I’m @StJamesCB1 alias St James’ Church, Wulfstan Way in Cambridge this Sunday to lead the morning worship as they are between vicars. We’re keeping the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul and that presents us with three before-and-after stories in the readings of people who faced some very contemporary obstacles and issues in moving forward into God;s good future. And what with all the feelings an “interregnum” can spark off, the challenges of starting to inhabit a new diocesan strategy, all the debate about Primates 2016 and a lot of even more important problems in the “real” world too – I expect everyone present will be in the same boat somehow.
Jeremiah is first up. Israel is facing invasion and regime change. God wants him to speak out – and not in a popular way either. He’s daunted. He feels he is “just a boy”. His self-worth is rock-bottom and his confidence in being able to change anything is zero. Welcome to our world.
Saul (or is that Paul) comes next. The two names say it all. Later on one of his most profound insights will be that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. Right now he is a Greek speaking Jew, the free son (probably – according to Jerome Murphy-O’Connor anyway) of freed slave parents, and quite possibly conflicted about sexuality too. Like some people facing a world of contradictions he has resolved his inner conflicts by going overboard in one direction. Now it is time for him to face the other, before finally finding a resolution. And an important step in doing that is going to be meet up in vulnerability with the people – the early church – and receive from them. As he does so, he will discover just what the church at its best can be, and spend the rest of his life teaching it. But for now – welcome again to our world.
Finally action-man Peter has taken the risk of commitment and grown a famously rock-solid faith, but even he can’t quite resist the age-old question – as he realises that there are no promises even from Jesus about happy outcomes for the faithful here on earth – of “what about me?” No pension. No promises. Not fair. Welcome for a third time to the world of today.
Those are the beginnings. But they aren’t the endings. These are before-and-after stories remember. Into each of them, God speaks, and God’s future is laid open. Each of our heroes is sent out on active service, and will change the world.
The God who is the same yesterday, today and for ever still speaks today. In a thousand ways. Sometimes it really is a voice from heaven. Sometimes it is a service in church. Sometimes it is the presence of Jesus there now through his Spirit whenever two or three gather in his name. Sometimes it is something quite different, sometimes in a moment, sometimes over a lifetime. Don’t get hung up on the how, watch and wait for the when.
I mentioned our diocesan strategy. The key words in it are deepen, grow and engage. Jeremiah needed to go deep with God to discover God’s word to him that he was worth it. So do we. Paul needed to grow in God’s family to discover the gift of love still incarnate that includes differences and transcends them. So do we. Peter needed to engage afresh in God’s mission to a world in need. taking courage and overcoming his fear. So do we.
Your parish profile as it happens looks for all these virtues in your new parish priest. You’ve asked for someone who has a solid Christian faith, rooted in Scripture and a deep prayer life; who will provide leadership that will enable St. James to consolidate and continue to grow as a lively, prayerful Christian presence that reaches out to our local community; and someone who has an outward-looking focus that springs from a natural and genuine concern for people.
Fantastic! And when they get here, if they’ve got those characteristics, they’ll feel amazingly at home; because of course they are the characteristics we pray for for all God’s people: beginning with us.