The Jubilee Year of
Paul the Apostle
This year the Universal Church commemorates the second millennium of
the birth of St. Paul. Through reading the ‘Acts of the Apostles’
and the letters of St. Paul in the New Testament we see that St. Paul
was a man totally gripped by the love of God revealed in the person of
Jesus Christ. St. Paul’s whole life and message after his conversion,
was Christ-entred. Like St. Paul, may we find the grace to put
Jesus Christ first in our lives today.
Neil preached on this theme - and the call to mission in our churches -
on the Feast of the Conversion of S. Paul, January 25th, 2009.
On Boxing Day, or more correctly, St.
Stephen’s Day, we remember the first Christian Martyr. We recall how
Stephen was stoned to death. It is recorded in the scriptures that Saul
entirely approved of the killing (Acts 6:59). Saul, a persecutor and
blasphemer, who to put it mildly, cared not one jot for the Church, is
the person we commemorate today. Well he is, and he isn’t! Saul, after
his conversion on the road to Damascus became Paul. So really today’s
feast ought to be called the Conversion of Saul! He is important for
Caravaggio’s painting of the
Conversion of Saint Paul may well be the first artistic account of that
encounter on the road to Damascus. The painting records the moment when
Saul of Tarsus, on his way to Damascus to annihilate the Christian
community there, is struck blind by a brilliant light and hears the
voice of Christ saying, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?...”
A few weeks ago I was privileged to
attend a lunch party at which the guest of honour was the Roman
Catholic Archbishop of Damascus. He spoke about the modern say ‘Sauls’,
and the difficulty of being a Christian in Damascus today. He spoke so
warmly to me that I felt I ought to make sure he knew I was Anglican!
It clearly didn’t feature… “there are those who love the church”, he
said, “and those who are the modern day enemies of Christ”. I suppose
we could claim that the problems there today are the fault of apostolic
But it is important today to remember
those two people – Saul and Paul – for there is a little of both, I’m
sure, in each one of us. In Saul and Paul we see the capacity within
human beings to love or to hate, to build up or put down. To work for
the Kingdom of God, or work against it.
We might not consider ourselves
enemies of the church in that we go round persecuting the church. That
said, there are sadly too many examples of Christians who rather enjoy
persecuting others - and in the Lord’s name - but we won’t dwell on
that this morning. So often the greatest damage is done, in so many
areas of life, not by what we say, but by a failure to speak.
It was Edmund Burke who said that “All
that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
We might not persecute the church like Saul, but do we speak up as
often as we ought to so that our faith is shared and commended to
others? “Woe to me”, says Paul in his first letter to the Church in
Corinth,” if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). Woe to us, too,
if we do not preach the Gospel.
During this Lent our United Benefice
is engaging in the Mission Shaped Introduction course as you will know
from the diary of events, the magazine and the Sunday sheets. We are
joining many thousands of people, not just in this land but in many
places, who are recognising that nothing can be taken for granted any
more… the Christian Faith isn’t just going to miraculously drop from
the sky and hit people in the face bringing them flooding through the
doors of the Church. Indeed if the faith is to be “proclaimed afresh to
each generation” (a quote not from the Guardian Newspaper but the 1662
BCP), then we need to discover new ways of doing that in the 21st
The Mission Shaped Introduction course
was on the agenda of the PCC the other evening but before I spoke about
it we, that is to say the 12 men and women present (a good number), did
an exercise where I invited people to be honest with some questions.
Multiple choice. Lots of fun!
Questions such as…
1. How bothered am I about the
spiritual poverty and spiritual hunger in this community?
2. How often do I talk about my faith
3. When did I last invite someone (non
church member) to come with me to church?
4. Whose job is it to spread the Good
News of Jesus?
5. How often, outside service times,
do I set time aside for personal prayer?
6. Am I prepared, with others on the
PCC, to give a lead in the parish’s mission and outreach?
7. Am I prepared to get more involved
in issues concerning the community we serve
8. Do I feel confident explaining the
Christian faith to non-believers?
9. Would you appreciate some help in
learning to share your faith?
I might be forgiven, judging by the
answers given, for thinking that all 12 people would immediately sign
up to the course. But someone afterwards said, quite honestly, I know I
ought to but it’s not my sort of thing.
Whilst I realise what was being said,
and perhaps what that person really meant was “it’s not my style”, if
wanting the church to grow and wanting other people to know about God’s
love isn’t our sort of thing, what on earth are we doing here?
If faith is something we keep to
ourselves, a sort of ‘spiritual massage’ for an hour on a Sunday
morning, then we only have ourselves to blame if people want to believe
what is said on the side of a London bus about God probably not
Just out of interest, I looked through
the PCC agendas for 2008 to see what the balance was: what was the
balance of discussion regarding things taking place ‘inside’ the church
building, and ‘outside’ in the community or wider world?
Of the 56 items tabled during the
year, how many do you think focused ‘outside’ rather than ‘inside’?
(people were invited to shout out their answers!) The answer is 2.
2 out of 56 items discussed during the
year focused inwardly rather than outwardly.
I am very keen that the MSI course is
well supported for two reasons:
1. Despite all our talking and the
endless reports, committees, ideas and groups that have emerged over
the last few years, I don’t believe we haven’t made as much progress as
we could. I’m certainly not undermining the good work being done by
individuals in the community and for the church overseas. What I am
saying is “do we have the balance right?” Mission might not be our
thing. Tough. It’s God’s thing! “Go out to the whole world – proclaim
the Good News” (Psalm 117 and picked up in today’s Gospel reading (Mark
16 : 15 – 18)
2. I am very keen that in a diocese
like ours, which is (often perceived to be) broadly evangelical or low
church, Anglicans who are in the catholic tradition are not seen only
as the ‘gin and lace brigade’ (much as I enjoy both on a Sunday!) but
are every bit as serious about spreading the Gospel as those who might
worship with guitars, tambourines and OHP’s!
I have just finished reading a book
called “The Republic of Heaven” – a Catholic Anglican Future. In it the
author, Jonathan Clark, reminds us, his readers, of the very beginnings
of Anglo Catholicism. There was a clear and definite social edge to it
all. People didn’t talk mission, they did mission. “The mass is ended –
the service begins!”
It is profoundly un-Catholic
for the Church to be concerned only for itself. Those who are called
into Christ’s family are not called into a closed shop of the elect,
but into a company of disciples whose calling is to serve the world
around them. Catholics should, if we were to live out our own vocation,
have a vision of mission which did not exclude, but included and
surpassed, the conversion of individuals, and went on to work for the
transformation of the world. We are now being put to shame by those we
have criticised for their individualism, because many evangelicals are
now more Catholic than we are in the practical commitment to social
…and so he goes on, in his chapter
entitled “Where did it all go wrong?” we might well ask that same
Paul was renowned for his preaching.
In 1 Peter 3:15, Paul’s “oppo”, writes: always be ready to give an
account of the hope that is within you. Can you do that? Have you the
confidence to share you faith with those around you? The second lesson
today (Acts 22: 3 – 16) is Paul’s testimony. What is your testimony?
Could you write it down or share it with others?
Consider signing up to MSI so that
together we can learn how to “give an account of the hope that is
within us”. Woe to you, and to me, if we fail to do that, if we fail to
engage with God’s mission. Today’s collect speaks of the need to equip
ourselves for the ministry of making known God’s salvation.
St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century said
that “the glory of God is a human being fully alive”. Was there ever a
more urgent task entrusted to us, than to bring alive the very people
Christ died for in this time of anxiety, recession and fear?
"There's probably no God. Now
stop worrying and enjoy your life." So says that London bus!
If we take Saul’s wonderful conversion
to heart today, and indeed make it our conversion as we kneel at the
Altar, we might want to say with Paul the Apostle, there is most
definitely a God. We can bring him our worries, and because of His love
to us in Jesus, we can enjoy our life and seek to be human beings,
God of all wisdom,
who chose Saint
Paul as an apostle
to proclaim the
mystery of Christ and to nurture your people in faith,
fill your Church
with the same Spirit that empowered his words,
and equip us for
the ministry of making known your salvation.
Through Christ our
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