Archive for May, 2003
…and here’s another one of the Easter fire…
Boring isn’t it? I guess you had to be there. … I feel the same about the first reading. If this is Monday then we must be in Philippi … or is it Troas? Without being there these snapshots from Acts lose their significance. Who cares where Lydia came from or how she cajoles Paul into coming home with her? I imagine it meant a lot to Luke who wanted to get the story straight but I couldn’t care less … I wasn’t there.
Being there and remembering are at the heart of the gospel today. The disciples will be witnesses because they have been with Jesus from the beginning. The enemies who persecute the disciples will do so because they have never been with Jesus, never known him. And when we have tasted all that Jesus had to taste we will have something to remember—we will have been there for ourselves.
There’s more to remembering than a few photos. We remember, we can give witness to, only what we have experienced. And every time we remember, the experience is alive in us once more. And when the experience of Jesus is alive in us we can’t help but be witnesses.
The key is in being there in the first place… in having the experience to remember … in knowing Jesus and being known by him. So, let’s pray for each other, then – on retreat or not – to grow in our experience of him. To have something to remember, someone to witness.
May 26th, 2003
Some of the big turning points in our lives happen without us even noticing. We quietly turn a corner and only looking back do we even see the bend in the road. Turning points: the moment where friendship slides over into love; the moment when what has been hard work is unexpectedly a passion; or the moment you wake up to discover you believe something that the previous night you would have said was impossible; or the moment you first catch yourself behaving like your parents only to realise you’ve been doing it for most your life. Momentous things can happen with us hardly being aware.
There’s a major corner turned in the first reading tonight. Paul and Barnabas are drummed out of the synagogue in Antioch so they turn to the pagans instead and preach to them. Doesn’t sound like much… but so much hangs on that small thing. We—you and I and all our faith—hang on that chance happening. Because for Paul it becomes a habit, and then a strategy, and then a theological point—taking the message to those outside the Jewish faith of Jesus—to the pagans, to the unbelievers, and right through history to you and to me. If there hadn’t been that fight in Antioch the Jesus movement might have remained a Jewish sect instead of becoming a world religion—our religion. Luke, telling the story with 20/20 hindsight, obviously relishes it, wants to underline it, wants to make sure we see.
What would you do if you could go back to one of your own corner-turning moments—what would you say to yourself, with the benefit of hindsight, as you stand there at the turning point with a whole new life ahead of you? What could you say? Would it be a warning? Would it be encouragement? Would it be a promise that, against the odds, what you are doing is going to turn out right?
One thing I’d wager is this—that as you stood there face-to-face with your former self, ready to speak the words you’ve been preparing—my bet is that God would be there too. With God’s own words. God nudging you in the right direction. God lifting up your spirits as you face something difficult. God giving you heart, showing you a future full of hope, full of promise.
I’ve got another bet to make too. If the past is like that, then so is the present. We never notice the corner until we look back and see it long turned behind us. Tonight could be a corner in your life. Not because it is a retreat—though that might help—but simply because you are alive and your eyes are open and your soul is ready. So what would some future-you, come back to marvel at this moment, have to say? And more importantly what is your ever-present, ever-loving God, waiting to say… to you, tonight?
My prayer for each one of you, is that in these days you find the grace to find out.
May 17th, 2003
It seems Christian apostolate is a team sport… and twelve-a-side at that! But thank God we don’t pick teams the same way the Eleven did when they were looking for one more to make up the number. I can feel myself standing there defiantly faking non-embarrassment as one after another gets picked and I get overlooked and left behind. Telling myself it doesn’t really matter, telling myself the shame isn’t meant and means nothing.
But Mathias is lucky I guess—chosen last is better than chosen not at all. Doesn’t your heart ache for Joseph Justus? Brought to the point of choice, acknowledged as having all it takes, and then rejected by on the toss of a coin and never getting to play.
Thank God we as a church don’t do it that way any more. Thank God we don’t train people of talent, recognize their gifts, and then pass them over without a word. Thank God ministry is no longer a lottery.
What really does it take to be an apostle? Communication skills, social analysis, a bustling brain filled with theology? The proper gender, the correct class, the right color?
How should we choose? You have to be a witness. A witness to Jesus. You have to have known him, seen him work, felt his touch, seen his smile, walked his way, witnessed the sweat on his brow, danced with him around the fire. You have to have stood by him through his failures, or wanted to… since we too fail. You have to have known him risen and shared the grasp of ruined hands mending your shattered life. You have to have ready the reason for your ridiculous hope—that he has chosen you and—strange to believe—chosen to be your friend.
May 14th, 2003
The Acts of Apostles hits a moment of peace and quiet today as Peter gets to show off the power of Christ as he heals Aeneas and raises Tabitha from the dead. But it is only a moment. We’ve been listening for days to the persecution the Jesus movement had to suffer at the hands of men like Saul. In the next instalments of the story we begin to hear of the internal problems they faced over circumcision and dietary laws.
That mixture seems about right for our own experience of Christian community. There is scorn from without. There is division within. And every now and again something wonderful happens and we know why we bother belonging anyway.
On the good days I love my church and would forgive it anything—stupidity, arrogance, hardness. But on the bad days I have to take courage that what I experience I share with Christians down the ages, right back to the first followers. It’s then that I’m most glad for Peter. Not so much when he is raising the dead but when he answers his master’s ‘what about you?’ with that perfect mixture of bravery and recognition: ‘Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life’.
May 10th, 2003