St Matthew's Day
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Anglicanism at its best tries not to be a club with a sign ‘True Believers Only’, not to be a club that rewards conformity, not to be a club that wields spiritual power over others, indeed not to be a club at all... Rather Anglicanism at its best tries to be a symbol: regardless of attendance, beliefs or the lack of them, and good works or not, all can and do belong in the ecology of God.
St Matthew’s takes its role as a symbol very seriously.
Our namesake was a tax collector. That meant three things in 1st century Palestine: Firstly he was a lackey of the Romans, traitorously siding with the oppressors. Secondly, he was an extortionist, demanding a surcharge – sometimes an astronomical surcharge – on his collections. He cheated the poor. Thirdly, he was a sinner, one who was outside religious law and teachings, and therefore in that culture outside God’s embrace.
Jesus’ inclusion of Matthew was offensive. Yet Jesus dined with him, the Church canonized him, and we named this place after him.
It is easy to imagine Matthew as tough, unyielding, hard, like rock. Yet even from a hard rock can come the refreshing, life-giving waters of grace. We just need to hold the door open to possibilities.
Our name, St Matthew, is symbolic. Those who don’t fit, those who offend others, those who are repugnant to the normal standards of decency, behaviour, and theology, are welcome. And if they are welcome then all are welcome. In God’s ecology all belong. Although of course some don’t want to fraternize with the likes of the Matthews, and stay well clear of us.
When wedding couples come, and they come here more than to any other church, I often ask ‘Why St Matthew’s?’ Given the glory of this building, and the wisdom and humility of its clergy, you might be surprised that the main reason is that they feel they won’t be judged.
Such inclusion also sends another message: this place is prepared to take risks. It is prepared to do things that other churches might not. It is prepared to open its doors to all manner of people and organizations, sacred and secular, and to laugh jubilantly, to love justly, and to live joyfully with the tensions and opportunities that brings.
Yet we do not take risks for the sake of being seen to be edgy. To paraphrase the Magnificat: I pray that the risks we take will always ultimately be for the purpose of pulling the mighty and their self-serving reasoning down from their thrones and lifting up the lowly, the ostracized, and the marginal.
Our building is also symbolic. Our forebears dreamed a big vision, of grace and splendor, of architectural lines that would lift the eyes and lift the soul. Raising the money was hard work. I imagine they might have been tempted to downsize, and to reduce their vision to the certainty of their savings. We do know that they never did put a spire on the top of the bell tower, and they never installed the organ.
They made a building that was beautiful, to the eye and to the ear, a place that would inspire, a sacred place for any and all. With the recent sad and shocking demise of Christchurch Cathedral, this building remains the one integrated neo-Gothic stone church remaining in our country.
Today we acknowledge the completion of this building with the installation of a 100% genuine Henry Willis organ, with some pipes old, some new, some borrowed, and some ‘blue’. It looks magnificent and sounds even better. It is a wonderful piece of art work in itself, even before it’s played.
But let’s be clear about its purpose: for beauty to the eye and ear is a sacred pathway, a means of opening the soul to that ultimate mystery we call God. Music is spiritual sustenance here, water in a parched land… Music can lift us, move us, open us… As the skeptic Kurt Vonnegut once said, “I don’t believe in God… but then there’s music”.
We give thanks today for the huge amount of work involved in planning, fundraising, refining, negotiating, building, and overseeing this project. Thank you all – all who gave a little and a lot, of money and of effort, and of hopes and prayers. Thank you.
We also will bless this morning the St Thomas Chapel; originally the Lady Chapel from the mission ship Southern Cross V built in 1903. In 1934 the Chapel was moved from the ship, amid some controversy, to St Thomas’ Freeman’s Bay. In 1963 that Church was deconsecrated in order for the motorway to proceed. The Chapel came to the basement of St Matthew’s. It has now been resurrected in the shape of its first manifestation aboard the ship.
That chapel represents for us the temerity, the passion, the controversy, and the Anglo-Catholic worship of the community of St Thomas’ Freeman’s Bay. Today we give thanks for that community and dream kept alive here in our midst.
Lastly we will bless a new kitchen, the old one now housing part of the new organ. Without a kitchen our ability to offer hospitality in this house of prayer is severely limited.
Some of course don’t like us offering food and drink in a house of prayer. Yet hospitality is not just a courtesy, or a marketing ploy, but rather an essential element of what we symbolize. To be hospitable is not only to welcome friend and stranger but also to be willing to be changed by that interaction.
Hospitality is therefore a spiritual discipline. It is to welcome people here, without judging them, confident in our kawa, and receptive to all the promise and challenge they bring. Hospitality is keeping the door ajar so the possibility of God can always come in.
So, on this day of glad celebration and thanksgiving, acknowledging those who have gone before in this place and in St Thomas’, let us remember Matthew – all the Matthew’s – and be a place, not only of beauty, music, and prayer, but also of indiscriminate hospitality, risky engagement, and siding with the marginal. Let us be a place that symbolizes that all belong in the ecology of God.