Sunday 30th September 2018
One of the Biblical images used to explain the distinction and separation between God’s kingdom and the kingdom of this world is the concept of “ambassador,” which we’ve thought about in the past a bit and I want to talk about this evening. It’s a word used by St Paul in II Corinthians 5:20. “We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making His appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
Ambassadors more generally have had a funny history. We might think of the TV advertisement for Ferrero Roche, which took place, you may remember, of course, at the Ambassador’s residence. There, glamorous people heralded the arrival of the Ferrero Roche on a platter carried in by a butler, exclaiming, “Eccellente!” and other such words of praise. Elsewhere, if you’ve ever watched a film about Elizabeth I, there will inevitably be a hostile Spanish ambassador, lurking in the background plotting her demise, or an ambassador from France or elsewhere hoping she might marry the foreign potentate he represents. The Ambassador therefore is one whose proximity to a ruler of a different kingdom is so well-known and so obvious that their life style reflects the opulence of that court and he or she is given the authority to speak on behalf of their master.
But, if you’re an ambassador, which foreign courts do you find yourself in. Where do you spend your time? Work place, car, shops, pubs, bus stops, manicurists, wherever. Well, that’s where you need to be ministering; that’s where God has placed you, no point trying to do it anywhere else. One thing I’d suggest you do is to have a reason, a story in your memory as to why you come to church here at the Good Shepherd; why you believe in God. Maybe it’s the only time in the week you know peace; maybe it gives you the grace to endure all that God is calling you to do; have a reason in your mind so you know why you’re here. For me, my week would feel utterly barren without knowing Sunday, the Day Jesus rose from the dead, had been kept as a day of worship. When asked about my faith, I often say I believe because I look around this world in all its wonder and think only God makes sense of all this. This will provide us with words to encourage others, just like we might encourage someone to go to Aldi because the tomatoes are on special offer this week, so we can give a reason to others of why we come here, to see the Lord Jesus, the one whose life was given for the world.
The second thing we might do to realise this ambassadorial call is to have a think about what we already do which ushers in the Kingdom of God in those places we’ve just identified. I was visiting an elderly member of the congregation a few years ago and she was talking about the trouble she faced with old age, “I feel like I can’t do anything to help the church anymore, Father,” she despaired. Now, let me tell you, this is someone who struggles to Morning Prayer every day with her walking sticks and as she was saying all this - what was she doing? - she was ironing all the towels for our Night Shelter. She just hadn’t quite realised that she was being an ambassador, that she was ushering in a different way of living in her community by radically caring for the poor in a costly way for her; and by giving of her time sacrificially as she struggled to get to the worship of the Church everyday.
It would be incredibly arrogant for us to go out into world thinking there was nothing of God’s Kingdom there already. This surely is the lesson of our readings this evening. In the first, from Numbers 11, the Spirit is given to Eldad and Medad even though they were not in the Tent, the place of the Presence. I probably would have been the sort of person who resented them receiving the Spirit, because they weren’t there with the community: I, like Joshua, would have wanted Moses to stop them. We can resent the signs of God’s activity beyond our control. John, the brother of James, the ever-zealous sons of Zebedee, St John’s complaint in this evening’s Gospel is similar: “Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because He was not one of us we tried to stop him.” Jesus’ wisdom is that by doing a good work, that person might learn to love God better: “no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me.” My concern, like possibly that of St John, in that situation would be that others might follow that phoney miracle worker rather than the true Church. Jesus rebukes me into a greater generosity.
So, maybe you give things to a charity shop or you’re involved in a parent association committee or you work in a bank. Being a Christian doesn’t necessarily mean stopping those things and instead giving your old clothes to the Church or resigning from the parent association committee so you can be on the Church Council or resigning from th bank so you do something more easily recognisable as worthy; but it might mean you leave a service sheet with service times in the bag with the clothes you drop off; or that you suggest the parent committee has its Christmas event in Church; or that when someone’s mum is sick you commit to praying for Mum and let the person know you’re doing that by texting a photograph of a candle burning at Our Lady’s shrine or whatever it might be. There will be chances in your life to speak for Christ, to act for Christ, to be as Christ to the world.
The third thing to give this ambassador-thing some space in your life is to work out what you’re going to do that is different. The call to be an ambassador might involve you having to stop doing something. This too is part of today’s Gospel message: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off.” We need to be witnessing to a personal conversion in our life if we are to be honest with ourselves and with the world and before God that we have heard His call. So, it might be that we need to be more joyful in the places we identified earlier, not stupidly or inanely, but the sort of person who helps others to discover joy. We might need to stop being so grand and never letting anyone discover we’ve committed sin. Part of being a Christian will be being honest about when we have sinned. We might need to miss out on the kids’ birthday party when it’s a Sunday afternoon: “I’ve got to be at Church because its when celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection.” This gives your discipleship just a little bit more prominence in your life, a life which is to looks towards God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So, where do you spend your time and what could you say there to try to capture why you believe and how that affects your life; recognise that what you’re already doing in those places is blessed by God and part of how He wants to serve you and see how you could do it better; but also know God’s call to us all to be converted, which is a life-long process of denying ourselves certain things and learning to be holy: do something different.
One of the slightly more curious things Anne-Marie has had to get used since we got married a year ago is the smell of incense, not in church but on me. I’ll go to Mass or Benediction and come back and we’ll say hi and give each other a hug and the first few time it was a bit of shock when she got this great whiff of incense on me. Anne-Marie’s had to get used to it being married an Anglo-Catholic priest! There’s to be something about that with us all. Having left the Church to live out the rest of the day we take something of what we do here with us; there’s something different about us. We will consume here the Bread of Angels, the Precious Blood of the Saviour. At the school gate we won’t be the gossipers; at family gatherings we won’t be the whingers; at work if someone needs something prayed about they’ll know to come to us, for we are ambassadors for Christ, from His Kingdom. Amen.