At one point or any another, most us have, or will in the future have to, turn our lives around.
There is no such thing as a smooth run in life, where we get everything right the first time. If we think about life from the perspective of psychology, for example, there is an understanding that we reach a point in the growing up process, where we grow out of childhood, and need to take on a new maturity for the future. In depth psychology there is a particular emphasis on this not just at the stage of adolescence, but in the middle of life. I had my mid-life crisis a little early at age 38, but it did help at the time to realize that I wasn’t unusual to be going through such a thing!
Leave psychology behind and think about the last novel you read, novels are almost always telling stories about a life journey in one way or another – and they are never smooth. It’s the twists and turns of life that make it interesting! We love be entertained by Drama, but we are sometimes slow to accept that it is a normal and natural part of our lives.
Now then, think about the life journey from a spiritual perspective. There is no spiritual or religious tradition that I can think of, that does not incorporate an understanding of the need to ‘turn our lives around’ at some point. And here today, in these readings designated for our spiritual nourishment and growth in faith, we have stories of people making radical corrections to their lives.
Spectacularly, Saul becomes Paul. The persecutor of Christians becomes prime apostle to the gentiles (Acts 9:1-6).
The Psalmist praises God for his delivery from sheol, from the depths of despair to new hope. From grief, to joy (Psalm 30).
In John’s gospel we have the story of Peter’s forgiveness for his denial of the Lord on the night he was betrayed, his restoration to loving relationship with Jesus, and commissioning at the founding apostle of the Christian church (John 21:1-19).
Then in Revelation, we have the greatest conversation story of all – Jesus turning life turning around for the whole of humanity (Revelation 5:6-14).
In the story of Revelation, the narrator had been weeping, because he looked upon the devastation of the earth and saw no-one who could repair it. Much like we do at times when we look upon our world. When we pray again for Syria, or when we are confronted again by a friend who’s life is in tatters. Where will our help come from? Who can save us from such a mess?
Then, the narrator of Revelation sees a Lamb who had been slain. A curious image if this were a drama set in real time and space, but apocalyptic literature is more like the fantasy novels my 12 year old loves to read. The Lamb who was slain is the Prince of Peace in disguise. The author knows that his readers will recognise the symbol as referring to Jesus of Nazareth. This lamb, this Jesus is worthy and able to turn the world around. The heavenly creatures and elders sing of him,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain,
and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
But note the difference between Jesus conversation and the apostles’ Paul and Peter. When Jesus turns life around, it is not for himself, and it is not just his own life. Jesus brought about a new era for the sake of people from every tribe and language and nation.
Jesus’ turn about, lays the foundation for Paul and Peter, and for all of us. Jesus turned life around – once for all. His death is a conversation of life from grief to joy – once for all.
I spent the week contemplating the gospel of John and Jesus’ three-fold question of Peter – Do you love me? It is undoubtedly a story there for us to see that Peter’s betrayal is forgiven and is therefore an example to us that no matter what we have done to deny Jesus there is a way back into relationship with him. It is also a story that is probably there at the end of the gospel to give weight to Peter’s authority as founding apostle of the Christian church.
But as I thought about Peter’s story I couldn’t quite work out how to say something meaningful about our stories that didn’t seem trite or sentimental. Then I returned again to Jesus, to the story of Jesus and noticed this very different kind of restoration or conversation story – a conversation enacted for our sake not for his. There is nothing trite or sentimental about that. Thank God – because there is nothing sentimental when we are in the midst of the darkness of despair, and hearing the call to get ourselves out of darkness and turn back towards the light.
Jesus lights the way. That is why we will pray for Syria again today. That is why I will pray for my friend’s tattered family again today. That is why I will pray for healing again today – because from the eternal point of view, Jesus has laid the foundation for a new story for life.