What do you think of bankers, accountants, tax collectors, even bookkeepers? Add in actors and taxi drivers. What do they have in common? They all share the same patron saint, St. Matthew. St. Matthew's Day is 21st. September. For me saints' days come and go without making much impact, but especially in my school days St. Matthew's Day featured large. In 1552 Bishop Ridley of London preached a sermon which so moved the boy king Edward VI that the charity school Christ's Hospital was founded. The strong links with the city still continue, even though the school moved to Sussex in 1902. On St. Matthew's Day about half the school go to London for a thanksgiving service followed by a buffet at the Mansion House and the Lord Mayor giving largesse to each pupil. My first gift was one shilling = 5p which would buy 2 mars bars in those days. In my last year I think I got a guinea. If you didn't go to London your largesse was given to you by the Headmaster and you had a whole holiday. The morning might have been spent blackberrying or harvesting potatoes on the school farm but the afternoon was free time. The fruit of our morning labour turned up on our plates the next day.
We don't know too much about St. Matthew beyond his gospel. Yes, he was a tax collector, but when challenged by Jesus to “Follow me!” he did just that. In today's gospel reading Matthew recounts the parable of the landowner hiring labourers to work in his vineyard. Throughout the day workers are engaged and come the end of the day all are paid a full day's wage. Of course this is not a lesson for trade unionists. It teaches us that cradle Christians through to the most recent disciple are all equal in God's eyes. And it teaches how generous God is (and fair).
As Bishop John stressed in his sermon last Sunday, “Freely have we received, freely should we give.” And in relation to last Sunday's gospel reading, “Freely have we been forgiven, freely should we forgive.” Not 7 times, which is generous, but 77 times – or as Junior church put it, “No counting!” Bishop John began by recalling how most speeches are too long, not to mention tedious, and how after a good (or indifferent) lunch they compete with a nap! He didn't actually say that same goes for sermons, but he did say he had heard hundreds of sermons but couldn't remember much about them. In one of them the preacher had said that there are two kinds of surfaces. One kind absorbs the sunlight, the other reflects it. And we Christians should reflect God's love and forgiveness and joy. That is our challenge. That is our mission. That will fill our churches. Bishop John also said that it is not good enough to talk the talk, we must walk the walk. What a joy it was to have him with us.
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