Lenten Meditation: March 16
A strange thing happens in the middle of Chapter 16 of the book of Acts. The narrator suddenly shifts from the third person to the first person plural. The chapter begins in the standard style of third person narration. “Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer.” Verse 6. “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempt to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them, so passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.
Then, suddenly in verse 11, "We set sail from Troas and took a straight cours to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis."
This inexplicable “we” appears again in chapters 20, 21, and 27. What do we make of this “we”?
We don’t really know what the we is all about. And that is not the focus of this reflection. I am thinking of this shift in a different way.. in how we think of the church.
What narrative person do you invoke to participate in the church? The first person would be I, as in "I go to church". Safe to say we all think of ourselves in the first person. The second person would be ‘You”, as in “you really should clean the kitchen better.”. The third person is common to many writings. This is the "he said she said" form. He said the newcomers were from out of town, but she said they were really Methodists.
Each of these voices has a plural. We, they, y’all. What interests me this morning is the first person plural, like the we passages from Acts. Regardless of how they came to be, the shift to “we” is noticeable. Immediately we feel that the narrator is less detached and objective and is now involved in the story. There is greater investment with the first person plural.
I think about post game press conferences. The best coaches always use the first person plural. We need to run the ball better. We need to not turn the ball over. Generally, “we” did not fumble the football. The running back did. But a good coach is not going to single out any one player for criticism. They are a team. Maybe one guy fumbled, but we need to do better.
How do we talk about our church and our church congregation? In my many years I have heard my fair share of second and third person conversations. You need to….. they need to….the problems and difficulties are reduced to what a bunch of second persons or third persons should be doing.
Wouldn’t it be better if we could all adopt the practice of the book of Acts and suddenly shift into the first person plural? Rather than, “they need to do this” or “She doesn’t do that” we could say "we"? “We might consider being more mission minded.” “We can improve our stewardship” We are the church together.
Church is best when church is in the first person plural. I am not sure what our chances are if it is up to him or her or you. But I am pretty sure we can make progress when we are a we.