Rev. Andrew Cunnington
20th September 2020
Servant Disciple

Back in the last century when I was a very young parish priest I was invited once each month to lead an early morning Communion Service at the Convent of the Sisters of the Holy Rood in Lindfield just outside Haywards Heath.

From the moment of my arrival until it was time to leave – Sister Patricia was my constant companion.

She insisted on carrying my robes from the car to the chapel and laying them out for me. “I will be Deacon of the Mass for you Father” she would announce with great pride, and so in the service she would lead me in, find my place in the service and point to it. She would read the lesson, and pray the intercessions. She would prepare the altar and administer the chalice, and was on tenterhooks throughout, lest I should be in need of anything.

“And then Father” she would say in a stage whisper, every time, “as soon as I have received Communion, I will leave the chapel immediately – so that when Father has given his blessing to the other sisters – the first course of his full English breakfast will be all laid out in the room next to the Vestry.

And so with a great flourish she would leave the chapel, crossing herself and genuflecting as she made her way from the altar to the kitchen to get the frying pan on the go.

On my last visit – I did ask Sister Patricia if just for once she would sit down and join me.

“Father, no” she said, horrified “a holy sister and a deacon of the mass, does not sit and eat a cooked breakfast, she prepares it for Father and she serves him at the table, and then she proceeds with the other duties of her day.

So Judith, I don’t know what sort of deacon you want to be – but just in case you’d ever like to follow this holy woman’s lead – I am delighted to present you with a potential tool of your trade.

Matthew’s conversion is told in the space of a few quick verses. Before Jesus calls him, he is sitting down on his own special chair in front of his own special table and I guess he rarely had to budge. The people just came along and paid their taxes and he counted up all the coins. Being sure to keep just a few back for himself. It was the cushiest of cushy numbers.

Being served but never serving others.

But now in a trice, Jesus shakes him out of all that. Matthew’s calling meant – get up off your seat, come out from behind your table and where in the past you only had to concern yourself with yourself – now come and be a part of things with others – with me and with Peter and James and John and the rest.

From now on serve others without recourse to your own comfort.

Now do you remember this dreadful Sunday School song… I think it’s OK for me to sing it as long as you don’t join in.

Jesus bids us shine – with a pure pure light…Like a little candle burning in the night…in this world of darkness – Jesus bids us shine …you in your small corner and I in mine.

Sorry, but it’s nonsense isn’t it!

Jesus calls Matthew and he calls Judith and he calls each one of us out of the small corners of own making – to serve not our own self interests any longer but those of others… and it is because the love of God has got its grip on us.

Yet in these days – at this time – that Sunday school songs rings with a horrible truth – that because of the virus – here we are confined into small corners and unable to reach out to others as we would like.

And in these days and at this time we see how much we need each other to make our faith shine. Worryingly we are getting used to our own table and our own chair – O that we could ditch it all and go off with Matthew and his new friends and make a difference in this aching world.

But still to ask the question – where have these weeks and months forced me to turn in on myself and actually get quite used to the isolated, socially distanced reality of our own equivalent of the tax booth.

So that if Jesus came calling today – our special chair, our personal table , is where we would remain rooted.

Jesus called Matthew to service with and alongside others.

He calls Judith to service with and alongside others.

And each of us in our own way, need to be straining at the leash and listening for the call as to how we would serve in these days.

As soon as Matthew got up from his own table and chair and followed Jesus, we don’t hear from him very much as an individual. It’s as if he becomes absorbed into that early body of believers – made up of just twelve.

So what must we leave behind to be drawn in liked that?

How shall our call to be servant – a deacon of the mass – now take shape in your life and mine?

Sister Patricia is not a good example for the fledgling Deacon to follow – nor for any of us wondering how we should express our faith in these days.

In her serving – she did everything for me – there was scarcely room to breathe.

True servanthood gives space for others to find their servant hood calling too.

True servanthood is always moving in amongst the group where Jesus is – rather than striding out on their own.

True servanthood always leaves a gap for the Holy Spirit to point you to where you need to be – rather than make yourself indispensable in the place where you are.

Judith, you will find yourself doing some strange things in ministry. Things that maybe you never bargained for when you signed up.

You will need to come out from behind this holy table and this comfortable chair – to find your own unique place and in so doing be an example to us as we might be able to be an example to you.

And when we all think it all falls on us and we have to do it all – remember the frying pan.

No cooked breakfast required here – unless you want to – that is – in which case no tomatoes with mine.

MATTHEW 9: 9-13