January Pastoral Letter

Minister’s Letter for January 2022: An invitation to be surprised

 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.’ —St Matthew 8.10 ESV

Dear Church

Admit it: whenever you meet someone for the first time, you have presuppositions about them. You definitely had them about me: Accent, personality traits, boundless optimism…right? But just as you had presuppositions about me, I had them about you. It’s human to have them. But you know what I love? To be surprised and have my presuppositions disproved.

We can go through our lives never being surprised. We simply need to avoid those opportunities for discussion or encounter that would challenge those presuppositions. I think this is a sad way to live, though, for without surprises that challenge our assumptions, we may never get a chance to wonder at things we don’t—or didn’t—understand. We can fool ourselves into thinking we understand how the world works. Even Jesus knew better than to assume he knew that.

In St Matthew’s gospel, Jesus met with a Roman centurion. Not only was he a Roman—the enemy-occupier—but a centurion, a leader in the enforcement of Roman rule. There were plenty of reasons for Jesus to negatively pre-judge him and avoid the meeting. Yet in that meeting, Jesus ‘marveled at him,’ for the centurion’s faith was stronger than most of the people he’d met! The centurion professed that Jesus had authority, similar in some ways to himself. But more, he, the Roman, believed that Jesus could bring health and healing to his servant. He must have cared deeply about the servant, for he was willing to seek healing outside Roman medicine and meet with someone who was already attracting Roman imperial attention as a potential troublemaker.

The meeting surprised Jesus. Outside of the parallel story in Luke’s gospel, it’s one of the few times that Jesus is surprised (another time was by the Syrophoenician woman, Matt 15.22). The servant was immediately healed, and Jesus shared with those following him that faith such as the centurion’s was an unlikely example for the sort of faith that could change the world.

Over the course of the past four months since I’ve started my ministry with you, I’ve often been surprised. A lot. In individual meetings. During church services. In church meetings. I’ve learned so many things about you that tell of strength where I didn’t know there was some; or courage; or love and humuor and care and creativity and joy, but also pain and sadness. And I am grateful for all of these surprises, even the difficult ones. Surprises are good. They remind us that our community is far more deep, intriguing, interesting, and beyond knowing than we thought. A surprise is the certainty that there’s more for us to know and experience. But they don’t happen unless we put ourselves into positions in which we can be surprised.

This New Year, I wouldn’t encourage you to make a resolution and doggedly stick to it. I’d encourage you to instead allow yourself to be surprised, by your church, a birdsong, a new way of reading Scripture, a rainbow in the morning, or the story of courage from someone you’ve known for 40 years, yet didn’t know that. I’d invite you to meet with people you think you know for no other reason than to get to know them better, but allow yourself to be surprised by what you learn. And perhaps let them be surprised by what you share with them. I’d even suggest you go out of your way to talk with people you don’t know, and be surprised by what you learn.

Friends, let us be surprised this year. God has so much in store for us.