Sometimes in life we are advised to ‘play it safe.’ Football teams might be encouraged to protect a lead, in cricket batsmen are often encouraged to play themselves in. In job terms there may be times when we are best off sticking with an employer we know. But, sometimes we also need to take risks, to go for it, to follow our instincts and, convictions. Sometimes we might even feel that we need to risk all, and I suspect that we are most likely to take the real big risks, or leaps of faith, where love is concerned? Faith, hope and, love seem to me to be inextricably bound.
I don’t know if you have ever taken a risk for your faith? Taking a risk might not necessarily mean grasping your courage in both hands and, risking your life, but it might mean seeking to do the right thing for no other reason than doing the right thing seems the most important, and most virtuous, thing to do. For me listening to my calling to ordination and responding was a big risk. It meant leaving behind a good job and career. It meant accepting far less in pay, and possibly in esteem. I was aware that when I left my job in the city several, perhaps many, of my contemporaries felt that I had ‘lost the plot,’ or had a ‘mid life crisis.’ In fact in many ways they were correct because at the end of the day we all do have to answer the following question:
By which plot line are you going to live?
For the first Christian martyr, Stephen, the answer was clear. Stephen regarded Jesus as the author of his life, and such was his faith in Jesus and his love for Jesus that he was no longer prepared to ‘play it safe.’ He was prepared to risk all for Jesus, such was his faith. Of course there are many people around the world who are prepared to risk all for their faith. In Egypt the Coptic Christians live in daily danger, for example. But, there are also those who are prepared to die for a hateful exposition of faith. ISIS killers for example. So the question arises again:
By what plot line are you giving to live?
Stephen was prepared to live by the Jesus plot line; a plot line which is summarised in today’s gospel reading. It is a plot line through which Jesus suggests that he is the author of our destiny by declaring himself to be the ‘the way the truth and the life,’ but it is also a plot line with generosity, inclusivity and hospitality as its guiding virtues: ‘in my house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you.’
It’s a staggering thought isn’t it that Jesus wants to welcome all, to offer hospitality to all, not simply folk like you and me.
Our earthly mandate is to offer such radical hospitality in the here and now. The only way we can begin to do this is by following Jesus, by being as fascinated by, and dedicated to, the Jesus story as Stephen: ‘very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, in fact will do greater works than these.’
Only by being a Jesus-centred church can we bring hospitality and healing to others. Following Jesus is never cost free. In Winslow its unlikely to cost us our very lives but we should always be prepared to take risks and to step out in faith, risking something of our own comfort and security, and each and every day we should perhaps pause and ask ourselves:
By what plot line am I going to live my life today.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown