I’ve just returned from a few days in Sydney. Strange place, Sydney. Amongst a whole variety of interesting experiences, two stand out. The first? Apparently a young woman travelled all the way from Israel just to bail me up in Hornsby shopping centre in order to sell me nail care products. (And if you would like to know more about my new nail care regimen, please form an orderly queue after the service.) The second interesting experience. Same shopping centre. My phone beeps with a message. The message says: Now the first thing that came to mind is that I’m not Pete. The second thing was, “How do I respond to this message?” How do I respond? “Easy,” you reply. “Just send something like this –
Or, if feeling more expansive, But no. I’m in the company of my youngest child. My daughter has a particularly wicked sense of humour and I was quite sure she’d like to have some input into my response. So I say, “What do you think would be a good reply?” So this is what we sent:
After another minute or two, I did add:
In most situations when something interesting happens, we have a choice about the response we make. We get to choose how we respond.
Something happens. A response has to be made.
Jesus goes to the cross. His friends deny and abandon him. What response does Jesus choose to make?
(See the story of Jesus on the beach – John 21: 1-14) When Saul hears the message proclaimed by the first disciples, what response does he choose to make? “Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Over the years, I’ve heard lots of discussion about Paul’s Damascus road experience – the blinding light, Saul falling to the ground, the heavenly voice, all of which lead to his conversion. Paul’s response to this Divine revelation is to go to the synagogue and proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God. Perhaps it’s not surprising that such an extraordinary intervention by God into Paul’s life leads to such an extraordinary change in Paul’s behaviour. But I’m not actually particularly interested in that part of the story. What I’m far more interested in is, “Why does God do what God does?” The hand of God is extended to Saul before he is converted. The Damascus road experience is not a punishment from God for persecuting the church. The words, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” are not words of condemnation, but words of sorrow. The hand of God is extended to Saul before he is converted. In my understanding of the nature of God, Paul is loved by God from the very beginning of his existence and God reaches out to him in love not in anger. The nature of God is love. The nature of God is love. And Paul has to choose how to respond to the God of love. And Paul’s response is to serve the God of love for the rest of his life. God’s love comes first. Paul’s love came second. God’s love always comes first. Easter is the season in which we are inevitably caught up in this cycle of action and response. The good news is that new life overcomes death. Resurrection succeeds crucifixion. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never put it out. To which we are called to make a response. I recognise that very few of us have experiences like Paul’s. Blinding lights and heavenly voices are not the order of the day. And we shouldn’t expect them to be. Instead we’re surrounded by unremarkable but overwhelming evidence that life is greater than death, that the good news is the presence of inescapable, unconditional love. That love comes first. Love comes first. And we get to choose how to respond.