You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep and you can tell even more about them by looking at those they call friends – just look at people’s Facebook pages!
That’s why the Pharisees in today’s Gospel were so scandalised by what they saw. Not only did they find that Jesus had called Matthew from the seat of custom, from his tax desk, to follow him, but then Jesus accepts an invitation from this new disciple to dine at his house along with Matthew’s friends – a whole bunch of tax collectors and sinners.
“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” 2 Cor 4.6
It’s a funny word ‘glory’. We use it a lot in church. As a boy, my theological development was greatly hindered because I had an Aunty Glory, and thought that all references in hymns and the Bible, were to her. When I spoke at her funeral a couple of years ago I discovered she was named Glory because my grandmother had given birth to 7 boys and when the midwife said ‘it’s a girl!’ The response came back - ‘glory be!’ And so she was.
‘They were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.’
And for the disciples, sleepy and confused, it was the beginning of a departure for them, too, the beginning of an exodus - the word Luke actually uses in this story. They had seen something that drew them away from what they were used to; they had seen into a depth and mystery in the life of Jesus that would take them to a very distant place. After he resurrection, Jesus says to Peter that one day his discipleship will mean that he is led where he doesn’t want to go. He too must complete his exodus, his journey to the cross and beyond.
The Church of England in its present form no human power can save. Not said by AN Wilson in last week's Spectator, but by Dr Thomas Arnold, the famous headmaster of Rugby in the 1830's, so if you think we are in a mess today, just have a sense of history.
Mind you, Arnold had a point. A third of all incumbents in the 1830's had a second living. Only four out of ten parishes at that time had a resident incumbent. The Bishop of Durham earned today's equivalent of £750,000 a year, whereas a curate earned today's equivalent of £3,200.
Deuteronomy 11: 18-21, 26-28, Hebrews 11: 8-16, St Matthew 5: 1-12
In 1976, the United States celebrated the 200th Anniversary of its independence from England. That year a friend of mine who is now a distinguished American historian told me that he thought we should send a new declaration to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, saying that the whole thing was a terrible mistake and would she please take us back. My friend’s comment was not merely an indication of the great respect which many Americans hold for Queen Elizabeth. It was also a sign of our awareness that the British system of government has kept a quality of leadership which our own system lacks. That quality is continuity – a continuity which abides in the life of this nation above the scramble of ‘politics as usual’ which is an inevitable dimension of government in our world.