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Notes on the Sunday address by Rev Ric Holland, 18 June 2017

We all automatically refer to the 12 Disciples and we think we know them, but that is not very clear. In all gospels there is no agreed list of who they are. Sure there are the ones we all recall, Peter, James, John, Andrew. But after that it all gets a bit murky. Whilst the earliest writer in the New Testament refers to the twelve he doesn’t mention their names. Why? Well because their identity was actually less important than the number 12.

There were a group of followers that pretty well stuck with Jesus throughout his short ministry. And by way of an aside there were of course women. Mary Magdalene was a key member of the group. We know that these women “Followed him to Galilee and ministered to him” (Mark chapter 15). Matthew picks this up, as does Luke. These women are a vital part of Jesus Disciples, but the patriarchal attitudes of the writers exclude them from what they go on to describe as a male exclusive group. But Jesus’ whole ministry to and with women counters that strongly.

Now what is the most important thing about the varying lists of male disciples is not their name but their number..12.

If Jesus was to be the founder of the new Israel which was a claim made for him, then the new Israel must have 12 tribes just as did the old Israel.

Matthew loves this, of course, as he is writing for the Jews. In Matthew chapter 19 he writes of Jesus prior to his entry into Jerusalem: “Truly I say to you, in the New World, when the Son of Man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel”

It’s this number 12 that’s really important to the writers as in Acts after the deletion of a Judas type figure…it was important to restore the number back to 12 with the appointment of a new disciple, Matthias.

So for us the number of 12 is irrelevant. What is relevant is that Jesus gathered a group of people around him who were committed to him and who ultimately were responsible for the proclamation of the gospel worldwide.

These people would have initially listened and been enthralled with this new message and gradually would have become more committed. The call of the fisherman in chapter 4 of Matthew is very stylised …..Jesus walking by the Sea of Galilee when he sees two brothers, Peter and Andrew. Jesus says “Come with me” and immediately they left their nets and followed him. The reality is that nobody would be prepared to give up their livelihood and just follow some extreme sounding radical peasant.

Think back to my lovely Jersey Cow, Dahlia. She responded to me because there was a relationship. She know my voice and she loved me and I her.

This then is the first thing we remind ourselves of when we consider Jesus and his followers.


  • Jesus built up some terrific relationships……inspiring people to follow him. And as relationships built he would know them, their background, their personalities and they his.

And what a group it would have been, man and women, different cultures, status, intellect, faiths, nationalities. We know that at least one in this group was a terrorist…Simon the Zealots. The Zealots at the time were an extreme group dedicated to the overthrow of Roman rule through violence.

Relationships were absolutely vital to Jesus.

So let’s think about our relationships. Healthy relationships are a vital component of health and wellbeing.

Live longer……… We know that strong relationships contribute to a long, healthy and happy life.

Conversely the health risks from being alone or isolated in one’s life are comparable to the risks associated with cigarette smoking, blood pressure and obesity.

A Review of 148 studies found that people with strong relationships are 50% less likely to die prematurely and live longer.

Cope with stress better……………..Relationships also help us considerably to deal with stress. The support offered by a caring friend provides a buffer against the effects of stress.

In a recent study it was found that people who completed a stressful task experienced a faster recovery when they were reminded of people with whom they had strong relationships.

Be Healthier………….Psychologist Dr Sheldon Cohen reports a study, confirmed by a 2012 international Gallup Poll that people who feel they have friends to count on are generally healthier than people who don’t. And we know that people with friends and good relationships recover better and quicker. Relationships are healing.

So it’s no accident that Jesus brought a group together around him. Mark says in chapter 3 “that they should be with him”. They were to be with him for two reasons:

  1. For his sake. Jesus needed friends. He was sticking his neck out, challenging much of the accepted customs and religion of his day. This would have been seriously stressful. The story of what we call the Temptations is all about handling stress.

Jesus needed friends for himself. As Aristotle says “a friend is another self”. Jesus said to his followers after his relationships with them had developed “No longer do I call you servants…you are my friends” (John chapter 15).

  1. They were also with him for their own sake. They needed him. Our faith and life is a two way process. Relationships are two-way and mutually supportive.

  • What’s in a name?

The second point is seen in the names that Jesus chose to describe this group of friends. Ah you say that’s obvious…they were the Disciples.

Yes. The Greek word for disciple is: “mathetes”…..meaning “the learner”. This is really important to us………one of the greatest threats to the Church and the faith is what I call “Static Christianity”…………believing that we know it all or even that the Church knows it all. As I was saying last week… to express a definitive formula in a creed or in a set of religious beliefs… this is what you must do or believe to be Christian is a very dangerous road to take. We must always be disciples or mathetes, learning, listening, open to new concepts, aware of revelations and experience… exactly like those first disciples before us.

This is important in our faith and in our lives.

We must never get into a rut.

We must always question where we’re going. What we’re reading, listening, watching.

This is how change happens. This is how our lives develop and grow.

Suitcases carry around etc.

The wheel was invented in Mesopotamia 6000 years ago.

It took until 1987 when Robert Plath invented the long handles wheeler case that we all know and use today!!!

Please be open to change, to new learnings. Be prepared to discover that some of our old prejudices and even likes and preferences might need to shift a little bit.

Another great name of Jesus’ friends and followers was apostles.

Greek “apostle”…one who is sent out.

If the word Disciple is more of an internal concept…stay together…learn…grow

Then the word Apostle is an external concept. We are to be ambassadors, heralds, envoys.

We have an important task to share this good news.

This Church as about supporting each other in our understanding of life.

It’s also about screaming out our message of love, joy, reconciliation and peace.

Our publications and our notice boards should not just be “come and join us…service at 10am on Sunday mornings”.

They should be making strong statements about our faith and what that means for the world.

The Cathedrals “We welcome refugees” banner is a good example of that. Well so should we.

And we should be making social justice statements which are the outworking’s of our faith.

So St Michael’s should be a name that the city is familiar with.

We should be known as the church that learns and proclaims or listens and shouts.

A name that is known for its relationships within the church, friendship, welcoming, non-judgemental and accepting of everybody irrespective of creed, sexuality or race,

St Michael’s: a name KNOWN for its relationships in the community as it reaches out to all aspects of city life…..the world of entertainment, the civic world, the world of music, the world of learning.

St Michael’s: a name KNOWN for its freedom to be open to change.

St Michael’s: a name KNOWN for its declarations and actions on righteousness and social justice.


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