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Third Sunday of the Year

You Are Not Alone

A few years ago, someone invited me to take part in an exercise with a team of fire-fighters. We wore fire-proof clothing and breathing apparatus and a fire was started in a specially constructed ship's hold. I was assigned to two experienced fire officers with the instruction that when we entered the ship I had to make sure I never let go of at least one of them. Inside the hold there was thick smoke, pitch darkness and extreme heat. We edged our way around the corridors, feeling along the walls, the heat increasing alarmingly. Then, through the smoke, we saw the blood red flames of the fire and the shadowy figures of the other fire-fighters. Someone shouted a warning, we hit the deck and there was an incredible noise and rush of fiery air through the corridor as the water first hit the flames. It was really terrifying. When we emerged into the fresh air, I was told that my companion and I would now go back in to search the ship's corridors and cabins for casualties. More mediaeval hell ensued but eventually the exercise was completed and we emerged into the daylight and fresh air.

What struck me was that the success of the operation and the life of every individual depended on everyone else taking part. No single person could have put out that fire or saved those people and the team could afford no weak member. It was a frightening but heart-warming feeling that my life literally depended on that team of fire-fighters. Although the threat of death was very real, I knew I could trust that trained team with my life. There was nothing personal about it, and yet it all felt so personal. Alone, each one of us could do very little but as a team we were strong and could almost perform miracles.

That exercise seemed a good model for Christianity. We are supposed to change the world but we can't do it alone. That is why we are a Church. We know that we have been chosen, like the Son of man, to serve the world and not to be served. Alone we are too puny to change very much. Along with our team, the other Christians who form the Church, we can work marvels. If only we could engender the team spirit in the Church that I felt with the fire-fighters. It's difficult enough feeling any team spirit in our own parishes, a microcosm of the Church, but to feel that millions of Christians throughout the world are our teammates as well isn't easy. If only we could make ourselves realize that our lives do depend on one another. The path to salvation isn't a lonely one. We have a duty to look out for one another. This is what serving means.

At the beginning of his mission, the first thing Jesus did was to create a team, the apostles. Unlike my team of Hugh, Pugh, Barney, McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb, Jesus's team were Peter, Andrew, James and John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew, James the Less and his brother Jude, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot. Jesus's instructions were that they should in turn create a team which would be universal. This team we call the Church. No single person in one lifetime could bring about the Kingdom of Heaven on his or her own. Such a reforming work takes generations and thousands of years and so a team that could replenish itself had to be created.

By baptism we become members of that team which has been formed to look after its members so that they can go about changing and saving the world. Every one of us is a member of that team. So there is no need for us ever to feel disconsolate at the state of the world and at our inability to change it. It does take time and it does take generations. But the most important thing to remember is that we are not on our own, even though at times it may feel like that. We are members of a team which, when it works, works extremely well.

 

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