In the world but not of the world


Mother Anne-Marie was preaching this week on Acts 1.15-17, 21-end and John 17.6-19.

A week last Thursday we had a general election and through the night a surprise result emerged. A result none of the polls, until the exit poll at 10 p.m., had come near to predicting. The next day leaders toppled as those parties who had had disastrous, or just not too good results, expected their leaders to fall on their swords and take full responsibility for the failure. We are now into a period of uncertainty in most of the opposition parties as Labour, Lib Dems and UKIP struggle to rebuild and find new leadership. And we have a government with an overall majority they didn’t expect, so there is perhaps more change ahead than was anticipated. We are in a time of uncertainty and change.

In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning, the apostles seek another to join the leadership team. This is a huge time of change for them. Their real leader, Jesus, has left them. He came back to them after death but has now ascended and they no longer have a bodily presence to lead them. Peter has taken on the responsibility of leadership for now – Jesus had given him authority to build his church, so that seems natural. Peter wants to keep things as familiar as possible. Jesus appointed twelve of them, Judas has betrayed them and committed suicide, and Peter feels they must replace him – it’s as if he wants to keep things as familiar as possible – they must have 12 apostles as Jesus had chosen 12 – and this must be a person who witnessed both Jesus’ ministry and the resurrection. The apostles seem in a big rush to get the leadership team up to full strength and keep things as normal as possible. As we have seen in the political parties there have been debates as to whether you appoint a new leader quickly so clear leadership is in place, or take time to rethink what is really needed, take it slowly and thoughtfully before the choice is made.

The disciples were in a rush despite the fact that Jesus had told them before he ascended that in a few days they would receive power from on high, he told them the Holy Spirit would come upon them to empower them. This is just a few verses back in Acts before the reading we had today. You might have thought they would wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit before choosing a replacement for Judas, but Peter was in a hurry – we know his impulsive nature from the gospels, and in any case how could this band of dejected and puzzled men really know what the Holy Spirit could do. So after praying they cast lots and Matthias was chosen. I wonder if our political parties would do just as well if they just put the names of the contenders in a hat & picked a leader that way!

There have always been those in the church who have said that Matthias was not God’s choice and had the apostles waited for the Holy Spirit then God’s choice would have emerged & God’s choice would of course have been Paul. They say this because Matthias is not mentioned in the Bible again, but that can be said of others of the twelve, and Matthias is mentioned in other early church documents and has been honoured in the church as an apostle and saint. Early sources indicate he probably took the gospel to the area of modern day Georgia and cities around the Caspian Sea. So Matthias should not be written off as a mistaken apostle. The early church honoured him and the indications are he was used by God to spread the good news, however unconventionally he was chosen. In the Anglican Church we remember and honour him on 14th May. This year his day was transferred to the Friday just gone, because Ascension Day happened to fall on the 14th.

But what has all this to say to us today, in a world of uncertainty and change? What does it say to us about being a Christian in these uncertain times?

Jesus worried about his disciples and how they would cope. In our gospel reading he is praying fervently for them. He prays for their protection from the evil one, he prays not they are taken from the world but are protected while in the world, and he prays for their protection because they are not of this world. In John’s gospel the world, the kosmos, is a bit of a dangerous place, a place that can corrupt, can lead people away from the gospel, from God’s purpose. As Christians we have a foot in both places – we are in the world, the kosmos, with all its darkness and temptations, and we are already in God’s Kingdom, trying to live by God’s values as if God’s Kingdom has already been fully established. There are Christians engaged in all our political parties and for them the dangers of “the world” as John saw it are all too evident. Some of this country’s disillusion with politics and politicians is because politicians have been enticed by the world’s darkness – and using John’s language of the ”evil one” I think is a good way to see it. So the scandals over politicians’ expenses and those involved in historic child abuse cases are illustrations of the temptations of the evil one. And it is not just politicians who face those dangers but all of us. It is just that their downfalls are much more public and an abuse of our trust in them. It seems to me the role of Christians in politics is to hold to their values (and Christians will differ in their interpretation of Christian values), but it is their role to hold to their values, and to view their role as an elected member or a prospective elected member as a position of service and of trust. We need Christians involved in the political process, but they do need to be people of great courage and integrity, and to take seriously their position as a Christian with a foot in both camps – being of the world (of John’s rather dark kosmos) and being also of God’s Kingdom. And they need our prayers. As Jesus prayed fervently for his disciples who were in the world but not of the world, as he prayed for them to be protected from the evil one, so we need to pray fervently for those who represent us in parliament and those who govern us and seek to govern us.  We should pray fervently for them and especially for those who profess a Christian faith and straddle so publicly the world and God’s Kingdom.

We had an unexpected election result. The victors were mainly joyous, especially north of the border; but for those who have to govern perhaps there was a hint of apprehension of the task ahead – I think I saw that in David Cameron’s face, possibly they promised things they never thought they would have to deliver. And for the defeated parties there is much dejection and soul searching, uncertainty about what direction to take and who to put in the leadership role. I see parallels in both groups with those first disciples, the apostles, witnesses of the resurrection, as they huddled in the upper room wondering what to do. Like members of winning political parties they were joyous over Christ’s victory over death, but like members of defeated parties they were dejected, dejected at the loss of their master Jesus and bewildered at the astonishing events they had witnessed. But like a party that unexpectedly has to govern without a coalition partner, there was some apprehension of the task that lay ahead. Theirs was not a task to govern a country, but to take the Good News of a risen and ascended Christ to the world, to make disciples of God’s Kingdom – people who would seek first the Kingdom of God whilst living in the Roman Empire. No wonder they were apprehensive, no wonder they would sometimes not know what to do, get into conflict, make mistakes. But they were to have help. The Holy Spirit was to come upon them and give them courage to witness.

As we await the commemoration of the coming of the Holy Spirit next Sunday at Pentecost, let us use the coming week as a time to pray fervently for those engaged in politics, especially Christians; to pray for those who lead their parties and those who govern us that they will be given wisdom from on high. And may we also pray for ourselves and our church community here that we will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to engage with the world, not flee from it, to be of the world whilst also of God’s Kingdom. For some us that may mean a call into politics and we do need people of faith and integrity to engage politically & to help reconnect people with the political process. That can be a calling from God. For others here our calling, as it is for every Christian, is to spread the good news of God’s Kingdom here in this community and to take seriously our role as disciples of Jesus. May the Holy Spirit empower all of us in our calling and may we this week pray for renewal by the Holy Spirit and especially pray for those whose engagement in politics is a Christian calling. Amen.