With Gratitude… And Beyond

Luke records a fascinating encounter between Paul and some pagans in Acts 14:

8 In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.

14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. 16In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.

Outstanding.  Paul’s view was that God had left a testimony of himself among these pagans.  And that testimony was the fact of his kindness in sending rain and crops and food and joy-filled hearts.  Paul says to them – “Duh.  That was the God of Jesus Christ.  Render to Him what is due him and stop worshiping these dumb idols.”

Elsewhere Paul wrote (Rm 1),

20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

The slide into human futility begins with a failure to give thanks to the One “from whom all blessings flow.”  That is why it is so important for us, as a matter of spiritual discipline and hence spiritual formation, to regularly and publicly “name the goodness” that has come into our lives as a gift from God.  Which is what we did this past weekend at Bloom.  After eating (an absolutely fabulous!) Thanksgiving dinner together as a family following our gathering, we had an “open mic” time of thanksgivings in which we gave folks in the community a chance to come up and tell what the Lord had done for them.  It was a marvelous time.

I have to say, the thing that I was most amazed by and pleasantly surprised by in listening to these “testimonies” was the role the community of faith (and in particular, our community of faith) played in these stories of hope and healing and redemption.  We in no way engineered the moment to be self-serving.  But as it turned out, the intersection of the community with these people’s stories was part and parcel of the good work that God did in them.  And how wonderful that was to see.  Our guiding vision as a community is that we would be a “garden of resurrection” in the middle of a culture of cynicism, despair, and ultimately, death.  That we are becoming such a community in such tangible ways fills my soul in ways that are impossible to describe…

And so it is on that note that we begin to turn the corner into Advent – the beginning of the long pilgrimage to the Empty Tomb, the frontier of God’s new world, and the Man who stands on the edge of that frontier, Christ Jesus, the Last Adam, the Firstborn of a New Humanity, our hope.

Some probably (still) wonder why we lay such a heavy emphasis on the Christian calendar in our community.  I respond by saying that I know of no other way to keep our lives so firmly rooted within our identity as participants in Sacred History than by rehearsing the Story, in its manifold implications for our lives, over, and over, and over, and over again.  For the Story is not MERELY “story”… it is also “script”… the “norming norm” through which our lives gain coherence, meaning, purpose, and direction.  Madison Avenue and the Pentagon would like nothing more than to have our lives lived on their clocks.  The Triune God, by contrast, is constantly inviting us out of secular time into his “time”, his “clock”, so that we can become more fully “his people”, faithfully embodying his saving love and gracious purposes for humanity in all the places in which we find ourselves “sent”.

So… I’m looking forward to making the pilgrimage again.  I hope you are too.  May your life, your heart, and your imagination be again gripped by the Story.

Come Lord Jesus.

Grace and peace to you.

Andrew

3 thoughts on “With Gratitude… And Beyond

  1. Great article, Andrew.

    Your last paragraph is telling. Isn’t it strange that some people are discomforted by a church adhering in some fashion to the Church calendar? I’m still trying to work-out the psychology involved with it. I think it has something to do with the mystery of it all. Some people must feel that any sort of regression to the ancient church and her mystical ways means disavowing their trust in modern progress (whatever that is).

    • Thanks!

      Yeah, I think you’re probably right on that. Also, let’s be honest… liturgy is no “magic pill” which if you take it, will automatically cure all your ills. I think that a big part of the criticism (fear?) of liturgy is a (very right) nervousness about getting drug back into a lifeless, “rote” form of religion. I think Jesus has a big problem with rote religion. So the challenge of embracing the liturgy is making sure that the “form” is always “full” of the One to whom it points… and as we all know, that is no automatic thing. It takes constant vigilance.

      • “No magic pill” for sure. Venture into any Orthodox Church at whim and you’ll find just a hand full of people who are engaged in the liturgy as opposed to allowing it to become rote. “Rote” worship is a danger no matter where you are or who you are. “Constant vigilance” is key 🙂

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