Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 14/05/2020
For St. Matthias Day
Hello everyone. I hope you are doing OK as we begin to see signs of the lockdown easing. At a time like this we still need the Lord’s grace of perseverance. Its going to be a long haul.
This video is released on St. Matthias day. I’m sure it’s not a date prominent in your diaries. It means a lot to me because 6 years ago it’s the day I was consecrated bishop in Westminster Abbey. That was a grand affair surrounded by the pomp and ceremony the Church of England does rather well. The slight irony being it was happening on the Saints day of an almost complete unknown. He is mentioned fleetingly at the beginning of Acts as Judas’ replacement. We know virtually nothing about him. He probably preached the Gospel in Ethiopia and was martyred in Jerusalem, as were all the apostles bar John. He was one of the wider group of disciples with Jesus from the beginning, who were reduced to 120 after the crucifixion. He would have been one of the 72 sent out by Jesus on ministerial practice in Luke. He clearly had the character traits that God was looking for.
Matthias reminds us that our significance in the Kingdom of God is not determined by the length of our CV or great successes in life. We are all significant to God but not necessarily as vital as we might think. A retired Bishop once said, “the graveyards of England are full of indispensable people.!” The Kingdom of GOD that Jesus modelled and preached seemed to turn conventional wisdom and values on its head. Jesus said, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”. The beatitudes at the centre of the Sermon on the Mount are all about the significance and value of meekness, humility, poverty, yearning for but not getting, mercy and reconciliation. From our culture’s perspective, that so values fame, doing it ‘my way’, status and greed, they seem completely counter-intuitive.
I like to think of Matthias as the patron saint of unsung heroes. He doesn’t officially seem to be the patron of many things, although I did discover that his alleged ability to ‘abstain from legitimate pleasures in order to control his lower passions’ has made him the patron saint of alcoholics!
Perhaps, for us in the diocese of Hereford, out on the edge, marked by lots of small communities: faithful servants of Christ getting on with the work of serving, loving and stewarding what God has given us Matthias is a good saint. Very successful outcomes can be motivated by such sub-Christian attitudes that Jesus might describe them as not successful at all. Conversely, the little and the ordinary, the acts of love and compassion that mark so much of our life together might be much more significant than we think. Part of our fallen human nature is a distorted capacity to judge things by kingdom values. We are as easily taken in by the spectacular as anyone else.
A few years ago, I went on a mission trip to Nigeria. We stayed in the town of Onitsha and were taken on a tour of the town by the local Bishop. At the time, alongside the main street was a huge tent where every night an evangelist was preaching the gospel and many, many people were coming to faith. This was undoubtedly a cause for great rejoicing. However, as our team reflected on this he took us over the road to a small rather unkempt graveyard. In it were a dozen graves of the first European missionaries to that part of Nigeria 100 years previously. Very plain stones with a simple inscription. Their names; their age; and how long they had been in Nigeria when they died. Very few were out of their 20’s; none of them lasted more than about 6 months before succumbing to tropical illnesses. It wasn’t called the white man’s grave for nothing. Had they had modern communications, there would have been no great stories of conversions to send back to their supporters. Their ministry bore virtually no fruit at all. But, said the Bishop, “you would not have the tent on the other side of the road without the graveyard on this.
The Lord was very gracious when I was a parish priest and we saw significant growth in the church. But I will always be grateful for the sacrificial ministry of my predecessor who saw decline, because of the battles that needed to be fought to reform the church into a spiritual community rather than a social club. I simply pushed at an open door. I am immensely grateful for +Alistair’s ministry as he retires this week. He too leaves a legacy of good appointments, missional energy and a culture of proclaiming the gospel
In the kingdom, God sometimes blesses us with outward success and sometimes calls us to perseverance and faithfulness without obvious fruit. Survival can actually be great victory! A small church is not necessarily a failed large church.
So, on St. Matthias day, I want to thank the unsung heroes of our diocese: those of you who work week after week to sustain the life of the church. Those of you who in humility would not describe what you do as very important or significant, but about whom I suspect Jesus might have a very different opinion. The lasting fruit may well be for others to enjoy. We all will probably be forgotten in time, but what we do in faith is never forgotten by the Lord. Our deeds do indeed follow us to glory.
Have a great week and may God bless you in the faithful acts of love and obedience that are the manifestation of the Spirit in your life.