As you’ll know, later this morning we’re going to gather at St Matthew’s to welcome M, as he begins his new ministry among us.
This time last week, I’d imagine he and his fellow ordinands were both excited and apprehensive as they prepared to leave for the Cathedral, for one of the most significant days of their life.
It was an amazing service, with 16 new deacons presented to a packed Cathedral whose ancient stones have seen such celebrations countless times before…As the choir sang Palestrina, friends and family gathered from the four corners of the Kingdom and beyond and we worshipped God together and together celebrated the news ministries that began that day.
So much joy, so much love…on my own ordination days, I know it felt like a foretaste of heaven.
But, of course, Monday always follows Sunday – and for M last Monday saw a return to his office, to what my grandmother used to describe as “old clothes and porridge”.
Paul had a similar experience, it seems - though his was far beyond our imaginings.
Even an ordination in Gloucester can’t really compare with the glories of heaven but the pattern is the same...An experience of intense and awe-inspiring holiness, and then.......woomph.........down to earth with a bump.
The glory departs, and we are left to deal with our own workaday selves…
And, for Paul, that workaday self was afflicted in some way…though we don’t know exactly how.
He’s as enigmatic about his “Thorn in the flesh” as he is about his description of his experience of heaven.
We’re left wondering whether it is a physical defect of some kind, or perhaps an individual who makes his life miserable..
We can’t be certain – but we do know that his appeals to God for relief were denied.
That must have been so hard…
Paul praying in all the fervour of his new found faith…and the NO
God told him, in as many words, that this was a gift...a way of ensuring that he, Paul, would not become a celebrity himself but would remember constantly his dependence on God.
"My power is made perfect in weakness"
I’m reminded of times when as I’ve shared in the last weeks of a long and painful illness, and seen a new quality, a shining joy, an unshakeable calm transform the final days. Freed from the need to prove themselves, freed from the need to be anything but vessels for God, those approaching death often demonstrate the truth of Paul’s words.
Once we have the courage to let go of our selves, of our ideas about who we should be, and how we might control our lives…why then we will see God acting in ways that amaze and delight.
That's the same agenda that we find in the gospel, as the twelve are sent out, empty-handed, to begin their ministry.
Last Sunday, the new deacons each left the Cathedral with a Bible…and their friends and families will surely have laden them with any number of stoles, prayer books and all sorts of holy accoutrements.
We seem to need a lot of equipment in order to share the gospel today…
We have vestments and Communion sets, PCCs and Deanery synods, Grade 1 listed churches and Father Willis organs.
We have so much…we ought to be the most effective missionaries of all time.
But somehow, it doesn’t quite work that way.
Instead of the tools enabling the work of ministry, they threaten to become almost a substitute for it.
Concern for ensuring that all the equipment is running smoothly almost obscures the reason for its existence.
Something for us to be wary of perhaps, as we enjoy our beautiful and beloved building…
What if we could set out like the 12, empty handed
“no staff, no bread, no belt, no money”
I can’t imagine that any PCC Treasurer would rejoice at that approach – but what if we had the courage to try it…
What if we dared to set out, wholly dependent on God.
Could you just go – trusting that God would supply your needs?
On balance, I’m glad that M and his fellow Deacons have been showered with gifts, because of course those gifts speak of love and support…of friendships sustained and prayers remembered over many months and years…
But I know too that really, all he needs, all any of us need as we reach out in love and service as the Church of Christ, are those gifts that God has already given us.
Where we feel inadequate, we need not fear…for the words that Paul heard so reluctantly still hold good today,
It is as we become weak that God’s power can most truly be seen at work in us – so let us pray for the faith and the courage to let go, to stop pretending to a control that is at best illusory…
Let us pray that we will allow ourselves to be weak, so that, in us, God may be strong.