“Tourist or Pilgrim??”

“Tourist or Pilgrim??”

Sunday 17 November 2019

It has usually been my practice to celebrate one of the last Sundays of the Church’s liturgical year as a Thanksgiving Sunday. There is a certain sense in which it is probably not necessary for us to celebrate a Thanksgiving Sunday each year. After all, every time we gather around the table of the Lord, we are participating in the ultimate thanks to God. The Greek word that we use for the Sacrament, Eucharist, means thanksgiving.

I guess we can justify having a special Thanksgiving Sunday in the same way that we celebrate a special Easter Sunday even though every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ.

There really is a lot that we have to be thankful to God for as members of his Church in this parish of Holland Park.

We have been blessed by God to grasp the knowledge of the salvation that has been won for us, by his son, Jesus Christ, who lived, suffered, died and has been raised from the dead to reconcile the world to God.

We have been called by our Baptism into the very Body of Christ to be disciples of Jesus in the proclamation of the kingdom of God. This is our mission – or rather, it is God’s mission and we are invited to be sharers in the work of proclamation in God’s mission. In order to participate in God’s mission, we, as members of the Church participate in various ministries aimed at both proclaiming the kingdom and at building up the Body of Christ for that proclamation of the kingdom.

Today we recognise, in a general way, with gratitude, all of those members of this Church community who have contributed their time and talents to the various ministries conducted in the parish, and all those who have supported the mission financially over the last year. And we also remember with thanks all of those who have preceded us in this place and who have built the spiritual and physical fabric of the parish.

And in thinking about the contribution of those who have gone before us and those who are still active in the building up of God’s kingdom, I was reminded of a useful image of Church life that I read once in a book called “Christianity for the Rest of Us”. The writer talks about Church involvement in terms of the images of “tourists” and “pilgrims”.

Listen to the distinction between a tourist and pilgrim as expressed by the author, Diana Butler Bass. “Being a tourist means experiencing something new; being a pilgrim means becoming someone new.”

“Being a tourist means experiencing something new; being a pilgrim means becoming someone new.”

These images of tourist and pilgrim resonate with me because I clearly remember that I was swapping the tourist and pilgrim hats fairly frequently on a holiday in Turkey several years ago.

Please look at the screen. That is the harbour of what was called Troas in the first century AD. This next slide is a photograph of the pebbly beach at Troas with the crystal clear water of the Aegean Sea. This third photograph is a shot looking across the Aegean Sea to the west, towards Greece. This photo is of the modern day boat harbor at what was known as Assos in the first century AD. This photo taken from near the top of the highest point in Assos, some 280 metres above the sea below, looks back along the Turkish coastline in the general direction of Troas.

Let me tie these photographs together with some excerpts from the Acts of the Apostles.

They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.

And later in the Acts of the Apostles:

They went ahead and were waiting for us in Troas; but we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we joined them in Troas, where we stayed for seven days.

 On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’ Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted.

We went ahead to the ship and set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul on board there; for he had made this arrangement, intending to go by land himself. When he met us in Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. 

I came to Troas and Assos as a pilgrim, not a tourist. As you can see from the photos before, there is nothing very spectacular about Troas. But, for me, to stand in the water of the place from which St Paul struck out on his great missionary journey to Europe was both moving and transforming. To get some idea of the journey Paul took when he chose to walk from Troas to Assos instead of taking the easier route on the water gave me new insight into the man. I was a pilgrim. I was inspired by being in these places that I had read about so often in the Bible.
And yet, also at Assos are the ruins of the Temple of Athena. These photos show an artsist’s impression and all that is left today. It was interesting to see these ruins, but not transforming. I viewed them as a tourist. I would not have ventured the couple of hours off the main highway to Assos to visit the Temple of Athena. There is a big difference between being a tourist and a pilgrim and there is a big difference between what you will do as a tourist against what you are prepared to do when you are a pilgrim.

“Being a tourist means experiencing something new; being a pilgrim means becoming someone new.”

On this Thanksgiving Sunday, it is good for us to reflect upon these two images of tourist and pilgrim and to ask ourselves in the depths of our hearts: “Does the way that I contribute to the mission of God as a member of this parish, through the application of my time and talents, through the level of my financial support for the mission of the parish, indicate that I am a tourist or a pilgrim?” Am I here for the good experience I get, or am I here to be challenged and transformed into a more genuine disciple of Jesus?

We each need to ask ourselves these questions. And in asking the questions, let’s keep in mind that we have an obligation towards the future members of the Church in the decades to come. It is the same obligation which was fulfilled so admirably by those who have gone before us – our pilgrim fathers and mothers who have left us the legacy of these facilities of church and hall that we enjoy every week..

I was given this reflection a couple of years ago which seems very appropriate for today. Please consider its message in relation to your own involvement in the life of the parish.

If you are doing it because no one else will, it is a job
If you are doing it to serve the Lord, it is a ministry
If you quit because someone criticised you, it was a job
If you kept on serving, it was a ministry
If you only do it when it does not interfere with other activities, it is a job
If you are committed to it when it means letting go of other things, it is a ministry
If you quit because no one praised or thanked you, it was a job
If you stay with it, even without recognition, it is a ministry
It’s hard to get excited about a job
It’s almost impossible not to be excited about a ministry
If your concern is success, it is a job
If your concern is faithfulness, it is ministry
An average church is filled with people doing jobs
A great growing church is filled with people doing ministry
If you have a job, give it up and find a ministry
God does not want us feeling stuck with a job, but excited and faithful to him in ministry

Archdeacon Allan Paulsen
Parish Priest

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