Next Daily Devotion Series
Dear <<First Name>>
I hope that the long series looking at the Acts of the Apostles since Pentecost has been useful; it's not often we read through such a long book and make links between our own age and the exciting, fast moving, world of the New Testament. It has been suggested that we make this series available as a booklet. The material is all archived on the URC website - devotions.urc.org.uk and if anyone wished to make a resource from the material they are more than welcome to do so.
Tomorrow, we start to read through St John's Gospel. This is a work that we're not as familiar with as we should be given it's size and prominence in the New Testament. The devisors of the Lectionary most Churches use didn't give St John a year of its own and slot various passages into the Church's year. This is means we lose some of the focus of St John's Gospel if we just hear those parts that are read on Sundays.
From tomorrow we will work our way through St John and be both comforted and disturbed by its insights and style. It can be startling to see how confrontational Jesus is in this Gospel - the editor sets him above Moses in the prologue (shocking to Jews) and very early on Jesus confronts the authorities by the cleansing of the Temple. The die is set and the Gospel moves towards Jesus' betrayal and death with unremitting pace. The team of writers have worked hard on this series and we hope that you continue to find the Devotions a source of blessing.
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Daily Devotions from the URC
Every morning a reading, reflection and prayer are sent out to over 1600 people by the United Reformed Church. A team of 100 or so people with different perspectives and from different places in our denomination collaborate to create this useful resource. People read them on their phones as they undertake their daily commute, on their computers at work, or with a coffee at home on a tablet. If you'd like to read some, or sign up to receive them, simply go to devotions.urc.org.uk
with every good wish
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC project
Minister, Southside Cluster, Synod of Scotland
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Acts 28: 30-31He lived there for two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. Reflection Why does the book of Acts end here?
After the arduous journey, Paul has reached his destination Rome. The travellers, exhausted from their journeys, have been dependant on Christian hospitality. We are told by Luke, the writer of Acts, that Paul lived there for two years and welcomed all.
Now Paul could offer hospitality to others.
The Book of Acts is not about the life of Paul, but the spread of the Gospel, and that has been clearly presented. Now that the Gospel had been preached and established in many areas by Paul, it would now start to spread further by the movement of the Holy Spirit, and the new disciples who have heard the message of Jesus Christ.
The Book of Acts deals with the history of the Christian church and its expansion in ever widening circles, touching Jerusalem, Antioch and Rome, to name but a few. Acts shows the mighty miracles and testimonies of many people, Peter, Stephen, Lydia, Joanna and Pricilla, and of course Paul himself. We have read how the Holy Spirit touched the hearts and minds of Jews and Gentiles, men and women, rich and poor and the changes that happened because of the acts of many people.
Today, we are the unsung heroes in the continuing story of Acts and the spread of the Gospel.
Every act of loving kindness,
every prayer we say,
every word we speak,
every step we take in name of Justice and Truth, proclaims the Gospel message in
new ways over 2,000 years later.
Let us continue the story with the same passion and diligence, as those names written in the pages of Acts of the Apostles.
After the journey comes rest,
After the rest comes hospitality,,
After hospitality comes reflection
after reflection comes the future.
PrayerLord, anoint us with a passion to tell the story of Good News,
of liberation and justice,
of mercy and kindness,
of inclusiveness and equality,
and of the saving and everlasting love of Jesus Christ.
Acts 28: 11-28Three months later we set sail on a ship that had wintered at the island, an Alexandrian ship with the Twin Brothers as its figurehead. We put in at Syracuse and stayed there for three days; then we weighed anchor and came to Rhegium. After one day there a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. There we found believers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. The believers from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. When we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. Three days later he called together the local leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, he said to them,
“Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, yet I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. When they had examined me, the Romans wanted to release me, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to the emperor—even though I had no charge to bring against my nation. For this reason therefore I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is for the sake of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.”
“We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken anything evil about you. But we would like to hear from you what you think, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”
After they had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets. Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe. So they disagreed with each other; and as they were leaving, Paul made one further statement:
“The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah,
‘Go to this people and say,
You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.’
Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”
He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. Reflection Persecuted, arrested, and abused Paul continues to speak. Some are unconvinced, some refuse to believe, and Paul continues to speak. Disagreements, factions, debates and arguments abound, and Paul continues to speak. When the establishment won't listen, Paul continues to speak to the Gentiles, with all boldness and without hindrance.
When we, as Christians, claim to be persecuted, it would do us good to read Paul's letters again. He didn't suggest that he should receive privilege or even that everyone should agree with him. Instead, he continued tirelessly sharing his message to all who would hear it, even at the cost of his freedom. Around the world today, Christians are persecuted for their beliefs.
But not in the UK. We may not be in Christendom any longer, but we are still incredibly privileged: this country's moral and legal code is based on Christian understandings. We are free to worship and speak out. We have seats in the House of Lords and our Queen serves in the name of God.
Why, then, do we feel persecuted? Perhaps it is because we like control. We want to think that we can choose who is in and out, that we can make laws based on our own, exact personal beliefs, that we should have endless resources, and that everyone should agree with us. That is not the Christianity that Paul preached.
Paul's reaction to institutional persecution, to the powers that be refusing to hear his words, was not to scapegoat and blame. Instead, Paul turned his back on the institution and spoke to the gentiles - the outsiders, the lawless, the meek, the oppressed.
Who are we called to speak to? Who are we called to speak for?
you surpass all understanding.
Help us to accept our weakness;
to let go of our desire for power.
We pray for all those who are in power,
and for all those who struggle under it.
We pray for grace-full decisions and love-filled living.
We pray for justice, peace and integrity.
Help us to be on the side of the gentiles
- the outsiders, the lawless, the meek, the oppressed.
When we can't see through the smoke and mirrors of persecution,
help us to count our blessings instead.
you are my refuge true.
I said, “You are my Lord: I have
no good apart from you.”
The godly in the land,
for holiness renowned—
They are the glorious ones, in whom
all my delight is found.
Their sorrows will increase
who on false gods rely.
I will not sacrifice to them;
their worship I defy.
O LORD, you are to me
my cup and portion sure;
The share that is assigned to me
you guard and keep secure.
The land allotted me
is in a pleasant site;
And surely my inheritance
to me is a delight.
I’ll praise the LORD my God,
whose counsel guides my choice;
And even in the night, my heart
recalls instruction’s voice.
Before me constantly
I set the LORD alone.
Because he is at my right hand
I’ll not be overthrown.
Therefore my heart is glad;
my tongue with joy will sing.
My body too will rest secure
in hope unwavering.
For you will not allow
my soul in death to stay,
Nor will you leave your Holy One
to see the tomb’s decay.
You have made known to me
the path of life divine.
Bliss shall I know at your right hand;
joy from your face will shine.
You can hear a recording of Free Church youth singing this, from v8, here to the rather haunting tune Golden HIll and here to the tune Old 134th.
Throughout these words, David portrays that wherever he is, whatever he is going through, underpinning the whole experience is the incredible truth that his life has been planned. Consequently, what he is experiencing is the plan and purpose of God which has personally been mapped out in love for him.
This can hopefully be reassuring to us as well, but how often in our modern day life do we sense perhaps things which we can’t quite equate with a God of love? How can certain things be explained? Perhaps if we look more closely we might actually realise that in fact it is the Lord Himself who is personally meant to be our portion in life, rather than any set of individual circumstances. He is the one upon whom we should be focussing, rather than those things which may be occurring around about us. God is also described as our cup, our adequate sustenance at all times, the one whom Jesus said that when we drank from Him we would never thirst again.
The number of blessings which God promises to us in this Psalm just seem to be endless, and could be the basis of a lengthy sermon in itself. However, the last verse perhaps says it all in these days when life is so centred on experiences, pleasures and thrills. God is the one who alone can provide us with the one true, dependable path of life. His presence alone can give us the fullness of joy, which Nehemiah quotes as being our strength.
This is so different to the happiness and thrills which society tries to thrust down our throats. Happenings promote happiness, which in itself is short-lived, here today, but gone by tomorrow. Only the deep-seated joy which God gives us as we walk with Him can be our eternal experience and the only place where we can find the life which never fades or dies, but goes on for time and for eternity.
PrayerGod our Heavenly Father,
silently planning in love for us,
help us to walk more closely with you.
May our eyes look to you and to you alone
that our focus may be upon you, and
not just for what we might get out of knowing you.
Help us to live in the knowledge of your divine purposes,
and even when the shadows and dark moments come,
experience your eternal security in and through our lives,
for you alone are God and our trust is in you.
Psalmody and Praise Committee Free Church of Scotland, 15 North Bank Street, Edinburgh, EH1 2LS
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Acts 28: 1-10After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us around it. Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead, but after they had waited a long time and saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.
Now in the neighbourhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. It so happened that the father of Publius lay sick in bed with fever and dysentery. Paul visited him and cured him by praying and putting his hands on him. After this happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. They bestowed many honours on us, and when we were about to sail, they put on board all the provisions we needed. Reflection “It was a dark and stormy night” – at least, it had been. We had a detailed account of how the shipwreck happened in the previous chapter, and here is the happy ending: a safe haven with a kind and friendly community. I wondered whether it was an unusual occurrence to have people washed ashore in Malta – or whether the islanders were used to it? At least they seemed to have procedures in place to help – food and warmth and a welcome to strangers washed up by the sea.
It seems that people haven’t changed much in 2000 years, we want to help those in distress – we are sometimes sceptical and superstitious, we make up our minds too quickly, without taking time to get to know the true picture, as shown when Paul was bitten by the snake. The difference here and now though, is that today’s “shipwrecked people,” those left to flounder by circumstances beyond their control, are unable to do a quick miracle to allay people’s fears. Today many are turned away by those who distrust and malign “the stranger”, those who are afraid of “difference”. Too quickly people make up their minds to turn away. We can still witness miracles though – miracles of love, where hearts and minds are opened – and those turned away find safe havens in loving communities.
We pray for those in our world
who are shipwrecked by circumstance,
We pray that they might find safety,
That they might find kindness
And we pray for daily miracles of love
That hearts and minds might be changed,
So that many more might find safe haven.,
Acts 27: 9-42Since much time had been lost and sailing was now dangerous, because even the Fast had already gone by, Paul advised them, saying, ‘Sirs, I can see that the voyage will be with danger and much heavy loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.’ But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. Since the harbour was not suitable for spending the winter, the majority was in favour of putting to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, where they could spend the winter. It was a harbour of Crete, facing south-west and north-west.
When a moderate south wind began to blow, they thought they could achieve their purpose; so, they weighed anchor and began to sail past Crete, close to the shore. But soon a violent wind, called the northeaster, rushed down from Crete. Since the ship was caught and could not be turned with its head to the wind, we gave way to it and were driven. By running under the lee of a small island called Cauda we were scarcely able to get the ship’s boat under control. After hoisting it up they took measures to undergird the ship; then, fearing that they would run on the Syrtis, they lowered the sea-anchor and so were driven. We were being pounded by the storm so violently that on the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard, and on the third day with their own hands they threw the ship’s tackle overboard. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.
Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, ‘Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss. I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.” So, keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we will have to run aground on some island.’
When the fourteenth night had come, as we were drifting across the sea of Adria, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. So, they took soundings and found twenty fathoms; a little farther on they took soundings again and found fifteen fathoms. Fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. But when the sailors tried to escape from the ship and had lowered the boat into the sea, on the pretext of putting out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.’ Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the boat and set it adrift.
Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, ‘Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.’ After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves. (We were in all two hundred and seventy-six persons in the ship.) After they had satisfied their hunger, they lightened the ship by throwing the wheat into the sea.
In the morning, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned to run the ship ashore, if they could. So, they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea. At the same time, they loosened the ropes that tied the steering-oars; then hoisting the foresail to the wind, they made for the beach. But striking a reef, they ran the ship aground; the bow stuck and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the force of the waves. The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none might swim away and escape; Reflection Many years ago, I worked on-board ferries operating on the Irish Sea. This passage from Acts reminds me of many crossings where we set out in good weather and the conditions changed quickly and dramatically. This wasn’t always a problem on the conventional heavily built ships, but on an aluminium fast ferry, the motion and the pounding of the wind and the waves against the relatively light hull was, at times, quite pronounced.
While there is a real fear to being subjected to the power of the elements, being in stormy crossings have been the times in my life of faith where I have felt most acutely close to God.
Realising that God is in command of the elements and in the power of the storm; allowing myself to see quite plainly that I had no power at all over the waves through which we were battling or over the howling winds which unsettled and shook us allowed me to see that I didn’t need to have the answers for everything, God is in control.
Sailing into Douglas Isle of Man has its own quirks, my nautical friend tells me that this is due to the strong westerly winds and the converging north and south currents in the bay. This final part of the journey into port really can be the most demanding and the feeling of sailing into the stillness of the harbour is a welcome relief.
We all battle through storms of many forms, ones in nature and ones which rage within us. Each of them is real, powerful and can be incredibly challenging. The harbour lights can offer hope in the worst tempests and I believe that God is in the storm, guiding, supporting and offering much needed hope.
PrayerGod of the storm and the calm,
When we feel battered by the elements which rage around us,
offer us your reassurance and hope.
When we feel powerless to control what is happening to us and around us,
offer us your guiding light and course to travel.
When we desperately seek assurances
and long for security from the tempest,
offer us the safety of your calm waters and safe moorings.
Help us to create the places of safety for other people
as they weather their storms,
build in us the harbours of hope for the world around us.
Acts 27: 1-8When it was decided that we were to sail for Italy, they transferred Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort, named Julius. Embarking on a ship of Adramyttium that was about to set sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul kindly, and allowed him to go to his friends to be cared for. Putting out to sea from there, we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. After we had sailed across the sea that is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship bound for Italy and put us on board. We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind was against us, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. Sailing past it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea. Reflection
As Paul sets sail for Rome the opening verses of Acts 27 set the scene for the dramatic events that will unfold as the narrative develops. Although held in the custody of the Roman authorities, this is a journey Paul has instigated by making an appeal to the Emperor’s tribunal. Paul is in prison not because of any crimes he has committed but because the chief priests and the elders of the Jews had points of disagreement with him. The local authorities realise the nonsense of Paul’s imprisonment but it’s too late as has he has already made his appeal to the Emperor.
Verses 1 to 8 of Acts 27 give us the facts as Paul sets out on this journey.
Although Paul is travelling as someone in the custody of the Roman authorities, he is not like the other prisoners. They would be condemned men on their way to face death in the arena. Paul has acquaintances on board, either travelling undercover as his slaves or as a paying passenger and a ship’s doctor. The centurion charged with this prisoner transfer recognises Paul’s status and is perhaps interested in his message so cuts him some slack. The detail of the route and mention of the ships taken makes it easy for us to plot on a map and appreciate the extent of this journey. The reporting of the wind conditions being against them hints of what is to come and emphasises that even on the first stage of this voyage to Rome it is no pleasant Mediterranean cruise.
Journeying is a common Biblical theme. In these verses we are reminded that we may be able to influence aspects of our life experience and have the support of those around us but we are not in control. Sometimes we have to just go with it, face the challenges and make the best of it especially when we are unsure or anxious about where this journey will take us.
Paul embarks on this journey with confidence as he has already disclosed in Acts 26 verse 22; “to this day I have had help from God”.
PrayerAll knowing and ever present God,
Give me the courage to face the journey ahead.
Give me the confidence to trust in you.
Enable me to make the best of whatever I face.
And flood my heart and my mind with your grace.
Acts 26: 2 - 32‘I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am to make my defence today against all the accusations of the Jews, because you are especially familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews; therefore I beg of you to listen to me patiently.
‘All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, a life spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I have belonged to the strictest sect of our religion and lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship day and night. It is for this hope, your Excellency, that I am accused by Jews! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
‘Indeed, I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is what I did in Jerusalem; with authority received from the chief priests, I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, but I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death. By punishing them often in all the synagogues I tried to force them to blaspheme; and since I was so furiously enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities. ‘With this in mind, I was travelling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.” I asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The Lord answered, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
‘After that, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the countryside of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance.For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had help from God, and so I stand here, testifying to both small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would take place: that the Messiah must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.’
While he was making this defence, Festus exclaimed, ‘You are out of your mind, Paul! Too much learning is driving you insane!’ But Paul said, ‘I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth. Indeed the king knows about these things, and to him I speak freely; for I am certain that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.’ Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?’ Paul replied, ‘Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am—except for these chains.’
Then the king got up, and with him the governor and Bernice and those who had been seated with them; and as they were leaving, they said to one another, ‘This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.’ Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to the emperor.’ Reflection The Paul we encounter in the narrative woven by Luke is markedly different to the Paul we hear in the Epistles. The priority for the Paul of the Epistles is the tension between Judaism and the followers of the Rabbi of Nazareth. In the intervening period, before Luke constructs the appearance of Paul on trial before Agrippa and Festus, the priorities have shifted. The threat to the survival and growth of the Christian Church is no longer a conservative Jewish faith but the Roman Empire with all its power and control. The Paul we hear on trial in Caesarea has shifted the discussion to one of relationship with the secular power of the day and his chosen technique is one of engagement not confrontation.
The dark and sinister stain of anti-Semitism has been present in much of Christian history in part because we have not taken notice of the shifts which are evident in the writings of the Christian scriptures. The Paul of Acts is able to argue that his differences with the faith of Judaism are not a threat to the stability of the secular world nor ones that require state interference. Paul is building bridges not identifying enemies. In this last major discourse Paul offers a pattern of evangelism that is personal yet one that pulses with integrity. He doesn’t need to accuse or point fingers; he talks about how his experience of the Risen Christ motivates and empowers him. It is hope for the future that is a recurring theme. No threat of insurrection but complete witness to the resurrection. The saccharine coated personal witness statements that emerge in today’s Christianity are eclipsed by a hard wrestled and resilient faith able to withstand everything that is thrown against it.
Lest we should imagine that Luke portrays Paul as an appeaser we should take note that the carefully crafted address points out that the state is not competent to rule on theological matters. Engagement is the way forward but one that respects and does not ignore the limits that honest dialogue requires. The story of the Christian Church might have been very different if we had been more robust in respecting the boundaries between state and church. It will be a healthy church that stops looking for divisions and is empowered by hope.
PrayerForgive us Lord when we claim to have found you
and then try to mould you into our comfort zones.
Grant us the confidence to know that it is you who has found us
and in that belonging we can find the courage to speak of you.
We welcome engagement with the world we live in
and will witness to our experience of you with integrity and humility.
Keep us focussed on the future that is yours with hope and joy.
Acts 25: 13 - 26:1After several days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to welcome Festus. Since they were staying there several days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying,
“There is a man here who was left in prison by Felix. When I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me about him and asked for a sentence against him. I told them that it was not the custom of the Romans to hand over anyone before the accused had met the accusers face to face and had been given an opportunity to make a defence against the charge. So when they met here, I lost no time, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. When the accusers stood up, they did not charge him with any of the crimes that I was expecting. Instead they had certain points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. Since I was at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wished to go to Jerusalem and be tried there on these charges. But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of his Imperial Majesty, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to the emperor.”
Agrippa said to Festus,
“I would like to hear the man myself.”
“Tomorrow,” he said, “you will hear him.”
So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then Festus gave the order and Paul was brought in. And Festus said,
“King Agrippa and all here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish community petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. But I found that he had done nothing deserving death; and when he appealed to his Imperial Majesty, I decided to send him. But I have nothing definite to write to our sovereign about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write— for it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner without indicating the charges against him.”
Agrippa said to Paul,
“You have permission to speak for yourself.”
Then Paul stretched out his hand and began to defend himself: Reflection Paul stretched out his hand and began….
As I read, reread and contemplated this passage my focus was repeatedly drawn to this clause and as I interrogated that internal response I wondered;
- Why focus on the very end of the passage that we are exploring today?
- Why indeed are we considering this sentence with today’s passage and not tomorrow?
- Is there a liminality dynamic at work here?
- Is this a formula pointing readers towards a deeper interpretation?
Paul’s use of the gesture here discloses him as an educated man one who is apparently at ease addressing the company gathered in the Caesarea audience hall. He does not seem to be daunted by the grandeur of the place or the collection of this most Roman of Judean town’s great and good alongside Agrippa and his entourage.
Festus we can see appears to be an honourable and responsible Governor neither washing his hands of his inherited prisoner nor failing to respect his predecessor’s approach and seems to be more than happy to consult Agrippa with his inherent knowledge of all things Jewish and of their interfacing with those following Christ. Perhaps he could tap into Agrippa’s insights in order to formulate an appropriate charge to be forwarded to Rome.
Paul clearly had the wit to navigate the legal system (his use of his right of appeal, as a Roman citizen, to the Emperor discloses this) and the ability to speak up for himself and so, I wondered, why had he allowed matters to escalate over a period of two years to risk this hand-stretching moment?
Might it be that it best suited his purpose, that playing the long game was of greater benefit to his goal than a quicker fix?
Paul was being held within the Governor’s palace and was privileged to receive visitors (including his companion Luke who was probably making use of the time afforded to write his accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry and of the acts of the apostles) this does not exactly equate to doing hard time. He therefore had had abundant opportunities to share the good news of the Christ and now after two years preparation time Paul stretched out his hand to preach the sermon of his life!
God of all imagination
Help us not to be an only reactive people
but rather to see the value of looking ahead
and choosing our moments for your mission.
Give us Paul’s wit and ability to speak up,
his patience to bide his time,
recognising the pause as a gift from you,
in order to make the moments count for you.
Hildegard, Abbess of Bingen
1 Corinthians 2. 9-13
‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.
God was revealed to Hildegard in vivid ways: in visions that were in images, music, words and the natural world. And she saw evil in the world, the injustice, the corruption of Church and State and the violation of the natural world. The ‘Word of God burnt in her heart and bones’ but for the first half of her life she kept silent, for how could she, a woman, make her voice heard when her superiors told her it was not her place to speak out? Then, during her 43rd year she was taken up in a radiant vision in which she was told to ‘tell and write what you see and hear.’ She describes the words flowing from her in a torrent, a great overflowing of God’s Spirit. Her timidity overcome, Hildegard became the inspirational leader of a small community of women which learned to believe in their own gifts and strengths and found new ways to worship God through their music, poetry and drama. In the strength of the Spirit, Hildegard preached God’s justice, spoke against the corruption that was rife in the Church and State and wrote extensively about social justice and freeing the oppressed.
She always doubted her own capabilities but trusted God to carry her as a feather, which, without strength of its own, is carried on the breath of the wind.
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit…
Hildegard had kept silent for half her life and spoken out for half. Perhaps she had found the right balance: taking in, receiving and giving out. In and out – like breathing – like the breath of God.
PrayerImagine a feather….
Feel the strength of the central quill and see how the filaments are attached to it and grow from it.
Without that central strength, the feather would bend and break.
Give thanks for your faith and all that nurtures it.
See the individual filaments and how they cling together with interlocking hooks or barbs.
Individually they are useless but together they form a versatile and useful body covering.
Give thanks for your individuality and for the communities to which you belong.
Feel the downy fluffiness of the feather, which provides warmth and insulation.
Thank God for your clothes and homes and remember those who have neither.
Give thanks that you are carried on the breath of God.
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your sacred dwelling-place?
And who upon your holy hill
may live before your face?
Whoever walks a blameless path,
who acts in righteousness,
And who will always from the heart
sincerely truth express.
He casts no slur on anyone
nor does his neighbour wrong;
He has no spite within his heart
or slander on his tongue.
He honours those who fear the LORD;
the worthless he’ll despise.
He keeps the oath which he has sworn,
however high the price.
He lends his money at no charge;
no bribe can he endure.
Those who behave in life like this
will always stand secure.
You can hear a Free Church congregation sing this to the tune Graefenerg here. Reflection We perhaps expect Psalms to be emotional, praising and lamenting and expressing our human feelings. Psalm 15 is more practical, offering us wisdom and talking to us today about our walk with God, that ever-present theme of discipleship.
Who can live in God’s tent, on his holy hill? For us today, this isn’t a question about a geographical place, but a way of life, of discipleship and nearness to God. A way of life lived with integrity, a journey walked in the way.
Our psalm gives us some pointers on discipleship:
- Speaking the truth, keeping our promises.
- Loving our neighbour, avoiding gossip.
- Spending wisely, not allowing money to cloud our decisions
But this isn’t a list of things we need to tick off to get our names on the list for that holy hill. It is God who creates these qualities in us. We have been made into disciples through God’s grace, and he invites us to walk the way on his holy hill.
This is a pretty wonderful assurance, in that last line, that if we walk with God in discipleship, if we let God create those qualities in us, we can be confident that we will stand secure in our relationship with God.
We give thanks for the invitation to walk the way with you.
Help us to step out with integrity,
so that those that witness our walking will want to walk with us.
Help us to treat those we meet with respect,
o be trustworthy travellers of the way,
attracting others to closer relationship with you.
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Acts 25: 1-12Three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem where the chief priests and the leaders of the Jews gave him a report against Paul. They appealed to him and requested, as a favor to them against Paul, to have him transferred to Jerusalem. They were, in fact, planning an ambush to kill him along the way. Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea, and that he himself intended to go there shortly. "So," he said, "let those of you who have the authority come down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them accuse him." After he had stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea; the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. When he arrived, the Jews who had gone down from Jerusalem surrounded him, bringing many serious charges against him, which they could not prove. Paul said in his defense, "I have in no way committed an offense against the law of the Jews, or against the temple, or against the emperor." But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, asked Paul, "Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and be tried there before me on these charges?" Paul said, "I am appealing to the emperor's tribunal; this is where I should be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you very well know. Now if I am in the wrong and have committed something for which I deserve to die, I am not trying to escape death; but if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can turn me over to them. I appeal to the emperor." Then Festus, after he had conferred with his council, replied, "You have appealed to the emperor; to the emperor you will go." Reflection So . . . . after two years in prison (though with a good bit of freedom) a new governor. Will Festus be more just? The Jews have another go at Paul! The plot to kill him reappears. The Jews want Paul brought to their seat of power, Jerusalem, rather than the Roman HQ, Caesarea. At least there, they will have ‘home advantage’, even if the plot fails again.
Amazingly, the governor gives Paul the choice of where he wishes to be tried. And Paul isn’t daft! He has spent all this time in prison at the hands of a governor who is no better than he ought to be. He still protests his innocence. Despite all that has happened to him, Paul still knows that Roman justice is best.
Paul’s adventures are not yet over, as we shall see in the final chapters of Acts. He will tell his story before this Roman governor, and his puppet king, Agrippa. I wonder if Paul has another motive in appealing to the Emperor. He knows that this is the way he can get his message onto the world stage.
PrayerGod, all the universe is yours.
Help us to be like Paul -
looking to share the message of your love as widely as we possibly can -
even to the ends of the earth. Amen
Acts 24: 22-27But Felix, who was rather well informed about the Way, adjourned the hearing with the comment, "When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case." Then he ordered the centurion to keep him in custody, but to let him have some liberty and not to prevent any of his friends from taking care of his needs. Some days later when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him speak concerning faith in Christ Jesus. And as he discussed justice, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, "Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will send for you." At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul, and for that reason he used to send for him very often and converse with him. After two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and since he wanted to grant the Jews a favour, Felix left Paul in prison. Reflection Hmmm! Governor Felix is in a quandary! In his gut he knows that there’s nothing in these charges against Paul. But politics rears its ugly head! And personal guilt. And marital relations. And bribery (or the hope of it). There’s everything here!
How did the author of Acts get all this inside information? Is this the author’s imagination at work? Once again, we can only guess.
What we do know, in our own day, as in every age, is that politics, guilt, personal interest all influence even the wisest of people, and when people have power, those influences can affect the lives of many.
I remember the owner of an engineering business being personally upset that he had to make some of his workers redundant. When I took the ‘side’ of the workers, he said that if he kept them on, the business would not survive, and everyone would be redundant. Was he honest about the effect of his own personal stake in the business?
We cannot help such factors influencing us, but we need to practise being aware of them so that we can be as fair as possible.
PrayerGod, you have no ‘motive’ except creative love.
Help us, when our motives become tangled,
to find your Way of Love. Amen
Acts 24: 10-21When the governor motioned to him to speak, Paul replied: "I cheerfully make my defense, knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation. As you can find out, it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem. They did not find me disputing with anyone in the temple or stirring up a crowd either in the synagogues or throughout the city. Neither can they prove to you the charge that they now bring against me. But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets. I have a hope in God--a hope that they themselves also accept--that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. Therefore I do my best always to have a clear conscience toward God and all people. Now after some years I came to bring alms to my nation and to offer sacrifices. While I was doing this, they found me in the temple, completing the rite of purification, without any crowd or disturbance. But there were some Jews from Asia--they ought to be here before you to make an accusation, if they have anything against me. Or let these men here tell what crime they had found when I stood before the council, unless it was this one sentence that I called out while standing before them, 'It is about the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.'" Reflection So what is the ‘beef’ the Jews have with Paul? It seems it’s personal. In this last part of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, although the author often uses ‘we’, he is really telling Paul’s story.
Paul insists to Festus that he has done nothing wrong, either towards his Jewish heritage or towards Rome. He has simply, and peacefully, gone about his (Jewish) religious duties. He wonders himself, in this odd sentence, whether it is because he shouted out ‘It is about the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’ When was this? Who did he shout it to? We don’t know. It’s not clear. Is this the author putting his own ideas in? Scholars may guess.
For myself, I wonder if it is because Paul is enthusiastic about telling people about Jesus. Paul is fearlessly joyful about insisting that Jesus is alive. Maybe this is not just about the general theory of resurrection, which lots of Jews believe anyway. Maybe it is the particular resurrection of one man - Jesus - that people are upset about. That and Paul’s enthusiasm about it.
PrayerGod of Joy,
when we are in danger
of reducing our faith to a mere set of beliefs,
reinvigorate us with the Joy of New Life
that Jesus brings.
Acts 24: 1 -10Five days later the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and an attorney, a certain Tertullus, and they reported their case against Paul to the governor. When Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying: "Your Excellency, because of you we have long enjoyed peace, and reforms have been made for this people because of your foresight. We welcome this in every way and everywhere with utmost gratitude. But, to detain you no further, I beg you to hear us briefly with your customary graciousness. We have, in fact, found this man a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, and so we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn from him concerning everything of which we accuse him." The Jews also joined in the charge by asserting that all this was true. Reflection The lawyer, Tertullus, brought by the Jewish leaders to Caesarea is so OTT, so lawyerly, so oily in his buttering up of the Roman Governor, this could almost be a pantomime! Or is this the author of Acts being ironic? The plot has failed, so now these Jews must resort to the law!
After the buttering-up of the Governor, they try a two-pronged attack on Paul. First, Tertullus appeals to the Governor’s wish for order and peace, trying to set Felix against Paul as an ‘agitator’. Then he appeals to the Roman uniformity, trying to marginalise Paul as a ‘ringleader of the sect of the Nazarene’.
Perhaps this is the time to ask what this group of Jews had against Paul and the Christians. In the words of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ - “Why do the nations so furiously rage together? And why do the people imagine a vain thing?”
For me, the ‘vain thing’ is when one group is so sure they are ‘right’ that anyone who doesn’t agree is not only ‘wrong’ but ‘subhuman’ and therefore worthy to be eliminated. They need to ‘purify’ the human race from everything outside their definition of ‘rightness’.
So this group of Jews was so sure of their interpretation of the Torah, they believed the ‘Nazarene’ and his followers must be purged.
Now, I know some people would say I am a wet liberal, but I don’t think I could ever be so sure of anything in my faith that I could purge another human being for believing differently. What about you?
you know what is right,
and you show us your Way in Jesus.
Forgive us when we make mistakes and misunderstand.
Keep us from being so certain
that we make others bear the burden of our certainty.
Acts 23: 23 - 35Then he summoned two of the centurions and said, "Get ready to leave by nine o'clock tonight for Caesarea with two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen. Also provide mounts for Paul to ride, and take him safely to Felix the governor." He wrote a letter to this effect: "Claudius Lysias to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them, but when I had learned that he was a Roman citizen, I came with the guard and rescued him. Since I wanted to know the charge for which they accused him, I had him brought to their council. I found that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but was charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. When I was informed that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him." So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him during the night to Antipatris. The next day they let the horsemen go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. When they came to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. On reading the letter, he asked what province he belonged to, and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, he said, "I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive." Then he ordered that he be kept under guard in Herod's headquarters. Reflection Wow! Serious protection! 470 soldiers to protect one man! The plotters outnumbered 10 to 1! And a letter of safe passage from the Tribune to the Governor. Paul was certainly seeing the benefit of his Roman citizenship. And no doubt he was grateful for the Roman respect for the rules of evidence and due process. Roman rule respected minorities. It could look uniform, but there was a place for (almost) everyone. However, perhaps Tribune Lysias knew a religious fanatic when he saw one, and he was going to have no shenanigans on his watch!
Often times God gives us protection through human agency. And not always through God-fearing, or even God-believing agency.
Paul was a citizen three times over. He was a citizen of Rome, under Rome’s law, but also due Rome’s protection. He was a Jew, subject to the Torah - but also entitled to a fair hearing from the Jewish lawyers. Finally Paul was a citizen of the Kingdom inaugurated by Jesus - the Kingdom ‘whose armies we may not see’. Paul was glad of Rome, he was faithful to his Jewish heritage, but his final, total loyalty was to Jesus. What about us?
when our faithfulness and loyalty are challenged,
help us to keep in mind where we truly belong,
and give us the courage to stay faithful. Amen
For the next 6 days the Rev’d Peter Rand is going to help us explore the passage between Acts 23 and 25 where a conspiracy against Paul is played out.
In the morning the Jews joined in a conspiracy and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who joined in this conspiracy. They went to the chief priests and elders and said, "We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the council must notify the tribune to bring him down to you, on the pretext that you want to make a more thorough examination of his case. And we are ready to do away with him before he arrives." Now the son of Paul's sister heard about the ambush; so he went and gained entrance to the barracks and told Paul. Paul called one of the centurions and said, "Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to report to him." So he took him, brought him to the tribune, and said, "The prisoner Paul called me and asked me to bring this young man to you; he has something to tell you." The tribune took him by the hand, drew him aside privately, and asked, "What is it that you have to report to me?" He answered, "The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more thoroughly into his case. But do not be persuaded by them, for more than forty of their men are lying in ambush for him. They have bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink until they kill him. They are ready now and are waiting for your consent." So the tribune dismissed the young man, ordering him, "Tell no one that you have informed me of this."
Just because I’m paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me! A plot! A plot by righteous men! So righteous they could take an oath to deny themselves food and drink till it was carried out, to prove they had God on their side.
Acts 23: 12 - 22
Three times the author reminds us of this oath. Does he want us to be quite sure that these were righteous, religious me, led by their faith, or is he telling us, ironically, that these were fanatics? It’s a fine line between fervour and fanaticism.
These Jews truly believed that Paul was perverting the pure jewish faith. He was leading people astray. He was putting people’s eternal souls at risk. He needed to be stopped. It was just as the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, 30 years earlier, had believed about Jesus.
Is it ever right to act against what we believe to be evil? How far can we go?
PrayerWise and righteous God,
teach us, day by day,
to follow Jesus on the Way of your Wisdom
- your Way of Righteousness. Amen.
“There is no God,” he says.
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
none walk in godly ways.
The LORD looks down from heaven
upon the human race,
To see if any understand,
if any seek God’s face.
They all have turned aside;
corrupt they have become.
Not one of them does any good—
no, not a single one.
Will sinners never learn?
My people they’ve devoured
As if they were consuming bread;
they never seek the LORD.
Struck down they are with dread,
for God is with the just.
You evildoers shame the poor,
but in the LORD they trust.
May help from Zion come,
the LORD his captives bring!
And then let Jacob’s tribes rejoice;
let Isr’el gladly sing
The editors of Sing Psalms suggest this is sung to either Southwell or the tune Selma which you can hear sung here.
Like God in the story of Noah, the Psalmist is frustrated with the magnitude of humanity’s corruption and ignorance to not do good, to not act wisely seeking God. Yet at the same time the Psalmist has hope, seated in a deep trust that God is the refuge for the most vulnerable to humanity’s corruption (the poor) and that God is with those still trying to do good in the midst of the corruption. The psalmist wants God to send help, deliverance.
These feelings and perceptions are real for us today. Frustration at the magnitude of humanity’s corruption as we see communities in Bangladesh flood due to global warming, or patterns of violence or prejudice passed on from parent to child. Frustration that we passively and actively collude with humanity’s corruption often in wilful ignorance, living as part of the wealthy western world.
But the Psalmist shows that alongside frustration, hope can also exist. Hope in the trust that God is with the most vulnerable and with those who work for good / justice even in situations where they seem to be working against the prevailing current. Hope that God will bring deliverance, even if that means the flooding and washing away of what are familiar but corrupt systems, practices and perceptions, in order to birth a new world.
Not for the faint hearted but deeply hopeful for all who struggle.
PrayerGod of Justice and Hope
We give thanks for your Wisdom;
Wisdom which shows us the Way of Abundant Life for all.
We bring to you the tears of people and of the planet
oppressed by the corruption of foolish greed
and prejudice which denies your Way.
Forgive us for the active and passive ways which we have colluded with this corruption.
Strengthen the hands of all who oppose its’ current and work for good.
May all oppressed know you as their refuge and hope.
Wash away the shackles of ignorance and corruption
in our minds and world,
that we may be reborn
into the freedom of Abundant Life for all.
Free Church of Scotland
15 North Bank Street
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Acts 23: 1-11While Paul was looking intently at the council he said,
‘Brothers, up to this day I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God.’
Then the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near him to strike him on the mouth. At this Paul said to him,
‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting there to judge me according to the law, and yet in violation of the law you order me to be struck?’
Those standing nearby said,
‘Do you dare to insult God’s high priest?’
And Paul said,
‘I did not realise, brothers, that he was high priest; for it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a leader of your people.”
When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council,
‘Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.’
When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.) Then a great clamour arose, and certain scribes of the Pharisees’ group stood up and contended,
‘We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?’
When the dissension became violent, the tribune, fearing that they would tear Paul to pieces, ordered the soldiers to go down, take him by force, and bring him into the barracks.
That night the Lord stood near him and said,
‘Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.’ Reflection The back story:
There's a lot going on in this passage, and little of it is actually about Paul!
The Pharisees and Sadducees are political and religious rivals locked in a perpetual power struggle for control of what is orthodox.
The Sadducees are the traditionalists, the elites, the ruling class. Historically they control the Sanhedrin and the temple. Politically, (for expedience sake), they are often in collusion with Rome. Religiously, they reject newer traditions (the Prophets) and therefore they are not only against the idea of angels, the spirit, and resurrection - but what they regard as Scripture does not contain the traditions of restorative justice for the oppressed.
On this analysis it would seem the Sadducees (and not so much the Pharisees) are diametrically opposed to Jesus, the Gospel, and the ministry of Paul.
Paul will of course know all of this. He is on trial at the hands of vested interests and powerful people.
So Paul does what Paul, and the Gospel he proclaims, does best - holds a mirror to those in power, and declares them a 'whitewashed wall’, implying to the high priest that he does not follow his own laws and hides behind a thin veil of respectability.
At such a cutting remark I doubt it is simply Paul’s insolence which prompts the high priest to lash out. Paul has spoken the truth to power, which always provokes a response, usually a violent one.
Paul speaks this truth in the name of Jesus Christ, who could not be silenced, and if Paul is correct about the Resurrection, this truth could not be silenced even by death! If Jesus is raised from the dead the Sadducees have a lot to lose, indeed for Paul, they have already lost. Resurrection is the beginning of the end of the status quo, God is setting the world to rights, it has already begun.
So what began in Jesus, (or as Paul uses elsewhere in his defence, began with the Prophets) is proclaimed in word and deed by Paul, has been passed on to us. Not only to worship the God of Jesus and Paul in song, prayer, and preaching. Not simply to build a Church with open doors, hearts, and minds. But to hold a mirror to those in power, and proclaim justice not as punishment of transgressors, but as an equal sharing of the good things of the earth.
Not easy, so ‘keep up your courage’.
PrayerGod who stands with us and speaks through us whenever we speak truth to power,
we commit ourselves to standing with the weak, the powerless, the poor,
the abandoned, the sick, the old, the young,
and those who, by victim of circumstance and oppression of the elite,
bear the heaviest burdens.
We commit ourselves to work and pray for the time
where everything will be reversed,
where the first will be last
and the last will be first,
and all will be well.
In the name of Jesus Christ
and the power of the resurrection.
Acts 22: 22 - 30Up to this point they listened to him, but then they shouted, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.’ And while they were shouting, throwing off their cloaks, and tossing dust into the air, the tribune directed that he was to be brought into the barracks, and ordered him to be examined by flogging, to find out the reason for this outcry against him. But when they had tied him up with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, ‘Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who is uncondemned?’ When the centurion heard that, he went to the tribune and said to him, ‘What are you about to do? This man is a Roman citizen.’ The tribune came and asked Paul, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ The tribune answered, ‘It cost me a large sum of money to get my citizenship.’ Paul said, ‘But I was born a citizen.’ Immediately those who were about to examine him drew back from him; and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him. Since he wanted to find out what Paul was being accused of by the Jews, the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and the entire council to meet. He brought Paul down and had him stand before them. Reflection The story of Paul continues. Arrested in the Temple and taken bound in chains to the Roman citadel, Paul was allowed by the Tribune to address the Hebrew crowd. At first, they listened to him, but they become inflamed and demand his life. Not understanding what all the fuss was about, and getting no sense from the crowd, the Tribune decided that Paul should be interrogated. Thinking that Paul was a mere Jew (v.13) this would include flogging – strictly lawful only in the case of slaves and the low-born. When he has been strung up, Paul decides to play his ace: he is a Roman citizen! Everyone is aghast since they had already done enough to ensure that should Paul choose to complain, they would be punished severely. The sensible thing for the Tribune to do at this point is to send Paul to stand in front of the Jewish authorities, which is what he does.
In this passage, the author parallels the predicament that Paul finds himself in with the trial of Jesus, but with one crucial difference. Jesus does nothing to save himself: Paul claims privilege to short circuit the proceedings.
Many of us have privileges of one sort or another, ranging from the trivial to the important. Maybe a Frequent Flier card allows us to jump the queue at the airport, saving our precious time. Maybe we have a passport allowing us to cross borders without being interrogated as to our motives or financial status; or a bank card giving access to money.
Privilege is not in itself necessarily a bad thing. Like so much else, it is how we use privilege that is important. If we use privilege to open doors to justice and peace; or to liberate resources to help someone in need; then privilege is well used. If we use privilege to feather our own nests, privilege is abused.
Perhaps Paul in exercising the privilege of Roman citizenship sought to avoid the pain of laceration of the flesh of his back. Perhaps he sought more time to preach the Gospel of Christ Jesus.
Help us to realise how privileged we are:
how our lifestyle is so much better than many whose opportunity is limited
and whose lives are constrained
by rules imposed by others.
When we run up against difficult situations guide us so that we use the resources we command for the benefit of all and not just ourselves. Amen