About this time last year, several of my talks at Church had centred around the prophet Samuel and his relationship with Saul and David. I felt quite drawn to the Old Testament passages and strongly believed that God wanted to use them to impress upon the church the difference between his criteria and our own. This seemed especially relevant as the time began to draw near for Canon David Capron (then Rector of our minster), to retire... and many of my sermons then were aimed at preparing the congregation (at my church at least), for that time and the time to come.
A year has passed since then and now our minster is about to come to the climax of those times - the recruitment process for David's replacement is in full swing and the interview process takes place over the next two days. From a human perspective if I'm honest, I'm fairly anxious about what/who comes next and worry about the process and all those involved. From a heavenly perspective, I know that God is in complete control and that he knows what/who comes next and why... so in some ways I'm conflicted.
Now last week I found myself responsible for prayers in the service. When I do the prayers I never completely script them, I make a few notes as to what I'm praying about... but I like to leave it as free and flexible as possible... in case anything crops up in the service (especially the readings or sermon), that inspires me in my petitions. Last Sunday was one such occasion as I felt God speak to me pretty clearly through the Parable of the Good Samaritan:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
"What is written in the Law?” he replied. "How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’"
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’"
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise."
What particularly stood out for me, was how well the images and characters from the parable translate to the idea of a recruitment process. In the story, the two men who are on paper the most qualified servants of God, walk on by. Now it can be understood that those men were acting in accordance with the law as they understood it (at the time, touching a dead body would make them ritually unclean... and so they were playing it safe... thinking that their ritualistic duties were more important. But the Samaritan brushed all this aside... even ignored the mutual disdain between his two peoples, to make sure the needs of the wounded man were addressed.
The question "Who is my neighbour?" for those in Alcester Minster is equivalent to "Who is our leader?"
I strongly believe that what matters in choosing a new leader, is not the background and churchmanship. We should not be looking for the person who is most priestly on paper or in appearance. It doesn't matter if they don't have the same attachment to tradition or pattern of worship as a certain clique within the church. What matters is that the person who comes, sees the needs of the churches and respective communities... and addresses them.
Going back to my preaching last year and I'm reminded that the same theme is picked up when Samuel anoints David. Samuel is pretty confident that all of Jesse's text book hero sons are going to be God's choice of new king... and yet God ignores and rejects all of them... instead choosing the gingery runt of the family.
God makes it explicitly clear that our choices are not his choices and we need to recognise his sovereign wisdom when making appointments in the Church.
"The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
1 Samuel 16:7b
I believe we need to look for the neighbour... not the priest. We need to look for a person who is a wellspring of Christ's grace and mercy, not a champion of ritual; and tradition. My prayer is that God grants the wisdom however subconsciously, to those interviewing on Tuesday
"For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings."