Trying to live in the past is generally unhealthy (something quite a few churches need to remember). Yet ignoring the past is equally dangerous. Part of an ancient book is worth noting: Ecclesiastes 1:9 (TNIV) What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
Much of the Old Testament contains a dynamic history of the acts of God and the responses of the chosen people. Israel was told to remember the Exodus – when God delivered Israel from Egypt. The faith and actions of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah and many others stood as a signpost: “Go THIS way… like they did”
Christmas has been a remembrance of the birth of Jesus, who is God Incarnate, whose arrival changed history forever.
Every January we are challenged to take stock- and decide what should be changed. We call them New Year Resolutions, which for many of us become guilt-burdens before February begins!
I’d like to suggest a healthy exercise: remember a specific experience, and think about what it has taught you about life, the world, faith, or relationships.
This photo is of Portofino, a small Italian fishing village which has now become a tourist centre and a playground for the excessively wealthy. (One of our favourite films was made here, so we visited the main location at Castello Brown.) We had a few hours there, and fell in love with the place. The colours and form of the buildings scream “Take my photo!” and the boats of many colours lend themselves to the lens. They make wonderful ice-cream in Italy. What’s not to like?
What you don’t see in these photos are the billionaires’ yachts- which cost a fortune to buy and eye-watering sums to operate. How the 1% of the 1% live. There were about ten in port or moored just offshore. One had a helicopter. Another had a jacuzzi frothing on Deck 2 and jet-skis on board in case they got bored.
Behind the scenes the waitresses worked hard for low pay. People who live here are born and eventually die. From across the Mediterranean desperate refugees come in leaky old tubs hoping to escape war and persecution. There are hundreds of stories to be told.
I have no doubt the beauty of Portofino is appreciated by all who get here. The ice-cream will be relished by everyone who can afford a lovely gelato. Taking a few hours or days to embrace a holiday is a joy and a privilege. It’s picture perfect in Portofino.
How do we reconcile a world that has billionaires and refugees? Famine- and extreme wealth in the hands of a minority? Where is justice? Life isn’t fair. Jesus spoke about these dilemmas. A woman made an extravagantly expensive gesture pouring rich perfume over Jesus. Some onlookers were critical, some even condemned the generosity because “the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor.” At least one of the critics was dishonest and saw an opportunity of selfish gain disappearing in a fragrant cloud. Jesus then said “The poor will always be with you.” That was not a fatalistic statement. Rather, the implication is that there will ALWAYS be opportunities to help and bless the poor… and acts of loving devotion will always be welcomed by God.
In the final analysis, it comes down to our heart-attitudes, our motivations. A rich young man was told to sell all he owned- because he loved money more than God. A widow gave a farthing- all she had– and Jesus praised her extravagantly. God seems to do economics differently.
When I look back at Portofino, I give thanks for a lovely experience in a beautiful place. I also remember the contrast between poverty and extreme wealth: and I am reminded to think again about my attitude to money, justice, and generosity. Perhaps my mind is changed enough that I will make more of a difference- because that’s what Jesus would want. Sometimes prayer begins as a thought that convicts my will so that I act for love and justice, mercy and generosity. A practical Portofino prayer…
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. But maybe WE can do some things differently because we see the world through the eyes of Jesus.
Try it. Look back- and let God direct your action according to what you learn.