St Matthews Digital
St Matthew's Day
27 September 2020
A birthday present for Matthew
Bishop John Bluck reflects on the kind of church we are called to be if we follow our patron saint Matthew
Bishop John Bluck
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A birthday present for Matthew
It's good to be here. It's a bit of a miracle that we are here.
I had to get my passport, stamped to leave. Parker e this morning. I'm only kidding and I have to drive over a shaky Harbour Bridge. I'm not kidding.
It's a hard time to be an Auckland. ER, And it's a hard time to be Church.
There's nothing new about that, of course, but now it is harder because Everything is harder in the midst of This Global pandemic with no end in sight.
all our old habits of gathering and belonging and communing have been put on hold our wider networks, nationally and internationally have seized up for who knows how long And we don't know when or whether they will ever return. We have all been distanced from each other, quite literally, the old normal has gone forever.
And if all of that is not enough to feel sorry for ourselves. The two, biggest church stories in the last month are Dilworth school and the mount roskill Evangelical Fellowship.
Happy Saint. Matthew's Day to you all and even as we try to find out what it means to be Church in the midst of a maelstrom, Is there anything in this story of Matthew whose name we take that will give us some clues of a way ahead.
What kind of church does he want us to be?
Because it will be a different Church from last year, pre covid.
How can his story make us more effective and accessible, and even more distinctive as a community?
because being distinctive for something that Saint Matthews people Pride themselves on being I met a friend yesterday and I told him I was preaching here today. All really? He said, that's a pretty alternative kind of place. I'll pass that on. I said.
We like to think we're a cutting-edge congregation.
But are we cutting in the right places?
Are we really sharp enough?
we knew what we had to do when the rest of the church couldn't cope with solo parents, as they used to be called And so we invited them to come here and dance between the pews and drink Sherry with us.
And when the rest of the church couldn't cope with the gay community, we hosted a Bible study group and then a regular service for gay people and it was the same with apartheid and racist rugby. Saint Matthews knew what kind of church it had to be.
As it did after the Christchurch mosque shootings, reaching out to the local Muslim Community.
but what about right now in the midst of a pandemic that is killing and dividing us Well, Matthew might have something to say about that on this. Patron rule Festival. After all. It's his birthday. What could we give him as a present?
He knew a thing or two about divided, churches like ours.
At the end of the first century, the church was caught in a tension between Jewish Christians who still try to Worship in the synagogue's? Where the Pharisees set the rules and fussed about them. That was on one side and on the other were Gentile Christians who didn't fuss at all.
The Jesus that Matthew portrays is still very focused on his own. Jewish people, even telling his disciples to stay away from Gentiles and not bothering to explain Jewish Customs because everyone should know them.
So there's a culture War as well as a religious fight going on. Just as there is now across the church.
Let's face it, we have to confess Jesus with some pretty strange bedfellows.
strange to us because we have so little in common in terms of music and Theology and the way we see the world, it make no mistake.
The mount roskill. Evangelical Fellowship is as much part of the body of Christ as we are.
If you knew a thing or two about divided, cultures Jewish Purity laws, made the divisions, very clear. Not over silly stuff, like what shade of grey or white to paint your house. But who was ritually clean and unclean.
How carefully you follow the dietary and social contact laws of Deuteronomy?
Who is in and who is out.
They make our quarantine laws. Look careless.
The lines back then were crystal clear.
Especially if you were a tax collector.
They were a bad lot in Jewish eyes, they were subcontractors to the agents who bought the Customs franchises on goods and services from the Roman Empire.
The agent made forward payments to Rome and then they screwed down the subcontractors to collect the revenue. So corruption and extortion were common, they were about as popular.
As finding your accountant was fiddling, the GST payments and being investigated by the serious Fraud Office.
So decent, law-abiding, Jews had nothing to do with tax collectors except to hand over the cash when they had to and then treat them as social outcasts.
Tax Collectors, had nowhere to stand in Jewish Society, except to Teeter on the edge, distrusted and despised.
Matthew himself was one of them, he knew what that was like.
So what kind of a church is being called for in this story?
What kind of a church would be faithful to? What Jesus is demonstrating here. When he says, I have come for the sick and not the healthy.
And the sickness he's talking about is social not MediCal. It's being left out of community, the sickness of exclusion and alienation and isolation.
The sickness of those who have no place to stand with any hope or dignity.
And Jesus addresses that Sickness by including people like tax collectors.
Come with me. He says come to dinner.
Sit down with me.
And the Pharisees who make the rules and enforce them are Furious.
They asked the disciples. What does your boss think he's doing? He's Breaking All the Rules.
In this covid Define time of global crisis, when we're all, masked up, and socially distance from each other, and our borders are locked down to the rest of the world. What does it mean to be the kind of church that Matthew describes and Jesus models?
and at a time when we are quick to judge and condemn, those who break the rules of quarantine and masking, and hand-washing and distancing when we are slow to forgive and quick to anger, who are the Pharisees in our midst, Are we in there number?
You see, we're living in times of incredibly hard, moral choices where the ground beneath our feet is tilted by social media driven conspiracies about Dark Forces at work.
We have to condemn these lies, and yet we also have to find ways of engaging with the liars.
Meeting them in the midst of their fear and confusion.
Because the more isolated they become the more extreme their rhetoric.
Have you noticed that the most alienated and angry of our politicians and some of our church leaders to are the ones promoting the most paranoid theories about covid vaccines and plots to control us.
I think the kind of church that Jesus models for us in this troubled time is as radically inclusive.
As he demonstrated around that table on the night that Matthew joined him.
And is radically inclusive as that dinner table on the night before he died. When there was even room for the man who betrayed him.
It will be the kind of church that works hard at trying to understand these extreme and alienated voices. Engaging with them rather than just amplifying them, calling them back into community so we can cope with disagreement together. No one else is doing that right now. We've got plenty of Pharisees quick to condemn.
but very few who say that sit down and have a cup of tea and talk, I don't have the courage to do that alone where I live but I might if I had a community like Saint Matthews around me willing to try trying to be a place for all.
Imagine if we invited the Elders of the mount roskill. Evangelical Fellowship to come, along to Saint Matthews and share a coffee, and tell us what on Earth, they thought they were doing.
Let's work to keep ensuring Saint Matthews is known in Auckland as a place, where isolated groups of All Sorts.
Find a voice and a welcome. We're all sorts of groups who struggle to find a place to stand and somewhere to belong, can find a home here or at least a way station on there.
But there's another constituency.
Just as alienated from the church of the old normal.
Those who find their inspiration and their advice, even their pastoral care online.
Who live and breathe in a virtual digital world.
Who wouldn't come near us on a Sunday morning?
With or without the covid crisis.
I've never had to preach the same sermon differently on a Sunday, but I had to today for this version and for the online one later.
That digital version of what we do.
Might become our new normal as the covid crisis. Force us to finally make ourselves accessible to an ite Savvy generation and an online culture.
So Matthews is already seeking to do that. Very few of our churches will have the imagination or the resources to know how to begin.
And I think Matthew would approve of what we're doing because it would be continuing a long-held tradition of hospitality that this church has offered.
Matthew was like that.
It would be the best kind of birthday present.