Sermon preached on the Feast of Matthias (14 May 2014) by the Reverend Canon Tricia Hillas, Pastor

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5:00pm Evening Prayer
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Sermon preached on the Feast of Matthias (14 May 2014) by the Reverend Canon Tricia Hillas, Pastor

The Reverend Canon Tricia Hillas discusses 'hope for the hidden'.

At the beginning of May the BBC news website reported a striking story:

A woman revealed how she found a plea for help in a bag from Saks, the luxury department store in New York. A passport-sized photo of a man in an orange jacket was also enclosed.

A search ensued for the man. Eventually he was found to be Tohnain Emmanuel Njong, a 34 year old Cameroonian man who had been imprisoned in China.

His note said: ‘We are ill-treated and work like slaves for 13 hours every day producing these bags in bulk in the prison factory. He ended his letter saying ‘thanks and sorry to bother you’. ‘I read the letter and I just shook’ said Ms Wilson, who found it in her bag from Saks.

Once tracked down Mr Njong explained that he was detained after being arrested for fraud in May 2011- charges he denied. Thereafter he worked long hours in the prison factory to produce paper bags, electronic goods and garments from 6 in the morning to 10 at night.

He said he wrote 5 letters calling for help, thinking ‘Maybe this bag could go somewhere and they find this letter and they can let my family know, or anybody know, that I am in prison.

Mr Njong said he was released on a reduced sentence for good behaviour in December 2013 and was later reunited with his family in Cameroon.

Astonishing, perhaps distressing as it is, what has this story got to do with Matthias, the Apostle whom we honour today?

Let me ask another question: how much do YOU know about Matthias? How much can we know?

The reading we had from the book of the Acts of the Apostles is about the best we have got - there is no further mention of Matthias in the New Testament. According to some Matthias preached the Gospel in Judaea, then in what is present day Georgia where a marker placed in the ruins of a Roman fortress claims that he is buried.

Much about Matthias is hidden from our sight. Even his name is variable: some, including Clement of Alexandria identified him with Zacchaeus the reformed tax collector who gave away so much of his wealth ; others have wondered if he is the same person as Nathanael in the Gospel of John.

The truth is we aren’t sure who Matthias was before he was chosen to fill the place left vacant by Judas, and we aren’t sure of the details of what he went on to do.

From Acts we understand that he had been a faithful follower of Jesus, was rooted in the community of faith and he was called to be a faithful witness to the resurrection power in Christ. This much we know, but little more.

All of which leads me to reflect on the significance of those who exist at the periphery of our sight. Those who have significance in the Divine sight but who are often easily overlooked, without name, hidden from our sight.

Ms Wilson shopping in the Saks department store was unexpectedly brought face to face with the hidden person whose plea for help was secreted out of prison in the bag into which her luxury goods were placed. Suddenly the person who had made the bag was no longer nameless, their life no longer hidden from hers.

Every moment we are surrounded by hidden people - our lives unwittingly intertwined with theirs.

In our World:

Some are hidden from our sight because we or perhaps because others would rather we didn’t ask too many questions. Questions like:

Who made the clothes we wear today -whose hands cut the cloth, sewed the garments together – how old were they and in what conditions did they work?

The food we will eat later this evening – who grew it – and how much were they paid for it?

Who mined the gold with which we are adorned? – Human Rights Watch tells us that thousands of children, some as young as 8 years old are lured to the gold mines of Tanzania in the hopes of a better life but find themselves stuck in a deadly cycle of danger and despair. Working underground for shifts of up to 24hours they risk injury and death from pit collapses and accidents. Hidden from our, but not from Divine sight.

This week is Christian Aid week – working with other partners this international charity seeks to bring practical aid to many who might otherwise be hidden from sight.

In our local Communities:

Who looks out for the hidden ones? The UK has recently been shocked to learn of the mistreatment of some older people living in Care homes, overlooked by us – but precious in Divine sight.

And what of our own selves?

It maybe that we are amongst the hidden ones – and need to be reminded that God sees us.

Maybe the Spirit invites us to look anew at the hidden parts of our selves – the depths of our own souls where our hunger for God is growing or those aspects of our selves we keep hidden – perhaps because others tell us we should – could these hidden places be the very place the Spirit is at work?

Today we honour Matthias. Much about Matthias is hidden from our sight – but maybe what we know is enough – enough for us to recognise that the hidden parts of ourselves and the hidden people of our world are precious and chosen in God’s sight.