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Tax Collectors and Prostitutes

September 25, 2011

The phrase “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” haunts me. It challenges, me and the respectable Church that I love. And it is not some atheist like Richard Dawkins that is doing the challenging: It is Jesus.

This challenge took my mind back to the week that I’ve had.

Last week was a varied week for me. Definitely, interesting if not a little exhausting.

I didn’t join you or Corton for the main morning service because, being Sunday, it took me forever to get to London for my Eurostar to Brussels. But the meetings went well and I got home safely later in the week.

Then came the frantic scramble to catch up!

People say to me that it must be fun to visit lots of different places, all paid for by someone else. But the truth is that most times you never really get the chance to see the place you are visiting. You arrive either just in time for a meeting or late at night. You have a meeting in a room that could be in Lowestoft or Lahore, and then dash off for the plane or train that will take you home.

But this time it was different. My meetings on the Monday and on the Tuesday finished early, so I had a little time to wander around. Time to explore Brussels.

Brussels has some beautiful architecture, especially around the historic city centre. The Grand Place has buildings with sections of stonework coated in gold. There is ostentation and real money. But Brussels is also quite a small city.

You leave the Grand Place and you get a heady mix of the best and the worst of human existence. I wandered around and found wonderful bookshops next to seedy sex joints.

I found a street with very expensive antique shops – with beautiful antique furniture and gold light fittings.

Then I turned a corner onto a dirty street that opened out into a run down square that had been turned into an unofficial market. As I got closer I noticed lots of very poor people. Men and women had thrown blankets onto the ground and spread out things to sell. But most of it was junk – it was all they had. There were blankets with cheap jewellery, Hoovers, tools, toys, clothes.

And round the next corner were more posh shops. There were big commercial bins outside with people rummaging through. As I went past there was sudden excitement as a man and a women found an old pair of boots.

There were beggars everywhere, often women sitting on street corners, with small children in their arms and a paper cup set out in front of them.

So much humanity. So much need. Real need.

So much poverty and misery amid the riches that flow into a city that attracts wealth as one of the capitals of the European Union.

So much spiritual poverty. So much need for meaning.

There were churches and a huge cathedral. But no sign of outreach or mission. No Christian books, or books of faith at all. No outreach coffee shops or homeless centres.

No obvious helping hand to the poor: The physically poor/ the morally poor/ or to the spiritual poor.

So different from what I know of London. We may have problems in this country but we do at least still care.

As I said, it has been an interesting week. Then on Friday this came. [Hold up “Committed to Growth” booklet from Norwich Diocese].

And it brought me face to face with that challenge from our Gospel reading. That challenge from Jesus that, “the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you,” and ahead of me. It also makes me so glad that God is able to work around our weakness and reach the people that really need him.

Reading this booklet, I was struck by how simple and straightforward growth can be. Remembering my experiences in Brussels, it brought home to me just how important this process is.

If coming here each Sunday really means anything then it should affect our priorities and the way in which we live.

We should want to know God better – be better disciples (poster heading Growth in discipleship).

Knowing God better – we should care as He cares, and act on that care in service to people and the world (poster heading Growth in service).

And caring should extend to being willing to share what is important to us and to help others to discover a life-changing faith for themselves (poster heading Growth in numbers).

I like this booklet. It starts where we are, not where someone says we should be. It allows us to decided how to build on our strengths, and at its heart is prayer.

I really don’t like diocesan initiatives, especially diocesan initiatives about mission. But I am impressed by “Committed to Growth”. I intend to think and pray about it. I intend to put it into practice.

I ask you to do the same. Tell me or Roger about your thoughts and dreams and plans for this Church here in Corton. And together we can grow.

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.”

Prayer from Bishop Graham:  Eternal God, in your Son Jesus Christ you reveal your love for the world, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit you give us the strength to share his mission in this Diocese: help us to grow in proclaiming your good news, drawing others to know you, serving our communities, promoting justice and peace and sustaining the well-being of the life of the earth; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

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