Sunday, 3 July 2016

'Is your name written in heaven'' - transcript of sermon St Mary's Priory Church Tutbury 3rd July 2016

St Mary’s Priory Church Tutbury 3rd July 2016

Galatians 6. [1-6]7-16 - Luke 10.1-11, 16-20

‘It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.’ 

These might well be among the best-known opening lines in English literature.

They come from Charles Dickens ‘Tale of Two Cities’ – the two cities in questions are London and Paris during the French Revolution of 1789 - 1799.

After England’s ignominious defeat against Iceland, I wrote this as a comment on my Face Book Page.

‘It was the best of time, London 1966, and the worst of time, France 2016.’

With a name like mine even if I didn’t like football I would be hard pressed to ignore what happened at Wembley on the 30th July 1966 when Gordon Banks was defending England’s goal.

And a bit like, ‘where were you when Kennedy was shot,’ I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing.

I was travelling from Oldham in Lancashire to Newmarket to sign up as an Apprentice Jockey for five years.

I had never ridden a horse, never been near horses and did not watch any racing, nor did any of my family apart from the very occasional flutter.

It is another story for another time but in short, it was because at the age of fifteen I was going through the common adolescent angst about identity and the possibility of dying unknown and with no one caring at all. I wanted to become famous so that when I died there would be headlines in the newspaper not simply some tiny mention in the obituary column of the local paper.

At the age of fifteen, I stood 4’ 10’ and weighed just six stone. A friend at school when it came to looking for a job made a quip that I should become a jockey.

That is why on the same day the other Gordon Banks was defending England’s goal at Wembley, I was travelling to Newmarket.

In our Gospel story, we hear about Jesus sending out 70 (or perhaps 72) others. 

We have no idea who these people are. We get to know those whom Jesus chooses – the twelve disciples, later to become known as the Apostles, which means ‘the sent ones.’

However, of this group – nothing, no names, nothing at all.

They were given clear instructions to travel light and not waste time talking to anyone while they were travelling.

They were to seek out the people of peace, those who would welcome them and the message they brought.  That message was simply ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you.’

It is worth pondering on that, ‘what was the Good News before Christ’s crucifixion?

Today we might say that the Good News is to proclaim Christ’s death, resurrection, and the possibility of new life.

So what was the Good News these 70 proclaimed?

Is it not encapsulated in what we call the Lord’s Prayer?

Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus offered a different Kingdom of God to either those who wanted armed rebellion against the Roman overlords, or those who acquiesced and accommodated.

There is a lot in the passage to puzzle our heads over. What are we to make of that talk about stepping snakes and scorpions?

Not I imagine for one moment is this a mandate for that very peculiar sect in the USA who demonstrate their faith by handling poisonous snakes.   

I would suggest that is taking a text out of context and making a pretext – a very dangerous and rather stupid one at that.

Also in the passage, we have very strong language about judgment and many people who are being passed by because they would not listen and would not welcome or entertain the message of the Kingdom of God, plus a lot of dust being shaken off feet.

This does not sit comfortably with us today when we seek to be tolerant, kindly, accommodating, and accepting.

And to whom did Jesus send these unnamed disciple with this message about the Kingdom of God? Well it was to the People of God who looked for the coming of the King, the Messiah who would usher in a new age,


He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. John 1.11

How are we as the People of God today?

Have we acquiesced and accommodated?

Do we fail to point out that which is manifestly not of God’s Kingdom?

(Some of things that have been happening in our own country over recent weeks for example) 

Are we distracted and turned off our course by attention to the wrong things?

What Good News are we proclaiming?

When the unnamed seventy return, they are delighted at what they have been able to do and to achieve and Jesus rejoices with them.

However said Jesus, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

This is a reference to the Lamb’s Book of Life that we find in the Book of Revelation as well as other places in Scripture..

Rather scarily, we read in Revelation 20.15… ’íf any ones name is not found written in the Book of Life, they will be thrown into the lake of fire.’

Now I need to be careful that I do not take a text out of context and make a pretext!

I want to leave that sitting there and think about the joy of having your name known by God and having that name written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life as a friend of God.

Having your name down as one who has given their life to Jesus and who seeks to be obedient to the call of Jesus in their lives.

One who picks up the same call as these unnamed but known to God disciples of Jesus.

To go out and about in the highways and byways, to tell people that the Kingdom of God has come near to them.

‘Whoever listens to you listens me and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’

I didn’t become a famous jockey and left racing after my five years apprentice was finished.

But this I know - this I came to discover - this I came to rejoice over.

That I did not need to be famous, to be known and celebrated in life or in death.

There was only one place I needed my name to be written – ‘The Lambs Book of Life.’

Moreover, there is only one place you need to ensure your name is written – ‘The Lambs Book of Life.’

However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Do you know that for yourself this morning?

If you do brilliant – then there is a job of work for you to do. 

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

If you don’t know or aren’t sure then please do not let this moment of opportunity pass you buy. Come and talk to me afterwards.

Brothers and sisters, let me remind you that the Church of God does not have a mission – rather the God of Mission has a Church – a People of God, who names are known and recorded as friends of God.

What is the Mission of God? 

Surely, it is no less than to redeem and restore all things, to establish God’s Kingdom, to make real the Lord’s Prayer.   And God invites you and me as the Church, the People of God, to partner with Him in this endeavor.

Your Kingdom come, your will be done in Tutbury as it is in heaven.

Let me leave you with a question hanging in the air that I would invite you to ponder on and hopefully discuss over coffee afterwards.

That should give you a moment’s distraction from talking about Brexit or football.

Here is the question, ‘where will the Church be tomorrow?’

Let us pray…

O Saviour Christ, in whose way of love lays the secret of all life, and the hope of all people, we pray for quiet courage to match this hour. We did not choose to be born or to live in such an age; but let its problems challenge us, its discoveries exhilarate us, its injustices anger us, it possibilities inspire us, and its vigour renew us.

Pour out upon us a fresh indwelling of the Holy Spirit; make us bold and courageous in sharing faith in both word and deed for your Kingdom’s sake we ask.


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