(08-08-10) Learning and Sharing like Apollos; God's Intimacy - Acts 18.24-end; Mark 7.31-end
I love my Mum dearly, but I must confess that she has a remarkable ability to frustrate me. She can be remarkably ‘scatty’ and absent-minded at times. Occasionally it’s endearing, but more often than not, it’s annoying! A couple of years ago, she went through a period of regularly losing her keys. Having looked high and low for them, she would ring me to get my help. That would have been fine, except that she lives in Gloucester, and I was in Aberystwyth. I couldn’t exactly ‘pop round’ to help. However, that didn’t stop me being able to lead her to her keys. You see, they were always in the fridge. She would come home from work, pick the milk up off the doorstep, put it in the fridge, and in with it would go her keys. Hours later, when she needed to go out, they would still be there, but, understandably, she never thought to look there. Having done this a couple of times before, I was able to suggest that she took a look in the fridge, and the crisis was averted.
So yes, she can be quite ‘scatty’. But that doesn’t stop me loving her. And nor does it stop me admiring her because, despite her ‘scattiness’, she’s still willing to try and learn new skills. For the last few years she has owned and used a computer. She can send emails and instant messages, browse the internet, upload photos from her digital camera and print them – all sorts of things! She had a hole in her knowledge which she wanted to fill, and was prepared to learn. Even, at times, from her impudent son! It’s a wonderful quality to have; a willingness to learn – especially when the person knows so much already. And that’s a quality we see in Apollos in our reading from Acts today. He was, evidently, a remarkably talented and intelligent man. He knew his Bible, had been baptised by John, and knew all about Jesus; well enough to teach people powerfully and accurately. But he hadn’t heard about the day of Pentecost and the giving of the Spirit, nor about baptism in Jesus’ name; an infinitely significant aspect of the life of the Church.
Yet, he was willing to learn from Priscilla (a woman) and her husband Aquila about these things, and to accept their teaching. Even about the most important things in life – things of the Spirit – he was willing to listen, learn and change. And that is a great challenge to us. It is very tempting to think that we know it all, or at least to think that we know all that we need to know! And that is especially true when it comes to matters of faith. It’s easy to see faith as a private matter; just between you and God. And, indeed, that individual relationship with God is important. It is how you and I respond to God’s invitation to forgiveness, offered through Jesus, which determines whether or not that relationship is restored. And it’s a relationship which continues. God loves each and every one of us as individuals as well as collectively as the pinnacle of His creation. He knows us perfectly, uniquely, individually. He declares His knowledge of and love for us as individuals throughout the Bible. A quick read through Psalm 139 highlights this well.
Certainly, Jesus dealt with people privately, such as the deaf and mute man he healed. It must have been remarkably exciting to have been that man; waiting to be brought to Jesus; Jesus who could heal him, turn his life around; Jesus who does everything well. (31) But it must also have been quite scary, too; an eager crowd pressing around, the drama and tension of the moment itself, the enormity of the request. And Jesus takes the man to one side, away from the crowd. (33) Such care and compassion. He didn’t just heal the man of his deafness and muteness, He healed him of any sense of unimportance or meaninglessness. Jesus, the Holy Man of God, the Son of David, the Son of Man, the Son of God spent time with this man, just the two of them. He touched him, and did so in a very intimate way – when did you last put your fingers in someone else’s ears? Or touch their tongue? Me neither!
We saw Jesus the other week eating with Zacchaeus, we know the story of Jesus with the woman at the well and with Mary Magdalene. The risen Jesus invites Thomas to put his finger in the holes in His hands and his hand in the hole in His side. We don’t know if Thomas had to take up this offer before he believed, but I’m sure Jesus wasn’t bluffing; He was willing for such intimacy with one of His disciples because of His great love for them; for us. Story.
Let’s go back to the deaf and mute man. So Jesus, in His love, dealt with this man privately and with great dignity and intimacy. But he also shared the man’s experience with the crowd. How else would they have known what have happened and been ‘overwhelmed with amazement’? When God comes into your life; heals and changes you, other people find out about it pretty quickly. And Jesus taught the crowd something about himself through that act of power and love. As a crowd they learnt about God’s love for the unlovely; for them. They learnt of God’s power and authority over all things. And they learnt that Jesus was sent by God, to do His work.
So yes, faith is on the one hand a private matter. God chooses to engage with us as individuals, and that is glorious. But on the other hand, and at the same time our faith, our restored relationship with our Maker and Saviour is truly and wonderfully public. Think about who is hear this morning. You probably know one another pretty well; you’re getting to know me and I’m getting to know you! And together, God is teaching us, changing us, moulding and shaping us to be His Church, His Bride. Last week we looked at Jesus’ prayer for the unity of the Church. A unified Church as one Body would share all things, all experiences. So, we learn from and about Jesus together, as well as privately, and we also learn from and through one another.
This, Apollos demonstrates for us perfectly. He was a man of great knowledge and learning, a follower of Jesus and a leader in the Church. Yet he was also humble and open to God speaking to him through others. Had he ignored Priscilla and Aquila, he would have continued in his life of faith ignorant of the access to the power of God through His Holy Spirit; Jesus’ gift to His Church. But Apollos was open, he was willing. And our prayer is that we would be too. For that to happen we must be willing to learn and willing to share, as Apollos was, taking his new understanding to Achaia and onwards. It’s not just that we must have open ears, but open mouths, too; sharing our experience of God with all who will hear.