The Parish Church of Sarum St. Martin, Salisbury Wiltshire

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From the Priest-In-Charge of Sarum St. Martin’s

24th Sunday in OT 2017

I was reflecting the other day on my time as a teacher, thinking back forty years and more to when as a newly qualified teacher I was involved in appraising the pupils whom I was teaching.  The appraisal was couched in terms of a narrative of how pupils were doing in school; their work what trips they had gone on, what games they played etc.; the whole person if you like.  These thoughts were brought about by the publication of the ‘A’ Level and GCSE results.  These days when discussing pupils it is very much a question not of the whole person, a narrative way of speaking about them, but rather how the pupils score.  Now, anybody wishing to discuss pupils does so in terms of statistics, numbers, data collection, that sort of thing.  And providing that the pupil is scoring well then all is good.  And this numeration does not only happen in schools and colleges, it is everywhere, including the Church.  Recently the CofE published a report, ‘From Anecdote to Evidence’, which bears studying.  A whole load of statistics have been gathered by the research group which are used to show how the Church might grow, numerically.  Numbers, numbers and number crunching.  Numbers, data, call it what you will is all around us.  And I haven’t yet spoken of algorithms!  No, I don’t understand them either!  Now, I am not a luddite and I can see how numbers can be usefully used, but I simply wonder that as we use data more and more to determine how we count success in education, let alone how we live in the Church, something is missing; God is missing.

I have often comforted myself with the thought that should I ever lose my passport abroad, I can, by reciting my NI number gain re-admission to the country of my birth.  When the fact of my birth reached the Ministry of Labour in April/May 1952 a number was attached to me.  Now that is a benign number.  But if I had been born Jewish in Germany, for instance, in the 1930’s my name would have been replaced by a far less benign number.  At the beginning of the musical ‘Les Miserables’ Jean Valjean is released from prison.  His jailer says in passing, ‘You will always be prisoner 24601’.  Valjean responds, ‘No, I am Jean Valjean’.  The point I am making is this: we are not numbers, we are not cogs in a machine, we cannot be categorised, for we are God’s Children, and God has called us by name not by number or category.  In the Book of Revelation St. John speaks of the adversary of God as the ‘beast’, and the beast does not have a name, he is ‘six hundred and sixty-six’; more numbers.

Our name sums us up as a child of God.  David; I am called that because my mother was Welsh and named me after the patron saint of her people.  Benjamin, my middle name comes from my father, Ben Fisher.  These name were marked on me at the font in St. Asaph Parish Church at my baptism.  God called David, not YR53 33 71C, however benign my NI number might be, when he revealed his vocation to me as a priest in his Church. And this is because, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in 1979, ‘But God has a name, and God calls us by name.  He is a Person, and he seeks the person.  He has a face, and he seeks our face.  He has a heart, and he seeks our heart’.  And he wants nothing more than that we might know him in Jesus and so live.  And as we are called by name so that we might live, the readings

Fr David Fisher

this morning begin to make real sense.  As those called by name to be Christians God is setting out before us a different way of living, a different kind of living, a living that is not for our selfish and self-centred selves but for him and so for all.  ‘Resentment and anger are foul things’; but are we not at times both angry and resentful?  ‘Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive?’  We know the answer he received.  ‘so that alive or dead we belong to the Lord’ as St. Paul wrote.  These three portions of Scripture point us directly to the new life in Jesus in which God calls us by name.  In the Garden on the first Easter Day seeing the distraught Mary Magdalene Jesus simply and lovingly uses her name, ‘Mary’ and she know Him.  And God in Jesus speaks to each one of us by name, our name, the name written into our souls at our Baptism.  We are his children, not his numbers; children have names, cogs in machines have numbers.  And if we are numbers it indicates that we are locked into and categorised into a useless way of living that can only lead to death.  Contrast that with the life that the Apostle tells of, ‘so that alive or dead we belong to the Lord’, and belonging to Him, we have a name, we live a life, we live Him.

It is too easy for us to sink back into being a number, allowing our sins to define us. It is too easy for us to look at another person and categorise them; a polish plumber, an economic migrant, a refugee, a muslim, a european. Jesus in the Church has given us the way to break out of that.  God in Jesus calls us by our name; God in Jesus shows us himself; God in Jesus gives us himself. And all that God in Jesus asks of us in return is that we call out His Name in baptism, as infants or later in life, and begin the journey of living in Him in the Church fed and strengthened by His sacraments.

See God, see God in Jesus in all humankind, resist the tendency to categorise, to number, even more to turn into a number ourselves, and so resist the ‘beast’ and its apparent attractions, for God calls us  by name; we must do the same to God and to all humankind.  A name, not a number, not a category, is the mark of the Christian.


Almighty God, you have made us members of Christ and of his Church in this parish. May we as a congregation reach upwards to your throne in worship and adoration: inwards to one another in understanding and fellowship; and outwards to the world in evangelism and social compassion. Make us like a city set on a hill whose light cannot be hidden, so that men and women may find Christ as the Light of the World, and his Church as the family of the redeemed, and eternal life as the gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen.

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