For some reason, the term do-gooder has become a means to insult or demean a person’s desire to help others. It is usually used to describe someone that we would call a meddler, someone who interferes with other people’s business, usually in a condescending manner.  When I was first exploring my calling and the time came to share it with other people I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by most people’s reactions. The sole exception being a member of my extended family who after listening to me talking earnestly, in the most heartfelt way, about God calling me to help others, to build community, to bring people together, to spend my days in the service of others. All she did was roll her eyes and utter the words, “Not another do-gooder”.

That stung.

 

And the reason that I am talking to you about do-gooders, is because there is no way round the fact that it is one of the most fitting ways in which we remember William Wilberforce. A man who because of his faith, felt called to emulate Jesus and help people, to liberate others. He used the gifts that he had to ensure that God’s justice was served, there was and still is a value in what he did, in what he stood for. That is why 187 years after his death, we still talk about him and the instrumental role he had in ending our reliance on the slave trade.

We believe that God’s justice and His mercy are at the heart of Christ’s ministry. It is imbued through everything that he did. Even in today’s reading, a reading that is so familiar to us and that on the surface seems to be so simple that we would be forgiven for not really engaging with it. The feeding of the five thousand. This reading comes at a time when Jesus was trying to get away from all the attention that he was getting, but the crowds just wouldn’t leave him alone. John the Baptist had just been killed, our Lord and Saviour had lost his cousin and colleague in a way that would have been the starkest of warnings to him of what lay in store if he continued upsetting the powers that be. And in the midst of all the upset and the turmoil that he must have been going through, his first concern was not for himself, but for others, the people who were following him, chasing him. Christ translated the sorrow he must have felt for himself, the sorrow that he must have felt for John into sorrow for his fellow man.

 

What happened was that before the outward and visible works of power that he showed us came the inward and invisible work of power where Jesus transformed his own feelings into love for those who needed it most.

The more I think about it the more startling it becomes and just as extraordinary is the way in which he did it. He told the disciples, “give them something to eat”. His tone is that if you really care for these people, then help. It is what he says to us all, as Christians, if you really care for them, then help. Give your gifts, no matter how small, offer your loaves and your fishes, no matter what they are and then the small idea of that paltry amount of food, becomes something wonderful. Something that seems to be impossible is transformed by him and all of a sudden - BOOM, what seemed an impossibility has become a reality. It is truly astonishing. We blunder in with our ideas. We offer what little we have and then Jesus takes those ideas, those loaves and fishes and transforms them. He shows us that we are instruments of God’s justice, that even though the odds are sometimes stacked against us we can make a difference. From very little Christ creates an abundance.

 

William Wilberforce made a difference to countless other people. Not just to the people who were being trafficked but also to the others that were involved in the trade, his role is recognised as being key to the events that led to the abolition of slavery. A trade that transported an estimated 11 million Africans from their homes across the ocean to work in the most brutal and barbaric conditions in the Americas. Wilberforce did this through religious conviction, his faith taught him the innate worth of a human life, a life that is precious to God and, as such, should be precious to us. It gave him the conviction to do something about it, to transform things. Just as it tells us in the Gospel, Jesus took William Wilberforce’s offerings and then transformed them into something much greater, He held them in front of the Father with prayer and blessing and gave them back to us and to those who needed it the most.

It is what Christ wants to do with us all, to be agents of change, to make things better, to care, to build community. And that is a much better description of a do-gooder.

Amen

 

Rev’d Mark Nelson

Assistant Curate in the Benefice of Winslow, Great Horwood and Addington

I don’t know what images come to mind when you think of Mary Magdalene: perhaps it is the red hair she is often depicted with in works of art, perhaps it is a picture of a deeply fallen woman, for the early church, without a scrap of evidence, chose to write some fairly sordid details into their account of Mary’s life. Or just maybe your mental image is of a small group of women, including Mary Magdalene, standing loyally at the foot of the cross, or perhaps you have some vague and fuzzy image of Mary on that first Easter morning? Or, if you don’t really have an image of Mary Magdalene, perhaps you have a word that you would associate with her. If I was to say Mary Magdalene, I wonder what would be your spontaneous response?

I think that if I were to give a one-word response it would be this: adoration. Mary Magdalene, for me, stands apart from the other apostles – for she has been described as ‘The Apostle to the Apostles’ – and disciples because she dared to adore Jesus, for his own sake. For sure, the other apostles may have liked and even loved Jesus, but it always seems to me that they did so with some element of ulterior motive. James and John sought preferment, wanting to sit at His left and right hand in heaven. Peter wanted Jesus to be his uniquely best friend - he was extremely jealous of the beloved disciple, John. Simon the Zealot’s primary reason for liking Jesus was that he thought that he was the man to get rid of those despised Romans. I could go on.

Mary Magdalene, however, simply adored Jesus and I believe that today – as a member of the Communion of Saints – she is imploring us to make sure that we spend time in adoration. Mary Magdalene reminds us that adoration should be our first response to the name of Jesus. We should, as part of our daily pattern of prayer, make sure that we spend some time in adoration. In fact, one model of prayer, the so-called ACTS model, suggests that adoration should precede contrition, thanksgiving and supplication. Adoration should be our primal Christian instinct.

Intellectually and liturgically, I suspect that we already know this to be true: think of the pattern of Eucharistic worship where the Gloria (though not in the Book of Common Prayer) comes close to the beginning of the service. Or what about the greatest and most welcoming of Christmas carols, O Come all you Faithful, which rightly insists that our response to the birth of the Christ-Child should be to ‘come let us adore Him.’

But why is adoration so important, and why might Mary Magdalene be beckoning us today into ever deeper lives of adoration? Well, one reason may be that adoration takes us out of ourselves and the immediate and perhaps smallness of our world and towards God. Adoration gives us a bigger view of things - not simply a changed world view but a cosmic and eternal view. Another reason might be that it is through adoration that the dots get joined up. Adoration invites us to give thanks for the redemptive work of God as we have experienced it in our lives, whilst also looking forward in faith, hope and love to a better future.

When we look on Jesus with adoration, like Mary Magdalene, we are changed - we start to grow into the absolute best selves we can be. Adoration is all about coming to God, coming to Jesus, with a grateful heart, so, in the words of that great hymn Love Divine, we might be ‘changed from glory into glory, ‘til in heaven we see His face.’

So my encouragement to all of us, inspired by Mary Magdalene, is simply this: let’s make sure that each and every day, we spend just a little time in adoration, in that sacred space where we find ourselves ‘lost in wonder, love and praise,’ so that, like Mary Magdalene, we may find ourselves truly found, Amen.

We Anglicans believe that there are 4 major parts that make up the sources of our faith. We have reason, where we think about our faith, what it means and critically evaluate it. We have tradition, a tradition that links us back to that night when Jesus shared bread and wine with His followers. Every week we talk about being “an apostolic church” and that is what that refers to. We have experience, where our own life journey tells the story of God’s love for us, how the things that we encounter form and shape the way that we see God’s hand in the world around us. Lastly. We have scripture, where the words that are written in the Bible teach us how to be, how to live with each other and give us valuable lessons on what God wants us to be. Therein lies the way that we can fulfil our fullest potential. These are the ways that God reveals himself to us.

In the Scripture that we read every week it seems as though many of the lessons teach us how not to be, it shows us that if we are to grow we should learn from the mistakes that others have made before us.

And the case I want to discuss today is the disciples. It has to be said that they were a pretty disfunctional bunch, needy, jealous, constantly getting things wrong. Many times they were so busy trying to outdo each other that they failed to notice what it was that Jesus was trying to tell them. Their ability to constantly get things wrong is really quite impressive.

Now during my curacy I have spent a lot of time thinking about what leadership looks like. I have studied it in college, had seminars on it and have been asked, as part of a group, about Biblical models of what a good leader should be.

In these sessions, all the usual candidates have been put forward but we weren’t allowed to put forward Jesus’s name because that was considered to be too easy. But we had Moses, King David, Solomon, Simon Peter, someone even jokingly said Pontius Pilate and Herod. There is no doubt that they were leaders but not necessarily ones that I’ll really be looking to emulate in my life of ministry you will be pleased to know. None of these answers are wrong, but they all seemed to be missing some elements. They were all male for a start, but also they were all strong, confident, powerful. But the Bible also teaches us that there is another way to serve and lead.

I would like to put forward Mary Magdalene as a biblical leader, a leader with startlingly different qualities than any of the others. For so long she has been treated as some kind of dumping ground for all the scandalous behaviour that has been attributed to women in general, but some women in particular.

She was treated poorly by all…….except Jesus. He healed her and showed her kindness and she adored him. Her adoration of him gave her the qualities that made her the Apostle’s apostle and she is unusual in that she is mentioned in all four of the Gospels. It wasn’t accidental that she was the first person to witness the risen Christ. Her adoration meant that she stayed true after all the others had fled through fear. Her adoration gave her the strength to persevere and to do what others were incapable of or reluctant to do.

Jesus loved her, a woman without status and that is key. If we want to emulate that we need to put ourselves in her shoes and do likewise.  I mean, how interested do you think he is in our posturing? In our social standing? Our sense of status does not matter one iota to him. He loves us all, with abundance and abandon. His love overflows regardless of who we are. His presence heals, he gives us hope, he gives us new eyes to see and new hearts to love. He doesn’t care for colour, class or creed, it is the contents of our hearts that matter. And we could do a lot worse than try to emulate Mary Magdalene. Adore him just as Mary did, that is where true humility comes from. Our faith comes from love, if we adore him it balances our relationship with each other. It all begins with adoration. “The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” are as nothing if we adore him.

That is the sign of a true leader, where you do not expect the consequences of your actions to be for your own reward but for the love and service of others.   Mary led and served for our Lord as much if not more then any of the other Apostles, and for that we should venerate her and emulate her

Amen.

 

Rev'd Mark Nelson

Assistant Curate of the Benefice of Winslow, Great Horwood and Addington