11th Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 37.1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105.1–6, 105.16–22
‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’
In a time when in many parts of the world church attendance is shrinking, we might begin to wonder whether there is an appetite any longer for good news…or if we have become less capable of proclaiming news that is truly good. There is certainly plenty of bad news. Globally, we just have seen in July the highest temperatures of any month ever recorded in human history, with the tragic fires in Hawaii following this week. Global conflicts continue and even in our own country we struggle for peace and reconciliation. How do we walk into such times as people bearing good news? Or to phrase it in terms of our Gospel reading, how do we live without fear amongst the terror of the storm?
There is a problem with asking the question like this as it inappropriately turns the spotlight on to us, and our own agency. Humankind is prone to finding solutions based on our past successes, tending to project old solutions on to new and increasingly complex problems. The Church is prone through history to doing the same thing, becoming distracted by the waves of change and putting our faith not in Christ, but in what we have always known. When the world seems chaotic and we feel like storms of all kinds rage around us, the task is not to build a better boat for the inhospitable weather, but to remember what we know to be true, whose way can be trusted and where life can be found.
It is said that the task of mission is to discern where the Spirit is working and join in. We gather Sunday after Sunday to meet God in broken bread and a sip of wine, and in the sacrament of one another, going out to our world strengthened as bearers of good news. Despite the beauty and power we know in these rites and rituals, the heart of the mission of the church is not to be found within a building on a Sunday morning. What we do here is precious and sacred, but it is really what strengthens us for our true vocation- our work and presence in the world.
This is, of course, has always been true. It has always been true that Christians have organised and created structures to magnify their efforts for the good of those in need. In the middle of the 2nd century Justin Martyr tells of such efforts in the Roman community at their weekly assembly:
And they who are well-to-do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.
In early 4th century in Caesarea the plague hit with force, causing most citizens to flee. The historian Eusebius noted that;
All day long some of them [the Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.
No doubt many died in this task, even as it fixed the reputation of Christianity in the minds of the community as being a way of love in action. Once Christianity became an authorised part of the Roman world, care for the sick took on institutional forms with hospitals founded and sustained by Christian groups. Religious orders offered hospitality to strangers and refugees and care for the dying. As time moved on, these communities became more complex and ordered so that they could better respond to human need, enlarging the public imagination of what it looks like to trust in God while bringing heart, mind and strength to the task of loving one another. While we may, and should, seek to do good in our individual lives, the Church has always been led by the Spirit to work organisationally to alleviate the suffering of the poor, needy and oppressed.
One hundred and fifty years ago, five women seeking to live out their vocation of being good news to those in need founded a Female and Infants’ Refuge in Ann St, Brisbane. This grew to become what Anglicare is today, a response similar to other denominations whose ethic of service and mission to the world led to organisations like St Vincent de Paul, the Salvos, Blue Care and more. In a time when many are losing faith in institutions, we can be grateful for those who took first steps in faith many years ago, so that now we have the infrastructure to respond to social need in ways that parish community life on its own could never achieve. Humanitarians know that to prepare for any disaster, the groundwork needs to be done early, and needs the foundation and strength to be able to continue its work at the grassroots long after the headlines have been forgotten. The people of God are called to gather as beloved community, breaking open the word, breaking the bread and strengthening one another in faith. From this strong centre we are sent out, called to be agents of the kingdom of God, transforming the world with love, reconciliation and justice.
What then, is ours to do? The world, and indeed each life, contains suffering- we know tragedies and griefs of all kinds in our parish family. Some may be conscious of brokenness and dysfunction in their own life or in their family and wonder how they could ever consider themselves a co-creator of the kingdom of God. If that is you, then there is indeed good news here, because by the grace of God you are the very person who can bring and become good news to another. We should know by now that God does not require or seek out perfect people. Indeed, in the reading from Genesis we hear the story of a young man named Joseph whose irritating ways lead his brothers to seek first to kill him and then opt instead for making money from his enslavement. Hardly the makings of an episode of Focus on the Family!
And because we are familiar with the Gospel characters, we know that Peter becoming fearful and sinking into the water is the least of his shortcomings. He is regularly impulsive, quick to express self-interested opinions and sometimes faithless. Jesus gathers about him not those who have it all together, but those who know they don’t. And Jesus never promises a life free of suffering but instead encourages us to have courage and follow in the way of the cross. We should hear clearly the good news that even amidst the greatest of storms…or struggles or chaos or anxiety or grief or catastrophe…God is with us and will never leave us. Our faith grows not from who we are and what we can do, but who God is, which is the point of the miraculous story in Matthew’s Gospel. We should be left in no doubt of the lengths God would go to reach us and be with us as we co-labour with the Spirit to bring the new creation to birth.
We are in a time where Church and society are transitioning from one way of being in the world to something we do not yet see clearly. As the waves of change crash over us, we are called to take heart and remember that God is with us through it all. The work of healing the world is not ours alone. No organisation is perfect any more than any individual is perfect, but through organisations like Anglicare the way has been prepared for the church to respond in loving service. As the Spirit moves, inspiring individuals, communities, and organisations to respond to human need, we discover we are stronger together. At St Andrew’s through the partnership with Anglicare and Thread Together, we can bring hope and dignity to many in ways that would have been impossible by ourselves alone. That in 2023 St Andrew’s Anglican Church and Anglicare are together providing new clothing for women fleeing domestic violence and assisting families in poverty would no doubt have astonished, but likely also delighted those five women who founded the Women and Infants Refuge 150 years ago. We cannot see the future clearly, but we can learn from history the way the Spirit at the right time has equipped and enabled everyday, imperfect people to enact loving service and work for reconciliation and justice. From this we should take heart, knowing that not even the strongest storms can overwhelm or separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
 1 Apol. 67, Translation from the online Ante-Nicene Fathers: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.ii.lxvii.html
 Eusebius: The Church History, 313 CE