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Why, do people sometimes ask, do we centre our faith around the Eucharist and not around the foot-washing?

Even for a one-off act in Holy Week, people rarely rush to volunteer for foot-washing when it is offered. In our climate, we rarely look at or even see people’s feet, never mind touch them. Because they are so often covered, there feels to be a real intimacy in foot-washing. We often feel uncomfortable at the prospect of drawing attention to our feet.

We are in good company, as we hear Peter’s first hesitancy. Not so much for him because it was an intimate thing to do – for foot-washing there, and then, was common in dwellings after sandal-shod feet had trailed in the dust – but because it was usually the job of the servant of the house.

Does it make us more uncomfortable – more even than the thought of people touching, caressing, drying our perhaps misshapen, calloused, rough-skinned feet, perhaps ugly to our eyes yet so vital a part of our body – more uncomfortable to think of basing our faith on such an act of servitude than on the hosting of a dinner with followers?

Might we be able too easily to sweep the lowly servant bit under the carpet in favour of the hospitality of king bit?

But that isn’t what Jesus taught us.

I went back to Westcott the year after I left, for the leavers’ service. Father Principal gave the address and he was telling those soon to be ordained, before he handed out their blessed stoles, about being once a deacon, always a deacon; about remembering always in the embrace of the stole, the embrace of Christ; never hesitating to tie it deaconwise and serve, just as Jesus so readily tied the towel around his waist and washed feet.

Jesus washed feet as an act of love. Whether we are actually washing feet or not, we can model his honouring of people like this by holding their feet in our hearts and washing them with our prayers. I have two lots of feet for us to meditate on as we come to communion.

I’m reminded of the modern idiom of not judging someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, but it’s hard to imagine walking only one mile on these feet – and impossible to say ‘in these shoes’.


[A homeless man, and a refugee after a long flight to safety from Sudan]

We must instead spend a moment thinking about the many, many more miles these feet have walked.

The conditions these feet have endured, the hardships suffered by the bodies they carry. The hopes and fears, the disillusionment and despair these feet have walked through. The terrain they have travelled, the precious – but no doubt brief or dangerous – snatched moments of rest they have been allowed to take, when the weight is taken off them. The great responsibility of these feet to their owners.

We might imagine how Jesus would look upon these feet, with compassion and mercy, on their owners with love. How he would barely hesitate to draw a pitcher of water, tie a towel around his waist and kneel before these feet. How he would see them as beautiful, them and their owners. How he would caress them as he gently dried them. How he might – as Pope Francis does to prisoners, women, Muslims – bend and kiss them. How he might – as we heard Mary do for him on Monday – anoint them.

We might feel how his gentle serving of these feet would make their owners – even just for a moment, but a moment to treasure forever – feel like Kings (or Queens). How a simple act of washing off the dust and dirt of the road might also wash away some of the anxieties and burdens carried by their owners on these feet, and restore their dignity.

How can we understand in the not washing of feet, or only in a minimal symbolic way, the great love that Jesus wanted the disciples to understand? Can we imagine being blessed so powerfully by Jesus kneeling at our feet? And if we can, how could we think of hesitating to share that blessing with others?

If we are not next to them to wash their feet, how at least can we serve these people with our prayers? These and so many others like them? Feet which have led hard lives.

In fact, can we imagine kneeling to wash the feet of every person we meet? The recognition of the journeys travelled and obstacles in the road ahead; of the burdens each may be carrying.

If we prayed for everyone we interact with, as though we were washing their feet with Jesus’ love and compassion and care, how might that change our faith and our love for others?

Jesus set us this example just as he commanded us to break bread and share wine together, so let us pray that he be with us not only in the Eucharist but also in our serving and loving of others. By this, will people truly know that we are his disciples.


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Mark 1:1-14

Another look at John the Baptist. We seem to have seen him a lot in the last month. To be expected today, though, given that we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.

Jesus’ public ministry in the gospels began with his baptism. There are all sorts of discussions we could have about whether we should be baptising infants in light of this or if we should – as the Baptists and many evangelical churches do – only baptise consenting adults who have come to a firm decision to follow Christ. But let’s not. Not now, not here.

We may not remember our own baptism at all. Some of us may barely even remember our confirmation, which we often today see as the moment of receiving the holy spirit in fullness of our calling (again, discuss), but we regularly hear those promises made when we baptise (one of the important reasons we continue to baptise in the 10 am service) and we make them again each week in the creed – whichever version of it we’re using.

What we probably don’t remember to do, or think when we hear those words of baptism, is to hear for – about – ourselves, is “You are my Son[/daughter], the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ It is all too easy to think of a God who tells us we have failed, sinned, turned away from him. But the God who creates, who judges, who is merciful also promises renewal when we turn to him in repentance.

This is the God who looks on Jesus at his baptism and tells us all that Jesus is his Son, the beloved.
The God who in each of our baptisms says the same. Beloved. With you I am well pleased. Even if/when we do fail, sin, turn away from him, we are still beloved.

Baptised, and in receipt of the Spirit, Jesus begins his public ministry. Having lived and prepared in the temple for his 30ish years, he is now kind of ‘commissioned’ to begin his ministry. Readers and Pastoral Assistants are ‘commissioned’ for ministry – as Jenn will be an a few months; clergy are commissioned /recommissioned in ordination, but we are all commissioned in baptism.

In our baptism services of infants, the commission can seem a fairly general prayer, but in the Confirmation services, where there may well have been adult baptisms as well as confirmations, the bishop, in the Commission, tells all those who are baptized (all of us, that is, whether our baptism was just then or 80 years ago)that they – that we are called to worship and serve God, and he (or, soon, she) asks them – us:

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all people, loving your neighbour as yourself?
Will you acknowledge Christ’s authority over human society, by prayer for the world and its leaders, by defending the weak, and by seeking peace and justice?

And the Bishop then prays that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith, that [we] may be rooted and grounded in love and bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.

As we celebrate the baptism of Christ and the beginning of his public ministry, let us also both celebrate and ponder our own commissioning in his footsteps.

Celebrate our own being beloved by God, and our own empowering of the Spirit to act. If we feel we do not act in response to our baptismal commission, then the new year is after all, a time for new starts and renewed efforts.

Ponder our own public ministry as Christians. Pray that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith, that [we] may be rooted and grounded in love and bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.

Justin Welby said earlier this week “As God changes us in prayer, he drives us out to be justice-seekers, peacemakers, healers and bringers of good news.” That is part of the public ministry we are all called to by our baptism, by the power of the one who came after John, the one whose baptism we celebrate today.

We pray that our bringing forth of the fruit of the Spirit does include loving others as we recognise we are beloved; and of sharing that love. To be changed more and more into the image of him who would baptize us not with water but with the Holy Spirit.

And as we are changed by him, to see more and more who and where we are called to be, we seek also to discern where we might be being driven out to as a church, where each of our own ministries lie, perhaps where as yet untested gifts may lie hidden.

We are all beloved. In baptism and in receipt of the Holy Spirit, called and commissioned to love in return. This week more than ever, this is something to remember, and also to be prepared to stand up for.

The faith of Islam shares with us and with the Jewish faith one God, the one God we profess our faith in in the creed. Allah u akbar, God is great. The God who loves us and in whose name we are called to live in peace and in community, loving neighbour, serving stranger. That is the message to be heard and preached in the church, and in mosques and in synagogues around the world.

Today we join in prayer, in sorrow, in solidarity with all who mourn in France. With all who live in fear of persecution for their faith, taken in vain by extremists in the name of religion. Peacemakers and justice-seekers must work for healing in our world. This week didn’t just see 17 people killed in France, but over 2,000 killed in Nigeria. Militant extremists Boko Harem strike again, their victims men, women and children, all Muslim. How can this ever truly be in the name of the God who is great, the God who is blessed by Jews even in the pain of loss – for those killed shopping on the eve of shabbat, Baruch dayan emet. It cannot.

As we enter an election year, with a great deal of growth in right wing sentiment across Europe, as we remember that God looks on all his children and longs to say ‘you are my beloved’; our commission, more than ever, is not to shrink from expressing our faith to avoid discussion of how ‘religion’ kills, but to own, live and express our willingness to be visibly people of faith, sent out to be justice-seekers, peacemakers, healers and bringers of good news.

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Matthew 25:14-30

The parables we have been hearing for the last couple of Sundays have been ones about being ready. This morning’s is less about being ready per se, although it does urge us to think about what might happen when the master returns, but more about who we are and how we respond, what we have been doing in the meantime.

Today we know ‘talent’ to be ‘gift’, while in Matthew’s time a talent was a weight of silver or gold coin, and we could discuss the subtleties of its message for us today if we prefer to think of it still as money. But the parable’s main relevance to us today is about our use of and engagement with that which God has given us, rather than what exactly it is he has given us.

Let’s assume talent as gift. The man gave talents to his slaves according to their abilities. God gives us skills and gifts with which to work which are appropriate to us. We should not worry about who gets what, because that does not, as we shall see, make a difference in the end. That is not the point of the story. God gives us different gifts – not necessarily more or less than the next person, or more or less valuable or more or less visible, just different.

The first servant used what his master had given him, as did the second. If the distribution of talents was uneven to start with, it was even more so by the master’s return. Five had become ten, two had become four. But is the response of the master different – dependent on the total talents gained?

No, both servants are invited to enter into the joy of the master. Each put in – and made – 100%. Each receives the blessing of the master – they, in our scheme of parables, were not found wanting or waiting – they were wearing their wedding robes, their wicks were trimmed and their supplies of oil sufficient.

But the man who only received the single talent? It was enough – the man gave to his slaves according to their abilities. This is not to say you are worth more than you, you are less capable than you, but each received sufficient for them, each was given a gift relevant to them as individuals. It is not about who gets what.

Have you seen the cartoon about the difference between equality and justice? There’s a football match going on over the fence. Three people, of differing heights, are trying to watch. There are three orange boxes. Equality is where they all have a box each, but this means the tallest, who could see anyway, gets an even better view, the middle one can now see but the littlest one can’t see even with one box to stand on.

Justice, however, is when the one who can see anyway doesn’t have a box, but the little one has two. Then all the heads are at the same level, all watching the game… Each given according to his capacity – and need.

But perhaps the man with the one talent struggled to accept his gift. Perhaps he thought it was so small that he could not achieve anything great with it, so he did not bother to try. Perhaps he feared losing it and having nothing to give back to the master when he returned. So he did nothing with his gift. He just kept it, didn’t use it. Didn’t risk not making anything of it.

And so he doesn’t have 100% return to offer to the master when he comes back. No wedding clothes, no oil. The offer of entering into the joy of the master is not made to the third servant. Rather, as in Matthew’s recent parables, there is to be the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The servant puts up a defence of the master being harsh, of judging unfairly. Of gathering that which he did not sow. He may as well not have given the gift then, retorts the master, ordering the talent to be given to one of the others. It is not about the profit made, but the effort put in to it. The first two servants used their talents, the third did not. Their success was measured by their effort, not by their result. The reward given was the same, regardless.

It doesn’t matter what your gift from God is, but it matters that you do something with it. Burying it – not using it – is not an option. It is not so much about wasting the money – or the talent/quality/gift – but about the opportunity. It may be that you have the brains and the tenacity to be a medical researcher and discover cures; it may be that you give the best hugs and have an uncanny knack of knowing just when they are required.

Do you believe, good and faithful servant, that God has given you a gift which is precious and to be used to his glory if ‘all’ you can do is remember anniversaries or you have a habit of smiling at everyone in the street even if you do not realise that the lonely person feels themself instantly more worthy by your birthday card or note, and the homeless person to be human and not invisible?

Do you believe, good and faithful servant, that this is a gift given to you to be used, to which you should apply yourself? If you have been given the means to honour God, ‘even in the small things’. Do you dare to risk? Those who lose their lives for Christ will save them.

We have a choice whether we use our gifts at all, or at 100% effort, but we will be held accountable ‘when the master returns’. We are called to live and to love abundantly. It is the abundance with which we live that will see us enter into the joy of the master, not the figures on the bottom of the balance sheet. We have free will throughout our lives. It is for each of us to decide how to use what we have been given before answering to our God at the end of our earthly lives.

I always find these parables tricky because at heart I am a bit of (well, a lot of) a universalist, and these texts we have been hearing for the last few weeks seem to make it very clear that there is no guarantee of universal salvation. There is outer darkness, which it is seemingly all too easy to fall in to.

There is ‘without God’, which engenders weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. There is an element of time pressure, of making the most of now, because you never know when the wedding banquet will begin, when the bridegroom will arrive home, when the master will return. We have no idea how long our lives will be, and there is no time to start living them, to use the gifts God has given us for the blessing of our brothers and sisters and to his praise and glory, like the present.

God has given us everything each of us needs to do what he calls us to do. The one who calls us is faithful. Are we, in return, good and faithful servants?

Will you pray with me?

Lord Jesus Christ, do I venture enough for you? You who gave his all including his life for me, have I risked my life for your sake? Teach us Lord to know ourselves worthy, know ourselves gifted and equipped, gifted and equipped to build your kingdom on earth. Teach us how best to use those gifts which are particularly ours, peculiarly ours, to your honour and glory, and to the blessing of others. Teach us how to recognise your gifts in each other, how to be the ones who draw out the gifts of those who are fearful, how to encourage one another and build one another up in your name. Teach us to live abundantly, love abundantly, that we may come to the end of our lives in the knowledge that we have given it 100%, given God 100%, that we are his good and faithful servants. Amen.

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Matthew 22:34-46
First I half thought it would be easy to write a sermon for today. Today is the day which many places observe as ‘Bible Sunday’, and if we wanted to summarise the Bible today, if there was one message we should never tire of hearing and of teaching it is Love, the greatest, first and second commandment.

Then I thought it would be difficult to write a sermon for today. Some of you know that one of the young men who helped us on the homeless outreach team, himself an incredibly caring gentle soul trying to put his own life together again, we learnt last Saturday evening had died. It was a very late and long night for me with the volunteers who – along with many of the others of our street friends – were all devastated.

The tagline or signoff for winter warmer is ‘one love’ and as we gathered for Davey’s simple funeral on Wednesday, I thought of today’s reading again. Davey had a faith and knew that God loved him, and for that I am grateful. He knew also that a difficult family experience did not prevent him from loving others, and helping others where he could. In many ways he epitomised ‘One Love’, loving God and neighbour, knowing himself a redeemed sinner and loving his neighbour in his gratitude.

When Jesus came, the scriptures were full of rules. Do this, don’t do this, Say this, wear that. Go here, worship here. Eat this, but not with them… Rule after rule. There was love in it, but people were so caught up with trying to abide by the rules, or falling foul of the rules, it was hard for love to get a look in. When they asked him which was the greatest commandment, even the commandments must have regularly been pushed out of priority by the holiness codes.

When Jesus came, he overturned all the rules into a simpler message. Love was what he gave priority to. He came to show us how much God loves us, how much God longs for us to love in return. He came to show us that those who loved rules more than love could not oust Love itself, even by putting him to death.

Perhaps because one of the things that Jesus taught about rules was that they could be broken and you could still be loved. That, perhaps, is the greatest message of the Bible that we should never tire of hearing and of teaching. When Jesus came, it was to remind us that everyone can make mistakes and disobey rules, but that all sinners can be redeemed. This is the pointy finger on a pavement corner kind of Bible, but it worked for Davey. He believed it and took comfort in it.

On the train to Devon last month, I sat next to a young Jewish man, and one of the things he said to me somewhere outside Birmingham was “I quite often wish I had your God. Our God is mean and vengeful, and your God is loving”. I’d have happily gone around that loop for a lot of the rest of the journey, but unfortunately he was only going as far as Birmingham… One God; one love.

It might be easy to talk about loving our neighbour as ourselves. It might be harder for us to think about loving God. Here’s an ‘easy’ sermon, written primarily for children:

Jesus said, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” – matthew 22:37-40 niv
Jesus turned all of those rules into just two simple ones. Love God. And love others.
When you keep the sabbath as a day for Jesus, that’s a way of loving him. And when you obey your parents, that’s a way of loving them. Every single rule can fit into one of those two. It was so simple.
Now what do you think it means to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind? It really just means that you love him completely. So you can’t just say you love God, or just put money in the offering, or just listen to the sermon; you need to love God all the time and in every way.
And thankfully, Jesus loves us so much that he forgives us when we forget to love him and our neighbors like we should. Which is great news, because everyone could use a little more love.

It’s true. Undoubtedly everyone could use a little more love. Homeless or not. The challenge we might like today’s gospel to set us is to ponder loving God, with all our hearts, souls and minds. It’s possible for a church to do a lot of loving neighbour – even on behalf of or prompted by God – and not a lot of loving God. What makes us a church, not a social club, or even a church, not a social work organisation?

To consider what loving God completely means might – and should – exercise us if we let it. As we gradually turn our faces toward winter, toward Advent, toward the coming of the Christ child as a baby, it is easy to think about complete love, gazing at a newborn.
But to think about it more deeply, to think about the days when ‘we just say we love God, when we just put money in the offering or listen to the sermon’; to think about loving God ‘all the time and in every way’ is our challenge today to take into the winter months.
It’s Bible Sunday, so perhaps we might think about beginning to read our bibles more often, perhaps together, as bible study.

Perhaps we might reassess our ‘Sabbath’, when we not only rest, but rest in God. That might not be all day Sunday for work or family reasons, but maybe there are other times we could find to concentrate on doing nothing but loving God, sitting quietly and basking in his love (or, as I know some of you might prefer, hiking around his beautiful creation, basking in it).

Perhaps we might think about spending some or more time with God in prayer. In that companionable silence that you can with people you love. Again, we might want to consider doing that with others – joining the monthly prayer group. Starting another one in the evenings. Coming along to an advent group.

Perhaps we might not think about trying to be or do anything other than be open to God, conscious of our commitment to him, heart, mind and soul. Conscious of trying to love him completely and to learn, to feel what that feels like. If (or when) we doubt, or if (or when) we think we fail, we might remember that children’s rhyme:
Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong;
They are weak but he is strong.

…or simply that “Jesus loves us so much that he forgives us when we forget to love him and our neighbours like we should”.

Or we might take heart and take hope in God. Not our God, ‘the loving one’ rather than ‘the vengeful one’ but the God. The God who took all the rules and showed us that they are all bound up in love. The God who longs for love in return. The God who redeems sinners and saves the lost. And the God who, through today’s gospel and all the bible, offers us hope, indeed, the greatest hope of all.

Blessed Lord,
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
help us so to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and forever hold fast
the hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, one love, now and forever.

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Isaiah 35:3-6
Luke 10:1-9

We’re celebrating Luke the Evangelist today. I’ve been thinking a little about that. That’s what we call him. Not Matthew the Evangelist, or Mark the Evangelist, but often Luke the Evangelist. It made me think about who Luke is to us and what his gospel tells us. So here’s today’s pause for thought.

We have four gospels, very different though three of them – synoptic – the same view – are not so hugely different in content. They each have something to tell us, to make us think. If we leave John aside for now, the three other gospels were written by people with a bit of an agenda. Scholars today tell us that Mark was the earliest to be written, he was in a hurry to get the news out, everything is ‘and suddenly’ ‘immediately’, there are less embellishments than the other two. Matthew was a Jew, writing for the Jews, hence his emphasis on showing believers how Jesus fulfils their scriptures, and should be followed.

Luke was a gentile (and supposedly a medic), and his gospel offers us the stories of Jesus interacting with women, with the marginalised, with the outcast, ensuring that the gospel shows to belong to everyone. He is also supposed to be the author of the Acts of the Apostles, where the gospel begins to spread. So although the great commission to go out and make disciples of all nations is heard in Matthew, it is Luke who sends us out after Pentecost with the impetus to get on with it, Luke who gives us those details of the first evangelising attempts, Luke who sets the scene for the letters of Paul giving all the feedback on his travels. Perhaps he is the one worthy of being ‘the evangelist’.

And in the passage we hear today for the feast of Luke the Evangelist, it is not, as often with saints or apostles, the story of how they came to be part of Jesus’ retinue, it is not a passage about his life; it is a passage – from Luke – about being sent out to do the work of the Lord.

I wonder, as I think about how we cycle the three gospels in ordinary time whether as churches it should give us a mission or ministry focus for each year – that in Mark’s year (which we will soon begin again this coming Advent) we might ought to focus on ourselves and our relationship with Christ, the urgency with which Mark tells us his story and its key turning point of realising just who Jesus is and the cost associated with being his follower, that Galilee is all very well, but we have to not avoid the Jerusalem times too.

In Matthew’s year, perhaps we should be focussing on believers – thinking about how we are as church, what we do to develop our discipleship and deepen our fellowship with eachother. We should perhaps spend some time thinking about how the gospel really is relevant to our existing story as church, and how it challenges us to step forward.

And Luke? Luke the Evangelist? After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way.

I guess Luke’s year is the year we make a determined effort to take that renewed faith and zeal and focus out, become the Evangelists we have just spent two years deepening and building our faith to be. Obviously we shouldn’t only do that, just we shouldn’t only think about our own faith in a Mark year or our collective faith in a Matthew year, but perhaps it’s a good cycle to think about priorities for the church.

We cannot avoid the need and the desire to go out and share the gospel if we are truly Christians. We may rail at fundamentalists who upset people by excising the few verses of scripture they don’t like, or choose to work from only a few verses, and withhold the richness in the rest of it, but if we do not accept the invitation – the instruction of the great commission, to go and make disciples of all nations, if we choose to hide inside and pull the doors to, then we are negating so very much of what Jesus was about. And then how do we call ourselves Christian.


If we value our faith, if we love our Lord, then in a year of Matthew where we are reminded over and over in Matthew’s parables to the Pharisees about looking at ourselves, then today is a glimpse to remind us that beyond the Jews there are the gentiles, the women, the outcast, the marginalised, the sick, the foreigner, a whole world waiting to hear the good news. Jesus knew it would scare us: ‘See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.’ But so did Isaiah:

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

So as we honour Luke, the physician of souls as well as bodies, let us mind his gospel invitation to go out. For it is Christ’s invitation, ‘sending us on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intends to go.’ It is the King’s invitation to his slaves, to go out and invite everyone to the feast.

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Matthew 22: 1-14

‘Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables.’

Today’s parable of the King’s banquet gives us plenty of food for thought. We know parables can sometimes be confusing to us today, without the context of contemporary stories or culture or jokes or habits of the time.

Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees, and they saw and heard themselves in it. But just because it had a very definite audience at the telling, and a topic that they would have understood (wedding banquets didn’t have a specified start time – the wise people got dressed in advance so that they were ready when notice came that the preparations were finished and the party could start), this doesn’t mean it can’t still be relevant to us now.

The lectionary writers might have stopped at verse 10… The King throws a lavish banquet and invited many people. Wedding banquets are times of joy and delight.

And yet the people he invited declined. I know that today there are people who turn down royal invitations or even honours, for political or personal reasons, but through most of history, an invitation from the King was different. It was not something you declined.

(Actually, we got an email on Tuesday, in which it said Bishop Paul invites clergy to a day on vision and strategy for the Diocese. Then at the end a very brief sentence It is expected that all clergy will join in the day – so perhaps some things haven’t changed much!)

And so the King sends out his staff to invite others instead. Rather than the initial boundaried invite list, “go therefore out into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.

Our parable is on the surface of it an easy one. Israel, the promised nation, rejected God over and over, so salvation is offered to the gentiles instead. The Jews are unfaithful, so the Greeks receive their invitation. The Pharisees – who are the ones cringing as they listen – prove to be ‘invited [but] not worthy’, instead Jesus eats – banquets – with prostitutes, tax-collectors and sinners.

But let’s look a little further into the parable, at those who are invited and how they respond. The second half of the reading shows it’s not quite so simple – some of those who then come, dragged in off the street, offered an invitation they could – in the nicest way – not refuse, are then damned for it. Seems a little harsh. But ‘many are called, but few are chosen’. Some of them responded to the call, and some did not. The consequence of the former is the banquet, of the latter the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the outer darkness.

You know I’m not a fan of the ‘you are going to outer darkness’ kind of evangelism over the ‘you are invited, please come, taste and see’ form. But still, today’s gospel, the inviting half and the scarier half, call us to ask us how we respond to God’s invitation into his presence. It calls us to ask ourselves this morning who we are in the story.

Firstly, are we the slaves? The King is our God, we recognise that. The invitation is made to all. There is no longer a single promised people and a single promised land. The invitation is there. Or at least, it would be if we made it. For remember the King sends his slaves out to invite everybody. As servants of our King, is it our responsibility to ensure the invitation is heard out in the main streets of today? Heard out among those who are seen as worthy and among those who might not be. Heard among those who come hesitantly, knowing or thinking they are not the ones first thought of, those who are today’s outcasts and on the margins?

Are we the chosen ones? The first chosen ones? The ones who failed? Those who had the invitation to the banquet, the promise of joy and delight, but did not prioritise it. For them, life and work got in the way of LIFE. And we know how easy that is. All too easy to worry about jobs, houses, children, money… about making sure that we – and others, for we are generous to our friends and with strangers – are comfortable in this life. But then suddenly, perhaps, we have got to the end of life, and we wonder whether we really did live it abundantly, in a way which honoured the God who gave his Son for us, the Son who died for us that we might live, the Spirit that nudges us always but sometimes isn’t heard over the clamour of the world.

Have we managed to be too busy to attend to the amazing offer made to us, to respond to the invitation, to prioritise the feast, to revel in the King’s presence? Are we worthy of the invitation that was made to us? Has it been pinned on the fridge door for so long that it has faded in the sunshine and we forgot about it or only remembered half an hour before it starts and decide it probably isn’t worth trying to get ready in time? Are we these people, and if so, are we worthy?

No, we say, we’re not those. They were Israel, the Pharisees, we aren’t them, the ones who didn’t respond. The chosen nation and people, over-confident, under-respectful. We’re the others who were invited. The Greek and the gentile, the ones Jesus came to invite, the ones the King sends the servants out to find. We are here. We have responded to the invitation. We are worthy.

Wait, really? Because today’s gospel is all about how we respond to God and whether we do so in ways that honour the invitation, making us truly worthy. What are we wearing when we attend?

Yes, we have responded. But how have we responded? ‘Why are you not wearing a wedding robe?’ Well, they basically pulled me in off the street – there was no time to shop for shoes or a hat… ‘Many are called, but few are chosen.’ It is possible still to fail the invitation, even if you turn up.

Dave Walker, a great cartoonist, published last week an image of ‘The Intercessions’. On the left hand side, at the lectern, the intercessor with a little box over their head. It has our world in it. On the right, many people (with some artistic licence, certainly more than your average church attendance) with heads bowed, but their little boxes have a sandwich, a bed, a rubix cube, music, a pint, a cat, shoes, a book, a garden, a bike, the television, a clock, mountains, a coffee cup, a car, a wine glass, a computer, a golf course, a beach… only one has the same world being prayed for in it…

That’s the thing about parables. They are a rich creative space for us to hear Jesus speak to us today, and to wonder where and who we are in the telling and in the hearing. Either way lies challenge. Perhaps we hear ourselves to be among the slaves sent out to invite – where we should be encouraged toward preparation, thinking of ways to and people with whom to share the gospel; perhaps among those first invited – Pharisees, jews, churchgoers – where we should be encouraged toward more preparation, in order to be ready and willing to attend when the King of kings calls us home; or perhaps to be among those invited latterly – the gentiles, the rest of the world, the sinners – where we should also be encouraged toward preparation, to be grateful for the calling and to ready ourselves to join the feast in thankfulness for the invitation.

Whichever we feel to be, today we are invited, not only to the banquet, but to spend some time considering our response, in order that we do not miss out on the delight and the joy of feasting at the table of the King.

Today’s parable, though it may make you check your sartorial choices this morning, has nothing to do with clothes – the clothes in which we go to church; and everything to do with the way our response to God’s call is clothed, with ‘the spirit in which we go to God’s house….. As William Barclay reminds us:

…there are garments of the mind and of the heart and of the soul – garments of expectation, of humble penitence, of faith, of reverence – and these are the garments without which we ought not to approach God. Too often we go to God’s house with no preparation at all; if every man and woman in our congregations came to church prepared to worship, after a little prayer, a little thought and a little self-examination, then worship would be worship indeed – the worship in which and through which things happen in men’s (sic) souls and in the life of the Church and in the affairs of the world. (Daily Study Bible)

So let us pray

King of Kings, Lord of Lords, we thank you for the invitation to your banquet. Make us ready when you call, clothed in love and in longing to join you; make us wait upon you in our lives and in our worship, worthy to glory in being the chosen ones of God. Amen.

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Feast of St Matthew with baptism
2 Corinthians 4.1-6
Matthew 9.9-13

Today the church celebrates Matthew, apostle and saint. Actually, today is as much about celebrating baptizing Angelica as it is about celebrating Matthew. Or in fact Angelica now and Tommy a little later this morning. We hope they will grow up into apostles and saints. Which isn’t quite as scary as it might sound…

Matthew was a tax collector. An occupation despised by his fellow Jews as a betrayal to the occupying Roman force, but Jesus showed that judging by outward appearance was not what he was about. He ate with Matthew and with his friends, scandalizing those around him, the church leaders of his day. But Matthew followed when Jesus called him and this was enough. He was forgiven, therefore he was acceptable, therefore he was received.

As we put Gemma and Jeffrey and Angelica’s godparents on the spot in a moment, it is about asking them to respond to the same question as Jesus posed to Matthew. Follow me? I like to hear it as a question, an invitation, not an instruction. Their response is as Matthew’s was (or at least, I hope it will be):

9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

Just like that. But that is really what baptism is about. It’s about saying yes. Thankyou. Please. It’s not about creating hurdles, it’s not about making it hard, it’s not about requiring an entrance exam, it’s not about knowing what will happen tomorrow or next month or next year. It’s not about outward appearance, do you look like you’ll belong? It’s not about how good a follower you will turn out to be, although obviously we hope that one day Angelica appreciates having being baptised!

It’s not about whether ‘we’ as a church think that anyone new has a right to be here, to join us, because in baptism we are all one. We are all one in the counter-cultural world of believing in the life and ethics Jesus taught. We are all one in responding to his call, whether it’s prompted by a deep inner love and instinctive understanding of God, or a desire to ‘do things right’, or because Grandma says we should or because a baby is such a precious gift; the birth of a baby makes us realise – makes us see in sharp contrast and hi-viz that the world is a dark, broken and selfish place as well as a place marked by beauty and joy and wonder, and makes us want to reach out to the light which differentiates the two.

We all, in every baptism service, remember our own response to the call of Christ. The call to follow him. The call to love one another, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to heal the sick and walk alongside the lonely. We all know that we are made to live in community and relationship, and we all know that a self-serving, self-seeking approach to life ultimately isn’t satisfying.

When we respond to the glory of creation and the agony of our destroying of it; the infinite diversity of our fellows and the shameful diminishing of so many of our brothers and sisters for unhelpful and often un-biblical reasons; when we look for a response to why are we here and understand that it is to live, to love and to flourish with each other; when we wrestle with theology – ‘Jesus died to pay for our sin’, or why there is hurt and sorrow in the world – why God ‘lets’ bad things happen to children or people we love, then we have got up and begun to walk with Matthew.

And when we get up with Matthew and respond to Jesus’ call to follow him, we begin to reject the consumerist, speed-driven, post-modern world – today’s occupying force, and we show that we do not judge carelsesly either, but that we care what happens to ourselves and to others. When we eat, walk, talk with those less fortunate than ourselves, we may scandalize, but we are eating, walking, talking with God, and in doing so are received, accepted and forgiven.

Of course, there’s more to following Jesus than getting up from your desk and leaving everything behind for a new adventure. But in today’s gospel Matthew takes the first step and makes a start. Jesus says ‘follow’ and he does. All journeys start with that first step. Matthew will be sent (the meaning of apostle) to heal, to feed, to clothe, to teach that there is light in the darkness and it is the light that will overcome.

Today is the first step on Angelica’s journey too, and we hope and pray that she also will learn to heal, to feed, to clothe and to breathe the love of God into her life as she lives it. There will surely be setbacks and doubts, hesitations and denials, just as there were for the apostles. But in baptism Angelica joins the saints, those for whom life is holy.

Baptism is a free gift of God, offered to anyone who would like to reach out and grasp it (at any age). In it we are all, like Angelica, received, accepted and forgiven. In baptism – literally (well, figuratively) – Angelica is ‘washed clean’ and marked with the cross – to ‘claim her’ – to include her in those for whom Jesus gave up his life, those whom God loves so much that he sent his only son to serve us … unto death.

And as we rejoice in a positive response to the open invitation from God in today’s gospel to follow Christ, we shall hear some of our first reading again too, because at the end of the service when we light her a candle, it uses the very same words from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

6For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray

God our Father, for we all may be so bold –
with each precious gift of a baby, each baptism grows the number of your saints.
Help us always to recognise your light in the world
and to follow it in truth.
Help us always to know ourselves, as Matthew, as Angelica,
received, accepted, forgiven,
and to see the face of Jesus Christ in one another.
May we all live as the light which shines in the darkness,
to the glory of your name. Amen.

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Jeremiah 4. 23-28                             Luke 15.1-10

Somewhere the other day – to be honest I’ve no idea where or when, given that I don’t seem to have stopped recently, but somewhere I saw a comment about a stained glass window (not this one, but like it). It was not unlike our east window – Christ crucified, with dignified mother Mary standing to the one side and the quietly passionate disciple whom he loved to the other.

But also, in this depiction, was Mary Magdalene. No perfect pose for her, she was depicted thrown at the foot of the cross, her arms around it, in a state of total distress. And the comment was about how which one would we rather be, which one was the ‘real’ one, which one was most likely the truest representation.

And it was to say that it was Mary Magdalene, in an agony of her own at the cross. Showing her utter devastation at the crucifixion and her love for Christ in the only way she knew. Extravagantly, physically. Her Lord, her saviour.

Our readings today give us a little more Jeremiah – this time a grim image of the desolation of the world when our sin destroys it – we are surely no nearer having learnt our lesson today than they had in Jeremiah’s time, when we think about our lack of stewardship of natural resources and our inhumanity to our fellows.

One commentary on this passage says:

“The anguish of the prophet appears to mirror the anguish of God which cannot believe the people are bent on self-destruction. I can’t help feeling this must the case today as we watch our world bent on self-destruction because of our greed and the consequences of our actions.”

It is all too easy to look around and be despondent. See bits of the earth waste and void; see loss of life and livelihoods in areas of earthquake, volcano, flood, natural disaster; see before and after photographs (though you only really need see the ‘now’) of Palestine and Gaza and Syria and their streets and cities in ruins; see the forlorn faces and empty bellies of a generation of children facing famine in once fruitful land where rains and so crops have failed. So many times when we turn on the news, it is to see or hear that the earth mourns.

It is all too easy. All too easy to remember how many lives have been lost or irreparably changed in global conflicts as well as local ones – as another year goes past since 9/11, another aid worker is murdered by ISIS – the war on terror has claimed many victims but how many victories in that time?

So should we despair totally? No. Don’t get me wrong, Jeremiah wasn’t pulling punches and neither should we. We are all somehow involved. We cannot turn the other cheek, close our eyes to atrocities. Sin abounds, and we are all sinners, if not terrorists and murderers. But Jeremiah still offers us that glimpse of hope.

I will not make a full end, says the Lord. Even if there is judgement – and judgement there will be – there is still hope. Because destruction of the world and people he lovingly created for relationship is not what God wants. Earlier in this chapter, immediately preceding this passage, we would have heard ‘My anguish, my anguish, I writhe in pain!…For my people are foolish, they do not know me, they are stupid children, they have no understanding…’

And as we turn to Luke, we have confirmation of that. ‘there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance.’ ‘Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents’.

Some of you heard the vicar preach a couple (a few?) weeks ago about how irrational it is of the shepherd to leave 99 sheep to their own devices and go off looking for the one. Leaving 99 in danger to save one on their own. Well yes, perhaps, but that’s the essence of God’s love for us. Not that it’s irrational, but that it will never give up on us.

However ‘skilled we are in doing evil’ and however much we [as a race] ‘do not know how to do good’, God will not put us totally beyond redemption. And when we return, how joyful that reunion. When we have been lost, how beautiful the knowledge of safety. When we have been and seen terror, how warm a loving embrace.

The shepherd and the woman looking for her coin illustrate that God will not make a full end. However many mistakes we make, he will still be there when we stretch out a hand to reach back into the fold. He will shed a tear of joy and do a happy dance that one who was lost is found. Almost more so when we have been lost. The story which follows directly in Luke is that of the prodigal son, who of course only recognises the true value of what he had when he had gone away and thrown it away, the son to whom the father runs, arms open, when he is still a distance away.

Our own recognition of our salvation and the love of God for each and every one of us is perhaps deeper, sweeter and more – or perhaps even only – understandable if we are prepared to recognise our sin.

When we do so, when we leave pretending and brave faces aside, and open our brokenness to God, the forgiveness which flows to meet our repentance is likely to knock us off our feet. The lost sheep and the lost coin rejoiced over for having been lost and found, they are the glimmer of light shining in the darkness, in the desolation and waste of sin, the chink of light which the darkness cannot overcome. They are the hope offered to all of us, and immortalised so often in art by Mary Magdalene as she throws herself around Jesus ankles, nailed to the cross, and weeps.

What Mary did not know, could not know then, was that this was not the end. Hope remained, as it does for us. Mary’s joy in the resurrection as she exclaims ‘Rabbouni’ in the garden transforms the distress at the cross. After a bleak and empty void of a life seemingly laid waste, the transforming life of the resurrection colours and shimmers and delights.

Whenever we lose sight of God alongside us in darkness; or regret our own actions, or words, or lives; or despair of the plight of refugees, of innocent children, of warriors fighting for they no longer know exactly what, let us remember to throw ourselves at the foot of the cross and lament. And hope. Because while we have hope all is not lost, and when lost is found there will be great rejoicing in heaven.

‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them’. So we are accepted whoever we are, as long as we are prepared to put ourselves at his feet. So let us do that. Let us always acknowledge our brokenness and the brokenness of our world, and love him, openly and extravagantly; and be ready to bathe in transforming light and love in return.

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Patronal Festival, September 14th, 2014

maryRadical hospitality, radical generosity.

I know you know me well enough by now that if someone asked you to describe your curate’s view of church then that might not be a bad answer to give.

And I’d stand by it being a pretty good description. It is, after all, not only the principal gospel message Jesus never tired of teaching but it is also – as we celebrate our patronal festival –Mary’s message, the Magnificat.

We know from the story of the woman caught in adultery that the new testament world took a pretty dim view of relationship outside of marriage, so you can totally understand Mary being horrified by the angel’s message.

But she barely hesitates. Upside down has gone her world, the structure, order and pattern that she knows. The hope of a stable, happy future with Joseph. Everything she knew and was comfortable with, gone in an instant.

But does she say no? No. She takes the new life offered by the annunciation, leaving aside the potential personal cost, for the benefit of others, the benefit of generations to come, the benefit of all.

Mary chooses radical hospitality, radical generosity in hosting Christ, radical grace. And she is our patron saint. So do we model radical hospitality, radical generosity? Radical grace, radical openness to change for future good?

Because of the GNR date change, holding our patronal festival this weekend also coincides with the Heritage Open Days. Last year some people tried to visit even though we were not taking part and as usual were not open to the public (to our parishioners, to Mary’s people) aside from our usual services.

HOD2_churchSo it seemed to be a good idea to be involved this year. If we are to celebrate the radical hospitality of our patron saint, then surely the obvious place to begin as a community is by opening the doors and welcoming people in.

For my part I am hugely grateful to those of you – from the congregation and the wider community – who manned and womanned the church and hall on Friday, yesterday and who will do again this afternoon. Thankyou. I am thankful for your generosity and hospitality in giving your time, because it meant the doors could be open.

Because I have a thing about these doors of ours. They’re shut so often. Way too often. They don’t say radical hospitality to those who pass by. Even during our services those doors get shut (there’d be less draught if you sat nearer the front…just saying…) and so if you arrive late and hesitant, you might easily find it easier to go away again. I can’t wait until the glassed doors are installed.

Do you know my favourite film clip? It’s in Sister Act, when Whoopie Goldberg has fixed the choir enough to sing Hail Holy Queen properly (Mother Superior looks surprised, then delighted) and then they step it up a notch and the church is suddenly filled with a glorious sound of joy. Mother Superior – the most superior Maggie Smith – now looks horrified, but the camera moves to the back of church, where some curious faces have appeared, tentatively drawn into the building by the sense of Spirit they can hear flowing out.

The priest in the pulpit beckons them in and in they come – almost as many as the original congregation. Mother Superior has to think again. They’re all in dungarees or jeans and look a bit clueless, but they’re there, and they are welcome.

Welcoming them took some radical generosity on the part of Maggie Smith’s character, as did harbouring Whoopie Goldberg’s “Sister” Mary Clarence – a Vegas showgirl and singer – in the first place, but so she did; the community took that risk and if you know the film you know that that risk paid off in spades.

There is a bit of me which can’t imagine being able to stand in the pulpit and wave a crowd of new people in like the priest in the film. Except that is sort of exactly what we do especially at baptism services – we open the doors and welcome in anyone who walks through the door, whether they have any idea of church or not, whether they’re dressed to the nines or not.

That is radical hospitality, radical generosity. But, is it radical? Really? Or is it simply the day to day ordinary hospitality and generosity of Jesus, of his mother Mary, and so surely only right and proper that his church, her church should model this too?

But we know, don’t we, that hospitality and generosity; grace and the openness to things new and potentially disruptive is not easy. Modelling ourselves on Christ and the blessed Mary his unhesitant, totally-giving mother takes effort – takes a lifetime. However costly though, it is our life’s work and our lives’ (as Christians) responsibility.

It is perhaps easier if you live in community, with everything in common and no personal possessions, religious lives with a rule like that of Benedict, to know radical hospitality and radical generosity as fundamental. In many religious communities novices give up everything of their own when they profess, including their names. In Sister Act, all the nuns are named Mary. Mary Clarence.

It feels to me like a really good way to remember the model of Mary, to keep her pattern at the forefront of our lives. Can you imagine yourself similarly designated? Mary Kate; Mary Margaret; Mary Ann? And gents, don’t think you can get away with it – I remember being confused and entertained on my first visit to France that the campsite owner was called Marie-Pierre… So let’s include Mary Thomas; Mary Paul; Mary Michael.

There’s a recognised hardship with putting others first in convents and monastic communities. It takes grace to create grace. So would it for us to be a place which exists as much for others as for ourselves. It takes grace and total commitment to God’s will, his plan and his plan for our lives to be open to the kind of change Mary experienced. It takes grace and is costly. A sword will pierce your heart also, says Simeon. Indeed.

Her hospitality to the life of the world in flesh caused her the anguish of watching her son be taken from her, stripped, mortified, taunted, crucified.

Her hospitality in being open to the unknown and trusting God in the unknown led to the joy of seeing resurrection, the transformation of hope, seeing the message, the Word she bore, be known and welcomed and loved, trusted and obeyed and followed by generation after generation after generation. Generations shall call me blessed.

We call her blessed today. And we seek to follow her. Heritage Open Days may be only a small scratch of hospitality in the world, but they open the door to people who might only need just that encouragement. As we model Mary, our hospitality, generosity, openness to the strange and the stranger grows us in grace, grace which spills out of the building to those outside and offers them a vision of a different future.

A vision of a different future is what Mary said yes to, and it is what we pray for. Again and again and again. It means we pay the price of hospitality disrupting routine, we pay the price of walking the journey to the end, even when we know it to be costly, but it means we join in the work of Christ in being for all.

We may have a mission or a vision statement, but in some ways we don’t need one. We only need to remember that we are Mary’s church, Mary’s people: Mary Kathryn, Mary Christine, Mary Robert. We only need remember her obedience, her trust, her faithfulness, in looking forward, to a new world. May she be our vision. Today and every day.

Let us pray:

Lord, may our souls magnify you.
Use our hands, our voices, our hearts
to lift up the lowly, fill the hungry with good things and share your love with another generation;
scatter any proud thoughts of ours
that we may ever rejoice in your favour
and bring honour to your name. Amen.



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Isaiah 43.8-13

Today the Church commemorates Bartholomew. Bartholomew is a slightly shadowy character – he is listed as an apostle in all the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke (not though the piece of Luke we actually hear today), but we hear little else about him and there is some debate about whether he and Nathaniel (who we hear rather more about, and who appears in John’s list of apostles) are the same person.

What’s in a name?

Bartholomew also appears listed in Acts, after the resurrection – leaving Nathaniel aside; in the absence of anything much else, Exciting Holiness at least claims that Bartholomew “recognizes Jesus for who he is and proclaims him as Son of God and King of Israel”.

The Catholic Encyclopaedia informs us that Bartholomew was martyred in Armenia, by being flayed alive – and this indeed is obviously the story that Michelangelo and others heard, for the most famous artistic representations of him are holding out his flayed skin.

In our first reading, Isaiah says “You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen”. A few verses earlier, at the beginning of chapter 43, Isaiah says “I have called you by name, you are mine”.

Because we are holding his feast, we remember the witness of God’s servant Bartholomew. He is mentioned – called – by name in today’s collect. You might like to glance back at the noticesheet:

Almighty and everlasting God,
who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace
truly to believe and to preach your word:
grant that your Church
may love that word which he believed
and may faithfully preach and receive the same;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Let’s take it in two parts.

Almighty and everlasting God,
who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace
truly to believe and to preach your word:

When I looked at the collect, it reminded me of the ordination service, where the words are repeated over the head of each person – “Send down your spirit Lord, on your servant … Bartholomew … for work … in your church”.

Have another look at that first part of the collect. Read it quietly for a second. Now how about reading it again, with your own name instead of Bartholomew? It might need ‘gives’ not ‘gave’. Can we make it a prayer for ourselves – give to me, your apostle, grace truly to believe and to preach your word.

Now you may say that to use the term ‘apostle’ is not correct, because we are only Jesus’ disciples, the twelve were the apostles. But the apostles started off as disciples (those who follow) and ‘graduated’ into apostles – from being students to teachers in the great commission, when they were ‘sent’ – the meaning of apostle.


In the great commission, and after Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit we are all sent. So we are all apostles as well as disciples. We follow, and we are sent. The two go together, as they are in the collect: ‘Truly to believe’ = disciple; ‘to preach your word’ = apostle.

So let’s have the confidence, each of us, to pray for ourselves: almighty/gracious/transforming and everlasting God,
who gives to your apostle N grace
truly to believe and to preach your word.

And what are we believing? Isaiah again: Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine.

I have redeemed you. Does that massive, beautiful, incredible thing suffuse our whole beings? Do we believe that, really, truly, to our core? I want to say, if you cut us in half to expose our core, how would you recognise our faith? I’m thinking about Blackpool rock but I’m all too aware that for so many Christians the possibility has become a terrifying reality.

Bartholomew holds out his skin in pictures. Are there days when our faith feels only ‘skin-deep’? When we are afraid, when we do not feel redeemed? On those days, let’s follow Bartholomew, Bartholomew who “recognizes Jesus for who he is and proclaims him as Son of God and King of Israel”, and who leads us into the second part of the collect.

grant that your Church
may love that word which he believed
and may faithfully preach and receive the same;

give us – your Church – grace, strength and trust to love that which we believe – even, especially, on days when the world seems so riven by sin and suffering it is hard to comprehend where God is in it, that we have the confidence to follow Bartholomew from disciple to apostle, and not just recognise Jesus but proclaim him, ‘faithfully preach and receive the same’.

Because the joy of being redeemed is not ours alone. God calls many many more. All. Tradition has it that in his day Bartholomew took the gospel to India, to Ethiopia, Mesopotamia and more as well as Armenia.

Today, we apostles – we disciples who are called, called by name and sent – we are called too to preach and proclaim Jesus, our redemption and our hope. Where? Well Isaiah doesn’t send us so far as Bartholomew went. Just to anyone who will listen:

“Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes,
who are deaf, yet have ears”

“You are my witnesses, says the Lord”, “my servant[s] whom I have chosen”.

There are many people who are blind yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears. They are all around us. We honour saints like Bartholomew – and all those other Christians being martyred today – best by striving to deepen our own faith, to wonder in it, to glory in it and to give thanks for it, that it is not skin-deep, a mantle that we put on or take off, but that our recognition of Jesus as Lord guides and directs every thought and word and deed;

and that we grow in being open to sharing it with those who with eyes and ears open to receiving it – to believe and to preach your word.

And if naming yourself in the Collect doesn’t strengthen you do so, nor remembering that Isaiah tells us Do not be afraid, God has called us by name, that today we are his witnesses, then skip forward to the collect after communion, and carry on praying that this week

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
[filling them] fill us with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
by the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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