As I write this it's a glorious Autumn day here in Marylebone, I have just finished my sermon for the Feast of St Michael and all Angels, tomorrow. I was musing upon a little embroidery given to me by a member of my former Parish in Vancouver that said, 'If you don't believe in Angels for Christ's sake become one'. What a challenge?
Recently I was in a church in Middle England, where there was a big bold banner in the centre of the nave with a giant net full of people. On one side it says ‘from now on you will be’ and then on the other side simply ‘catching people’.
Reassuringly the people in the net look very joyful and happy to be there. It was a very clear bold statement of intent: the church family exist not for themselves but to draw others into God’s kingdom of love, joy and peace. The truth is, of course, ‘we need to keep drawing the net in.’
I found myself pondering on this. You see, it can never be simply about filling church buildings; it must be about aligning our hearts with God’s heart for every person and the whole world.
The difficulty for us at St Cyprian’s is we seem to be failing to grasp the concept of Mission. It seem one can hardly move a chair without someone reminding me of its ‘proper place’. We seem to have little vision, other than restoring a former glory that never really existed.
Yet I know that in many hearts there is the desire to bring others to Christ. When Jesus reignited the vision of his disciples for his mission in the days after the resurrection, he reminded them where their calling began: in a boat, on a lake, with a miraculous catch of fish.
They’ve been up all night and caught nothing and before they even recognise who he is, Jesus calls from the shore, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some fish.’ When they did, ‘they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.’
Peter looks again to the shore and lets out a loud, ‘It is the Lord’. And this time he doesn’t stay to help haul the net in; he throws himself into the water and swims to shore as fast as he can to get to Jesus. We’re told “…the other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from the shore.” What excitement as they counted up the large fishes they had caught, 153 in total.
Theologians have pondered the spiritual significance in that number but concluded there is none, apart from recognising that numbers matter to God, whether it’s one sheep out of 99 missing from the fold or 153 fish caught in a net.
Whatever number stirs you the most, I pray that we will all know the great joy of being followers together; not envying one another or looking down on one another, but sharing the excitement and wonder of those Christ is drawing into his kingdom, whether that’s a single lost sheep or a very large catch of fish.
For this reason let us keep our hearts and minds, and our plans and prayers, focused on Christ himself. Like Peter, our primary desire should be for closeness with Jesus. For this is the only way we will sustain momentum in mission, whether we’ve been up all night and caught nothing or put down a single net and landed a great catch.
The same core convictions ought to shape the culture of mission in St Cyprian’s:
1. There really is nothing better that anyone can do with their life than become a follower of Jesus Christ.
2. There is no way to re‐evangelise this church, the C of E and the nation apart from the impact of the daily lives of ordinary Christians.
3. The ultimate test of fruitfulness and authenticity of any church, irrespective of its style or tradition, is the quality of disciples it makes. Making whole‐life missionary disciples is the core vocation of the church.
4. Discipleship cannot be taught from a pulpit or in a classroom alone, but is formed through a Holy Spirit‐filled community: in worship, prayer, sacrament and the practice of mission in everyday life.
5. The mission belongs to God and we look to God for the courage, creativity and compassion to sustain us every step of the way. For those of us who sometimes tire and may even feel like giving up, let’s not lose heart, but encourage one another as we seek to sustain momentum.
May God’s Holy Spirit enthuse, enliven and encourage us as we contemplate the Mission of St Cyprian’s Church and help us to realise that we need to keep drawing the net in.
Your servant of God,
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