I know that over the last few weeks, Andrew has been talking to you about what it means to be “church”. Last Sunday, which was my first, he specifically explored the notion of what it means to be a church that is, “holy catholic and apostolic”. Something that we stand up and say every Sunday. So I am going to start off my time with you by doing something that is guaranteed to strike fear into the very heart of any self respecting Anglican. I am going to ask you a question, and please do feel free to shout out the answer. It is a question that on the surface appears blindingly obvious, but I’ll confess that it isn’t something that I knew the answer until relatively recently and the question is simply, ‘What does the word apostle mean?’
That’s right, it relates to someone being sent out. Of course we know a little bit about the 12 apostles, the book called the Acts of the Apostles is full of their exploits. But today’s gospel tells us that there were more than just the 12, many more. This gospel passage has Christ sending out either 70 or 72 depending on which translation you use, he described to them some of the difficulties that lay ahead as they travelled around, spreading their revolutionary message and he does the same to us.
The church that we are part of calls itself Apostolic, every week we all stand together and say so. This then means that we too are apostles, all of us, and THAT is something that I appreciate is daunting. We have many churches, roads, even some towns and cities are named after apostles. And yet these people that we now revere as Saints were every bit as flawed and flaky as we are now. In the last week alone we have celebrated the feasts of St Peter, St Paul and St Thomas, all of whom were human, making mistakes and messing things up, doubting, overly ambitious, insecure even with the very best of intentions. We too have all those failings, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to do what we can to serve Christ. The gospel tells us about many being sent out to spread the message of God’s love and what these people did and the message that they spread changed the course of human history. Bearing witness to God coming down among us and giving of himself so that we could be saved, if we are now the apostles then we too can change the world.
However, if you are anything at all like me then it must be said that this all sounds like a bit much, after all we all have lives to live, we have loved ones, friends, relationships that require time and energy. Jesus asked people to drop what they were doing and follow him, I’m not sure that I can just go and leave everything to do that. But there is much that we can still do.
Pope John Paul I, when he was Bishop of Venice, wrote humorous letters to several of his heroes, some were fictional whilst others were historical and in a letter that he wrote to the author Mark Twain he discussed the different kinds of Bishop that were in the church. He wrote that they, “vary just as much as books. Some are like eagles, soaring high above us, bearing important messages; others are nightingales, who sing God’s praises in a marvellous way; and yet others are poor chickens, who simply squawk on the lowest branch of the tree, trying to express the odd thought on some great subject.” Now of course, what Pope John Paul wrote about Bishops also relates to the rest of God’s people. There are very few among us who, in their lifetimes, will find themselves to be eagles. Not many of us that aren’t in the choir will be ever be seen by others as nightingales, singing God’s praises in the most sublime way. So I think that it is fair that most of us will find ourselves firmly in the chicken category, and that is alright, that really is nothing to be ashamed of.
We are called to be apostles not because of who we wish we were, but because of who we actually are, in all the messiness of our lives, in the quiet hopelessness of who we are. We are not called to be apostles somewhere else but in the situation that we find ourselves in now. It is such a beautiful, joyous thing that Christ is calling us to do, to spread a little of his love back out into the world. It may be some of the smallest things that we do to serve God’s Kingdom but just like a stone that has been thrown into a pool of water, the ripples could well astonish us by how far they can go.