The Reverend Margaret Legg
Today’s Gospel reminds me of a joke: Jesus arrives at the pearly gates. The gatekeeper is delighted. A warm welcome. But who have you left in charge? He asks. The disciples, replies Jesus. WHAT??? Don’t worry, I know they betrayed me, ran away and locked themselves up after my resurrection because they were frightened, but I have trained them well. In mission. (which comes from the Latin for Sending out - mittere - to send). The last few weeks the Gospel readings have covered that training: Matthew has named the 12 disciples and recorded J’s instructions for their mission: heal the sick, drive out evil spirits, bear witness to J and announce the kingdom of heaven was near.
What is perhaps pf more concern is that we are the 21st century disciples. The baton of mission has been passed on to us. Mission is not a commonly used word these days. I asked two of my children what a missionary was. One struggled, and the other instantly replied: Mother Teresa! People who have dedicated their lives to their faith and gone off to places far from home as nurses/doctor, teachers, evangelists. Not for most of us.
I spent a year in Uganda with missionaries: St Maria Goretti girls boarding and day school. Holy Cross Sisters with the formidable Sr Catherine as head mistress; the rather gentler White Sisters and the hands on and great fun Maltese sisters. These nuns had dedicated their lives in a particular way – overseas missionaries. Most of us have lives rooted in different soil – currently here in central London. This is where we act as missionaries. 3 ingredients in the recipe to be a successful missionary!
If you feel the word is a bit strange, scary even, then here is some help:
The 3 R’s of mission:
It’s our job, one of our, if not the, fundamental purpose in life!
Healing the sick is not only for the medical professionals. We help by listening to those who are troubled, walking alongside those who are struggling; similarly driving out evil spirits is not only about the demonised (patient at St Mary’s); it’s restraining our impulse to tell a half truth, our desire not to bother, when we could step in and right a wrong; it’s preventing and guiding others when they veer off course; We bear witness whenever we live in this way. It should be part and parcel of our everyday lives.
There is a right way to go about it
Thrusting a religious tract under someone’s nose risks rejection – last week taking my grandson to the playground it happened to me. ‘No thanks’ was my response! The sandwich boards that used to be seen in Oxford St proclaiming that ‘the end is nigh’ are not necessarily helpful either. And it’s important to do mission in a way that recipients can respond to positively. That’s because the ones who welcome and listen to what we bring and say will be rewarded, just as the missionary will be. It’s a 2 way process. Both will receive the reward of the righteous – a place in the kingdom of heaven. It’s about meeting people’s need, rather than imposing something on them willy nilly.
Consider the response to Grenfell Tower. At the local church, St Clement Danes. Within an hour or so, the lights were switched on, the doors opened and almost immediately people started coming in. Food supplies and donations poured in by the hour, service crews, dazed members of the community, several bereft residents from the tower. All were glad to receive help.
Ah – but people of all faiths and none responded and helped you might say. Yes indeed, but it’s our motivation that counts. When we are motivated by our faith, when we do it in Jesus name, then the one who welcomes us welcomes J, whether they are aware of that or not. Not necessarily overtly, but knowing inwardly that it is our faith that propels us.
Remember; the right way; and
Don’t expect anything. Mission can be disheartening and people may seem unresponsive. A friend who works in a finance dept of a large institution who is devout and has a practical faith. Struggling at work for the last year or so. New boss, unhelpful colleagues, lots of sickness in her section. She carried on cheerful, buying cakes when a cake sale, spotting and assisting those struggling, asking after family/friends, staying late to get the work done. A hard slog. But you never can tell. Last week full of beans. Unsung hero. Received her cup of cold water. When she gets to the pearly gates, I predict the gatekeeper will welcome her with open arms. And that’s the ultimate reward – eternal life.
So the 3 R’s of mission: remember, mission includes all of us, the right way is to meet the need and then the ultimate reward will be ours!