The Fifth Sunday of Easter

I am listening to a podcast series (Statecraftiness) about politics and international relations (the focus is Australia and the Pacific Islands region) and how countries seek to influence other countries. I am finding it fascinating – not least because I sense that I am peeking into aspects of the work of two of my children. I have chuckled at the wry comments, despaired at the short sightedness of political leadership, been angered at the scourge of corruption, frustrated at hearing of reports not being read and money wasted, and impressed by principled people who seem to care more about improving things than their careers. 

I heard many overlaps between this statecraftiness world and the church world and one in particular that struck me was how important individual people are in the big picture. Politicians who think that they can replace one diplomat with another because they are mere functionaries to their political agenda are naïve (at best) just as no two pastors are the same even though they, hopefully, are preaching and teaching the same Gospel and discerning Law and Gospel similarly. For all the memoranda of understandings and policies, for all the confessions and rites and pastoral practices, the individual person is a critical component. We all know this truth – how a colleague at work can change the atmosphere of work and how the character of an elected representative changes the contribution to the electorate, and so on. Individuals may be cogs in a larger system but they remain individual cogs which influence those around them.

I wouldn’t say that the Early Church was ‘making things up as they went along’ but I do get a sense of them reacting to the situations they face with a reference to how they believed Jesus would react. So when the apostles saw the increasing work of caring for the believers – particularly the vulnerable such as the widows especially those who had no family support – they established more ‘church organisation’ in the form of deacons. The Christian Church now views deacons – and deaconesses – in various ways largely because we’re not sure how to parse ‘serve on tables’ (Acts 6:2) and all the words Stephen was saying (preaching? teaching? in Acts 6:8-10). Whatever the organisation and its structure, the Church began a process that it can establish whatever organisation is useful to support the Gospel in the world but again and again Acts paints a picture how individuals are important.

I suspect that most of us either have little or no idea of how we influence others or simply deny the possibility but if we live in community we can – and most likely do – influence those around us. I’m not talking about controlling people but rather wanting what is best for them, helping them, while maintaining our core identity as a disciple of Jesus. Christians shouldn’t be ‘holier-than-thou’ but they shouldn’t be ‘of the world’ because as a disciple of Jesus, they have died with him and been raised to a new life (in Baptism) which they live here and now. As we follow Jesus here and now – particularly our personal living – not saying ‘look at me’ or berating those around us for their personal living – then those around us will see – ‘sense’ might be a better word – that we are ‘different’ and however we might describe it – relying on grace, walking wet, living in forgiveness, daily struggling with our sin – what, I think, happens – which we don’t see! – is that those around Christians are influenced to consider sin and grace – their sin and God’s grace – as a way of living.

Stephen was martyred. We all hope that it isn’t what happens to us. However ‘martyr’ means witness and that is what we want to do – witness to Jesus in how we live. Of course, if asked we can share the hope we have in Christ. However our daily living is all about daily living focusing on what is best for those around us and we’ll let the Holy Spirit do his work and we’ll trust that as we live in God’s faithfulness to us, those around us are influenced because individuals always matter.