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With every good wish
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Acts 22: 1 - 21Paul said:
“My fellow Jews, listen to me as I make my defence before you!”
When they heard him speaking to them in Hebrew, they became even quieter; and Paul went on:
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up here in Jerusalem as a student of Gamaliel. I received strict instruction in the Law of our ancestors and was just as dedicated to God as are all of you who are here today. I persecuted to the death the people who followed this Way. I arrested men and women and threw them into prison. The High Priest and the whole Council can prove that I am telling the truth. I received from them letters written to fellow Jews in Damascus, so I went there to arrest these people and bring them back in chains to Jerusalem to be punished.
“As I was traveling and coming near Damascus, about midday a bright light from the sky flashed suddenly around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you persecute,’ he said to me. 9The men with me saw the light, but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. I asked, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ and the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told everything that God has determined for you to do.’ I was blind because of the bright light, and so my companions took me by the hand and led me into Damascus.
“In that city was a man named Ananias, a religious man who obeyed our Law and was highly respected by all the Jews living there. He came to me, stood by me, and said, ‘Brother Saul, see again!’ At that very moment I saw again and looked at him. He said, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see his righteous Servant, and to hear him speaking with his own voice. For you will be a witness for him to tell everyone what you have seen and heard. And now, why wait any longer? Get up and be baptized and have your sins washed away by praying to him.’
“I went back to Jerusalem, and while I was praying in the Temple, I had a vision, in which I saw the Lord, as he said to me, ‘Hurry and leave Jerusalem quickly, because the people here will not accept your witness about me.’ ‘Lord,’ I answered, ‘they know very well that I went to the synagogues and arrested and beat those who believe in you. And when your witness Stephen was put to death, I myself was there, approving of his murder and taking care of the cloaks of his murderers.’ ‘Go,’ the Lord said to me, ‘for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” Reflection A persecutor is sent out to preach to the persecuted.
As Paul makes his defence, we might wonder at his calling: Who is this man, that God has called him? Saul, by his own admission, was a persecutor; an oppressor. He sought out Christians - because their beliefs and ways of life were different than his own - and arrested, assaulted and murdered them. In an ironic twist God, having opened Paul's eyes to the genuine and beautiful diversity of those around him, sends him out to those who are persecuted and excluded by Christians, the gentiles. Paul is converted from a religiously conservative persecutor to a religiously liberal (for his time!) liberator.
Where is the message in this for us today? This reflection will be published at the start of September, when I will be helping tutors and students to prepare for a new academic year at Westminster College as we prepare for, and share in, the ministry of the Church. We are all like Paul, to an extent. We are not the obvious choice. We are those who have not accessed higher/further education before, those who have previously been excluded from public positions on grounds of race, gender or sexuality, those who have been asked to leave churches because we were just a little different.
Like Paul, some of us have had vast theological shifts during our training: from conservative to liberal. From oppressor to liberator. From liberal to moderate. Or from labelled to firmly denying that these theological labels can exist or make sense. Like Paul, we find ourselves in a place and time where community matters more than labels and sharing the Gospel message, today, means speaking our truths. We might wonder at our calling. You might wonder at our calling. But, we are called, as we are. Are you called? Will you live your truth? Will you allow your eyes to be opened to diversity?
That diversity leads us to the second message for us today. Paul is sent out to speak to those who early Christians persecuted: the gentiles. In fact, he frequently has to chastise his siblings in Christ for their mistreatment of those who are different: pointing out that the law was given for some; whilst this new experience... Christ... Grace... has been given for all. Paul does not believe that the gentiles should be oppressed, forced to live under Israelite law. Instead, he believes that God's grace frees them from legal obligation and inspires them to new life.
Who do Christians persecute today? Who do I persecute? Who do you persecute? Can we stop?
PrayerGod, Creator, Liberator and Sustainer,
You create, re-create and call each one of us every day. Help us to hear your call and put down our weapons. Help us to hear your call and tear up our labels. Help us to hear your call and unlock the prisons of ideology which hold us captive. Help us to hear your call.
You liberate the oppressed and open the eyes of the oppressor. Help us to open our eyes and to see the truth. Help us to open our eyes and to notice those we oppress or shut out. Help us to open our eyes and to witness the diversity of your creation. Help us to open our eyes.
You sustain each and every one of us. Help us to open our mouths and taste the joy of your creation. Help us to open our mouths and speak our truths. Help us to open our mouths and speak up for those who have been silenced. Help us to open our mouths.
We commit today to creative ideas, liberative practices and sustaining stories,
Acts 21: 27-40When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd. They seized him, shouting,
‘Fellow-Israelites, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place; more than that, he has actually brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.’
For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. Then all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. While they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. Immediately he took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. When they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the tribune came, arrested him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; he inquired who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing, some another; and as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. When Paul came to the steps, the violence of the mob was so great that he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting,
‘Away with him!’
Just as Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune,
‘May I say something to you?’
The tribune replied,
‘Do you know Greek? Then you are not the Egyptian who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?’
‘I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of an important city; I beg you, let me speak to the people.’
When he had given him permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the people for silence; and when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language. Reflection Paul’s conversion, on his way to Damascus, possibly the most iconic testimony of all time, was certainly dramatic and had a significant impact on both early church growth and the development of Christianity. Pauls’ story has encouraged and inspired faith in Jesus ever since.
As an evangelism and renewal advocate for GEAR, I have visited a number of URCs to teach on the subject of evangelism. I have on occasions used Paul’s testimony as an illustration, that anybody can be saved, even the self-confessed ‘worst of sinners’. As we consider our conversion, our beginnings with God, whether it’s dramatic like Paul’s, or more gradual, like most of us. It is important to share our story. Sometimes we may be reluctant to tell our story, particularly if we feel it’s unremarkable. But all testimony has real potential to encourage and ignite the gift of faith in others.
Take a moment to reflect on your story, pray that God will help you to begin to share your story with others.
PrayerLord thank you for the many ways in which you have touched my life and blessed me.
Please give me courage, through your Holy Spirit,
to share my story with others,
so it in turn may be an encouragement, blessing and inspiration to them,
Acts 21: 15 - 26After these days we got ready and started to go up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came along and brought us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to stay.
When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law. But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them. Reflection Luke’s telling moves from travelogue to negotiation weighed down with unease as Paul reaches Jerusalem and James and the other leaders of the early Church respond to news of his Gentile missionary successes. Whilst there surely was rejoicing at the stories of conversion there is also deep alarm at the potential backlash amongst Jewish converts to the way of Jesus. Probably it is Pentecost again in Jerusalem and the city, crowded with pilgrims and the nervous soldiers of the empire, is a fertile place of faith and fear.
Stories swirl around Paul’s activities. There are those who speak against him amongst the Jews within and beyond the Christian communities, accusing him of denying the Laws of Moses symbolised especially in his denial of circumcision and ritual cleanliness. These are the undercurrents of opposition we hear Paul responding to in letters like Corinthians, Philippians and Romans. In preaching salvation as God’s gift of grace embraced through faith in Christ Paul opens himself to allegations of negating Jewish faithfulness. In highlighting one vital thread of faith, Paul can be caricatured as opposing others.
Time for something of a public relations exercise! It seems four Jewish members of the church have taken vows, perhaps like the Nazirite one Paul himself took (Acts 18:18). According to Jewish law accidental defilement after taking such a vow can be addressed by a week of purification, shaving the head and offering sacrifice (Numbers 6:1-21). Paul is to cover their costs and join them publically in the process. He is to underline his Jewish credentials. So he does.
Looking outwards, this text speaks of avoiding a fight in public that might damage the Christian community. The credibility and unity of the believing community is at stake here. Looking inwards, this text speaks of demonstrating to other believers the authenticity of faithfulness when it might be open to question. That has a very contemporary resonance.Think of the debates that strain and divide denominations and traditions and local congregations. Whether it’s over our sexuality and relationships, our attitudes to war, our understandings of scripture or ordination or a host of other fundamentals we have to navigate the tumult as did James, Paul and the others. If we are to bear witness to the light of the glorious Gospel then that same light needs to shine in how we deal with one another. What might this mean for us in our context today? What does God demand of us as we live alongside others? What does humility invite us to let go of or accept? When might being right trap us in self-righteousness whilst God asks of us something bigger?
in the midst of the choices we must make
come alive through your Spirit amongst us.
In the name of Jesus Christ open our hearts and imaginations
to the promptings of your Word and the wisdom of others.
Hold us accountable.
Help us to hear your voice
so we know and do the truth.
Acts 21: 1-14When we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. When we found a ship bound for Phoenicia, we went on board and set sail. We came in sight of Cyprus; and leaving it on our left, we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there. We looked up the disciples and stayed there for seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When our days there were ended, we left and proceeded on our journey; and all of them, with wives and children, escorted us outside the city. There we knelt down on the beach and prayed and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home.
When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais; and we greeted the believers and stayed with them for one day. The next day we left and came to Caesarea; and we went into the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy. While we were staying there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came to us and took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, “The Lord’s will be done.” Reflection We continue our journey with Paul as he and his companions wend their way across a corner of the ancient world. There are ships to find, cargoes to unload, winds to wait for, greetings and farewells. In all the journeys described here cover something like 500 miles. The places mentioned are a mixture of the significant and the less important; a glimpse of the ancient map of power and economics, learning and empires. Cos had a famous medical school and was the centre of Jewish life in the Aegean. Tyre was a gateway trading port into the Roman province of Syria. Caesarea was the centre for Roman administration of Judea.
It seems Paul is revisiting communities of Christians he knows. At least twice earlier in Acts Paul is in Caesarea (9:30; 18:22) and he would probably have used Ptolemais as a stop-over (11:30; 12:25; 15:3). We glimpse something of the fledgling churches that are emerging in these places so that the party are welcomed into believers’ homes, prayer and worship are offered, news and teaching shared. It seems, if we have the chronology and names right, that the Philip mentioned in our passage is the one who settles in Caesarea some twenty years earlier (8:4).
What can we, so long after, discover in these snippets of a travel journal?
We see the gentle outworking of the reality of the kingdom of God that Jesus alerts us to in parables of a mustard seed and yeast growing; a small beginning that, invisibly at first, transforms with abundance (Luke 13:18 – 21). Here are the first fruits of the followers of Jesus; Easter and Pentecost becoming communities of hopefulness. Here is witness happening. The beginnings are small, practically invisible and often unnoticed amidst the hubbub of the surrounding society. But God is changing the world as these women and men, largely nameless now, meet and pray and become the Church. This is our task too. We, now, are weaving together our networks of Christian relationship and care; mutual prayerfulness and hospitality flowing from each of our lives and every one of our congregations. Never doubt how much God does as even one or two faithfully gather and learn to be disciples.
Never doubt, as well, the risk and cost. The partings are bitter and filled with foreboding. Paul is heading into the storm. Agabus echoes Jesus’ predictions of the cross as he confronts Paul. God calls us to faith in a world of risk. Sisters and brothers across the world and throughout history give up their all in obedience to the call. We need to hold them in our prayers. More. We need faith profound and vibrant enough to drive us to take up whatever cross comes our way for God’s sake.
PrayerGod of wanderers and wonderers,
of dreamers and schemers,
of ancient travellers and tomorrow’s companions,
guide our journeys today.
Bless us with grace and gentleness,
with foresight and fortitude.
Carry us onwards with you,
into your future,
as the friends of Jesus
and the company of your Spirit.
Dedicated Facebook Page
Dear <<First Name>>
Since the DailyDevotions project started I have put a link to each day's devotion on my own Facebook feed. Many people share link and it's been suggested that we create a dedicated Facebook Page for the Daily Devotions. So, now, I have!
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with every good wish
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Will you forget always?
How long, LORD, will you hide your face
and turn from me your gaze?
How long must I be sad each day
in deep perplexity?
How long will my opponent stand
in triumph over me?
O LORD my God, consider me
and give me your reply.
Light up my eyes or I will sleep
the sleep of those who die.
Then would my enemy declare,
“At last I’ve laid him low!”
And so my foes would sing for joy
to see my overthrow.
But still I trust your constant love;
you save and set me free.
With joy I will extol the LORD
who has been good to me.
You can hear a congregation sing this to the hauntingly beautiful tune Bay of Harris here. The editors of Sing Psalms also suggests the tune Cheshire which you can hear here.
I rely on your constant love;
You have been good to me.
Give me grace to put my trust in you,
That I may see your purposes of love unfolding in the world,
And rejoice in in your victory over disease and death.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Edinburgh, EH1 2LS.
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The Martyrs of Papua New Guinea
1901 and 1942
Romans 8. 35–39
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
COMFORT The truth behind these words can be of great encouragement and comfort to us in our own times of suffering, grief or lost-ness. These verses are worth memorising. They are cosmic in their scope and deeply personal in their application. Nothing that you or I have to face can come between us and the love of Christ.
CHALLENGE Armed with this assurance we are challenged to go forward, not to be afraid. Such were the men named at the top of this devotion by our editor. Chalmers a veteran pioneer missionary of great charisma, still highly revered in Papua New Guinea. Tomkins a new, young London Missionary Society recruit who insisted on joining Chalmers and his team in facing a deadly situation. Redlich, Barge, Gariadi, Tapiedi and many others who stuck to their posts in 1942 and paid the ultimate price. Every one of them driven by their God-given love for the people.
I would like to add to the list a friend who was a Missionary Aviation Pilot (MAF), Paul Summerfield. Paul died in 1985 when his plane hit a mountain in bad weather in the treacherous flying country of Papua New Guinea’s mountain ranges. How moving it was to see a poster at that time, in another MAF pilot’s home, saying “A ship is safe in harbour, but that is not what a ship is for.”
It is when we embrace risk and danger in response to God’s call to practice costly love that we too grow in confidence that nothing, NOTHING, can separate us from the love of Christ. I suspect that there is no other way to gain such confidence. There is no short cut.
PrayerThank you, Lord God,
for the firm grip of your love.
Thank you for courageous witnesses
to the reach of your love in hard places.
When we are in stormy waters
turn us from fear to faith, we pray.
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Acts 20: 13 - 36But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and the day after that we went to Miletus. For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. Reflection Paul’s farewell meeting with the Ephesian elders always challenges and inspires me. From it I learn much about what it means to serve Jesus as an elder in his church. However, as I read the passage today I felt encouraged to live my life as Paul lived his life. I saw several characteristics about how Paul lived that by God’s grace I could apply to my own life.
Live openly. Paul lived openly before the Ephesians. They knew who he really was. They had seen him in action. They live side-by- side with him. Paul was not duplicitous. He did not hide himself.
Speak plainly. Paul shared the truth about Jesus in a way the Ephesians could understand. He was bold in what he said, even when he had to call people to repent. He didn’t get caught up in rhetoric or eloquence. He certainly wasn’t complicated.
Take risks. Paul lived his life for Jesus, taking whatever risks necessary. He doesn’t take the easy way. He takes risks in terms of his relationships and also in terms of his activities. He doesn’t avoid the possibility of difficulties and afflictions. He has a confidence that the same Holy Spirit who sends him is the Holy Spirit who goes with him.
Persevere in grace. Paul refused to give up. He would not quit. He chose to persevere until he fulfilled his life’s purpose. Paul understood that life is a marathon not a sprint, requiring a long term vision and commitment. Paul also understood that such a life could only be lived by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. His was not a works-based perseverance but a grace-based perseverance.
Pay attention. Scientists today have discovered that how we pay attention shapes our lives. Paul knew this almost two millennia ago! Paul challenged the Ephesian elders first to pay attention to themselves — how they lived, how they thought, their relationship with Jesus. Then Paul also challenged them to pay attention to others — their well-being and their safety. It is striking that “paying attention” is the first responsibility of elders.
Be alert. Related to paying attention is the need to be alert. Paul knew that there were many dangers in the world, spiritual as well as physical. Paul also knew that there were many people and things that would want to take us away from our faithfulness to Jesus. He remained alert to all these threats and encouraged the Ephesians to do the same.
Take responsibility for yourself. Paul worked hard to provide for himself and the others who were with him. He didn’t depend on handouts from others. He didn’t see either the church or the government as having the responsibility to take care of him. He didn’t blame other people when things went wrong in his life. Paul took responsibility for himself as an example to others.
Live generously. Paul understood that giving, not receiving, served as the basis for joy in living. He gave freely and unreservedly. He especially sought to help those who are weak and in need. He gave not only resources but his very self.
How is Paul’s example challenging you to live today?
PrayerGracious God, thank you for the example of people like Paul. It is amazing to think how he lived unreservedly for you and your glory. Please show me one thing from Paul’s example in this passage that I might begin to integrate into the way I live today. Thank you for your grace and mercy, shown through your Son Jesus Christ, so that even when I fail in these things I know that you are with me. You pick me up when I fall and set me on the right path. Thank you for your generosity in my life and the love that you have shown me through Jesus. Amen.
Acts 20: 7 - 12On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’ Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted. Reflection Whenever we gather for worship – be it in the morning grandeur of a historic cathedral, or the night-time simplicity of a borrowed room – we do so in the shared hope and anticipation that everyone present will be caught up in wholehearted devotion, free from distraction and entirely focused upon praising the living God.
Even so, the possibility of distraction is rarely far from us. And I have a suspicion that for those who regularly lead worship, there are three particular scenarios which might well be lurking at the back of the mind.
It's comforting to discover in today's Bible reading that at least two of these have a very long pedigree in the Church: namely the experience of having someone fall asleep during a long sermon, and the risk of the service being interrupted by a medical emergency. (Since Luke, the author, seems to have been known to this congregation in Troas, the third scenario – the hypothetical presence in the church of a Mystery Worshipper who's there to take surreptitious notes and report back – doesn't really apply!)
First things first: if someone is taken ill, then of course the priority must be to ensure that he or she receives the appropriate help with as much speed and diligence as we can muster. This may indeed mean putting everything else 'on hold', even perhaps moving the rest of the congregation to another part of the building to allow some space and privacy whilst treatment ensues.
Yet such an experience – though happily uncommon – can shine an uneasy spotlight onto underlying attitudes to our worship. At worst, it can bring us to wonder whether what we do at church is merely an insulating ritual, into which 'real life' has now suddenly and uncomfortably intruded, and over which it has taken precedence. Much as we feel compassion for the one taken ill, is there sometimes a guilty thought that we'd rather this had happened some other time, in some other place, where we weren't going to feel so awkward?
The actions of Paul and his friends in Troas, though, stand as a testimony that the Church's worship is and must always be fully connected with 'real life' – indeed, nowhere more real! And even if in our day not every medical emergency will end as happily as that which befell Eutychus of old, still it’s within our power to ensure that such incidents bring out the very best in our congregations, in our worship and our service – so that what happens is not an interruption, not an intrusion, but rather a living-out of the truth which our words and our worship proclaim.
PrayerWatch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep,
and give your faithful ones charge over those who sleep.
Tend your sick ones, Lord Christ.
Rest your weary ones.
Bless your dying ones.
Soothe your suffering ones.
Pity your afflicted ones.
Shield your joyous ones.
And for all your love's sake. Amen.
Adapted from a prayer of St Augustine
John BunyanSpiritual Writer, 1688
Hebrews 12. 1-2
It isn’t, however, a Jesus-shaped question. Jesus did not come to “show us the way to heaven”; he came to bring heaven down to earth. Salvation, for Jesus, is not about escaping from this world, but about transforming it into what he called, “The Kingdom of God”. When God’s will is done as perfectly on earth as it is presently done only in heaven, this world will be all that God intended it to be, and it will be sheer heaven!
Far from a call to abandon friends and family and “save yourself”, Jesus made how we treat one another – particularly the most vulnerable and needy – as the criterion for how God will judge us.
Not giving up on the world, but doing everything necessary for its salvation – even if it means handing over God’s own son to murderous, hate-filled humanity: that is the God revealed to us in our Bible. And that is what the “great cloud of witnesses” are there to tell us. They remind us that God is loose in our world – even when God seems most invisible, and we are most convinced that we are abandoned to our pain and despair. Hanging on to that promise and living by it, however unlikely it seems: that is what the writer calls “faith”.
Sin is living by the apparent “evidence” of our experience that God is not here; does not care; that there is no Easter Sunday. That evidence is provided in abundance by our media. When we’re most tempted to give up: that is when we must look again at Jesus and keep on keeping on.
PrayerLike Christian, O God, I am a pilgrim.
Lead me, not out of your world, but into it.
Show me the places where you are at work;
the people among whom you live and move.
Teach me to recognise you in them.
Teach me your compassion and love.
Open my eyes and ears.
Transform my heart.
Open my hand and my wallet.
As I die to myself and my own safety and comfort,
show me the Spirit-Life you yearn to give me.
Show me, too, the ways in which I can bring that same Life to others.
Through your Holy Spirit living and working in me,
may my being and my actions make a Jesus-shaped difference …
for Christ’s sake!
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Acts 20: 1-6After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples; and after encouraging them and saying farewell, he left for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given the believers much encouragement, he came to Greece, where he stayed for three months. He was about to set sail for Syria when a plot was made against him by the Jews, and so he decided to return through Macedonia. He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Beroea, by Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, by Gaius from Derbe, and by Timothy, as well as by Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia. They went ahead and were waiting for us in Troas; but we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we joined them in Troas, where we stayed for seven days. Reflection In 2008 the Dickens Fellowship (a kind of fan club for Charles Dickens, but without the groupies) held its International Conference in Durham and I was the main organiser. Curiously, I found that a lot of my time was taken up in reassuring people; once a nervous traveller myself, I had assumed others had no such fears, but now I found that even the most seasoned travellers could turn out to be distinctly jittery ahead of the journey. Perhaps you too are a secret pre-journey worrier!
And St. Paul? Surely with all the journeying he’d done, and under harsh conditions at that, we imagine that at this stage in his life he would be quite blasé as he set out, but my experience with Dickensians suggests that may not be the case. Certainly all that had preceded his leaving Ephesus had been pretty dramatic and very emotional, and he seems to have been thinking ahead to a dangerous time to come.
The six verses that comprise today’s reading, though apparently insignificant, mark a major change in Paul’s story, for far from being a flight from a difficult situation in Ephesus, it is a turning point. Paul’s face was now turned towards Jerusalem, the reason for the journey being the delivery of the collection taken up by the churches he had founded to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem (he speaks of this in Romans 15: 25-28) and Luke lists the men who accompanied him, but there is a sense of danger hanging over this whole small passage, and that feeling will only intensify as we read on.
It was not a direct journey; going via Macedonia to encourage the churches there, Paul moved on to Greece (specifically Corinth) for three months; it seems likely that he wrote to the Romans during this time. Here the rumour of a plot against him led to a change in plan, and he retraced his steps through Macedonia, the party meeting up again in Troas at Passover, a festival that now also had a Christian significance.
We, in this land, are spared such sense of peril; we may be mocked for our faith and feel side-lined, but we are mercifully free of the threat to life that others experience in so many parts of the world. This being so, we who are thankfully free to worship, and speak and act are also free to pray earnestly for those who do face danger because of their faith, wherever they may be.
If Paul was afraid as he set out – and sometimes he must have been – moving from church to church he would have found people who appreciated all he had done for them, and who would hold him always in their prayers. Those prayers would have mattered. Our prayers matter still.
in your love, watch over all who travel today, we pray.
Those who travel joyfully,
and those who travel fearfully.
Those who travel among friends,
and those who travel among strangers.
Bless, we pray, all those who travel
when they have no home; no place to rest.
We ask it in the name of Jesus
who welcomed friend and stranger. Amen
Acts 19: 21 - 40After all this had happened, Paul decided[ to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. “After I have been there,” he said, “I must visit Rome also.” He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer.
About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”
When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s travelling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theatre together. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theatre.
The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander to the front, and they shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defence before the people. But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Fellow Ephesians, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to calm down and not do anything rash. You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of what happened today. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.”
Reflection This passage is one that I think shows that whatever changes in the world, people don’t. Paul’s mission is spreading and so is his fame and some people don’t like it, particularly the silversmiths of Ephesus. Demetrius has had enough. Paul is spreading the word about Jesus and he is a threat to the goddess Artemis whose famous Temple is famed far and wide.
He’s worried on three counts: Paul says that gods cannot be made by human hands- this threatens trade as Demetrius and his co-workers make a good living from statues of Artemis; the temple of Artemis may become disregarded and this will hit the tourist trade. This temple was one of the ancient wonders of the world and four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens. Lastly, Artemis might lose her majesty if people worship this new deity. Interesting to see the order of his worries!
A mob is raised and Paul’s companions are dragged to the theatre to face the mob. Paul wants to go too but is persuaded that it’s not a good idea. It isn’t. Most of the rabble haven’t a clue what’s going on but the chant “Great is Artemis of Ephesus” goes on for two hours. This was a pagan way of raising a frenzy; it still works today.
I have been to Ephesus; what remains is impressive enough but standing on the stage at the theatre and looking up at seats which held 25,000 is an amazing experience. I realized how brave Paul was to even contemplate facing the mob.
The town clerk appeals to reason- and the fear that they will be in trouble themselves. As town clerks go, he must have been a good speaker. Paul hasn’t committed a crime, but they are about to. If Demetrius has a grievance- go to court.
Ephesus has become an even greater city under the Romans and a centre of the new cult of the Emperor. Something changes the mob’s reaction. Perhaps it was the fear of what the Romans would do with an uprising or perhaps they began to ask themselves what they were shouting about; whatever it was, the mob became a crowd again.
We have to remember that Paul was the basis of the complaint and when we consider what he had already achieved, he was obviously seen as a threat to the status quo. Paul’s preaching was so powerful, his efforts so relentless and his courage so strong that the entire basis of pagan goddess worship in first century Ephesus was being threatened. Paul may have seen this as a chance to convert thousands, but he was persuaded that this was not the time.
The time did come. Artemis is remembered in Ephesus as a story, her statues are still made for tourists, her temple was lost, only re-discovered in the 19thcentury but Jesus is the one in majesty.
The streets of Ephesus are still thronged with visitors. Mobs still chant, whether for teams or politics, but, thank God, people still are prepared to carry the message of Jesus wherever they go.
PrayerWe live in a world that is still like the one where Paul travelled and preached;
People are concerned about themselves and not the way of truth.
Crowds still gather, emotions whipped up.
We thank you, O God, for people of passion like Paul,
Who still spread your word in times of danger.
We thank you for people of reason who defuse situations.
Help us follow in their way rather than that of the mob
So that your words of peace and love prevail.
and faithful folk we can no longer see.
Each one tells falsehood even to his neighbour;
with flattering lips they speak deceitfully.
Now may the LORD cut off all lips which flatter,
and every tongue which speaks with boastful word.
Such people say, “We with our tongues will triumph;
we own our lips—who then can be our lord?”
“Because the weak have suffered great oppression,
and I have heard the needy’s groaning cries,
Now I will guard them from those who malign them.
To help them,” says the LORD, “I will arise.”
The words proceeding from the LORD are flawless,
as pure as silver which by fire is tried,
Like silver which, when molten in a furnace,
from it emerges sev’n times purified.
O LORD, you will preserve us safe for ever
and from this evil age keep us secure;
For here the wicked strut about quite freely,
and praise is giv’n to all that is impure.
The psalmist is undoubtedly in a place that we can relate to; afraid of enemies, tired of war, confused by human division and confronted by the unbelief of others. And yet, he believes that this reality is the one into which God enters. God will rise up because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan. God won't come to us in times of prosperity and goodness but, instead, in times of poverty and pain. This could be seen as a prefiguring of the reversals which Jesus constantly implies. The poor will become rich, the outcast will be let in, the powerful will be overturned.
And we respond. Are we called to criticise, fear, and loathe the world and what humanity has become? Certainly not. We are called to be part of God's uprising against poverty, oppression, hate and injustice. We are called to be part of the body of Christ, which brings peace by overturning the tables of this world.
Let's pray, as the psalmist did,
PrayerHelp, Creator, for I can't see your image in the other;
I can't find Jesus in the mess of humanity.
I hear the lies of politicians and preachers alike;
with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
Forgive me for wishing that you would silence them,
the tongues that make great boasts,
Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan,
Bring about their safety, And include us in your uprising against injustice.
We trust in your promises and have seen your radical love,
Teach us how to live your Word in a new generation. Amen
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Acts 19: 11 - 20God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.’ Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit said to them in reply, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’ Then the man with the evil spirit leapt on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded. When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised. Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices. A number of those who practised magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed. Reflection What a story! Magic, Miracles and exorcisms.
J K Rowling eat your heart out!
Local context is everything in this story.
We are in Ephesus; a significant centre of the magic arts in the ancient world.
Into this setting returns Paul, performing exorcisms and healing the sick.
His reputation has evidently spread throughout the region and, given the Ephesian appetite for the magical, it is no surprise that he has been noticed and is being emulated.
Is he Magical or miraculous?
How are the locals to distinguish between human magic and divine miracles?
This story is written to make that distinction.
It is God who did extraordinary miracles through Paul.
When the itinerant Jewish exorcists tried the same ‘trick’ by using the name of Jesus Christ, they did so as if it were an incantation like ‘Hocus Pocus’ or ‘Alohomora’.
The purpose of a magic trick is for self-gain, for adulation, for the increase of power and status. These tricksters are using the right words, but with the wrong intention and with no foundation.
Paul has been challenged and changed by his relationship with Jesus, meaning that his desire to heal the sick and to free the soul from torment comes from a place of genuine selfless love and compassion. God works through him.
We can say that we do all manner of things in the name of Jesus Christ, but it doesn’t make it so:
TV evangelists can proclaim a prosperity gospel.
Politicians can evoke words of scripture.
Terrorists and extremists of all faiths can use God’s name.
But if there is no relationship with Jesus,
no following his way,
no taking his word to heart,
they perform self-aggrandising magic – not God’s miracles of compassion and grace.
Do we do magic or does God perform miracles through us as we follow Jesus?
A question for the church as much as for each of us.
as we go about our daily lives,
help us to hear your word,
to let it sink deep into our souls,
that our actions may be of you.
As we are filled with your compassion and love,
may your touch, through us, be the miracle that another needs.
In the name of Jesus Christ,
so be it.
Acts 19: 8-10
Ancient Ephesus is a favourite port of call today for pilgrims hoping to walk in the footsteps of St Paul. In his time Ephesus was the chief city of the region: three great trade routes converged on it, it was the venue for the ever-popular Pan-Ionian Games, and its greatest glory was the Temple of Diana. Paul had been lucky to escape with his life, when his preaching was interpreted as an attack on the cult of Diana, and seen as a threat to those who profited from it.
Paul has previously visited the Synagogue in Ephesus so at first tries explaining a Trinitarian theology there. He preaches about “the Way”, with partially success as there is opposition which denounces it as evil. Three months is not long for a division to build to the point where people leave but this brief summary gives no hint of the context that Paul preached in. Perhaps he had anticipated a quiet year or so teaching, as elsewhere, building on the foundation already in place only to find division is also already in place.
For Paul and Luke the effect of a separate group of disciples, meeting in another place, is to give a united base from which the Way could spread all over the hinterland - along the trade routes from the then seaport. Nothing is said about the size of the group, who regularly went to hear Paul’s teaching, or how the group grew or shrank. This is not Luke’s point. His point is that The Way spread so that all residents, of whatever ethnicity, heard the word and could respond if they would.
we do not know the effect of our actions and words on those we meet,
we can only pray that somehow, someone hears your Word and responds.
Acts 19: 1-7While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied — altogether there were about twelve of them. Reflection The writer and journalist, Cole Moreton, in a book which charts the past 40 odd years of the Church in England (Is God Still an Englishman?), speaks of his experience within a church youth group during the 1980s. The group enthusiastically embraced the Charismatic Renewal movement and, early on, Cole was invited to experiment with speaking in tongues. “It’s quite simple” he was advised by the leader of the group, “if having opened heart and mind to God nothing happens, start saying “she came on a Honda” over and over and “the tongues will begin.” (Paraphrased from memory.)
Cole was not mocking his youthful experience so much as illustrating how one faithful understanding, at a particular point in time, of what authenticates a commitment to God made known in Jesus, may not be the only, still less, the final word on the matter.
Out of his own experience and for good reasons, of which the more uptight among us need to take notice, Paul expects these new Christians to display particular outward evidence of the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. At another time, writing to more mature though dysfunctional Christians in Corinth, Paul says that whilst tongues and prophecies are fine, nothing provides more secure evidence for the in-dwelling of the Spirit than the exercise of self-giving love (agape).
Down the centuries Christians have been too ready to embrace or denigrate particular ways of worship or spiritual experiences rather than recognise that, however the playful, free-ranging Spirit of God chooses to equip each of us, it is the same Spirit and the same essential ingredient in an authentic Christian life.
PrayerSpirit of the Living God
fall afresh on me,
and forever. Amen
Acts 18: 18-27After staying there for a considerable time, Paul said farewell to the believers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had his hair cut, for he was under a vow. When they reached Ephesus, he left them there, but first he himself went into the synagogue and had a discussion with the Jews. When they asked him to stay longer, he declined; but on taking leave of them, he said, “I will return to you, if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. After spending some time there he departed and went from place to place through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers, Reflection The encounter between Priscilla and Aquilla and the enthusiastic preacher, Apollos is warm and supportive, but also raises a gentle note of caution. Clearly the characters who made up the emerging Church did not always follow the same script. Inevitably, variations of recollection and interpretation would occur and so, alongside the need to share good news, there was a corresponding need to create and reinforce some kind of agreed message. That seems to have been a primary purpose, for example, of the letters of Paul and others in the New Testament. This need to regularise the message brings with it its own dilemma - how do you decide if a new person, idea or practice increases understanding the core Gospel message, or if it undermines that core message? (The story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10 and how the believers in Jerusalem deal with this is a good example). Balancing inherited truth with the possibility of fresh revelation is always a tricky, though necessary task to manage if we are to faithful followers of “the Way”.
I look after an historic chapel in Wrentham, Suffolk. It was born in the “boundary breaking” radical days of the early seventeenth century at a time when a King lost his head and Pilgrims sailed to the New World in order practise their Christian faith without state influence. However, the building is heavily listed, meaning that nothing inside or out can be changed, despite the reality that its densely packed box pews and high pulpit render the whole interior unsuitable for use in the twenty-first Century.
If today’s church is to flourish it must take it’s cue from Jesus who respected the truth of the Jewish Law, yet travelled lightly and experimentally as he lived out its significance for all people.
PrayerGod of our past,
and our future days,
help us to honour the ways and words
that you have given to your people down the generations;
yet alert us, equally,
to innovation and fresh opportunities
in which to live out the Gospel today.
Acts 18: 12-17But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal. They said, ‘This man is persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to the law.’ Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, ‘If it were a matter of crime or serious villainy, I would be justified in accepting the complaint of you Jews; but since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves; I do not wish to be a judge of these matters.’ And he dismissed them from the tribunal. Then all of them seized Sosthenes, the official of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of these things. Reflection I am sure we have all had a time when we were troubled by someone else’s actions and have tried to report this or sought help over this. How irritating it is when we are not listened to! But equally I imagine that most of us have been incorrectly represented to a person of authority and find ourselves upset and hurt by being reported.
Here we have a complaint going on accusing Paul of speaking in direct contrast to the law. Into this time of turmoil comes Gallio. He had ‘the Jews’ complaining about Paul and then interrupted Paul who was not even able to speak out. However no one was the winner here - Gallio refused to listen and so ‘the Jews’ were dismissed; Paul unfairly accused - but let off the hook; and then the poor official of the synagogue became the scapegoat of all this!
What a mess! How often in life have we faced such things? Accusations, counter accusations, reported comments, verbal attacks made with little or no real evidence and often involving power battles and personal grievances. How do we cope with all this? Both in our personal lives and in our work, social or church lives? The most important thing is to not dismiss everyone and pass the buck, but to listen. In this text the anger and emotion are evident. But if Gallio had been able to listen, get them all to sit down together and talk to each other, express their frustrations, and share their concerns, then, maybe, some resolution may have been made. Poor Sosthenes would have got home in time for dinner, unscathed!
Seriously, all too often we jump to conclusions, make judgements, and apportion blame. We fail to listen to the story of those we perceive to be ‘on the other side’ and damage relationships. It is not easy to hold emotions in check and try to respond rationally, but it certainly will improve situations that are tough.
The Mennonites, known for their work in relation to reconciliation, are part of the Anabaptist tradition. One of the 7 core convictions of the Anabaptists is: ‘Peace is at the heart of the gospel. As followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, we are committed to finding non-violent alternatives and to learning how to make peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society and between nations’. (p.25 The Naked Anabaptist. Stuart Murray. Paternoster). What an admirable core conviction. And one that many of us could benefit from seeking to work towards. We believe in a God of peace and justice. Christ showed that non-violent resistance works better than head on clashes. What would the world look like if more of us followed the Jesus Way in relation to conflict resolution?
PrayerGod of peace.
The world is full of pain and anger and power struggles.
Help me to seek peaceful ways to tackle disagreements.
Help me to listen and understand that each conflict has two sides and that taking
time to listen and talk about them can help ease the conflict and minimise the differences.
Help me, in my small and really quite insignificant way, to be the change I want
to see around me. And to buck the trend that says every argument has to be
won. Because if we all seek to find new ways to deal with conflict, the world
would truly begin to look your kingdom has come.
Acts 18: 1-11After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers. Every sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus. When they opposed and reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Then he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God; his house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized. One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.” He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
Reflection In 1996 I was invited by the URC to help establish a “fresh expression” of Church based upon the redundant St Cuthbert’s chapel on Holy Island (Lindisfarne). This was an exciting prospect, but even before I arrived I became aware of a groundswell of hostility towards the project on the part of many islanders. Other Christian groups had recently also decided to set up camp on the Island and local people were, understandably, suspicious that their home was being turned into a religious theme park.
Four years on and the re-ordered St Cuthbert’s had not only been established as a place of welcome, hospitality and gentle renewal, it had also become accepted by the local community as making a legitimate, credible contribution to Island life. The reason for this was not down to powerful and persuasive argument, but to sharing the daily inconvenience of “tidal living,” and to the fact that re-ordering the building and garden had required from me and others a huge amount of very visible hard physical labour - something with which the Islanders could readily identify.
I wonder if Paul’s enduring success in Corinth was helped significantly by him starting out not just as a preacher but also as a tradesman and companion to those already in business. In that we might see that effective witness has less to do with persuasive words and rather more to do with authentic, credible living.
use the work of my hands
and the love of my heart
to validate the words I speak in your name. Amen