29 April 2020 Thought for the Day (Westcott House)

Acts 14: 5-18

5And when an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to maltreat them and to stone them, 6the apostles learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country; 7and there they continued proclaiming the good news.

8 In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. 9He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10said in a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And the man sprang up and began to walk. 11When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ 12Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice. 14When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, 15‘Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; 17yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.’18Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.

John 14: 21-26

21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ 22Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ 23Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
“To be or not to be (in church); that is the question”.  Or, at least, that seems to be the question for those of us prepared to swim in the waters of Anglican facebook and twitter.  Both sides have well-reasoned and well-rehearsed arguments.  The discussion has been mostly civil and respectful.  Yet at times the level of heat generated by arguments over buildings has felt somewhat unedifying when people are dying in their tens of thousands.

That tempers should become frayed and emotions run high is not unexpected.  In a matter of days and weeks the world we thought we knew was turned upside down.

I wonder if in times like these the Church can take solace from today’s passage from John, which speaks directly to a group of people faced with catastrophic change.  The impending loss of Jesus must have been the deepest disruption his followers had ever known.  So in his farewell speech, Jesus speaks as if from beyond the grave to offer reassurance.

Jesus speaks of a time when he will leave.  Yet the disciples will not be left alone but will have a new comforter, the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit will lead them, and us, into all truth – not a new or different truth, but a truth that acts as a retelling of everything Jesus had taught them.  

A proper relationship with the past, with tradition is not easy.  Neither is leaving space for the Spirit to lead us into all Truth.  That Truth which is not a new Truth but the same comforting, disturbing Truth that we are loved by God through no fault or favour of our own, and called in turn to love God back.  Leaving space for the Spirit to unfold this means we can neither cling to our traditions and past ways of being, nor sweep them away entirely.  

It is inevitable that past ways of being feel threatened by new experiences, particularly catastrophic ones.  Yet, assures Jesus, whatever happens, the way of being to which we are called remains rooted in God’s love for us revealed once for all in Christ, and made real in every age by the Spirit.  May we know this today, and slowly come to understand that the past we feel is threatened by this new experience is what has prepared us for this new experience [Fred Craddock].

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