Text Mark 6.7-13
Those days have gone, however. These days, anyone in the world of work has to be open to constant ‘in-service training’ of one form another. We need training to keep up with the latest legislation around health & safety, or the vital topic of safeguarding. We need to get trained to use the latest software on our computers. If we are clergy, we are expected to keep abreast of all the latest advances in theology, and in the debates of the church. 'On the job training' has become essential to us all.
Jesus understood the value of training – which is why, in today’s Gospel, he sent out The Twelve, into the mission fields. He gave strict instructions that they should rely on the provision of God, and the hospitality of strangers. He was teaching them to survive on their wits, and by their relationships, rather than relying on any personal wealth they might take with them on the road. He was also giving them a foretaste of what life would be for them after he had left them to the task of the Gospel. They needed to gain confidence in speaking about the things of God, without always waiting for Jesus to address the crowds.
The thing about the work of the Gospel is that it IS work. It TAKES work, and training, to do it effectively on behalf of our Lord. That training, which is available to all Christians, is essentially quite simple. It involves regular prayer, and regular engagement with the Scriptures, and learning (as the disciples did) from teachers of the faith who have been learning on the job for a longer time. With prayer, study and good teaching, anyone can be equipped to take the Good News of Jesus Christ out into the world. Three things: prayer, study and teaching.
The problem comes when one of those three essential elements is missing. Study and teaching are worth nothing without prayer, which embeds wisdom into the soul. Prayer and study alone are likely to inflame a passion for God, but without the tempering words of wise teachers, such passion can easily be mis-directed.
Something I’ve missed during this last year of Pandemic has been my occasional encounters, in the church, with enthusiastic Christians who are on fire to spread good news, but who don’t really understand what the good news is. They have prayed, and they’ve read the Bible from cover to cover, but they haven’t had the wise teaching which we all need to set us on useful and wholesome paths. They are the kind of ‘religious extremist’ that we’ve all encountered.
They are the people for whom a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. They are the kind of believer who has taken literally some of the more imaginative texts of the Bible. Or they have made just one element of the Scriptures the entire focus of their life. They are the kind of people who insist that the end of the world is coming any day now. Or whose belief in the power of speaking in tongues, or of healing power of praying to the saints, has reached the level of magical thinking. In America, they are the kind of believer who handles snakes in their worship, because of an obscure text which promises no harm will come. Or they are the kind of single-issue believer who spends their day displaying placards with the awful words ‘Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’. Or they are the kind of believer who becomes so obsessed with the concept of Satan, they see him at work in every institution they encounter (except, of course, their own little meeting hall – until other members of their church disagree with them).
In a couple of weeks, Sandra and I will be launching our programme of Lent courses – which will, this year, be entirely by Zoom. Between us, and our friends in other local churches, we’re hoping to offer some ‘in-service training’ to all of you. We’re currently putting the final touches to what that programme will be, which we will announce in next week’s Chronicle. But I can tell you that it is likely to include training and teaching on the history of the Bible, or the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recommended Lent course, or a course examining Christian attitudes to Creation.
My encouragement to you, this morning, is to pray for discernment over the choice we will offer you next week. Prepare your heart to say YES to the opportunity to continue growing in knowledge and wisdom, alongside the continuing path of prayer and bible reading. Because all of us – especially me – need some in-service training from time to time! Amen.
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