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4th July 2021


Passage: Matthew 9;35-38 and 10;1-13

Think about Team Building- when you shape a group of people together for a purpose. You are looking for balance of the necessary strengths and skills; a high level of commitment to the team; a clear understanding of its purpose; and personality traits suggesting that these people will work well together. Yes?
Some of you may remember Nigel Molesworth, the schoolboy created by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle in the nineteen fifties. Molesworth gives his take on life from the perspective of an 11 year old boy who, whilst being taught classics, history and religion prefers to think about football. Molesworth creates his fantasy all time champion football team. (ON SCREEN) Goliath (terrifying giant from the Bible)- goal; Romulus, Remus (legendary founders of Rome, one of whom murdered the other), Molesworth himself and the school dog-Defenders. Julius Caesar, Cain (from the Bible, also killed his brother), Richard 1 and Jack the Ripper- midfield. Livy (historian of Rome), Esau (from the Bible. Did not kill his brother but threatened to) on attack. Referee-Solomon (Biblical King, famous for his wise judgements)
Good, isn’t it? You can just picture Molesworth doodling away at this when he is supposed to be learning Latin. But we can possibly at least see where he is coming from; why he picked these particular colourful characters for his unbeatable all-time football team.
Now let us look at the team Jesus has just created. (ON SCREEN). We heard how he chose twelve apostles, sent them on a mission and ultimately gave them the task of founding the Christian church. We do not know much about them but I have added a few basic details. Peter and Andrew: fishermen. James and John: bad tempered fishermen. Jesus called them “sons of thunder….” Matthew: taxman and crook. Bartholomew (aka Nathaniel): scholar. Simon and Thaddeus : freedom fighters. Members of a sect waging an underground war against the Romans. Thomas: cynic. Phillip and James – seem to have been fairly nice people. James wrote that letter in the New Testament which is a lot of people’s favourite because it is short, easy to understand and about practical rather than theoretical Christianity. But then, to balance these two, we have Judas Iscariot: secret agent for the other side. Ended up betraying Jesus to death, which, we are told, Jesus knew he would do all along. OK? Take a look at this team and ask yourself whether these are the kind of people YOU would put together to found a new church in a fairly hostile environment? Can you see where Jesus is coming from?
I am asking this because here, at St John’s, we are more or less starting from scratch. There are a lot of people who were once active members of our church community now missing. Some might return, we hope but some never will. Who have we got left? And are those of us who are left the right group of people to get the life and work of our church going again, post-Covid? It is a high challenge and understandable to feel less than optimistic but the amazing thing about Jesus’ “team” is that they did found the Christian church. This group began a mission which changed the world. So maybe the question is not so much “who” as “how?” And I have two thoughts as to “how” this team worked. &&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&
First, I looked at what drew this group together? What did they have in common? Number one: their Chief-Jesus himself. Each of these men became keenly aware of a deep spiritual need and found the answer to that need in Jesus. Life was hard for them and there was a lot they did not understand. They were frustrated by their own shortcomings, needed inspiration and purpose in their lives and realised that they needed help: love, mercy, strength greater than anything they could expect from other people. In Jesus each one of these men found the answer to their deepest need, whether scholar, freedom fighter or bad-tempered fisherman. They entrusted Jesus with their lives.
Number two: their Commission from Jesus. It was a commission of care- of healing, comforting, sharing love, bringing peace. In those days evil demons were thought to be responsible for all mental and physical sickness. Can you imagine the torment of being seriously ill and being told that you were being taken over by a demon? There was a lot of fear in that environment and Jesus sent his followers out to take the peace of God to those who were suffering, whether mentally, physically or spiritually. This team of people looking for their own spiritual fulfilment in Jesus, found that fulfilment enhanced as they served others in his name.
Number three: their Confidence. In Luke’s account of this mission, we hear them returning to Jesus, saying “Lord, we did it! We cast out demons. We healed the sick.” And Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven.’ “Satan” became the name of the devil but in fact, in the original Hebrew it is a job title rather than a name. He is “the Satan” meaning the accuser, the counsel for the prosecution, the one who tries to convince God that humanity is not worth bothering about, the one who seeks to prove to men and women that they themselves are worthless. We may or may not believe in the devil or “the Satan” but we have all encountered some inner voice convincing us we are pretty useless. But Jesus assures his followers that they, with him, can get the better of this “Satan.” They have the power to destroy that which is destroying goodness and love and healing and peace in the world. You can do it.
This team then, is all about Jesus: he is their Chief; the reason for their being here; his is their Commission and he is the root of their Confidence. That is one reason why the team worked.
My second thought was remembering Forest Gump’s famous saying that life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are going to get out? I have found many churches to be a bit like that: groups of fairly random people, with a mixture of ages, family structures, income groups, skill sets, personality traits drawn together only by their spiritual needs, their desire to serve God and the world and their confidence-if only tentative- that Jesus Christ can use them to do good.
We are hearing a lot about the steep rise of mental health issues in the UK right now, as a result of the many months of lockdown. We became isolated, locked into ourselves and our worldview became distorted because it started to come more from within our own heads than from reality. When we lose touch with other people, we lose touch with the real world. And the high levels of anxiety, the loss of personal confidence, the fear of the world outside our own front door are fuelled by this “alternative reality” we have created for ourselves. It is not our fault. This is what lockdown has done and some people will need professional help to move forward. My fear for our society is that too many of us, in the long-term, will come to prefer our own company; being in our own home rather than out amongst others; seeking spiritual nurture in isolation rather than as a community. That can be so dangerous because we end up living in a fantasy world which becomes less and less like the real world. It is other people who connect us to what is real.
So looking again at this “motley crew” of random individuals drawn together by Jesus- maybe they are not the kind of team we would create for an important project; certainly there were a lot of clashes within the team, given their different backgrounds, ideologies and personalities. But these random people did enable each other to keep in touch with what was real: the dangers and complexities plus the infinite possibilities in life. If you read the stories of the early church, you find that they never allowed each other to sit down complacently and say, “that’s it, we are all safe and sorted now.” Life is not like that and, because life is not like that, nor is true faith. Jesus’ team achieved what he asked them to because they challenged each other and kept each other in the real world and in the real Christ.
Where does this leave us then, as we start from scratch with our own “motley crew?” For myself, I want to say thank-you to all who still believe themselves to be part of “Team St John’s” and who are re- committing themselves to be God’s people in the world and in this place. I want to say thank-you for every single thing you are doing or saying or praying which is inspiring, challenging and encouraging this team. I want to invite you to pray daily for those 3 “Cs”- that we remain close loyal to our Chief, keep sight of our Commission and retain our Confidence. I want to encourage you to encourage each other in taking small steps back into active and outward life. “Team St John’s,” no matter how large or small or diverse, will accomplish the work of God so long as it is centred and grounded in Jesus and in the world he came to save.
Last week, I saw these words on a church website: “Just over fifty years ago, a tiny group of only ten adults came here to start a Christian church.” That church is now a flourishing, active, totally independent centre of Christian life and worship. It all started with those ten adults and their children in 1968. And I was there at the first service of worship in a rented hall. My parents were two of that ten. I have seen for myself what a motley crew of apparently random people held together in Jesus Christ can become. Let us hold this thought in our hearts through the months ahead. Amen.