Thursday, August 27, 2020

Strengthened

The Lectionary readings for Holy Communion today are 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 and Matthew 24:42-51.

[1] In the passage from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable in which the master to whom we are all accountable is delayed in returning, in which the one given charge of the household might persist in diligent service of others or take opportunistic advantage to exploit those for whom they have oversight.

[2] In the opening verses of what is commonly referred to as Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, but is in fact Paul and Sosthenes’ letter, they write, not once but twice, of being strengthened to endure: ‘just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you’…’He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be faithful on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

This is no coincidence. Sosthenes’ name combines two root words, the first meaning to save or be saved, and the second meaning to strengthen or be strengthened. As a ‘Christian’ name (as a name given new focus and purpose by Christ) it points to the One who both saves and strengthens.

[3] Today, the Church remembers Monica, the black African mother who prayed for seventeen years that her son, Augustine, might come to put his hope in Jesus. For seventeen years, there was no evidence that her prayers were heard, let alone being answered. There was no evidence that Augustine was being drawn back to the faith Monica had raised him in as a child. And yet, after seventeen years her prayer was answered. Augustine went on to become a great theologian, and, indeed, a bishop.

I cannot think of Monica this year without thinking also of Julia Jackson, the black American mother of Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man shot seven times in the back by a so-called law enforcement officer. And of her prayer for the healing, not only of her son but—from before he was shot to public attention—of her racially divided nation.

[4] Yesterday, the theologian Miroslav Volf posted on Facebook, ‘When we lack reasons for optimism, hope is what we need. Optimism is about the future that grows out of the present. Hope is about the future beyond the possibilities latent in the present. Like the birth of Isaac, the object of hope is a new thing not coming from the situation we are in, but from God.’

There is nothing in Julia Jackson’s situation to be optimistic about, just as there was no reason for Monica to be optimistic. It is hope, alone, that resists despair, or the abandonment of doing what is right in favour of doing what is expedient or self-serving.

[5] We need to experience strengthening, because we are in this for the long haul, before we will see that which we hope for made manifest in our situation. The mother who prays for her children’s future, as she takes them to the food bank. The army veteran, contemplating suicide as they struggle with civilian life. The elderly man whose wife died not so long ago and whose daughter has just died of cancer, who cannot even imagine tomorrow and needs strength just for today, and today, and today, until tomorrow dawns. We need to know that the One who has saved us, and is saving us, and will save us, has strengthened us and is strengthening us and will strengthen us.

This is why Paul writes with Sosthenes.

 

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