May I speak in the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I wonder if anyone here has been presented with a task at work, a situation at home, perhaps even a personal struggle, and thought: ‘you know what? I just don’t think I can do this. I don’t have the ability, the experience, the confidence to make this a success – frankly, I’m just not good enough’
Well I know I have... And it’s at times like these that everything feels overwhelming. You feel lost, you feel alone.
This is not an experience unique to the individual, of course. It can happen to a family following a bereavement or family breakdown; to a business facing economic uncertainty or recession; to a church facing decline, a stretching of resources and a lack of money…even to a country, facing an uncertain future, feeling let down by those they entrusted to lead them.
It’s a scary place, it’s sadly all too common place…but what do we do when we get there? Where do we turn?
Burying our head in the sand is of course an option.
Walking away is another.
I’ve tried doing these in the past. Some of you may have done too. But they don’t work, not in the long term. We know they don’t.
They may make us feel better for the moment, but that feeling doesn’t last…because short term fixes never do. They’re temporary, they fade away.
What we must seek then, what we must turn to, is something permanent, something we can trust. Something eternal.
We must turn our faces then, turn our lives, to the One who is eternal. We must turn ourselves towards God.
So we bring ourselves to today. To this very moment. To this service of worship, to do just that.
And when we do, we learn that these things we face, these things that are overwhelming, that seem impossible, these things we feel ill-equipped for…do not require of us what we worried they might.
We realise they do not require of us what the world told us they did. We realise that we have more in us than we think.
In other words, as St Paul explains to us in his letter to the Galatians, ‘success’, achievement, that all-important commodity in this world, looks different in the eyes of the eternal.
The mark of a successful person, the mark of a successful community, church, country, is one that, as St Paul says, boasts not in their own flesh but in the Spirit.
Success, value, the things in which we ought to boast are not found in the posh house, the outwardly perfect family or the big pension. For the church they are not found in the extensive programme of events, ‘trendy’ worship, or the vast number of 18-30s in the congregation. And for a country, they’re not found in the vast levels of wealth possessed by the richest, the year on year growth of GDP, or even blue passports.
No, the mark of success and achievement, the thing that attributes value, is the mark of the Spirit. It is seen in what St Paul describes as ‘boasting in the Cross of Jesus Christ’, that thing which for him, is the fullest revelation of God in Jesus Christ, the fullest expression of His love.
The mark of success and achievement, then, the thing that attributes value, is that you are, I am, we are, children of God. That we have our identity in Him.
What the Spirit seeks is not self-achievement, not self-centredness…but selflessness.
It is, like Jesus, helping to carry the burdens of those who struggle to carry their own. It is, at every opportunity, working for the good of others.
It is not doing things that look good, because they look good. It is doing those things, those acts of kindness, big and small, that make the world a better place. Why? Because they make the world a better place.
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
And yet… there’s that worry creeping back in again.
What if I can’t do it? What if I’m not good enough? What if it’s too much? What if I don’t have the ability, the time, the energy?
Well in our Gospel reading, Jesus gives us a bit of advice, and some encouragement.
The advice: simplicity is key. Don’t complicate things, what God requires of you is less than you imagine.
‘Carry no purse’ he says, ‘no bag, no sandals’, stay where you’re first welcomed, ‘eat whatever is set before you’.
In other words: don’t worry about the details, the trappings, what looks good. Live in the moment, love in that moment. That’s the real task set before you.
And the encouragement? : you are like ‘lambs in the midst of wolves…’
Now, as someone who was terrified of wolves as a child (we can thank John Masefield’s The Box of Delights for that), I’ll admit that on the first reading, I didn’t find that particularly encouraging either, but listen to it again:
‘I am sending you out like lambs’
Jesus is the lamb of God, the victorious lamb: ……..Jesus is sending us out as Him, the one who prevails, the one who lives, the one who is eternal.
He hints at this again: ‘whoever listens to you, listens to me,’ and ‘say to them “the kingdom of God has come near”’
What he is saying is that we go in His name, God’s name, and therefore we carry the kingdom of God in us all.
In other words, we carry God in us. Each and every one of us.
You do! You do! You do! We all do!
And how? Because we have life.
God, the creator of all things, the sustainer of all things, is in all things.
God happens in us.
Imagine if we with lived though this was true more often?!
…If we would only realise what we have in us: what gifts we have to give, what potential we have for love and peace and justice…for changing the world!
It may not feel like it now, and God knows it often doesn’t, but God gives us what we need. He gives us what we can handle, what we can use.
Anything we mess up He can transform, and even if we’re not faithful to him, he is to us. Hope is never lost.
And so in those moments, those dark moments, when everything just feels too hard, you feel alone, overwhelmed, like you can’t do it, remember what you have in you.
Look inside of yourself. Listen. Feel the breath in your lungs, the life that is happening in you…the God that is happening in you…and remember that he is with you. Your source, your creator, your sustainer.
Remember, that you are a child of God, and that you are loved. And then, things might not look so bad after all.