When we lived in the UK, I entered the world of football hooliganism with a group of friends in southwest London. Over 10 wintry seasons we saw some amazing players, witnessed some historic games, and enjoyed some fine pork belly and ale during our customary pre-match ritual. For a few years our team was coached by an imperious Italian called Claudio Ranieri, who became known as “the Tinkerman” for his quirky (and unpopular) team selections. Two years ago he took over an unfancied team called Leicester City, who were odds-on favorites to be relegated at the end of the season. Instead, without any big-name players, Leicester romped to victory in the English Premiership in what’s been described as the greatest ever sporting achievement. At the start of the season they were literally 5,000-1 outsiders to win the title.
These “rise of the underdog” stories resonate deep within us and the Bible is packed full of them too. From beginning to end Scripture is the story of God bringing about His improbable kingdom through an unlikely people. Even Israel’s most famous King—David—wasn’t even included in the initial interviews by his Father Jesse … thanks Dad! And there’s a point to it all. When we become bearers of God’s unmistakable presence, we bring glory to Him. We bear witness to divine power rather than human prowess.
People often ask me what our vision is for St Paul’s. So here it is. When Jesus announces the beginning of his own ministry in Luke 4, he borrows and adapts a famous passage from Isaiah 61. In this vision the prophet paints a picture of God releasing and restoring his people—the oppressed, mourners, prisoners, captives and the broken-hearted. Jesus adds a few of his own to intensify the vision—good news for the poor and sight for the blind.
It’s a stunning picture of new creation, but the radical key to Isaiah’s vision is one that we can easily miss. It’s not the trained priests who carry out the restoration work while the people watch on, it’s the people themselves who express these ministries of restoration and rebuilding. It’s a two-part movement: God renews His people so that they can carry his kingdom forward. The apostle Peter describes how Jesus disperses God’s kingdom, flattening its power structures, by establishing a “royal priesthood” which is made up of everyone in the church, young and old, beginner and ‘expert’.
Our vision for St Paul’s is that this church will be a place where each of us discovers and explores the work that God has called us to and anointed us for; that each of us will find our distinctive role within the intricate body of Christ here at St Paul’s. That will be a messy journey at times, for sure, but if the body never tried to move then where would be the sense of adventure. There are things to do and places to see!
Rev Jonny Grant