Okay, here’s the deal.
Technically, we clergy people are supposed to eschew careers and be content to be “called” to where we are. Of course like all human endeavours calling can be interpreted in certain ways. There are the shiny vicars who are “called” to big shiny churches and seem not to be called to small struggling churches. There are the slack ones who either run out of steam or didn’t have much in the first place and hunker down in a safe place and see out their career from there.
The majority of us get called to places where we experience joy and pain, victory and defeat, frustration and inspiration. We don’t get our names on plaques or “10 to watch” lists but we’re not quite forgotten when we are gone either. In end, we spend our time just being ourselves and usually that is good enough for God because that is all he really called us to anyway.
But sometimes we in this silent majority wonder what it is all about. We wonder if we are really doing anything of worth. We definitely get edgy about whether being ourselves is good enough. Everything seems so small scale and local. Our work leaves few foot or finger prints and they disappear in the next rainstorm or dusting as easily as they were laid down.
Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a sad middle aged rant of “where did my life go? I could have been a contender”. It’s a reflection of a reality that we learn the hard way in our self-centred generation that, as Richard Rohr likes to remind us and we like to forget, it isn’t really about us.
So how do we find meaning in what we do and the place we occupy in the cosmos and in the lives of our neighbours and in our own heads? I’m finding the antidote in scripture. When I am tempted to look at the big parish across town and think, “wow, now that is really the blessed make a difference place” I turn my mind to Ananias in Acts 9 .
For those with bad memories or who haven’t gotten around to reading Acts yet, Ananias is the guy who had a vision from God ordering him to go and find Saul of Tarsus and to restore his sight. Saul was blinded on the road to Damascus when the risen Jesus met him and told him to knock off the persecution of believers.
Based on Saul’s bad-ass reputation, Ananias was understandably reluctant to go and do this without some confirmation of his orders. He reminds God about Saul and his deeds and double checks that this is indeed the person he wants Ananias to visit.
God says yes, it is the bad ass Saul he wants Ananias to visit.
Ananias puts his coat on and goes. In doing so he restores Saul’s sight and gets the courage to ask if Saul would like to meet some of his believer friends and get to know the church a bit better. This is akin to believing you have been asked to take Richard Dawkins to the next church social.
The rest is history and we hear a lot from Saul (who becomes the apostle Paul) and nothing else from Ananias. But all credit to our buddy Ananias for not bottling it. If he said no, maybe God would have chosen someone else; but, maybe not. The point is, he went, he did his job and that’s that.
As far as we know, he didn’t become a bishop or a church leader. There are no churches named after him or monuments raised to him. But he does get a couple of paragraphs in the bible and our enduring thanks. We are grateful to him because he plays his part and seems content with that. Yes, Paul is the big story in the New Testament after Jesus and of course he gets lots of mentions. But the fact that Ananias gets a name check is really meaningful. It’s as if Luke, Act’s author, wants him remembered. And maybe that is because he wants everyday people in churches to know that they matter in the big mission of God. That they are the ones to be trusted with the big work, the important work which usually happen in the blink of an eye, in those ordinary places where you don’t find vicars and archdeacons and Bishops because they are too busy doing “important” things.
So hats off to Ananias for being an ordinary guy doing an extraordinary thing. He gives hope to us all.