This Sermon was delivered at St Mary the Virgin’s, Diss at the 8am said Eucharist on the 7th July 2019. Readings: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20.
May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We have just heard Luke’s account of the sending out of the seventy on what has often been described as the first Christian mission to proclaim that “The kingdom of God has come near to you”. They are to do this in pairs, travelling from place to place, accepting hospitality and healing the sick. Luke writes that when they returned to Jesus they returned with Joy! They have had a great success doing all manner of things but the true sign of power, which they are in awe of, is that in the name of Jesus even the demons submit to them.
Jesus responds, saying – ‘Yes, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will hurt you. But don’t rejoice in the authority you have over them, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’.
Here we are reminded that perspective is everything.
The disciples, and we as Christian disciples today, are not to be defined by what we’re against, but what and who we are for and, more importantly, that they are for us.
It’s an easy trap which we can all to often fall into in almost any area of life. The trap of being reactive, and in turn defensive, rather than proactive and constructive.
It’s especially easy to fall into because in truth we are against things. We as baptised Christians have been baptised into the spiritual wrestle against the sin, the world and the devil. It’s a spiritual wrestle wherein our strength and hope comes from Christ’s victory over death as the ultimate conquering of the sin, the world and the devil.
However, the good news – the gospel – is not that death has been defeated but that Jesus is the God who loves us and desires us to live within that divine love for all eternity.
It’s all about perspective.
Are we saved from something, or saved for something?
I remember being challenged when reading a theologian called Karl Barth who strongly resisted the idea that to preach the Gospel is to preach about the dangers of sin and of hell. Not that this isn’t important, but that it tends to centre on a sense of fear which comes from being afraid of negative consequences rather than focusing on the sublime reality that God in Jesus has truly become one of us so that we might have life in the full, and to live within the presence of his divine love for us.
Jesus says in our Gospel reading that we should not rejoice in our authority over the demons. That is, we should not find our spiritual and emotional validation from our acts of Christian piety and charity. We should live good Christian lives, but we should not be proud of them. Living a Christian life, wrestling with sin, the world and the devil, is a noble outworking of our baptism into Christ and all that he has done for us. But our joy comes not from being ‘good Christians’, but from the love of God for us which both makes and keeps us his Children.
Jesus says, Rejoice for your names are written in heaven.
As we make our way through this very service, we have gathered in the name of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We have confessed our sins, our wounds and our injuries in our wrestle with sin, the world and the devil. The priest has been ordained as one who ‘in union with their fellow servants in Christ, may reconcile what is divided, heal what is wounded and restore what is lost’. More than this, that they may ‘proclaim Christ’s victory over the powers of darkness, and absolve in Christ’s name those who turn to him in faith’. And so you have been absolved, and we have realigned our perspective so that we’re not focused on what we’re against but on who we are here for; which is not ourselves but the one who loves us eternally and who has written our names in heaven.
In a moment we shall come to the creed, where we shall join together in proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come near to us in Christ Jesus his Son our Lord. We shall intercede for the church, the world and all those whom we love and then, then we shall rejoice as those whose names are written in heaven. We shall come to the table to receive the Eucharist not because we are against sin, the world and the devil but because we rejoice to come close to the presence of the God who loves us, and in this holy sacrament sustains us through all which our lives are.
And so today I encourage you to remember the sense of perspective which Jesus wants us to have, that we should rejoice because our names are written in heaven for we are eternally known and loved by God.