Ordinary Sunday 5: 9th February, 2014
Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster, Vicar of St Peter's, Eastern Hill
King Pyrrhus of Epirus was approached by his friend Cyneas and asked, "If you conquer Rome, what will you do next, sir?"
Pyrrhus replied, "Sicily is next door and will be easy to take."
"And what shall we do after Sicily is taken?"
"Then we will move over to Africa and sack Carthage."
"And after Carthage, sir?"
"The turn of Greece will come."
"And what, may I ask, will the fruit of all these conquests be?"
"Then," said Pyrrhus, "we can sit down and enjoy ourselves."
"Can we not," said Cyneas, "enjoy ourselves now?"
Anthony de Mello, Prayer of the Frog, p. 95
What drives us? Who or what do we follow? January is a good time for reflection, to prioritise and set goals for the new year, to reflect on what drives us, and to be honest with ourselves about who or what we are following. There are numerous choices of course, many unconcscious. Money, for example, am I choosing to chase the dollar in the decisions I make and the people I follow? Or pleasure; is it comfort and the easy life that is of highest priority? Or power; do I want to be top of the ladder, the one who makes the decisions, is that what drives me?
This week I was asked to speak on a South Sudanese radio programme. One of the other speakers I shared the studio with was a young man, Garang Dut, who is in his final year of medical training at Melbourne University. Soon he will be the first South Sudanese refugee in Australia to become a medical doctor. I found his story so inspiring, from refugee camp to Ormond College. "What drives you?" I asked. "I want to help people," was his reply. Then he spoke about the health needs in Southern Sudan, "One of the primary health concerns back home is sewerage. Most places don't even have a basic sewerage system." Garang wants to make a difference, to help those in need, it is compassion that drives him; and going by what he has achieved in Australia since arriving 8 or 9 years ago, I am sure that he will indeed make a difference.
'And [Jesus] said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of
people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him.' (Matt 4:19-20)
Caravaggio, "The calling of Sts Peter and Andrew" (c. 1602)
The Christian vision is a noble one and at the same time a humble one; it is about helping others and making a difference where there is need. The good news of the gospel has driven both saints and ordinary folk to do great things. In our gospel reading today we hear of the call of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, ordinary working-class fishermen. I rather like Caravaggio's interpretation of this. It is almost shocking. Two elderly fishermen and a very young and naive looking Jesus. Hardly the power-dressing executive dream team. Not really the picture one would expect of the founding members of an organisation that now spans the globe and has 2.2 billion adherents. Yet there is profound, even subversive truth in this image. God calls the most unexpected people, the humblest of people, and through them achieves the unimaginable.
That is the message of the cross that we heard in our epistle reading today. Paul writes to the struggling, arguing, fragile gathering of believers in first-century Corinth; they too are far from perfect: "For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Cor. 1:18). It is as fitting a message for our church of St Peter's Eastern Hill today as it was for the Corinthians, or the brothers Simon, called Peter, and Andrew.
The call on Jesus' lips is the same: follow me. The question is ... will you, will I follow?
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.