God on Monday
‘If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down’ (Luke 13.9)
Welcome to the twenty-second God on Monday reflection on ‘purpose’!
Would you be prepared to lose your life to save the life of a friend? A man named Alban was. That is why he is commemorated every 22nd June, more than 1700 years later. As a pagan in third century Roman Britain, he sheltered a Christian priest in his home who was being pursued by the Roman authorities, for Christianity was prohibited. Through the witness of this priest, named Amphibalus, Alban was so moved by God’s grace that he became a Christian.
A few days later, the whereabouts of the outlawed priest were detected, and soldiers arrived at Alban’s house to arrest Amphibalus. But Alban quickly exchanged cloaks with his new friend, allowing him to escape, while Alban was arrested and taken to the Roman governor. When the governor discovered that his captive was not Amphibalus, he demanded to know his name. ‘I am Alban’ he replied, ‘and I worship and adore the true and living God, who created all things.’
The governor was so angry that he ordered Alban to be tortured. When Alban still refused to renounce his faith, he was led to his execution on the top of a nearby hill. That is where, so it is thought, St Alban’s Cathedral was built.
Alban’s life as a Christian was short. But it was very fruitful. Even his appointed executioner came to faith when he saw Alban’s faith. As the first-recorded English martyr, that faith has reaped a centuries-long harvest across the British Isles and around the world. I am only one of many thousands of pilgrims who for over 17 centuries have sought to walk in St Alban’s physical and spiritual footsteps. To visit the Cathedral that bears his name is to re-live his story and to be re-inspired for living purposefully in ordinary everyday life (unlike many 'saints', Alban was not a church leader).
The parable of the fig tree cited above provides both challenge and encouragement. The challenge is that, if a tree is unfruitful, it must be destroyed. The encouragement is that unfruitful trees can become fruitful if time and effort is given to their cultivation and nurture.
To invest that time and effort is to fulfil our core purpose. For as Jesus puts it elsewhere: ‘I appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last’ (John 15.16). This implies he will give us all the time we need, providing all our time (not just our free time) is his. This may not mean we are remembered 1700 years after our death. But it will mean we will have found what on earth we are here for.
Peter S Heslam, Director of Faith in Business