The Ven Dr Michael Gilbertson
Archdeacon of Chester
24 April 2016
Psalm 119:9-16; Acts 15:35-41;
Ephesians 4:7-16; Mark 13:5-13
It is a great privilege to have been asked to preach here at Tabalia on St Mark’s Day. Your welcome has been wonderful. I first met members of the Melanesian Brotherhood in 2010 – Brother Nelson and Brother Jeffrey – when I moved to Chester. Then I met more brothers and members of the other religious orders on the Simply Living Mission. But it is a great joy to be able to visit the Solomon Islands for myself. Like many in England, I have been humbled by your sense of joy, your prayer, your practical Christian living and your gentle attitude to others.
Today, I want to bring you a message of encouragement. Jesus is walking with us. Jesus hem wakabout wetem iumi. We can’t see him of course. But in Eastertide of all seasons we celebrate his resurrection. The risen and ascended Jesus is with us now through the Holy Spirit. Jesus is walking with us.
In our Gospel Reading this morning, Jesus is talking to his disciples in Holy Week, a few days before he died. Looking ahead, he knows what it coming. He knows he is facing death. Despite this, he is concerned for his followers. He says that they will be betrayed, handed over, arrested, and tried. Yet of course, that is what happened to him later that same week. So the experience of Jesus’s disciples in the future will echo something of Jesus’s own experience. But Jesus is not only saying that. He’s also saying that he will be with them when it happens. When Mark wrote his gospel down, he was looking back after Easter, in the light of the resurrection. He knew that Jesus is risen and is with his people. Jesus is walking with us. And that is clear also from our New Testament reading (Ephesians 4:7-16). Paul talks about the church as the body of Christ – we are that close to Jesus. Every step of the way, Jesus is walking with us.
So what are the different ways in which Jesus is walking with us?
First, in our discipleship, in our personal relationship with God.
Every Christian is called to grow in love and in the knowledge of God. And that is what you seek to do. Aspirants, novices, brothers, released brothers. You are all called to grow in personal faith.
In Psalm 119:9-16, our psalm for this service, we read:
How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word….I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
The psalmist is talking about God’s word being right down deep inside us.
You demonstrate that you carry God’s word in you by your devotion to prayer, by the way you know the psalms, the liturgy, the hymns by heart. And you show that you live according to God’s word as well. You brothers don’t just keep the word in your heads – you live it out each day by your example.
And of course the word of God is not just the written word. We have Jesus the living Word, living in us. Jesus is walking with us.
The vows you take – to set aside possessions, to live celibate lives, to live obediently in community – these are not easy. You are following in the footsteps of Ini Kopuria, who is celebrated in the window behind me. He didn’t always find it easy either. Jesus knows it is hard. In Hebrews 4:15 we read that Jesus was tempted in every way we are, yet he did not sin. And Jesus is walking with us. Remember that when things are going really well, when you are growing in the faith. And remember it as well when you are struggling with temptation and testing. Jesus is walking with us. Ready to help because he understands.
So Jesus is walking with us in our personal discipleship, helping us to change and to grow deep down inside.
And then second, Jesus is walking with us as we do what he has called us to do. Jesus has entrusted his mission to us. We saw the third-year novices setting off yesterday on a three-month mission to Temotu. St Teresa wrote that Jesus has no hands now on earth to care but ours, no eyes to see, no feet to walk, but ours. He touches, sees, walks through us. Through our hands, eyes and feet.
In our gospel reading in Mark 13, Jesus talks about the mission he is entrusting to his disciples. The gospel must be preached to all nations. Bishop Selwyn and Bishop Patteson and others brought the gospel to Melanesia. But now we have a shared mission, as you bring the gospel back to the UK! As together, we preach the gospel to all nations, Jesus is walking with us.
That’s true also in tough times. Jesus’s words about being handed over and persecuted remind us of the seven martyrs we commemorated yesterday here at Tabalia.
So Jesus entrusts his mission to us. And he gives us the gifts to carry it out, as we read in our passage from Ephesians: It was Jesus who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.’ Sisters, brothers, clergy, other Christians, we are all gifted by God. Being evangelists, pastors and teachers is at the heart of the Melanesian Brotherhood. And it is Jesus who gives us those gifts. Jesus is walking with us.
You might be wondering about your calling. Whether as an aspirant you wonder about becoming a novice, as a novice you wonder about taking your vows to become a brother, or perhaps as a brother whether to continue or seek to be released for different service. Whatever the future holds for us, Jesus is walking with us. And he needs all of us.
So Jesus is walking with us. In our personal discipleship, being changed deep down. And in our calling to work in his mission.
And third, Jesus is walking with us in community.
All Christians are called to be one in Jesus. Listen to Paul from our passage in Ephesians 4: Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
All of us here today, from right across the world, are called to be one in Jesus. We share the same Lord, the same faith, many of the same challenges.
But also, for the Melanesian Brothers and for the other orders represented here today – the Sisters of Melanesia, the Sisters of the Church and the Society of St Francis – you have a particular calling to live and work together closely in community.
That’s wonderful when it goes well. But in every Christian community, there are occasional arguments, or times when you find that other brother or sister annoying. I’m sure other people in the church find me annoying sometimes.
But be encouraged. Because in our relationships in community. Jesus is walking with us.
In our reading from Acts, we learned something about the story of John Mark, to whom this chapel is dedicated. He was a cousin of Barnabas. He went with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, as a helper. But he suddenly returned home. Imagine if four brothers went on a mission to Ysabel and one just decided that he’d had enough and came back to Tabalia, leaving the others behind. It would be an awkward situation.
In our passage in Acts 15:35-41, Barnabas wants to take John Mark again, but Paul says no. There is an argument and they split up. But even in this kind of situation, Jesus is walking with us. So out of one mission, come two missions. Paul and Silas go to Syria, Barnabas and Mark go to Cyprus.
And in the end, Paul and Mark were reconciled. In Colossians 4:10, Paul writes that Mark sends greetings, and asks that the Colossians welcome Mark is he comes to them. And in 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul asks that Mark should go to him because he is especially useful.
Jesus brought unity and growth out of division. All four – Paul, Barnabas, Silas and Mark – are saints of the church. And of the two that argues with Paul, Barnabas has Honiara Cathedral dedicated to him, and Mark has this chapel!
If there is someone in your community you are finding difficult, remember that Jesus is walking with us. Bring that relationship to Jesus. Pray. And find something in that other person to thank God for. Ask Jesus to restore that relationship.
So be encouraged.
This is a place where you give thanks and praise and work together each day. It’s the same at Veranasso, at TNK, at La Verna and at Kohimarama.
In the Christian life there are challenges. In our own lives, deep down, as Jesus helps us grow as disciples. In the mission he has entrusted to us. And in our life in community.
But remember – in all these things: Jesus is walking with us. Jesus hem wakabout wetem iumi.