Hallo again to all.
Years ago, we happened to stop in a church building that had been recently deconsecrated. The altar and other sacred furnishings had been removed and the building itself was empty of all furniture. A 'For Sale' sign was being readied for posting on the doors. The only vestige of the sacred that remained was two small stained-glass windows in what had been the narthex.
One window portrayed a pious St Stephen just before his stoning, looking heavenward. Around the protomartyr were the words in Latin: 'If Stephen had not prayed, Paul would not have been converted'*.
That nearly-forgotten memory recurred to us recently in connection with the Butterfly Effect. That theory, first put forth in the early 1960s in meteorology, suggests that a butterfly, moving its wings somewhere in Brazil, ripples the air and begins a series of sequence of events that later cause a tornado in Texas. The theory is far more complex than that simplistic retelling, and far more intricate than a sort of domino effect; in fact, chaos theory grew out of it. But you get the idea.
Butterflies and tornados=Stephen and Paul. Here was our proto-Paul carrying out superbly and efficiently his job of persecuting heretics. In the course of it, he hears Stephen's prayer, witnesses his moving death, and in that moment, the first invisible ripple leading to Paul's conversion begins. Perhaps the Damascus road was more the completion of a process rather than the start.
Later in his life, Paul, writing to the Corinthians, refers to that unknown arc of time between beginnings and fulfillment: 'I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase'. That unknown arc of time. If there is anything that's contrary to the world most of us live in, it's patience. Waiting. We want it now. And generally — at least in the world of online shopping and fast-food restaurants — we can get it now.
Yet so much of Christian life depends on the slow and steady, the small and the insignificant: attending church, service after service, mostly at times when there is no great festival with the best of organ, trumpets, and flowers to beckon us. Or teaching Sunday school, when children often seem bored and distracted. Perhaps inviting an acquaintance to church and, after her polite thank-you afterwards, wondering what good it did. Surely our friend's life should have changed visibly ... Instant Anglican conversion! Being impatient twenty-first century humans, we want to water and straightaway see the bloody increase.
Here at Anglicans Online, we're no different. We sometimes wonder what on earth we're doing late on a Sunday night, typing thoughts that occasionally seem to us silly or insignificant. We push those doubts aside and keep on keeping the faith. Few of us are called to deal daily in matters of life and death. Few of us hold positions in the church where our every action and pronouncement is scrutinised and paid mind. When we're discouraged or bored, we try to remember that our lives ripple in their small ways and can affect others in ways we'll never know.
A kind word, an unexpected and generous action, that invitation to church, patient answers to schoolchildren's questions, one more polish of brass, one more sermon, one more Eucharist celebrated ... all of it matters, for it is all part of what we called to do, here on this earth, in this place, in our lives. All of it is to die for, indeed.
Take it from St Stephen.
See you next week.
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