.

So How do we do this? You might say how on earth can I care for others like this, when I’m so consumed at times with my own hurts, fear and anxieties?

The short answer is to take time to reflect on your life, to pray and to meditate. Take your spiritual health seriously. Set time aside daily to look at the horizon. I was taken by Kate’s illustration last week of how she sat in the train trying to take in all the names and places next to the railway track that raced by, until she had to stop because it was making her head and her heart ache. But when she looked at the hills on horizon they hardly moved and she felt peace. Take time, maybe just 20 minutes each day to look at the horizon, to walk and mindfully take in what’s around you, instead of thinking of all the things you have ‘to do’ with the fear of what will happen to you if they don’t get done.

The task of caring for others begins with caring for yourself.

Like the seventy and the prison chaplains we are called to go out each day, to be the Gospel wherever we go. If you do your own spiritual work, then you won’t have to try to care for others; it will just happen- simply because of who you are… and they will know that the kingdom of God has come near.

 

The Lord be with you.