Epiphany + 3 – Australia Day Bridgewater 2015

I missed Grant Hay’s visit in December. Grant’s is often an in-your-face type of ministry. At his support group, he’ll describe a prison chapel service, or a one-on-one talk with an inmate. He looks them in the eye and says: “You’ve got to get your life together and hand it over to Jesus, brother. Because if you don’t, there’s no way you’ll be going up there. You’ll be headed straight down to the other place!”

I thought about Grant because today’s gospel starts in prison. John the Baptist has been gaoled for doing exactly what Grant does; looking a dangerous person in the eye and giving them a message they really don’t want to hear. (cf Mk 6.14ff—Herod, Tetrarch of Galilee has imprisoned John and later beheaded him because John criticized his marital arrangements). Was John right to challenge Herod the way he did?

When I was much younger, a re-printed self-help book was all the rage; How to win friends and influence people. One chapter was ‘Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment’. Other chapters had sub-headings like ‘Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain’ and ‘Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say “You’re Wrong.”’ It came out a bit late for John the Baptist, I fear, and I doubt Grant Hay would have much use for it either.

So what are we to make of our mission? Our style? What’s the recommended best-practice? Let’s look at today’s Scripture.

As we begin today’s gospel, John’s been arrested. Jesus heads to Galilee where the same Herod who imprisoned John was still very much in power. Nothing daunted, Jesus starts preaching the same message as John did: Repent and believe in the good news. I’m positive this approach wasn’t recommended in How to win friends and influence people. Yet look at him go; four new friends in five verses. Simon, Andrew, James and John: ‘Follow me’, and they drop everything and come.

I doubt they were called from a life as complicated as Grant’s, or his prison congregation either. And they certainly weren’t dangerously selfish like Herod. Just normal people really. But doesn’t that make it all the more amazing?

They didn’t have miserable, broken lives to turn from. And I’m sure they weren’t on the lookout for the sort of adventure Jesus led them on. They knew what had happened to John; they knew Jesus was preaching the same message; so it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. Yet they dropped everything—safe, law-abiding lives—and followed Jesus…somewhere. He didn’t say where they were going.

Is that how it was for you? I’m going to ask you a series of questions. Maybe there’s someone near you that you’d like to discuss them with.

When you were called by Jesus, did you drop everything and just go?

What were you called from?

What would life have been like if you hadn’t followed?

Quick story sharing. Any surprises? 
What if Grant didn’t confront people the way he does? What would happen to the ones he brings to Jesus—if they never met him? We in the parish believe he’s doing something good. It’s not our style, sure. But we believe he’s called to challenge and care for the people he does. And we know he’s really good at it because he speaks their language. He’s been a prisoner too; he knows what it’s like.

The Church has a history of sending people out on mission. (Cf Matthew’s community and its itinerant radicals.)

We’re doing something very much the same in our support for Grant’s ministry. And it’s remarkably similar to Jesus’ wandering, radical mission.

But are we prepared to do something like that ourselves. What if Grant and Kim decided to have some quiet family time with their kids for a year or two. Who would do that special work then? Who would drive all those thousands of kms? None of us can do quite that sort of mission because we’re not Aboriginal. Maybe we’d have to help Grant and Kim find someone appropriate. But what’s your mission? What’s mine? Maybe we’re doing it. How do we check? The 5 marks of mission.

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom

To teach, baptise and nurture new believers

To respond to human need by loving service

To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation

To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth .