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Acts 12: 1–11
12 Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)
4 And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
6 And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.
7 And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.
8 And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.
9 And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.
10 When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.
11 And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.
Lots of schools, whether state schools or independent schools, have Founders Day - perhaps towards the end of the summer term when prizes are given out, and the school's founding fathers are remembered. Today is our Founder's Day - the day we celebrate our founding fathers, St Peter and St Paul.
Peter and Paul, one called by the Sea of Galilee, one called on the road to Damascus: one the blue-collar fisherman, the other a learned scholar.
Peter and Paul, they are the founding fathers of the Christian church, who gave it the original vision and supplied the witness that helped it to become established and to grow. Between them they cemented the foundation of the church and bet their lives on its future.
They were both flawed men, and men moreover, who had their names changed - one was weak and ran away at the crucial moment, one was a hothead who began by persecuting Christians. Simon was called to go beyond his weaknesses and become Peter, Petros - the rock on which the church would rest. Saul was called to go beyond his fervent hatreds and become Paul, apostle to the Gentile world. Unlikely candidates for Founding Fathers, but maybe G K Chesterton was right when he wrote:
'All the empires and the Kingdoms have failed because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing, the historical Christian Church, was founded on weak men, and for that reason it is indestructible. Because no chain is stronger than its weakest link.'
So we remember them, Peter and Paul, today - and I remember them in particular because the church has traditionally held ordinations on this weekend. And 41 years ago I was made a Deacon, and 40 years ago I was ordained priest by the Bishop of Oxford in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.
So for me this is a special anniversary and a time to reflect on 40 wonderful years. Looking back there is no doubt that the church is very different from the one I was ordained into. The last 40 years have seen an increasingly secularised society, a decline in church attendance, the closing of churches; and yet church congregations are probably more engaged and committed than they were 40 years ago. Today there is an acknowledgement that science and technological progress haven't delivered the brave new world that was hoped for in the immediate post-war years. In spite of all the modern world can achieve we are still not very good at living together in peace and harmony and understanding, nor at sharing better the resources the earth has to offer, nor at learning the art of living in community.
Which is why there is a hunger for spiritual understanding, and why I believe the Christian Gospel is still worth sharing and the Church has good things to offer society. There is still an exciting freshness about the Christian message and the person of Jesus that has the power to take me by surprise and set me going again. His ability to be fully involved with people, and yet find time to be alone with God: his extraordinary healing power of forgiveness based on unconditional love for those he met. When I have experienced these things in my ministry, I feel privileged to be part of an institution that is dedicated to living out the Gospel values of love, joy, forgiveness, peace, goodness and kindness in daily life: and I feel privileged too, to have served in some lovely and stimulating places from Reading all the way to St Bride's.
From the perspective of 40 years of priestly ministry, I look to the future therefore, with hope and anticipation, as I pray you do as you prepare to welcome a new Rector later this year. And if we are tempted to falter, let's remember four Founding Fathers, St Peter and St Paul, and what made them tick - Jesus Christ.
For Peter, it was 'Lord, to whom will we go, because you have the words of eternal life.' For Paul it was 'I am determined to know nothing else but Jesus Christ and him crucified.'
40 years ago, I answered God's call to become a priest in the Church. God has a calling for you too just as he did for Peter and Paul. Consider that call in your life. Remember that with God all things are possible. Ask him to lead you forward, bit by bit, and remember too that as God stood by Peter on their journeys of faith, so He will stand by you. Amen.