The Epistle for today is from a letter written by St. Paul. First Corinthians, Chapter 9, Verse 2 reads: “If to others I am not an apostle at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.” I find that verse very encouraging, because I can be like St. Paul and say those words to you today: “If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.” But you know, that is really rather misleading. Children, I am not St. Paul, am I? . . . No, I am me. We are each unique individuals. In fact, on reflection, we can each be apostles to those with whom we live or work or study—whatever our ages or intellectual ability.
The Greek word apostelos is used as a noun to mean a person who is sent on a mission, a messenger who has a specific task. For all of us, as Christians the task that confronts us throughout our lives is to learn more and more about Jesus Christ and His Church and to live out that understanding of Christ and His Church, and to communicate that understanding to others. The Greek word apostellō is used as a verb throughout the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, and throughout the New Testament to mean a messenger sent by God and acting on His authority. Now, we may not think of ourselves as being “sent by God and acting on His authority;” but we are. In our lives as Christians, each of us is making a statement: I believe in God; and I want to try to understand and follow His teachings and to help others to know Christ and His Church.
On July 11th, one of the most respected medical journals in Britain, The Lancet begun a series of articles on what it called “faith-based health care”—that is, health care from people who are living out their faith in God through helping others to improve their health. I was not surprised by their basic argument that, and I quote, “Faith is a powerful force in the lives of individuals and communities worldwide . . .[which] offers a unique opportunity to improve health outcomes.” However, I was surprised by the opening sentence of this series of articles. Again, I quote, “An estimated 84% of the world’s population is religiously affiliated.” [See the website: http://www.thelancet.com/series/faith-based-health-care ]. 84%! Those of us who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or any other religion are included in that large majority of the world’s population.
Now, many of us live and work and study in secular environments. Certainly, that was also the situation for St. Paul. He was speaking and teaching about Christ in Corinth—the largest city of first century Greece, with its 250,000 free people and some 400,000 slaves. Corinth was a lot weaker in its morality than Britain and many other countries today. Yet St. Paul boldly set out to draw the Corinthians to Christ; and St. Paul defended the right of those who preached Christ to receive material gains, even though he and Barnabas did not receive material gains. Drawing upon the 25th chapter of Deuteronomy, St. Paul stresses in Verse 10 of this epistle that “for our sake it was written . . . [that] the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope sharing the crops.”
Very few of us are still working in an agricultural society such as first century Corinth. However, we can still be like St. Paul and “plough in hope” of drawing others to Christ and His Church and “thresh in hope of sharing the crops”—that is, of separating the little seeds and large grains of our faith from the chaff—the outer covering of the secular culture that at times surrounds us. Make no mistake: we, of the 84% of the world who have “a religious affiliation” are in the vast majority, even though the 16% of the world’s population might ignore us.
However, it should be noted that a religious affiliation does not show up in a brain scan. When the brains of people who belong to any religion are examined by X-rays, those brains are no different from the people who have no religious affiliation. But when the brains of those people who pray and have a living faith in God are examined by X-rays, certain parts of the brain are thicker. Prayer and faith in God empowers a person to live to the full; and their brains show that ability to live full lives. Therefore, those of us who do have a religious affiliation to Christ—those of us who are part of the largest single religious group in the world—the Christians—do have a responsibility to live out religious affiliation with faith and prayer and action. Go to it! Let us all be Christians in our lives—in Church and out of Church, in our families and out of our families, in work and out of work, in school and out of school. So be it! That is what the Hebrew word, “Amen” means. So be it!