I suddenly realised, this is my Anniversary season. 40 years of false hope and bitter disappointment. 40 years since I first stood on the terraces of St James’ Park. 40 years since I was overwhelmed at the ridiculous enthusiasm that greeted a Supermac equaliser. I knew at that moment I was hooked. Watching 4th Division football at Darlington was never going to be the same after that.
During those 40 years I have seen many star names from MacDonald through to Shearer. I have seen some prima donnas too who thought they were bigger than the club, Waddle, Owen and Robert come to mind. The team that gave me the greatest pleasure was Keegan’s mid 1990s team that included such legends as Ginola, Albert, Lee, Ferdinand, Shearer, Beardsley, Asprilla.
But the 2 other teams that I particularly enjoyed were the promotion winning teams of 1993 and 2010. The 2010 team was put together by Chris Hughton after many of the star players left. Sir Bobby had died just before the season started and what followed was a season characterised by hard graft and team work, the team superbly led by captain, Kevin Nolan.
I started thinking about this when I was reflecting on the difficulties Jesus had with his disciples. He too had big names, prima donnas and one or two team players. It wasn’t an easy team to hold together. There was Judas the betrayer, Peter the denier, Thomas the doubter, James and John squabbling over who was best, Simon the Zealot (we would probably call him a terrorist today!)
Then there was the fact that they all ran away when Jesus was arrested.
But then we see the extraordinary lengths Jesus went to in order to keep his team together. Even Judas was treated with dignity and gentleness, sharing the Last Supper and being addressed as friend. Peter was reinstated and commissioned, Thomas got the personal reassurance he craved, the rest were rehabilitated. Jesus wasn’t so much building a team as creating community and as he did so it is a pointer for what the church would become. He was laying the foundations for what was to come as the early church became a series of communities meeting locally where all were welcome.
One of the most important aspects of church today is that we are seeking to build a community of prayer and faith where all are welcome. We won’t always get it right, there will be times when we mess up but in this age of polarisation and fragmentation, when we are nervous of our neighbours and distrustful of those who are different; in this age when we are increasingly more and more isolated in our little bubbles of self-interest God’s Mission of calling us to community is more powerful and more relevant than it has ever been. I am proud to be a small part of this community of faith and prayer at Wesley and so proud of all of you who are part of it too.
Grace and Peace