Sub-Dean Revd Canon Michael Rawson
During the lockdown I have been volunteering as a chaplain at Guy’s and St Thomas hospitals and amongst many impressions I have been struck by the number of times names are used
‘Hello Mrs X, my name is Michael and I am from the chaplaincy.’ Everyone in the Trust has a yellow badge with their name on it and people continually refer to them. It makes a lot of sense, especially for people like me on the edge of the organisation and it does take the pressure off learning lots of names. I have to admit that when I meet people in the street I do have a moment of panic trying to recall where I have met them before and then trying to remember their name. Names matter. They give us recognition and value. To be called by our name means we have been noticed.
Everyday of the lockdown we have been told the number of new infections and the number of people who have died. Over 40,000 is overwhelming and hard for us to process. St Paul’s Cathedral has set up an online book of remembrance, Remember Me, to honour those who have died as a result of Covid-19. They are not numbers, they are named and loved, they have a face and a unique story to be told.
In this morning’s gospel reading Jesus calls his disciples by name and sends them out with a mission, to proclaim the good news, ‘the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ He calls them to a share in his own ministry, telling them to go and find the lost, those who are harassed and helpless and are without a shepherd. Jesus has compassion on the crowds and knows they are in need of hope, of good news. What a daunting task those apostles faced. ‘Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleans the lepers, cast out demons.’ I wonder how you are feeling today, hearing those words, and knowing that Jesus is talking to you and me? If I’m honest, I feel overwhelmed by the task. What glimpses this week have I seen of the coming of God’s kingdom and how might I work with Christ to usher in that kingdom of justice, equality and peace?
The good news if you’re feeling downhearted is that Christ calls each of us by name. He loves us more than we can ever imagine and then he sends us on our mission. It can often feel like we are destined to fail and we can’t live up to Christ’s expectations, and yet the gap between the ideal and the reality is filled with our faith in God’s grace.
When Mother Teresa of Calcutta died, the community had to elect a new leader. They choose Sister Nirmala. When she was interviewed by the press she was asked how she felt about trying to succeed a saint; they were big sandals to fill. She thought for a moment and then replied. 'When I think about my own abilities and my own frailties, then I fail. When I look to the Lord and know that God is always with me, then I think, yes, perhaps I can.'
During these extraordinary times we might be having very different experiences of God’s presence or seeming absence in our lives. I know we all miss seeing one another and being encouraged on our life of discipleship through our services and fellowship. I hope that the montage of congregational photographs in this service will help remind us that we are still one in Christ, despite the distance that separates us. Each one of us is called by name, a beloved daughter, a beloved son of God. The prophet Isaiah has a wonderful image of God writing our names on the palm of God’s hand.
Like those first apostles, we might feel overwhelmed by our circumstances and the odds stacked against us. Perhaps we feel paralysed by Covid-19, the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, by the economic challenges facing us and our loved ones. We need only look to our forebears throughout history who have been inspired to usher in God’s kingdom and to make a difference to their neighbour. The list is endless -
Olaudah Equiano and William Wilberforce and those who fought for the abolition of Slavery; Rosa Parkes and Martin Luther King and those in the US civil rights movement in the 1960s; the women and men of the anti-apartheid movement. They all made a difference and transformed our world, testifying that change is possible when people of goodwill act.
We can do nothing in our own strength. Through God’s grace we receive encouragement and resolve to make a difference, to act. For in acting we can transform our church, our neighbourhoods, our society and our world.