Heirs Of The Apostles

Sunday, 19 January 2020 15:25

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:1)

When I’ve tried learning languages over the years, the toughest part has been learning the vocabulary - especially in a language like Hebrew where the words often have no similarity with their English equivalents. Because that’s sometimes what makes things easier with a language like Greek - there are similarities between some Greek words and their English counterparts. Take a Greek word like ‘apostolos’ - the root of the word ‘apostle’. In the middle is the word ‘post’ - as in to send a letter and it reminds me that the word comes from the Greek for ‘to send’. An apostle was someone who was sent somewhere - usually with a message.

When we use the word, ‘Apostle’, we often restrict its meaning t the twelve main followers of Jesus such as Andrew and Peter, whose call we heard about today, and James and John. In a sense Andrew was the first apostle - the first that Jesus sent to bear witness to his teachings and who communicated that message to his brother Simon. The twelve were the first to hear the great commission of Jesus, “Go into all the world and make disciples”. In the years that followed that’s what they did, and there are stories of their journeys, such as those that tell of Thomas travelling to India. 

Is that it, then? Those twelve are the Apostles? Here, in our text we have Paul claiming to be an apostle simply because believed himself sent by God to carry word of Christ to those who needed to hear it in the places where they lived. One of those places was Corinth. Among the people who would have heard these words read aloud were people who knew Paul, who had met him and talked with him when he was there. This letter of Paul to the Corinthians isn’t a dry theological text - it’s a personal piece of correspondence to people he knew, written in the common everyday language of the time.

So is that it? The big twelve and Paul? They are the apostles? The Greek word apostolos comes from the Greek word , ‘apostellein’: to send. The Latin word for ‘to send’ is ‘missere’, from which we get the word, “missionary”. In the centuries that followed Paul there were those who believed themselves sent by God to carry on his work and the work of the original twelve. In the centuries that followed, word was carried throughout western mainland Europe and out onto these islands. It was carried to Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, to Russia. It was carried across the Atlantic to the Americas, to Africa to the Far East until now there is no part of the world where at least some of the population does not confess the salvation that comes with the love of God in Jesus Christ.

That this building is here is down to those who came to this part of the world and bore witness to that love. We are heirs of the apostles. They hymns we sing, the beliefs we share, the things we do together here in this place are the results of people coming to this part of the world and bearing witness to that love. We are heirs of the apostles. Our laws, our schools, our hospitals, the values we live by spring from the faith of people who came here and proclaimed the love of God in Jesus Christ. We are heirs of the apostles.

Did they all regard themselves as apostles or missionaries? No. Some came here by gradual migration and brought their faith with them. Some came here as slaves, bought in foreign markets, and brought their faith with them. Some were commercial travellers or soldiers who had found faith somewhere on their travels and brought it back with them. All of them, though, whether they knew it or not, were directed here by God. They were apostles and we are heirs of those apostles and the more famous ones like Ninian.

So is that it, then? The big twelve, Paul, the missionaries and the people who just wound up somewhere and bore witness to the love of God? I’ve been at a number of ordination services and introduction services over the years and during them I have often heard the Church of Scotland described as ‘apostolic’. The Church continues the work of the apostles - or should. It continues the work of missionaries and, to be fair, we have mission partners all over the world. But what about here in Scotland?

Is the Church getting out into the local communities of Scotland and bearing witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ? Is the Church getting into those places of work, those places where people socialise, those places where people gather and bearing witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ? Is the Church getting to the places where people need to hear of the love of God because they are hurting, feeling lost, feeling alone? To an extent, yes. But how far, though, do we think that the Church isn’t about ‘going’ anywhere, but about coming here, gathering within these walls in a place that feels safe and familiar.

I say, ‘the Church’. I’m the Church. You’re the Church. Everyone in this place and in countless places like it across the globe is the Church. It’s great to gather here where it’s safe and familiar and be reminded that here we gather in the presence of a God who loves us so much that he came into this world in the life of Jesus Christ to offer us forgiveness for all that we do wrong; to offer us life eternal in his presence; to walk beside us and within us all the days of our lives through his Holy Spirit. To show us that, whatever the world does to us, whatever insults it hurls at us, whatever mockery it may throw at us, nothing can separate us from the love of God. 

So when we go from here, let us be ready, wherever God sends us, wherever God leads us, to be ready to bear witness to that love. As we are heirs of the apostles, let us be ready to hand that heirloom on. When we hear people speak disparagingly of our faith, let us be ready to stand up and be counted. We may not be the most learned or eloquent of people, but sometimes all it takes is for someone to say, “Actually, I believe” for those who reject faith to start to question their own certainties; for a seed to be planted.

When people say that religion is about controlling people, let us be ready to speak of the freedom we have in Christ - that all that God asks of us in return for forgiveness and eternal life is that we accept his love for us and that we trust him to bring us home to him. That’s ultimately what faith is - not a whole pile of doctrines and rules, but trust.

Above all, though, let us live openly the Christian life. It’s one thing to bear witness to the love of God; it’s another thing to live it. To forgive others as fully and as completely as we have been forgiven by God. To care for others as fully and as deeply as we are cared for by God. To recognise all men and women as our brothers and sisters as God surely as God calls us all his children. These are big asks, but when we reach for them, when we try to live them out we bear witness to the world of what the Christian faith is all about and we, the heirs of the apostles, become apostles in turn.

Lord, wherever we find ourselves, wherever you send us, may we bear witness in all we say and do to your love for humanity revealed in Jesus Christ, your son, in whose name we pray

Preached at Gretna Old parish church