St Stephen

19th September 1998 Week C16

My First Vicar Training

Colossians 1: 24-28
Luke 10: 38-42

Last Thursday Anne and I drove down to Wells in Somerset only a few miles from Glastonbury where some of us visited recently.

We went to attend the funeral of our first Vicar, Canon John Higgins who was then at St Alfege Greenwich.

John Higgins was not only a lovable person. He was also a first-class trainer of other priests including myself. It's hard to exaggerate the difference that having a good boss makes on one's first job. If your Headmaster, Ward Sister, Supervisor or Head Of Department is good at it, then it can affect the whole of the rest of one's career because at least you have some idea of how the job should be done and what it actually consists of, however long it may take to learn.

If on the other hand you have a difficult or lazy boss, or one whose heart really isn't in his job, you can spend that two or three years wondering what on earth the whole thing is about and perhaps doubting whether your decision to enter the priesthood or the police or the nursing profession was the right one after all.

But we were fortunate. We were well trained: and this theme of training lies at the very heart of today's second reading.

"this is the Christ we proclaim, this is the wisdom in which we thoroughly train everyone and instruct everyone to make them perfect in Christ" writes St Paul to the Church Colossi.

Notice first his double use of the word "everyone". "We thoroughly train everyone and instructed everyone". So there are to be no exceptions. Everyone matters so everyone needs to be thoroughly trained and instructed. Not just the favoured few; not just those who are interested in that sort of thing; but everyone without exception is to be given instruction and training on an ongoing basis.

Of course their training has got to be suitable to their age and intellect and circumstances. It's no use hoping that the training suitable to someone at secondary school will be suitable for a working mother or someone who was just retired. The training we give must be appropriate.

The training we give mustn't become an end in itself. As you know we live in a world which is largely determined by the letters you have after your name or the number of certificates that you have hanging up on your wall. But Christian training is different because the aim of it is to make us "perfect in Christ".

That word "perfection" is easily misunderstood. To many people it suggests setting ourselves and achieving an impossibly high standard of morals and piety. People who imagine this often end up disappointed and disillusioned.

But it's not "perfection" but "perfection in Christ" that we are working towards, and that's a very different matter indeed. Those two words "in Christ" lie at the very heart of the Gospel, which is why those two sisters, Martha and Mary, had such a different relationship with Jesus.

Martha supposed that what Jesus wanted most of all was for her to minister to his needs. She saw discipleship as a matter of being of service to him. Mary on the other hand, who sat a Jesus feet and listened to what he had to say was in fact much nearer the mark.

Yes. Jesus does welcome our services; but they're not what he really wants. He wants us, ourselves our souls and bodies, to be a living sacrifice. He desires that "we may evermore dwell in him and he in us".

"Christ in you, the hope of glory". This is what Saint Paul calls the "mystery" hidden for generations and centuries and has now been revealed to his Saints.

Don't be worried by that word "mystery". Nowadays it means "something obscure, hard to understand, secret or arcane". When St Paul was writing the word had much more the flavour of what we would understand by the words "meaning" or "purpose". People in those days would talk about the "mystery of life" whereas today they would say the "meaning of life" or the "purpose of life" as something they were trying to understand. When they called it a mystery they were doing no more than admitting that they hadn't understood it. They tried all sorts of weird things like people today try New Age stuff with its crystals, and Astrology with its stars in order to understand the meaning of life, but they ended up none the wiser.

"Well" says St Paul, "here is the real thing. God was in Christ reconciling the world himself and this is what we are telling you "be reconciled". Let Christ come into your life and your understanding of life and the world will start to make sense at last.

And that's what Mary discovered and Martha, to begin with, didn't. Being a Christian doesn't begin with being good, or even trying to be better... that's the end not the beginning.

The beginning for all of us is at the font as we shall shortly see. What God will be doing for this child in the waters of baptism is more like the planting of a seed, or coming to a new birth, than it is like joining a club or institution. The baptized person is born into Christ and becomes part of his Body which is the Church.

Because that's where the training comes in. It's no use hoping that baptism by itself is all that we need. Just as the child is brought up to ensure that he or she becomes a healthy adult, so the new born Christian, child or adult, has got to be trained up in the way he should go.

That training lasts from cradle to grave. When people give up on training they stop growing. The business of growing into Christ, to fill up his Body with our bodies, is the purpose for which he reconciled us to God through his own body on the Cross.

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