What do you ask of God’s people at St. Andrew?”
It’s the question we asked the confirmands this morning as they entered worship.
Whenever we do this Rite of Welcome, I always love this particular question. It’s so direct. What are you looking for? It has echoes of the question that we heard Jesus ask those who were curious and who wanted to learn from him, in last’s week gospel.
“What do you ask of the people at St Andrew?”
Do you remember the answer these confirmands gave?
“To hear God’s word with you.”
Now, you and I know that the response they gave is not a natural off-the-cuff response. These words are part of a rite, an old ritual or practice, whereby those who have questions about what it means to be a disciple, and whether they are being called to baptism, are welcomed to a period of intentional inquiry and reflection. The words emerge from the wisdom that has been gathered over the centuries as the disciples and seekers that make up this global church have been walking with each other, with the Spirit of God and with the tradition of the church.
And these disciples become part of the force that pulls people to God. With Jesus they are to fish for people. In this part of the picture Matthew paints a different sense of call. Something somewhat slower, a drag-net. Moving with us, enclosing us, and pulling us towards the fisherman – the one who wants us. It’s this irresistible movement towards the light, this deep-down desire for rightness that we know in our lives. The disciples don’t create this movement towards light, this sense of belonging and being drawn to something bigger than ourselves, something good. That belongs to God but the disciples do engage it with others, name it as God, and be with those who also sense a call to its service.
“What do you ask of the people of St Andrew?”
“To hear God’s word with you.”
Our confirmands spent some time talking about whether this was an acceptable and accurate response. Could they say it? They agreed it was. We talked about where to find this word and we trust that it is held here in this book amongst the stories of God’s people. But where exactly and how do we trust it? You see, we have some problems with some of the stories in this book and some problems in how it can be used to hurt and vilify others. There are stories where death seems to be God’s response death instead of life. There is such light in here that they have heard shared in this place but also things that don’t make sense or are difficult to engage. But we’ll engage this book here with you and we’ll engage it as a small group on Sunday nights. You see the group also knows that the word of God is held in the people of this place and in others that they know who trust the way of this book . They see it reflected in the lives you lead with, the ways you have given yourselves to the call of God. Lives of services and care and goodness – light in the darkness.
I think there is something here that I can learn from this group. Maybe they have a gift for you too. You see I am so caught by the way they are prepared to engage something they find so very difficult. This way, if they are to take it seriously – and they are not about entering into it in any other way is difficult. It pulls us out of the way we have know on a path that can be hard and unclear at times. But this way as it have forged a path these past two centuries also has facets that they are not sure reflect the love of Jesus. But they are willing to enter in. They are willing too look and keep looking. Because they want to know more deeply the life, the goodness, that they know themselves to be part of and that they hope exists here, with Jesus, with you.
I think about this as I encounter the things I find difficult or that I don’t agree with. Ways or issues that I don’t want to engage. But if I am to remember my own call, my own baptism, then I also must remember that all are of God, all of us belong to something bigger, something good. So there has to be a way. There is a goodness that we share, that will endure, will pull us towards it no matter what. And I am inspired by these young people to try to give myself to find the things that connect us rather than divide us.
What do you ask of the people of St Andrew?
To hear God’s word with you.
I think maybe the hear in this answer should be replaced with experience. “To experience God’s word with you” because we encounter the word of God with all of our senses. Confirmation will talk in the coming weeks about the way it is held in sacraments of the church – in the supper and in baptism. We will engage the idea that we can taste and experience, feel and experience, smell and experience, imagine and experience the word of God and the call of God.
In a few minutes we will bless these confirmands. They will feel another gently mark their head, their eyes and their ears, their mouth, their heart, their shoulders and their hands and feet with a cross – the way of Christ. As we bless them we will ask God to help them bring all of their sense to this way. To look and experience and know God with all that they are.
Perhaps as you hear these words you might also hear them call to you. You might let the hand of God bless you and ask you to bring your whole selves to the days ahead. To engage the things you find difficult or don’t agree with ears that listen deeply; eyes that see a beloved world, beloved people; a mind that seeks perspective and imagines possibility; lips that speak kindness and ask for justice and peace; hearts that feel the others sufferings and hopes; shoulders that bear another up; hands that offer care and feet that stand for what is good and right. I pray you in the weeks and months ahead feel yourself held and pulled and wrapped up in the forces of good: the God of Love and Hope from whom we cannot escape and who has always been faithful to the promise to bring us into the light.