Monday, 2 July 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 8 July 2018,
Sixth Sunday after Trinity

‘He … began to send them out two by two’ (Mark 6: 7) … two walkers on the beach in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, at the end of the day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next, 8 July 2018, is the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VI).

The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for Trinity VI as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland are:

Continuous readings: II Samuel 5: 1-5, 9-10 Psalm 48; II Corinthians 12: 2-10; Mark 6: 1-13.

Paired readings: Ezekiel 2: 1-5; Psalm 123; II Corinthians 12: 2-10; Mark 6: 1-13.

There is a link to the continuous readings HERE

When I set out on journeys, too often I take too much with me (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


I am at the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire this week [2 to 4 July 2018] for the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

The combination of ‘being sent’ and ‘being dependent’ is a mission theme that I expect to hear much about this week. But it is also a strong Biblical theme that is clearly expressed in next Sunday’s readings.

In these readings, we are challenged is to see how being sent by God is always being in service and as being part of the ‘Sent Community.’

In addition, as we are sent we are called to trust both in God and in those from whom we receive resources and support for our work. This applies, of course, not just to bishops and priests, but to all who seek to follow Christ and live as citizens of God’s Kingdom.

What do you take with you on a journey? What are the essential items to pack in your case, whether it’s a small bag for overhead cabin for a Ryanair flight and a short overnight stay, or a large suitcase for a two-week summer holiday.

Apart from my passport, the requisite toothbrush, plastic cards, phone chargers, presents for hosts and friends, and changes of clothes and sandals, I always need to take my laptop and more than enough reading: books, magazines and newspapers.

And I always regret that I have packed too much – not because I do not use all those clothes or read each and every one of those books, but because I find there is not enough room for all the books I want to take back with me, and because restrictions on overhead bags mean I cannot return with a bottle of local wine.

In next Sunday’s Gospel reading (Mark 6: 1-13), as the disciples prepare for their journey, we might expect them to take with them an extra wineskin, an extra tunic, an extra pair of sandals, some water, some spending money. But Christ tells the disciples, as he sends them out in mission, two-by-two, to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money, no spare shoes, no change of tunic.

Perhaps the disciples set out filled with doubts and uncertainty, full of fear and anxiety rather than with full suitcases.

But what the disciples would soon learn is that for the people they would encounter along the way, it was not food or money or clothes that they needed most. What those people needed most was healing. And so, Christ requires the disciples to give what is the hardest thing in the world for us to give: the hardest thing to give is ourselves.

Sometimes, the moments when we put aside the comforts of home and step into uncertainty and risk are moments when we find we are closest to God.

Perhaps this Gospel reading is challenging me us to ask myself: What baggage have I been dragging along with me on my journey of faith, in my journey in ministry, in my journey in mission? And have I been carrying this baggage around not because I need it, but because I am comfortable with it? What unnecessary junk am I still carrying around me in life that I ought to have left behind long ago?

Maybe, I should be planning to take up my walking stick, dust off my sandals and set off on that journey into God’s abundance.

Looking at the Readings:

II Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10:

The people of Israel join the people of Judah in making David their king, and so David becomes king over the entire nation. Then David establishes his throne in Jerusalem.

David has settled at Hebron (see II Samuel 2: 3). He is publicly anointed to rule over Judah by the council of tribal heads. Meanwhile, in the north, Abner, once Saul’s military commander, makes Ishbaal, Saul’s son, the puppet king over the northern tribes (see 2: 8).

The rival tribal coalitions each plan to annex Gibeon, north-west of Jerusalem. When they go to war, David’s troops win. Abner, recognising a lost cause, switches to David’s side (see 3: 1-10), but he is killed (see 3: 22-29). Ishbaal’s courage fails and he is murdered by two of his own, who are then killed on David’s orders, for killing a righteous man” (see 4: 11). David shows Abner and Ishbaal his respect when he has them buried at Hebron.

There is no acceptable successor to Saul, and the tribes of Israel (verse 1) the north, invite David to become their king too. He is an Israelite and has been an army commander under Saul (verse 2). The council of the north or elders of Israel (verse 3), anoint him king over them too. In this way, the two states, Israel and Judah, are united with one king.

David now conquers a city belonging to neither state, and he makes the Canaanite or Jebusite city a neutral capital. Jerusalem becomes the city of David (verse 9). David is seen to have increased in power with the help of God, the God who is common to the people of the north and the south.

Ezekiel 2:1-5:

God commissions Ezekiel to be a prophet to the Israelites and to proclaim to them that although they are hard-hearted and rebellious, and whether they listen or not, they will know that a prophet has been among them.

Psalm 48:

This is a psalm in praise of Jerusalem’s glory which overwhelms even enemy kings who come against it, since the city is protected by God. God’s praise extends to the ends of the earth. The psalm celebrates the beauty and security of Jerusalem, where God is to be praised. Jerusalem is a joy to pilgrims who consider God’s gift of love when worshipping in the Temple.

Psalm 123:

This Psalm is a prayer for God’s mercy after the mockery and shame that the proud have brought on God’s people, and it is a commitment to be attentive to God, as servants are attentive to their masters and mistresses.

What did Saint Paul mean by his ‘thorn … in the flesh’ … a symbolic Crown of Thorns on a cross at the gate of Saint George’s Monastery in the mountains near Vamos in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

II Corinthians 12: 2-10:

The Apostle Paul refuses to boast in anything except his weaknesses, since God has given him a ‘thorn in his side’ to keep him from being conceited, and so he celebrates that in his weaknesses God’s strength is made perfect.

Saint Paul continues to rebut his critics. In the previous chapter, he has defended his Jewish heritage and his achievements. But he has refused to boast, and declared: ‘If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness’ (11: 30).

Now, in humility, he speaks as though someone else had a vision: ‘a person in Christ.’ It really did happen, 14 years ago, and it was a mysterious and mystical experience that is indescribable.

Was his ‘thorn … in the flesh’ (verse 7) that keeps Saint Paul from ‘being too elated’ a chronic condition, a physical or mental disability, a recurring illness, or strong opposition from one or more people?

Whatever it is, this affliction will not be removed, for the power of God is more apparent when it works through a sufferer. He accepts his condition, as it is, ‘for the sake of Christ,’ for when he feels weak, he is showing God’s power most effectively and so shows himself to be a true apostle.

‘He ordered them … to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics’ (Mark 6: 8-9) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 6: 1-13:

This Gospel reading comes in two parts. Christ preaches in his home town, but the people reject him because they know him, and cannot honour him. He then sends the Twelve out in pairs, two-by-two, with no resources, to preach. They go out to proclaim Christ’s message, to heal, and to cast out demons.

Saint Mark has told us of Christ’s success with the crowds. They have listened to the word expressed in parables; they have seen him heal the sick. He has commissioned and instructed the Twelve, showing them that he has power over nature, sickness and even death. Now Christ leaves the place where he has healed the woman and the daughter of Jairus, and he comes to his hometown in Galilee, with those who trust in him.

But his reception in the synagogue is different from that he received earlier in the Gospel (see Mark 1: 21-28). The people now question who he is. They ask how a mere carpenter can be so wise. None of it adds up, they take offence at him, and they reject him. The word σκάνδαλον (skandalon), translated in verse 3 as offence, also means a stumbling block or the trigger of a trap.

After his rejection in his hometown, Christ moves out into the rural areas. He then sends out the Twelve in mission, to minister, to extend the proclamation of the Kingdom of God in word and deed.

The disciples become apostles – the word apostle means one who is sent, and the Twelve are sent out in pairs, two-by-two.

Their mission and their need to trust in God are so important that they are to subordinate their material and physical concerns to the task of preaching and healing, as Christ does. They are not to spend time seeking better accommodation, nor are they to waste time with those who refuse to listen. They are move on, perhaps just like Jesus has moved on from his hometown, from those who refused to listen.

Reflecting on the theme:

Two complementary ideas come together in a challenging way in these Lectionary readings, the idea of being sent by God, and the idea of being dependent on God.

Firstly, the importance of being sent for God’s people is reflected in David’s appointment as king over both Israel and Judah, in Ezekiel’s call to be a prophet, in Saint Paul’s ministry, and then, in our Gospel reading, both in Christ’s work in his home town and his sending of the Twelve to preach and demonstrate God’s Reign.

Secondly, this sending is always in dependence on God. Ezekiel is called and God promises to show that he is a prophet, whether or not the people listen to him. David’s journey, which the Lectionary has been following over the last few weeks, reveals how much he depended on God in gaining the throne. Saint Paul recognises that God’s strength is made perfect in his weakness, and so he refuses to boast in anything except his dependence on God.

In a similar way, Psalm 123 reveals dependence on God for mercy.

Finally, Christ sends his disciples out, as he has been sent, with no real resources, but ready to rely on the hospitality of others for their basic needs, and depending on God for the power to fulfil their ministry.

We are challenged to embrace the call of God, and go out as servants of Christ in dependence on God’s resources, God’s strength, to sustain us.

There is no shortage of work to be done in the world today. The issues of justice are many and diverse and require people of passion, commitment and with a sense of being ‘called’ or being ‘sent.’

But, for justice to become a reality in the world, in our country, in our communities, there must be a sense in which all the individual initiatives connect and form part of a larger whole. It is not just individuals who are sent out into the world, but groups and communities. As we work together, each with our own particular gifts or focus, that we can make a significant difference.

It is all too easy for us as priests or readers to begin to rely on our own wisdom, abilities, and charisma to do the work we have been called to do. But without team work we run the risks of being arrogant, controlling, abusive, rigid and closed to the ideas of others.

We need to accept that any calling comes only as part of a called community. We are always sent as individuals because of our connection with, and our place in, a ‘sent community.’

It is also true that we are always sent to serve, and this requires both trust in God’s message and mission, and the humility to be vulnerable to those to whom we seek to minister.

The resources we most depend on in ministry and in mission are our own, but are gifts we receive from God, and from others who are ‘called’ too to resource God’s work. In this way, ministry becomes an act of community-building and of mutual service and faith. And, when we begin to live and serve like this, we begin to experience life as God intended it, we begin to catch glimpses of the Kingdom of God.

‘On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue’ (Mark 6: 2) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Mark 6: 1-13 (NRSV):

1 He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical colour: Green.

The Collect:

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
Pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer:

God of our pilgrimage,
you have led us to the living water.
Refresh and sustain us
as we go forward on our journey,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘God of our pilgrimage, you have led us to the living water’ … Torc Waterfall in Killarney, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Suggested Hymns:

The hymns suggested for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

II Samuel 5: 1-5, 9-10:

12, God is our strength and refuge
529, Thy hand, O God, has guided

Psalm 48:

646, Glorious things of thee are spoken
380, God has spoken to his people, alleluia
354, Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise
593, O Jesus, I have promised

Ezekiel 2: 1-5:

381, God has spoken – by his prophets
387, Thanks to God, whose Word was spoken

Psalm 123:

696, God, we praise you! God, we bless you!
208, Hearken, O Lord, have mercy upon us
145, You servants of the Lord

II Corinthians 12: 2-10:

645, Father, hear the prayer we offer
352, Give thanks with a grateful heart
594, O Lord of creation, to you be all praise
387, Thanks to God, whose Word was spoken

Mark 6: 1-13:

454, Forth in the peace of Christ we go
483, Jesus went to worship
618, Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy
197, Songs of thankfulness and praise

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

‘They … anointed with oil many who were sick’ (Mark 6: 13) … chrism oils on Maundy Thursday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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