Reflection by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 14 June 2020.
• First Reading: Genesis 18: 1-15 (The Lord did for Sarah as He had promised – son named Isaac. Sarah: ‘Now God has brought laughter to me’)
• Psalm: Psalm 116: 1, 10-17 (I love the Lord because He has heard the voice of my supplication)
• Epistle: Romans 5: 1-8 (Hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit)
• Gospel: Matthew 9: 35 – 10: 8 (9-23) (The disciples chosen – sent out to proclaim the Good News)
We all have our comfort zones – our friends, our favourite foods and drinks, music and opinions in politics and all other parts of public life.
This is fine but there are times when we have to come out of them, meeting strangers, sampling new kinds of cuisine, seeing or hearing new kinds of music and drama encountering new attitudes to social and economic life.
There will be times when instead of finding comfort and security there is confrontation and disagreement with people we may not know or if we do know them we may not like them.
All of these things challenge us to venture forth from what is familiar and secure into what is strange and may be threatening.
This is the theme in much of our readings for today and at a time when we are locked down for our health the prospect of going out again may itself be a challenge, even a threatening prospect.
But in Genesis, the one thing that Abraham and Sarah wanted but had been denied was being promised to them. Sarah’s first thought was to laugh – in derision. She could not believe the promise being made to her, for she had been thinking of a child for decades and the prospect of having one was almost too good to be true.
It would mean a change of life and the prospect of looking after a baby in all aspects of life. Surely this could not be? She had become so used to the pain of childlessness that the prospect of having one was beyond understanding. And so the bitter and sarcastic laughter – in secret, as if she could keep that from God.
It was only when the baby was safely born, for her pregnancy would also carry its dangers – that she laughed again.
This time it was joy, exultation, the worship of God, a complete emotional release from decades of pain and denial. This time the laughter was for real.
Then in the gospel, Jesus was also sending His disciples out on a mission. It was one thing for them to be close to Jesus and to hear His teaching, see the miracles, observe how He dealt with opposition, the awkward questions designed to trip Him up.
It was one thing to be there as Jesus responded to the people who doubted or rejected or despised or distrusted Him.
Now they were to go out themselves. They would go out in pairs, having been entrusted with a work for Jesus and given an authority that they had never imagined. Authority to preach and heal, to exorcise, to proclaim the same message as Jesus Himself.
Not only that but they were to rely wholly on the protection of the name of Jesus. They were to go without provision of food or clothing, and had to rely on the hospitality of those they were visiting. In short they were having to go out in faith, even when they had been warned of coming opposition and persecution.
Granted that the villages where they were going were Jewish villages, where the scriptures were known and the Messiah was still expected. Villages of the children of Israel and their own kinsfolk.
But even so they were expected to go forth anyway, in pairs so that as one faltered then the other might carry the burden.
Paul puts this into the context of the Holy Spirit. Now the church had been endowed with the Holy Spirit, and its members were rejoicing in the power of Jesus’ resurrection and the authority of His ascension. Now they could have confidence in their message, knowing Jesus Christ personally even when they had never seen Him or met Him in the flesh.
But this time also there were promises. Promises for today, and this town or village. They had a personal peace in Jesus Christ, and the assurance of sins forgiven.
They had the example of Jesus’ victory over abuse, rejection, suffering and death. They had the assurance that they did not have to earn God’s love for it was there while they were still in their sins and the rebellions of their hearts against moral constraint.
Jesus had died for them when they were wholly undeserving of that love. Now how much more was He going to be committed to them when they turned to Him in faith and obedience?
If in His death for them He had saved them then how much more would His life be there for them as they rested and trusted in the presence of the Holy Spirit?
The lockdown of today will not be the preparation for a new kind of life in the community of faith that we may have chosen. For many it is unsettling, disturbing and the prospect of it being lifted is also an emotional challenge.
But eventually we will also be sent forth, to be close to the distressed and the grieving, but carrying also the assurance that the life of faith is far more than believing six impossible things before breakfast.
Rather it is also the joy and exuberance of Sarah at the birth of Isaac.