Friday, May 18, 2012

Going forth weeping . . . coming back rejoicing

The old city of Corinth (Korinthos) today. 

In today’s Gospel (John 16:20-23) Jesus assures his disciples that although there will be weeping and wailing, this will give way to joy, like that of a woman’s pain in labour being forgotten when her baby is born. Of course, he was speaking about his impending death and then the joy of the resurrection, but we know that in every human life – and especially in the lives of those who are in Gospel ministry – there are seasons of weeping and wailing when it takes every ounce of spiritual energy we have just to hold on to the Lord. But we DO, because of his promise to support and sustain us. 

We see in today’s first reading (Acts 18:9-18) that St Paul had his crosses to bear – and they were mostly other people! It must have come as a shock to be assured that the Lord had “so many people” among the 400,000 inhabitants of the bustling, prosperous, cosmopolitan and sex crazed city of Corinth – on the face of it, a most peculiar culture in which to try and plant a church! In fact, scholars think that during apostolic days the church there would have been no larger than 150 to 200 converts, some Jews, but most Gentiles, meeting, not in an auditorium, but as a number of smaller “house churches.” We know from St Paul’s correspondence that they had a host of problems in coming to terms with what it means to be part of God’s new creation in Christ (1 Corinthians 5:17), and they caused the apostle an enormous amount of grief and pain. 

It was just as well that St Paul could look back to the night when Jesus appeared to him in that vision and said, "I am with you and no one will be able to harm you." Not without irony, St Luke tells us about an incident in which some of the Jewish people tried to use the civic authorities against Paul, who is arrested and dragged into court. If that had been you or me, the first thing we might think is that Jesus was not keeping his word! But, as we see, it all turned out OK. Faith gets tested. Does that happen to you? Of course it does! Trusting Jesus, and hanging on, we shoudn’t fear. We keep our eyes fixed on the Lord, and trust his promise to provide for us – even when we are weeping and wailing on the inside. 

I think it is not impossible that St Paul was encouraged by the words of Psalm 126

When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, 
we were like those who dream. 
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, 
and our tongue with singing. 

Then they said among the nations, 
“The Lord has done great things for them.” 
The Lord has done great things for us, 
and we are glad. 

Turn again our captivity, O Lord, 
as the streams in the South. 
Those who sow in tears 
shall reap in joy. 

He who goes forth weeping, 
bearing seed for sowing, 
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, 
bringing his sheaves with him.


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