St Stephen & St Agnes Church

Making God's Love Known In Windsor

The First Disciples of Jesus

—Margaret Bird, 15 January 2017

John 1. 29–42.

Margaret BirdJesus calls his disciples – perhaps not the version we’ve heard before in the other three Gospels, no fishing involved here. John’s Gospel tells us that Andrew was first a disciple of John the Baptist.  Perhaps he had witnessed Jesus being baptised in the Jordan – maybe even being baptised himself as a sign of his commitment to reject his past life and embrace one that would be focused on change and redemption.

So really it shouldn’t surprise us that when he heard John’s acclamation of Jesus: ‘Look, look here is the lamb of God’, their curiosity gets the better of them so Andrew and an unnamed companion decide to find out for themselves if John is right.

And they stayed – for the rest of day, listening, asking questions.  It’s obvious that Andrew was so taken with what he heard and witnessed, that he just had to fetch, Simon, and for those two brothers this was the beginning of a life-changing chapter that begins with a chance meeting and ends in persecution and a martyr’s death.

But for now, we are at the start: the story for Andrew and for Simon Peter begins with this chance meeting with Jesus. Where do they go from here? Well they are just two of the twelve – the others will join them – those names that have become so familiar – and Jesus disciples will gather around at the feet of their master, their Rabbi to learn, to reflect and to become, in time, those who will lead and encourage the early church as it takes its message – the Lord is Risen, Jesus Christ is Lord – out beyond the walls of Jerusalem, the land of Abraham and Jacob and into the known and the unknown world.

It must begin somewhere – today John sets the scene for us as Jesus begins his ministry and is recognised as the Messiah by one who will become a trusted follower.

Have you ever watched talent shows? (And I do use that word talent loosely).   Some taking part are brilliant but many are just also rans – egged on by their family and friends into a performance that at that moment in time is an absolute disaster.     But maybe with just a little bit of help, a few pointers in the right direction and a lot of lessons they could turn into something special or then again turn out to be better suited to something quite different.     Even most of those who seem to have some sort of talent are not going to achieve their goal but at least they will have tried and could show their gifts on a much wider stage.     We don’t always know what direction to take or how to use the gifts we were born with.   But there is always help and advice out there, guidance, training, enough to help us on our way and hopefully someone to gently let us down when we’ve got it wrong knowing that we are never going to be another Pavarotti, Robbie Williams or Barbara Streisland.

Like Andrew, we must start somewhere too – but how willing are we to accept our own limitations and, at the same time, to make every effort to do all we can to demonstrate just how much God loves us.

Albert Einstein said, ‘Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.’

We can’t all achieve a double first at Oxbridge, but we can play our part in being a welcoming and nurturing church community in Windsor, willing to go that extra mile to show in what we do and in who we are that we are following Jesus too, just like Andrew and Simon Peter.

Yesterday your PCC spent a whole day at Burnham Abbey exploring how we can be just that – a welcoming and nurturing church that is here for everyone – those who want to come and those who don’t even know we are here.    Young and old, male and female – in fact everyone because we are all children of God, valued and loved.

How can we reach out to this community?  what does our presence here say about us to the outside world?   Should we be doing more to show we are a welcoming community?     How can we involve all of us in this great mission that Jesus left to his church of which we are all a part?

The Calling of Ss Peter and Andrew by MichaelangeloAll of us are called to be disciples; as Paul reminds us, the body of the church is made of many parts, with different gift and talents. Our task is a shared one so not impossible just requiring an achievable goal that we can all agree on. We call this a mission action plan – sounds very grand – but we know that in the early church, the disciples met together in council in Jerusalem; they discussed a way forward and made decisions – Paul talked with the emerging churches and offered advice and direction.  We can see the precursor to our PCCs in Acts and in the Epistles – nothing new really, just committed Christians getting together to forge a way forward that was accepted by the majority and actioned by the early Christian communities.

So, what are we going to do.    Well that will come out in the next few months as we put some meat on the bones of the ideas that came out yesterday.    For now, perhaps we can do a little navel gazing and begin by intentionally being that welcoming community, living the Gospel and as our mission statement reminds us at the top of our pew sheets – working together to show God’s love in Windsor.  

Each week we recite the words of the Nicene Creed, a summary of the Christian faith written during the first few centuries of the church.    That was put together by committee too though many of its words and phrases are rooted in scripture.    Sometimes we say familiar words automatically rather than considering their meaning and how our lives interact with them.   If you are interested in delving into the reasons why they evolved into the words we use, and would like to explore their relevance for us today then please do consider joining the Monday evening group, Together in Faith.  Tomorrow evening they begin looking at the Creeds – more about that later.

Reciting the creed is a good example of how comfortable we can become with familiar liturgy without being challenged to re-examine what we are saying and really meaning it.  When we realise that sometimes we fall into the trap of repeating ourselves because that’s the way it’s always happened, we can give ourselves permission to refocus and change what needs changing, throw out what doesn’t work and plan how we can best model showing God’s love in Windsor.    

A friend of mine was appointed to her first post after her curacy.   Not just one parish, or even two or three.   She was looking after eight parishes with 10 churches.   As you can imagine, being responsible for 10 churches – 10 open churches was always going to be a challenge.    A plan for serving each of them was already in place and involved a great deal of running or rather driving around, the goodwill and help of some retired clergy and often turning up a little late if she met a few cows or sheep in the middle of one of the narrow lanes.    So, one of her first tasks after getting to know the place and the people was to sit down with the churchwardens and plan together what the best course action would be to serve the different rural communities and the loyal congregations who supported the various churches.    They suddenly became our church to anyone who lived near whether they darkened the door or not if they were threatened with closure or loss.     So, she had to show not only this would be far better than the status quo but would also be the best way forward for everyone.   So, after time and many conversations with much prayer, one place became a good wedding venue, one church was designated as a place for prayer and welcome to serve the many ramblers and walkers that passed by its door and the rest were served by various service and activities on Sundays and during the week.    But all the time the focus was on serving God and the community – and guess what – not only did the congregations increase – well that’s not difficult in some of the places when we are talking about four people becoming five but the children started coming, families stayed and the plan is in its second incarnation with a new incumbent in place.     There is still the problem of why the chair has always sat next to the pulpit in that particular aisle (no one can remember why but it was always there) – but it has gathered in the churches and encouraged them to work together.   To look with fresh eyes focused not on their own fears of loss but on the mission of God.

If we look at the words we recite each week as we come together on a Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist – we don’t say ‘my father or I believe – we say Our Father, We believe.    We worship together as the corporate body of Christ, each serving as different parts of the same body

The out-going President of the United States, Barack Obama, said, ‘What we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people, and do our best to help them find their own grace. That's what I strive to do, that's what I pray to do every day. 

Together we can be so much more – we can be the church, welcoming, nurturing, caring, exploring and willing to be called and recognised as 21st century disciples and followers of Christ.