This has been, and still is, a big week for the church in this benefice, for today we receive Mark, our deacon and curate with joy. We hope that your ministry here will be truly blessed; that you will be a blessing to us, so welcome.
The church likes to ordain her ministers at Petertide, the time of the year when we remember and celebrate both Peter, the flaky ‘rock’ on which Jesus decided to build his church, and Paul, the man had who hitherto one been of the chief persecutors of the Church. What an odd couple to choose, and yet God did choose them. He chose them to build and give shape to that phenomena which we declare our belief in each and every week: ‘the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.’ Our job, yours, mine, Mark’s, is to make the notion of the ‘one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’ real, contemporary, missional and evangelistic; the alternative is to leave it stuck in the creed as a nice, quaint and poetic form of words; liturgically and poetically beautiful, but practically useless.
The church ordains people – men and women alike – to ensure that the whole church takes on the true character of the ‘one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.’ Of course the ordained are expected to exhibit a commitment towards holiness, catholicity and apostolic behaviour but that doesn’t mean that it’s all down to the clergy! Growing the church in number and holiness must always be a shared and communal responsibility; the ordained minister’s vocation is, in part, to make sure that that the church becomes the ‘priesthood of all believers,’ for only then can the church be truly missional and evangelistic.
But, what on earth does it mean to be authentically Catholic and Apostolic, or even Holy Catholic and Apostolic? Well, first and foremost I think it means to make sure that you spend a little time each day in prayer and reading the bible, for there can be no growth in holiness separate from these two core activities. Prayer and scripture are two of our three basic nutrients, the other being the sacrament. If you read the Acts of the Apostles you will discover that the early church was devoted to prayer, the reading of scripture, the breaking and sharing of bread and the drinking of wine. In large part replicating the early apostolic church in its characteristic behaviours is our sole or only route to will holiness. In Christianity there really is nothing new under the sun!
I do however need to be honest with you. If you do take seriously the notion of daily prayer and bible reading it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will suddenly feel different, or that each and every time of prayer will lead you to a mountain top moment. Sometimes our prayers can feel arid, dull, uninspired. My suspicion is that when they feel just like this, then God, paradoxically, really is at work! Our job, if we are committed to growth in holiness, and to becoming more apostolic (for you can’t disaggregate the two), is in the words of St. Peter simply this: to ‘endure.’ It is through endurance that Christian character is formed. It is through endurance and ‘keeping the faith’ that we get to ‘finish the race.’ Growth in holiness – the sort of holiness characterised by Peter and Paul – is a matter of discipline, but the end result will be well worth it as St. Paul reminds us. Can I encourage each and every one of you to endure and to be disciplined in your prayer life?
My prayer for you, me, us, is that as we commit to growing in holiness we will also become increasingly committed to catholicity. Now let’s be clear, I haven’t lost the plot. I don’t want you all to leave the Church of England and become Roman Catholics, for as the Roman Catholic spiritual writer Richard Rohr has written ‘second century Christians were calling themselves Catholics or Universals’ way before the word Roman was added. To be truly catholic, in this sense, implies a commitment to hospitality and inclusivity, to becoming the sort of people who build longer tables, extended altars, and not higher walls. To be truly Catholic and Apostolic means sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to all who have ears to hear and hearts to receive: full stop, irrespective, without any terms or conditions, just like Peter did, and just like Paul did, as they bought the gospel to Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free alike.
To be ‘Holy Catholic and Apostolic’ means to respect the God given ‘Dignity of (human) Difference,’ (Jonathan Sachs) whilst, at the same time, believing with all our hearts that the Jesus story is the universal story; it’s not a story to be owned, domesticated, and hoarded but a story to be cherished and lavishly, indiscriminately, shared, and that’s why at the end of every service the deacon invites us all, ordained and lay alike, to ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord,’ in the world, and for the sake of the world, in ‘the name of Christ,’ Amen.
2 Tim , 6-8, 17, 18. 1 Peter 2, 19-end, Matt 16, 13-19.