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by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

August, 2012

In the mountains near the ruins of the city known as Ephesus, in what is now Turkey, there’s a tiny stone house. According to local legend, it was the home of “Mary, the Theotokos,” or “Meryem Ana,” the mother of Jesus. The legend says the apostle John brought her there in about 40 A.D. to escape persecution by the Roman authorities. The Gospel of John says Jesus made John responsible for Mary’s welfare (John 19:25-27; presumably Joseph, her husband, had already died). She lived the remainder of her life there in Ephesus and ultimately died there. There’s nothing special, nothing prepossessing, about the house. It’s about the size of a modern walk-in closet. And yet, it was the place that saw the final years of a remarkable life.

Ephesus was once a city of 200,000 people, with a magnificent library, columns, mosaics and an amphitheater that held 20,000 people. It was the center of worship of the goddess Diana or Artemis. It was here, among other places, that Apollos and Paul preached the religion that would be known as Christianity. Paul’s preaching especially sparked a riot (Acts 18:19, 24-26; 19:1-20). In Revelation, John referred to the church in Ephesus as one of the seven major churches in the region (Rev. 1:11). But there’s nothing remaining of Ephesus to indicate that anything remarkable happened there, just ruins in a region where ruins are common.

The house is similar in ways to Mary herself. From what we know, there was nothing special about her, except for her connection to her son, Jesus. She was a descendant of King David (Luke 3:23-38), as was her husband, Joseph, but they were humble and of limited means. Jesus’ disciples were no different: A few fishermen, a tax collector, a businessman, a couple of would-be revolutionaries. Certainly not the sort of men who would change the world.

But then, this could be said of most Christians. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” (1 Cor. 1:26 ESV). It sounds a lot like you and me, especially me. I know I’m not “wise” or powerful or “of noble birth.” Not special. And yet, all of us who serve the risen Christ are “special.”

In a small town called Maplewood, outside the city of St. Louis, there’s a church. There’s nothing to suggest that there’s anything out of the ordinary about this church. Certainly, there’s nothing to suggest that this is a place where lives are transformed. And yet, if you’re a member of this small, unassuming church, as I am, you know it to be a place where God’s Spirit is active and God’s people are fed. I’ve seen it happen, time and again.

There’s nothing special about the house where Mary lived—and died—nothing that might draw both Christian pilgrims and Muslims. Except that a saint lived there, someone who knew Jesus more intimately than anyone else who ever lived. Someday, what will people say about your house? My house? Will they say a saint lived there? Someone who knew Jesus? Or that it’s just another house.

The Rev. J. Richard Peck wrote in the study “United Methodism 101” that “United Methodists call people ‘saints’ because they exemplified the Christian life. In this sense, every Christian can be considered a saint.” Does that sound like you? Me? Someone who “exemplified the Christian life”? I pray that it does.

“While Jesus was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and brothers came and stood outside, asking to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside wanting to speak to you.’ To the one who had said this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother and who are my brothers?’ And pointing toward his disciples he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Matt. 12:46-50 ESV.)

Copyright © 2012 by David Phelps