“How are you settling in?” people ask. They are sympathetic because they know that I’m the new boy and nobody likes to be the new boy. Whether it be the first day at school or college, or in the new job the new boy is the one learning the ropes, the one who has no choice but to ask all the stupid questions: the new boy is at the mercy of the old hands, he will be welcomed with open arms by some, attract hostility and suspicion from others and the reasons for both extremes of reaction have in truth got very little to do with him. He is dropped into the middle of a crowd. They have history together and he doesn’t know what that history is.
We would all rather be old hands: the people who know how things are done around here. When you’ve been in a place for a while you’re in a place of safety, a place of strength: you don’t need to worry about being included or excluded because you’re the one who will be doing the including or the excluding. You get all the in-jokes, you know what not to say. If you had the choice you’d never be a new boy, always you’d be an old hand.
But when Jesus sent the disciples out, he made them all new boys. They had to go out, two by two into the towns and villages where he was about to go and sit there in the town square, waiting for someone to take them in and give them a bed for a night and some sort of a meal. They had no visible means of support, nothing to offer the people except the message “The kingdom of heaven is near” and nothing to give their host except the blessing “Peace to this house.” (Ok, the message also got preached by healing the sick, but sometimes they had to wipe the dust off their feet and that was preaching too.)
I don’t think they ever really settled down again, those apostles, they never found a comfortable routine. But the gospel, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ that went viral.
So I wonder what you could say is the test of a true church? Sure, if we’re going to be the church that Jesus had in mind, we’ll definitely be a welcoming place for strangers. But if we’re going to be effective at preaching the gospel, won’t we have to be those strangers ourselves? Maybe we need to forget about settling down as old hands and keep on taking risks: the risk of being misunderstood or mocked, of breaking the boundaries and challenging the unwritten taboos; the risk of having no real routine except to say with our lips and our lives, in ways that have to change every day because the world changes every day “Jesus is Lord.”
So here's to being perpetually in transit.