The View from the Vicarage: Strength in Humility

I am following the Eastertide daily readings in the Acts of the Apostles in my blog at the moment, we have seen the church founded and grow, we have seen additional leaders come forward, one of them,  Stephen has been stoned to death but the church moves on and we were yesterday introduced to Phillip in  The View from the Vicarage: A New Beginning?

Today we stay in Samaria with Phillip as he Peter and John encounter Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8:9-25. As far as subtitles in the Bible go, Simon the Sorcerer sounds intriguing, but Simon is no Harry Potter and we learn a lot about the strength of the early church from this encounter.

Simon is referred to in most translations as Simon Magus, or Simon the Magician a man who had a special power. It seems to me that the New international Version describing him as Simon the Sorcerer is trying to take away any positive spin that we might take from the word Magician.

We know that he could do things that amazed others, we know more specifically that “He boasted that he was someone great” this boasting along with his magical acts brought him fame and even fortune, it brought him followers. There is however a change in the life of Simon and the City of Samaria as we heard yesterday, it was the preaching and mission of Phillip. We are told that those who had followed Simon had been converted. Following Phillip’s preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ they were baptised and “Simon himself believed and was baptized.”

The news of the conversion of Samaria to followers of Jesus Christ reaches Jerusalem and the disciples Peter and John travel to the city to support Phillip, They are clearly amazed at what has happened and immediately pray for the new believers that they may be filled with the Holy Spirit. In Anglican terms they are being confirmed by the apostles.

Our story changes, the new believer Simon whose magical business is clearly on the rocks as people turn to Jesus  approaches Peter. He offers money for the ability to lay hands on the people and says  “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” I am not sure if this means that he never really believed and just pretended or that he just did not understand but Peter is clear and firm with him:

“May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

The encounter for me shows the strength of the early church is in its humility, Phillip is a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ as are both Peter and John, as was Stephen – nothing they did was for personal gain, nothing for fame or fortune. Simon however is very different, from the outset we hear of his boasting, his belief in himself. Simon to complete his fame and fortune then offers to pay for the ability to perform wonders, to confirm with the holy spirit – but in whose name, Christs or his own?

As we think together about what it means to be church, what is means to be church in lockdown, what it will mean to be church in the next phase of the nations recovery we need to be careful. If we are not careful we can do this in our own name, for our own fame and fortune. That may be as individuals or as a church, sometimes we do things to build up the church without realising that we have forgotten to do them in the name of Jesus Christ.

The church fails when it seeks to do things in its own name and some of the things I have read recently worriy me, I hear people talking about Church without that reference to who church serves, we need to be clear in our mission and ministry whatever it will look like in a post COVID19 word – it is all about Jesus. Our role over these next few weeks and months is to recover our identity as the people of Jesus Christ.

Where better to start than a hymn written in 1866 by S Stone:

The church’s one foundation
is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
she is his new creation
by water and the Word:
from heav’n he came and sought her
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.

Elect from ev’ry nation,
yet one o’er all the earth,
her charter of salvation
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with ev’ry grace endued.

Though with a scornful wonder
men see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping,
their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

The church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
to guide, sustain, and cherish,
is with her to the end;
though there be those that hate her,
and false sons in her pale,
against both foe and traitor
she ever shall prevail.

‘Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore;
till with the vision glorious
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
with the God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won:
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we,
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee.

Your friend and vicar

David

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