Revd Robin Moore
29th April, 2012, St Philip's Day.
My brother Michael is very clever. He's an electrical engineer and a very good mathematician. He is also a very good teacher, calm and patient, and he is always encouraging. He taught me how to tell the time, when all other family and school attempts had failed and then later, in my teens, he taught me how to drive. I remember us stalling the family car in a river one time, but that's another story! He and I were talking on the 'phone one day as I was preparing to start the discernment process, the first very tentative steps towards ordained ministry, and I was both excited and nervous.
Michael, a non-churchgoer these days, was very pleased for me and so encouraging and he gave me these words of advice, "Just remember," he said, "there is no such thing as a silly question."
"There is no such thing as a silly question."
In the beginning of John 14, just before today's reading, Jesus is preparing the disciples for the time when he'll be leaving them. They are anxious and bewildered, but he assures them of the many dwelling places in his Father's house and that he is going to prepare a place for them. He says, "And you know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas (who is often referred to as doubting Thomas, rather unfairly, I think) says, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus answers him, "l am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. lf you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."
Now Philip comes into the conversation, trying to get a handle on all this. No doubt other disciples are confused too—this is awfully big stuff to take on board—but it is Philip who speaks up. "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." He has the courage and humility to show Jesus that he does not understand and so Jesus, surprised at first by Philip's lack of understanding, goes on to explain his relationship with God the Father, that he and the Father are united. The Father's character and purpose can be seen perfectly in Jesus his Son. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father.
How often do we experience doubts and questions, but are afraid or embarrassed to let others know? I do at times and I'm pleased and relieved when other people put them into words, when they ask the questions.
I, for one, am grateful that Thomas and Philip both had the courage and honesty to express their concerns to Jesus. I am very grateful for the explanations that Jesus gave them. It gave them a firmer foundation for faith, which they would need for the trials and tribulations that were to come and for their future ministry as apostles of Christ.
The response of Jesus to their questions and concerns strengthens, too, our foundations of faith, so that we can stand more firmly as followers of Christ.
I remember high school as we were introduced to algebra, I found it all very interesting and was actually doing quite well; that is, until I somehow missed out on some pretty basic points. Maybe I'd been away sick for a few days. I don't remember, but I do know that without that basic understanding I started to struggle and from then on, I never fully understood what I was doing. I didn't ask for help; I didn't ask the questions and didn't confess my lack of understanding because one of the techniques some teachers used in those days was to stand you up in front of everyone and fire off questions until your mind was completely blank and you ended up confused and embarrassed, much to the delight of your classmates, so glad it wasn't them!
If only those teachers had had Michael's wisdom; and if only I had had the courage and honesty of Thomas and Philip, to ask the questions, to admit my lack of understanding, to create a solid foundation of knowledge on which to build.
I don't remember much about maths, but I do remember a particular maths teacher saying to me, "Why can't you be like your brother?" Perhaps, in retrospect, I could say to her (from this pulpit) "Why can't you be more like Jesus, loving and caring, nurturing, teaching, gently leading, and encouraging?"
On the front page of our weekly pew sheet and on various St Philip's letterheads, we see the words of Philip "Come and see." If we go back to the first chapter of John, beginning at verse 43, we read that, several days after his Baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus goes to Galilee where he finds Philip. Jesus says to Philip, "Follow me." And with that life-changing invitation, Philip doesn't hesitate and becomes a disciple of Christ, one of the twelve. Philip wants to share his faith straight away and tells his friend Nathanael about Jesus. Nathanael, later referred to as Bartholomew, another of the twelve, is skeptical at first, but following conversation with Jesus, he recognises him as the Son of God.
How much are we like Philip? How readily do we lead others to Christ?
In our society, where there seems to be a growing view that Christians should be pretty much unseen and certainly unheard, we get a pounding in the letters page of The Canberra Times, we 'God-botherers' who don't really engage in the real world, we pallid creatures with tremulous hands clasped together gazing skywards! Unfortunately that, too, is the image of Christ in many works of art: a pallid insipid man, who looks so fragile that he would not withstand the slightest breeze.
Of course, Jesus was not like that. He was fully engaged with the harsh realities of life, with the highs and lows of the human condition, managing to upset religious leaders and others in authority, a champion of the poor, the outcast and the sick. He associated with the despised and those on the fringes of society. He broke the rules and laws that had become ends in themselves, meaningless. He claimed kinship with God.
Now Philip doesn't hide away in the shadows, he recognises Jesus as the Messiah and confidently invites the skeptical Nathanael to "Come and see."
How unashamedly visible are we, as Christians? How can people engage with us if they don't know who we are? There is a huge spiritual longing in our materialistic society. I firmly believe that if we are visible, people will respond to us, at times and in places where they feel most comfortable.
I've experienced extraordinary encounters with people, sometimes in response to my wearing a clergy collar and/or a deacon's cross, other times simply by my activities, such as reading or having a meal in a food court or cafe or when I'm buying lots of food for St Philip's Care at Northbourne, preparing to feed around eighty people. People often come up to me and ask me who I am, and what am I doing? Others ask the significance of the deacon's cross and I find a huge interest in the community regarding the life and ministry of deacons. People ask all sorts of questions.
Recently, one fellow was very interested and told me that they don't have deacons in the Catholic Church. I assured him that they do, but not female deacons. He was still not convinced and I suggested that he check it out. I've had people talk with me, people who have been hurt by the church in the past, some who want to talk about difficulties with relationships, and others about family illnesses and about their faith. On Friday evening as I was writing all this on my computer, after having a meal at a food court, a young man, a cleaner, a Muslim from Pakistan came up to me, interested to see a woman using a computer. We got talking and he asked me what I do. I told him that I'm an Anglican deacon. I truly couldn't hove scripted this, it happened just as I was writing about these sorts of casual encounters. This fellow was hugely interested that I was a Christian and was fascinated to learn what a deacon is. I tried to explain it in simple terms and we had a very enjoyable conversation. We talked about God and Jesus and Mohammed. We happily agreed that we had much in common, and worship the one God. Things got a bit complicated as we touched on the Christian belief in the Trinity, the triune God. I could feel myself unraveling and was thinking, "Rebecca, where are you? I need you here, right now!"
There are so many encounters. One night, a woman had a seizure in my car in Civic. It was late and dark and raining and I managed to pull over, on the road between Glebe Park and the multi-story car park. Not the best place to be at night and I was trying to stop her from bashing her head on the car window. I remember saying silently, "Lord, this is not ideal!" Later that night, around 1 or 2am, after a turbulent few hours, I was sitting on this woman's blood-splattered bed in an upstairs flat, and she quietly and gently asked, "Robin, why do you do what you do?" I was caught completely unawares and said, "Well I've got a good boss." She said, "Oh yeah, right, Rebecca!" I said, "Well actually, I was thinking of God, but Rebecca comes a very close second!"
Being visible as a Christian can have its challenging moments and I do seem to have a few, although Chris says I do put myself out there.
I am a self-confessed, sniveling coward! A conversation directed at me recently, went like this: "Call yourself a f—g Christian! I'll smash your f—g head in!!" "My mother would f—g crush you!" I wasn't sure if his mother was a tough street fighter who would annihilate me, or a fine Christian woman whose Godly lifestyle completely overshadows my own puny efforts. At least he sees me as a Christian; it would have been worse if he hadn't noticed.
We can't always know the effects that we may have on others as we go about our daily lives, but don't underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit.
For some years, a fellow who comes to the Centre treated me with silent disdain. He singled me out for the silent treatment. He is very brittle and can become aggressive in a split second. Then one day, he started to talk to me, telling me about relationship problems he was having at the time, and then he paused and looked at me thoughtfully and said, "l don't know what it is ... maybe, I'm looking for God."
Then the moment was gone. Reflecting later, I wished that I could have been quick enough to say, "Maybe God, is looking for you." It's a fragile relationship, but it is growing. He does confide in me at times and I con see small changes taking place.
Ministry is not always about words; sometimes it's just about being there and caring, quietly persevering—the Holy Spirit working through us, helping us to see others through God's loving eyes. Sharing our faith. Bringing people to Jesus.
The spoken and the unspoken, "Come, and see."