I can't believe it's so long since posted. Catching up with St Matthew's on my return has been busy! Everyone has pulled together to move the church forward during my sabbatical. Sometimes as a leader you get back from time away to find the church stuck in a lay by and you've got to shove hard to get it out on the road again. This time St Matthew's is zooming off down the highway and I'm having to sprint to try and catch up! Liz and our team of wardens has done a fantastic job while I've been away.
Today's special reason for blogging is it's St Matthew's Day (well, it was on Friday, anyway, and this is the nearest Sunday). We all got together for lunch, with some fabulous curry supplied by the Asian congregation and more food from other members of the church. Then we had an amazing service this afternoon. Other services were all cancelled so we could come together as the St Matthew's family and celebrate being one in Christ for a change.
There's been so much to celebrate! Six new babies born in the last six months (we need to keep that production line going!), a great holiday club this summer, a magnificent new refreshments facility opened for use in church today, fabulous music, new faces appearing all the time, progress with re-ordering, fund raising, and just great people. You are a great church to come back to, St Matthew's!
And it was good on St Matthew's Day to draw on some of what I've been learning over the summer and set St Matthew (the apostle, not the church this time) in context as we read out his conversion story today. From Mark's gospel it is clear that Matthew's tax collector's booth stood by the lakeside and from Matthew (the gospel, not the apostle or the church this time) that it was close to the village of Capernaum, which became Jesus' home for much of his ministry. So to have wandered round Capernaum and stood on that atmospheric beach brings the story so much more alive!
It seems that Capernaum was quite a prosperous little town: lots of expensive decorative stone carving, an imposing synagogue (where Jesus himself ministered, see Mark 1:21), lots of small businesses like Simon Peter's partnership with James and John, who employed othes according to Luke 5:9-10. A great deal of this was because Capernaum was close to the border with Gaulanitis, the modern Golan, which was a separate mini-state ruled by Herod's brother Philip. Custom tolls were charged on goods brought in from Golan, and that's what Matthew and all the other tax collectors lived on. There were a lot of them, to judge by the party that Matthew threw to celebrate his conversion in Matthew 9:10. Unfortunately no-one else liked them. The only mates they had were other tax collectors, because the Romans took a cut and they were seen as collaborators.
So what are the values shown by this story for us today?
Conversion. Jesus radically changes lives! That money hungry Matthew just walked away from his tax booth to follow Jesus. Anybody could have gone off with his money! That's a change of heart. And we at St Matthew's today need to share that same living, risen Jesus with the people of Walsall and see Him change lives today. We are already seeing this happen through Messy Church and Alpha. But has God got more for us? Can we reach out through Back to Church Sunday? Or just through gossiping the gospel in our daily lives?
Welcome. How brilliant to open that new cafe area on St Matthew's Day! Because Jesus loved going to parties and being with people: check out the Gospels and note how many times He's at a party in them or compares the kingdom of God to a party. He never turned one down. He didn't turn Matthew down when he invited him to a party with tax collectors and sinners. He won't turn you down. So we need to welcome people of every sort as Jesus does. This means we may need to change! Our ways might be difficult for new people to follow. New friends used to Messy Church or Alpha may find the step up to church really hard. Wouldn't it be great if everyone who visited St Matthew's found at least one person who took an interest in them? Wouldn't it be great if there wasn't a single lonely person in our church? We'll be working on welcoome in 2013.
Discipleship. This is the key issue because it's about the quality of our life with Jesus. The apostle Matthew was so deeply affected by Jesus that he left everything to follow Him. Are we willing to give everything for His sake? He promised that if we lose our own lives for Him we will find them again - a life filled with His peace and love and deep relationship with God is what we were made for. This is our year of discipleship - let's go for it! Discipleship is the theme of our church weekend away this October. Is God calling you there? Have you gone deeper with God this year? There's still 3 months left...
Happy St Matthew's Day everyone!
Where it all started for Matthew - the beach near Capernaum