Something Beautiful for God
15th November 2015

Preacher: The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson, Dean

This is the last Choral Evensong of the Liturgical Year. Next week at this time we will hold our Advent Procession with Carols – a week early because of the Cricket Test at the end of the month. In two weeks’ time we mark the beginning of the Liturgical Year on Advent Sunday. So it is perhaps salutary that the New Testament reading set for tonight, the last in a long series of readings from the Letter to the Hebrews, is one of encouragement to the Christians of that day to hold on to their faith, persevering in the face of hardship and not abandoning the confidence they have shown thus far.

One wonders what was behind this word of encouragement? Were these Hebrew Christians tempted to give it all up? Was it all too difficult to keep smiling, keep believing, keep loving and caring – when, as we read earlier, they had already been through some difficult times? “You endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.” (Hebrews 10: 32/33) I found myself thinking of the gospels as I listened to Chris reading the words of the next verse, “you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions …” These people, whoever they were, we simply don’t know, were no wimps! They were tough people, they had endured much. They appeared to have taken seriously the teaching found in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25. I am sure you remember it.

“I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25: 35ff)

So what has changed? What has happened to cause the writer of Hebrews to feel it necessary to give first a warning and then these words of encouragement? Reading between the lines it seems that these Hebrew Christians were worn out. They had suffered. They had cared for each other and for the stranger, the visitor, the sick and those in prison. They had hoped and kept the faith. But now they were tired. They had that end-of-year sort of feeling when it all begins to get too much. They had the sort of thoughts that come in the dark hours after midnight – when sleep evades. What am I doing? Why do I believe? Is the Gospel really true? Will it actually end in the way we have been taught? Will we see the glory of God, and be with God in heaven? Or is it all an illusion? Have we been fooling ourselves, pretending because it feels good, or we think that is what is expected and we don’t want to let the side down?

It would be easy to feel like that now – after yesterday’s tragic events in Paris. Once again the world totters on the brink, overcome with fear, anger. It would be so easy to get into one’s campervan and head for the Outback – no television news, no instant internet access taking us into the heart of the sports stadium, the theatre. No need to watch endless replays of interviews with people – those who escaped, rescue personnel, tired doctors, world leaders trotting out their indignation and repeating assurances of standing together. Escape is very tempting. It would be so easy, in the words of the writer of Hebrews, to ‘shrink back’.

But that will not help the situation. We can’t do the ostrich thing and bury our heads in the sand. We have to come up for air, food and light. And the world will still be here. The needs will still be here. We will still be needed to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, care for the sick, visit those in prison. And we do that don’t we – in countless little and in what may seem insignificant ways. I am constantly reminded of the genuine and deep caring that happens in and around the congregations associated with the Cathedral. Some of it is quite intentional, others quite random – simply because we know it is the right thing to do.

The names of two people come to mind who speak into this situation of ‘shrinking back’, where people are tempted to ‘give up’, turn their backs on their Christian faith and calling. The first is mentioned in the Book of Acts. His name is Joseph and he came from Cyprus. But we know him better as Barnabas the Apostle, companion of St Paul and nicknamed because of his encouragement of others. We all need a Barnabas in our lives. And we can all be a Barnabas in the lives of others. What a gift – to be known as one who encourages others.

The second is someone who died not that long ago, less than twenty years in fact. She too started off with a different name but is known throughout the world by another. Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was born in Albania in 1910. As a young woman she joined a Roman Catholic order of nuns eventually becoming known to the world as Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She died in 1997 having worked tirelessly for many decades in the slums of Calcutta, taking care of the dying, especially the poorest of the poor. She and her sisters, known as the Missionaries of Charity, gave love in the dying moments of many who had known little love in their lives. I particularly remember her for something she is alleged to have said to her sisters each morning: “Go and do something beautiful for God today.”

Perhaps what the world needs more than anything else at this time is people prepared to be a Barnabas to encourage others, and a Mother Teresa to do something beautiful for God each day. I think even the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews would be happy with that.


Two Prayers

Almighty God, we remember your servant Barnabas, whose great joy was to proclaim your love; grant us also the gift of your Holy Spirit, to bring others to know your goodness, to encourage the faint hearted and to minister to those in need; in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect for Barnabas

O Lord, help me to order my life better, help me to use my gifts more industriously, help me to turn from no one in need, help me to see You in the hungry, the sick, the prisoners, the lonely, help me this, and every day, to do some work of peace for you. Alan Paton