Saturday, May 19, 2007

Saturday in the 6th Week of Easter
The Ministry of Encouragement

Readings: Acts 18:23-28; Psalm 47:2-3, 8-9, 10; John 16:23b-28

One of the things I’m afraid of, as someone who has the happy responsibility of preaching from the pulpit, is that I might become a nag. Why, you might wonder. Well, we all know what a nag is, don’t we? Who wants to listen to a nag? In my own experience, for example, the people I like to be around, the people I’m more likely to listen to, even when they tell me things that are difficult to hear, are not those who nag at me. Those I tend to listen to are those who somehow give me the sense that they are on my side. They somehow make me feel good about myself, even when they are offering me constructive criticism. The naggers on the other hand, I tend to avoid like the plague. And even when I can’t avoid them, even when I have to listen to them, I find that my mind seems spontaneously to switch off whenever I hear their voice. I’m not sure if you have the same experience, but I seem to have an allergy to those who always seem to delight in finding fault with something or other, those who always seem to be telling people to stand up straight or tuck in your shirt, so to speak.

How different is the approach taken by those in our readings today. My attention is drawn, for example, to a word that appears twice in the first reading. And this word is not nag. No. On the contrary, the word is encourage. We are told first that Paul travels through Galatia and Phrygia, encouraging all the followers. We also hear of how the Christian community encouraged Apollos in such a way that his zeal and talents as a preacher bear fruit for the good of the early church. And we notice also how this encouragement is really the result of a choice that is made. In the case of Apollos, for example, the community could have acted quite differently. For in spite of his eloquence and sound knowledge of the scriptures, he had only experienced the baptism of John. Yet, instead of harping on his deficiencies, Priscilla and Aquila take him under their wing, offering him the encouragement and support he needs to flourish in the ministry.

We have also been witnessing the same thing happening in the gospel readings of these days. Jesus knows his disciples well. He knows all their shortcomings. He knows, for example, that they will soon desert and deny him. Yet, in his farewell discourse, his concern is not with nagging them but with encouraging them to persevere in the truth. Today, in particular, he reminds them of that one truth that we all need continually to be reminded of. He tells them that the Father himself loves you… And it is through this same encouragement that they will find strength to survive and surmount the difficulties that lie ahead.

Together, Paul and Priscilla, Aquila and Jesus demonstrate to us the truth that, as Christians, we are all called to a ministry not so much of nagging and finding fault, but of consolation and encouragement. Listening to their example, we might perhaps remember with gratitude the different people in our own lives through whom God continues to encourage us, and so find the strength to reach out in our turn to encourage others.

How are we being invited to exercise our God-given ministry of encouragement today?

1 comment:

  1. Chris, I know exactly what you mean. Grin. At the risk of sounding facetious, naggers are put in our lives to teach us the virtues of forebearance and forgiveness - and forgetfulness (i.e. to switch off the moment they start to speak). Apart from nagging, "long-windedness" is another character trait that gets me - but that will be the topic of another discourse.

    Young people absolutely detest nagging. I should know after 20 odd years associating with them. They don't even like to be reminded of things before their generation; for instance, how thrifty their parents were, how hard life was then, etc., etc.

    The ministry of encouragement is something very under-rated among believers. Yet, it is also an under-valued ministry because, who hasn't been re-invigorated by another's encouragement? To encourage another is so simple and really effortless. It only requires a consciousness of a situation when someone else is in need. Paradoxically, it is also difficult because, one can only encourage when one has faith and hope and love (i.e. when one cares enough for the other person). You can't give what you don't have. I wish more of my friends are "encouragers".

    Let us pray for that special grace to be "encouragers".