Some words from the Gospel reading this morning: Jesus ‘went on through cities and villages proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women’.
It’s a great pleasure to be with you this morning. My thanks to Simon for his invitation, and to you all for your welcome. I bring greetings to the Cathedral of the Peak from your Cathedral Church in Derby, where we pray for you regularly. I’m here, I think, because one of the roles I have is as the Director of Curate Training in the Diocese. So I have been involved with Sue, not least as she prepares to be ordained priest at the end of the month. I want to say a few things this morning to help us all prepare for that new ministry.
At the end of the Gospel reading this morning we hear that Jesus ‘went on through cities and villages proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women’. Jesus, with the twelve and some women, is involved in proclaiming and bringing the good news. Proclaiming and bringing – Jesus doesn’t just talk about the good news of the Kingdom of God, he brings it to people. The Gospel, the good news, is not something that we just talk about. It’s something that we do. That is why we ordain people to be deacons and priests – so that they can bring the good news to others. In my experience, ordained people (including me) spend a good deal of time talking about the good news. That’s OK – so does Jesus. But we need to also spend time bringing the good news to others. And if you think this pattern of proclaiming and bringing is just for ordained people you are very wrong. Jesus brought with him a load of other people who shared in his ministry of proclaiming and bringing. We all share in Jesus’ ministry. We do that because in our baptisms we were made part of the body of Christ. In our baptisms we all share in Jesus’ ministry of proclaiming and bringing. What I want to do for the next few minutes is to look at each of the three characters in the Gospel story and ask what each one has to say to us in our ministry of proclaiming and bringing the good news.
The first character is Simon. You will understand that I feel some affinity to him. Not only does he have a good name, he is a learned and influential religious figure. Simon does not come well out of the story. But he still has things to say to us. First, notice that he has invited Jesus. Simon may have invited Jesus to show off the new preacher to his friends, to demonstrate that he was up with the latest religious developments or even to try and put Jesus right. But he did invite Jesus to be with him. If we are honest, we all have mixed motives for being in church and for inviting Jesus to be with us. But Jesus responds to that invitation, however faint and however self-serving. So the first thing that Simon says to us is that we are to invite Jesus to be with us.
The other thing that Simon does is to learn. It is in his house, at his table, that Jesus tells one of his parables. Simon learns from his encounter with Jesus. Learning is something that we all have to do. Whether we have been coming to church for nine days or for ninety years, we all have things to learn. Being ordained is not an end to learning, far from it. Sue is here to learn. I hope that you will help her to learn, and that you will learn from her. Above all, I hope that you will learn with her. God always has something new to teach us. We need to learn.
Simon, then, tells us about inviting Jesus and about learning. The second character is the woman. We don’t know her name, but she disrupts the party and makes a big show. If someone were to do that in church this morning, we would react pretty much as Simon and the other guests reacted in the story. But this woman has things to say to us. What is clear from the story is that this woman has made some mistakes. She brought them to Jesus and he forgave her. And this is the first thing that the woman says to us – make mistakes and bring them to Jesus. This is a bit like Simon telling us to learn. We learn by making mistakes. But it is hard, painful and vulnerable to make mistakes and then to admit to them. But that is how we will learn. And we are to bring our mistakes to Jesus. I hope that Sue has made some mistakes during her year with you. I hope you have made some mistakes. And I hope that you have all brought them to Jesus for healing and forgiveness, so that you can learn and go and make better mistakes. Make mistakes and bring them to Jesus, that’s the first thing that the woman tells us.
The second is this – be lavish in love. The woman pours ointment on Jesus feet, but she is also generous with her tears and her hair. She is lavish in her love, and we too need to be lavish with our love. We need to be lavish in our love for Jesus, and in our love for one another (and the two go together). Love means helping one another in practical ways, but it also means shedding tears with and for one another. It means gifts and care and a hundred and one other things that show our love for each other. Break out the perfume, cry buckets, wipe it all up. Be lavish in love.
Simon teaches us to invite Jesus and to learn. The woman teaches us to make mistakes that we bring to Jesus and to be lavish in our love. And the final character in the story is Jesus himself. What does he have to say to us in this story? The first thing we notice about Jesus in this story is that he accepts everyone. He accepts Simon with his half-hearted welcome and his dubious motives for inviting him. He accepts the woman with her over the top gifts, and her dubious past. And we too are to accept people. We accept those who are half-hearted and those who are over the top. We accept those with dubious motives and those with a dubious past. I hope that in being your priest Sue will be found in the company of the wrong sort of people. And I hope that you will find yourselves in that same company as well. That is where Jesus is found. Jesus accepts Simon and the woman. He accepts you and me. He accepts those we’d he didn’t, as well as those people that we like.
Jesus accepts and he forgives. I think the most important note of a curacy is the need for forgiveness. If Sue is to learn and to make mistakes and to be lavish in love and to accept all kinds of people, then you are going to need to forgive her and she is going to need to forgive you. As we travel together as Christians, we will hurt one another. Often we will hurt each other without meaning to. Sometimes, if we’re honest, we will mean to cause hurt. We need to forgive one another, and to be forgiven. That is one of the features of Christian ministry and Christian community.
I’d like to finish by asking you to pray. To pray for Sue as she prepares for her ordination, pray for Simon (White) as he supports Sue, pray for one another. Throughout Sue’s curacy I have and will pray for her and for you.
And remember what Simon (the Pharisee) tells us: invite Jesus, and learn. Remember what the woman tells us: make mistakes and be lavish in love. Remember what Jesus tells us: accept all kinds of people and forgive. Doing all of that will be make for a good curacy for Sue. It will make for an amazing place of Christian community here in Tideswell. It will be a way not only of proclaiming the good news, but of bringing it into being.