Sunday, May 30, 2010

judge not

Good evening/morning all,
I'm sending today's reading early since I don't have internet access yet at the new house. We continue Jesus' sermon on the plain in our reading with what most of us learned as the golden rule. We all know the idea: treat others as we'd want to be treated, but living that way is harder than knowing what we should do. All together, this little passage gives enough material for a lifetime of effort.

I especially like the reminder of humility we see in the second paragraph. It's easy to criticize others and "help" them see their faults, but our own faults are abundant as well and they often keep us from assessing others accurately. At the same time, the fact that we're not perfect doesn't mean we should simply work on ourselves before engaging in ministry. We won't be perfect until Christ returns, but that shouldn't keep us from working for a better world and ministering to others.

God bless,

Luke 6:37-42

37“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” 39He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? 40A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.

41Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

turning the other cheek

Good morning friends,
Our passage from Luke today is certainly one of the most familiar. Even people who have never set foot in a church know that Christians talk about turning the other cheek. This is a challenging passage. As many times as I've read it, I still don't think turning the other cheek when someone hits me would come easily. It's pretty clear that Jesus expects a different, and difficult kind of life from us than what we see around us. At the same time, Jesus reminds us that we do these things (or try to do them) because we're God's children, and God persistently shows mercy to us no matter how many times we turn away.

Our passage from Proverbs is quite poetic. Proverbs may not be too familiar to you since we don't read it that often. This passage isn't representative stylistically since most of Proverbs is in the form of advice rather than lyric poetry. At the same time, the point of the passage, and of Proverbs more generally, is to encourage and teach wisdom. Wisdom here is shown as God's helper in creation. Biblical wisdom is not mostly a brain thing, but more a matter of a heart tuned to God's truth and seeking responsible action in the world. I wonder how it would change our week if we tried to think about what wisdom calls us to do each day.

God bless,

Luke 6:27-36
27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
1Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? 2On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; 3beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: 4"To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.

22The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. 23Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 24When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth-26when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world's first bits of soil. 27When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

sermon on the plain

Good morning all,
This is a familiar passage to many of us. It mirror's Matthew's telling of Jesus' sermon on the mount, but this is a sermon on the plain. Also, Luke's telling can be a bit more jarring or comforting, depending on where we sit. Jesus says the poor are blessed, and especially those who are persecuted for faithfulness to Jesus. Like many places in scripture, there's an assumption that faithfulness will be difficult because the world is largely opposed to Jesus. The flip side of that is that if everyone says good things about us, we should be wary since the world often values fitting in and going along with an immoral situation. Jesus warns that false prophets are usually the ones who get the fame and appreciation. May we always seek the true kingdom bravely and with love.


Luke 6:20-26

20Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Friday, May 28, 2010

prayer and decision making

Good morning sisters and brothers
It seems like at this point in Jesus' ministry a group of people were following him from place to place. Today, Jesus decides to set apart 12 of those disciples to be particular leaders and to be especially close to him. We could say Jesus is the first nominating committee, and we can see that he put prayer at the center of his decision-making process. He doesn't just say a quick prayer and get back to the work of deciding who the leaders are. Instead, Jesus spends the whole night in prayer while he's making this decision.

That tells us Jesus isn't making this decision alone; he's trusting God to lead him as he decides. I'm trying to move prayer into the center of my life more, and I encourage you to do the same. I'm sort of an intellectual guy and prayer doesn't make sense to me intellectually. Sometimes that has hindered my prayer life, but what I've found lately is that when I pray more and when I really try to listen for God's guidance, I find it. Of course that doesn't always mean I'm right, but God will guide us if we seek that guidance. This is God's church and for us to be our best we want to make sure we're letting God lead.


Luke 6:12-19
12Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. 13And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: 14Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, 16and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. 17He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

lord of the Sabbath

Good morning friends,
In our time it's easy to misunderstand the Pharisees' concern about the Sabbath. While many of us remember a time when Sunday was set apart, we've mostly gotten used to the fact that stores are open and things happen every day of the week. Many of us enjoy an after-church brunch or movie. Even those of us who look back fondly at a day when almost everything was closed are a long way from a culture like Jesus' where one was literally forbidden to work on the Sabbath.

Scripture commanded that the Sabbath be set apart for rest. This wasn't a suggestion; it was a commandment and the penalty for not observing the Sabbath was death. Sabbath in many ways defined the Jewish community, especially as that identity became more important to define under Roman occupation. Jesus isn't just offending a few rigid stick-in-the-mud types; he was really stepping out of the bounds of tradition with his action. Jesus wasn't afraid to step on people's toes with his ministry, but always for the sake of God's kingdom.


Luke 6:1-11

One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. 2But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 3Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?” 5Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

6On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. 7The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. 8Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. 9Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” 10After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. 11But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

tax collectors and sinners

Good morning all,
People have probably always complained about paying taxes, but in Jesus' time taxes were a particularly hot topic. Palestine was ruled by Rome, which meant the Jewish population was resentful because they didn't have the independence they wanted. That was both a political and a religious issues since the land was a gift from God, so foreign occupation was perhaps harder for them than for many of the other groups that made up the Roman Empire. On top of that, Rome's rule was extended geographically and challenged militarily. As a result taxes were high and economic opportunity not always in step with them. The Romans hired Jews to collect taxes for them in Palestine. In general, tax collectors made their living by collecting a bit more than they had to. So for the Jewish population at large Roman rule was oppressive, taxes an almost unmanageable burden, and the people who collected them not only corrupt but even traitors to their religion and people.

So here comes Jesus calling a tax collector to be his disciple and accepting an invitation to eat at his house with a house-full of other tax collectors and "sinners." Maybe we can understand the Pharisees' indignation. Jesus doesn't deny that these folks are morally challenged. Instead he responds that his special calling is to heal the spiritually ill, to call sinners to repentance. Jesus still especially seeks out the outsiders: the morally questionable, the oppressed, the oppressors. It's not for us to look down at the strange collection of people Jesus calls. Instead we're called to be grateful that Christ has called us and to look to the margins for our ministry.

God bless,

Luke 5:27-32

27After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” 28And he got up, left everything, and followed him. 29Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. 30The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Monday, May 24, 2010

making a way

Good morning friends,
This morning we see the beginning of the conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities. This conflict will be important as the story continues. I love the image of a group of people carrying a paralyzed man on a bed and lowering it through the roof when they can't find another way in. Often when Jesus heals he mentions the faith of the person being healed; here, Luke tells us, he notices "their" faith: the faith of the whole crew involved. What's odd about this healing (besides the fact that a man lowered through a roof is healed of paralysis on the spot) is that Jesus first tells the man that his sins are forgiven.

At that time illness was usually thought to be caused by sin of some kind. Here Jesus wants to do more than just heal illness; he wants to make everything right about this man's difficult situation by forgiving his sin and healing his body. The pharisees take issue with this because they think Jesus is stepping on God's toes. Jesus then says the words that let the man know he is healed in body as well as soul. This also shows Jesus wasn't out of line proclaiming forgiveness, since if he had been God wouldn't have granted the healing. This story is a good reminder that Jesus offers us forgiveness, since we all have things that separate us from God that Christ makes right. It's also a good reminder that illness is not just a physical hardship; it's also isolating and painful socially and spiritually. In our ministry we seek the wholeness of others in every way: body, mind and spirit.

Blessings on the new week,

Luke 5:17-26
17One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. 18Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; 19but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. 20When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”

21Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 23Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? 24But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he said to the one who was paralyzed—”I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.” 25Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. 26Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen strange things today.”

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Good morning and Happy Pentecost,
We often think about Pentecost as the church's birthday because it's the Spirit's power that enabled that small band of disciples to spread the good news of God's love in Christ throughout the known world within a generation. In our Sunday reading from Pentecost we hear the story of that day and the apostles first Spirit-filled words to the crowd. I've never literally been able to speak another language I haven't learned like on that day, but through our different lives and experiences God enables us to communicate with different groups of people. As a community we speak the "language" of counseling, teaching, engineering, medicine, music, domestic life, groceries, research and many more. Our experiences are part of how God calls and equips us to share God's love with others, and by the Spirit God gives us many gifts for ministry in the world.

Our Gospel passage gives us an up close look at one of Jesus' early healings. Leprosy was a particularly feared disease in Jesus' time because not only did it threaten the health and life of the person who was ill, it also cut them off from their family and community, leaving them isolated. The man with leprosy, a man who faced rejection and loneliness everyday, found the courage to ask Jesus to heal him. He knew Jesus could, but he also knew from experience that many people shrunk back from touching him. Jesus does not shrink back and he ignores not only the risk of infection but also the fact that touching someone with leprosy made him ritually unclean. We know Jesus didn't always see eye to eye with the religious establishment, but here we see him take pains to send the man to follow the temple rules for showing that he was now healed. This reminds the temple that God is working in the world and begins the process of reintegrating the man into society. I pray that we would use our different gifts to reach out to others and to bring God's healing and love to a hurting world.


Luke 5:12-16

12Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” 13Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him. 14And he ordered him to tell no one. “Go,” he said, “and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.” 15But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. 16But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.

Acts 2:1-8
1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

fishing for people

Good morning all,
Before we dive into the reading for today I want to remind everyone about our special worship and mini-retreat at Mendon Ponds. Most people will still meet at Laurelton at 10 to carpool down, but the service will begin at 1045 at the Cobblestone House in Mendon Ponds Park. After worship we'll share a delicious lunch prepared by the Natural Church Development team and a presentation from Nancy Leport about different styles of spirituality. We'll have a chance to learn about our own style and to discuss that in small groups. There will also be plenty of time for games and enjoying the beautiful park. There's space for us inside if the weather doesn't cooperate too, so don't worry if it's not beautiful tomorrow. This will be a really fun Sunday and a great chance to learn about how we best connect to God.

Speaking of connecting to God, today we see Jesus call the first disciples to follow him. I love the image of people being so excited about hearing the word of God that Jesus has to get in a boat to keep from getting crushed. After the teaching Jesus has the disciples put in their nets. Notice that Jesus doesn't put down the nets for Peter, he just shows the way. Peter's response to the amazing catch is humility. He can tell that Jesus is full of God and he knows enough about himself to know that he's not worthy to stand in Jesus' presence. The amazing thing is that unworthy as Peter is, unworthy as we are, Jesus loves us and wants to be with us. Jesus calls us to fish for people and to follow him, and that's exactly what the disciples do, leaving everything behind on the spot. May God give us a measure of that faith as well.

God bless,

Luke 5:1-11
1Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Simon's mother in law

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Jesus leaves the synagogue and heads off to Simon (Peter)'s house. We haven't been introduced to Simon yet, but clearly he and Jesus met at some point. Oddly enough, tomorrow's passage includes Simon's call to discipleship, we would sort of expect that part to come first. At any rate, Peter's mother in law is sick and Jesus heals her. Then as the word spreads people from all over the town start bringing their sick relatives and friends for Jesus to heal. Like yesterday, evil spirits know who Jesus is, and Jesus tells them to be quiet.

Early the next day Jesus goes off alone for some quiet time and probably prayer. Jesus often took time alone during his ministry, but it never seems to have lasted long. At this point Jesus identifies his call as the call to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to many people. That calling keeps him from staying in any one place for too long. We see the same pattern in the apostles in Acts. It seems that both for Jesus and for the early church the main goal is to spread the good news that God's kingdom is coming as widely as possible. What do you think that calling might look like for us today?


Luke 4:38-44
38After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. 39Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them. 40As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. 41Demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.

42At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. 43But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

ministry in Capernaum

Good morning friends,
After a nearly fatal reception in Nazareth, Jesus is off to another town in Galilee called Capernaum. He'll make this sort of his home base for the first part of his ministry. This episode in Capernaum gives us a glimpse of a few things that will be hallmarks of Jesus' ministry. The first is that there's something clearly special about Jesus' teaching and ministry. Here people remark that he teaches with authority and with effect, even on demons. God's power shines through in Jesus and everyone can tell that there is something special about him. The other side of that is that Jesus heals on the Sabbath, which consistently bothers the religious leaders. Jesus gives different reasons for this during his ministry, but the overall message seems to be that keeping God's Sabbath includes bringing healing and wholeness to God's people.

We also see that the unclean spirit Jesus casts out knows who Jesus is but Jesus does not want that secret to be told. Jesus does signs and miracles that show he is God's anointed one, but at the same time he wants to keep that fact a secret. We'll see all these elements again as the story of Jesus continues. This story of Jesus invites us to follow and to discover who Jesus is for us.

God bless,

Luke 4:31-37
31He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. 32They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority. 33In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34“Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

35But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” When the demon had thrown him down before them, he came out of him without having done him any harm. 36They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, “What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!” 37And a report about him began to reach every place in the region.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

hometown hero

Good morning all,
Today's reading may feel a little jarring since we've gotten used to following the story of Acts, but today we're back to Luke's Gospel. Our passage picks up after Jesus is baptized and after his wilderness temptation by Satan. You may remember that after the baptism (when the Holy Spirit appeared like a dove) that same Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness for fasting and temptation. Now that that temptation and solitude is over, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus out of the wilderness and into ministry.

We first see Jesus in action in his hometown of Nazareth. Things start out well as the people are impressed by his strong reading and bold words. Quickly though, Jesus turns to challenge the people by reminding them of times in Israel's history when God reached out to foreigners instead of people from Israel. The result is almost an early end to Jesus' preaching ministry. It's not exactly clear why the people are so upset. I suspect it's because instead of acting like a hometown hero: praising his neighbors and making them feel special, Jesus reminds them that God's love is bigger than that and God doesn't play favorites (at least not the way we expect). That's a tough message for the people of Nazareth and it's a tough message for us too. But the truth still remains the same: God loves everyone regardless of who we think he should love. May we follow our bold and inclusive Lord in faithful ministry.

God bless,

Luke 4:14-30
14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

23He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.


Good morning all,
I'm sorry I've been off schedule the last few days. Today I'm back at home and hopefully back on schedule sending these out in the morning. Today's reading is the end of Acts. Yesterday Paul arranged a meeting with the Jewish leaders in Rome. Today he holds that meeting and explains his faith that Jesus is the Messiah. As usual, he backs up that claim with scripture, both from the Law (the first five books of the Bible) and the prophets. We're told that some believe Paul and others do not. As has happened in the past when faced with unbelief Paul tells the people that he will take the message to the gentiles. The same line of thinking also plays a role in Paul's letters.

For Paul a big part of the reason many Jews don't believe is to give gentiles an opportunity to hear the good news. As a Christian of mostly gentile descent, I'm grateful that God sent his word to everyone and not just to his first love, the people of Israel. The truth is that God loves everyone and wants everyone to have the welcome and grace he offers in Jesus. Paul proclaimed that good news to many, offering new life to all kinds of people in his time. As we see here, he continued that work after the Book of Acts closes. We continue that work today, so that those who feel lost and hopeless will know that God loves them.


Acts 28:23-31
23After 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. 24Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe. 25So 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, 26‘Go to this people and say, You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. 27For 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.’ 28Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”
30He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, 31proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Paul's arrival

Good afternoon everyone,
Sorry not to get this out in the morning. Today Paul finally arrives in Rome. There he meets Christians who encourage him. Paul also takes the bold step of calling a meeting with the local Jewish leaders. It seems like he is trying to reach an understanding with them rather than starting in a confrontational way. That sounds like a great plan, and the elders say they want to hear more about the Christian "sect." It will be interesting to see how this meeting plays out.


Acts 28:11-22
11Three months later we set sail on a ship that had wintered at the island, an Alexandrian ship with the Twin Brothers as its figurehead. 12We put in at Syracuse and stayed there for three days; 13then 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. 14There we found believers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. 15The 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. 16When we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.

17Three 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. 18When they had examined me, the Romans wanted to release me, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. 19But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to the emperor—even though I had no charge to bring against my nation. 20For 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.” 21They replied, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken anything evil about you. 22But we would like to hear from you what you think, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”

Sunday, May 16, 2010

reaching out to the locals

Good afternoon brothers and sisters,
As Paul predicted, everyone from the ship makes it to land safely and they even find a warm welcome from the islanders. Paul makes quite an impression first by surviving a snake attack and then through healing the sick. Wherever he goes, God opens doors to ministry for him. We have opportunities for ministry wherever we go too. Sometimes we have a chance to say a healing word to someone who’s hurting or the opportunity to do a simple kindness that will touch someone’s heart. Let’s keep our eyes open for those opportunities.

Our Revelation passage is the end of the Bible. Here we move from hearing what the end will be to hearing specific encouragement to stay faithful so we can be part of the redemption party of Jesus. “Blessed are those who have washed their robes,” means blessed are those who put their trust in Christ, especially those who suffer for their witness to Jesus. We hear those last words of the Spirit, “Come,” because the Spirit prayer with us the prayer of hope for Christ’s coming. For those early Christians facing persecution the hope of Christ’s arrival helped them hold on to the end. For us thinking about the end of the world may also bring feelings of fear because the present is all we know and it’s pretty comfortable for us. The truth is we can make the world better through prayer and ministry, but only God’s final arrival can make the world perfect. We join the Spirit and the worldwide church as we hope for Christ’s final arrival so God’s healing can be complete.

God bless,

Acts 28:1-10
28After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. 2The 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. 3Paul 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. 4When 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.” 5He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6They 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.

7Now in the neighborhood 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. 8It 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. 9After this happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10They bestowed many honors on us, and when we were about to sail, they put on board all the provisions we needed.

* Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
12"See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work. 13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." 14"Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates."

16"It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star." 17The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let everyone who hears say, "Come." And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
20The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Good morning all,
Paul and his companions continue their adventures in today's reading. At this point the soldiers have become convinced that Paul is worth listening to; they even prevent the sailors from leaving because Paul tells them it will jeopardize their survival. We know listening to Paul is smart because we've been following him for quite a while, but think for a moment how strange it is for everyone to be taking direction from one of the prisoners. Of course given that, it's also strange that the soldiers would later consider killing the prisoners, but it's a good reminder that Paul really is a prisoner. Even though he is treated well most of the time he is at the mercy of various soldiers and sailors.

There's some interesting theological action here as well. Paul encourages everyone on the ship to eat by blessing and breaking bread for them. It's like God is using Paul to make this prison ship into a community through table fellowship. The final image of the passage, swimmers going ahead and those who can't swim making their way with anything they can find that floats is quite a visual. The story gives us an example of how God's purposes sometimes work themselves out in surprising ways.

God bless,

Acts 27:27-44
27When the fourteenth night had come, as we were drifting across the sea of Adria, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. 28So they took soundings and found twenty fathoms; a little farther on they took soundings again and found fifteen fathoms. 29Fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. 30But 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, 31Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the boat and set it adrift.

33Just 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. 34Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.” 35After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. 36Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves. 37(We were in all two hundred seventy-six persons in the ship.)

38After they had satisfied their hunger, they lightened the ship by throwing the wheat into the sea. 39In 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. 40So 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. 41But 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. 42The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none might swim away and escape; 43but the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, 44and the rest to follow, some on planks and others on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

adventures on the high seas

Good morning all,
Our tales of sea adventures get more exciting today as Paul, along with his captors and companions face danger in the form of rough weather. Paul warned them not to sail in the first place, but now he has some words of encouragement. What would you think of this situation if you were Julius, the centurion in charge of Paul and the other captives? Would you believe this strange prisoner? Would you wonder what you had gotten yourself into? Adventures and strange situations come to us whether we want them or not. What adventure do you feel God calling you to today?


Acts 27:12-26
12Since the harbor was not suitable for spending the winter, the majority was in favor of putting to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, where they could spend the winter. It was a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest. 13When 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. 14But soon a violent wind, called the northeaster, rushed down from Crete. 15Since the ship was caught and could not be turned head-on into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven. 16By running under the lee of a small island called Cauda we were scarcely able to get the ship’s boat under control.

17After 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. 18We were being pounded by the storm so violently that on the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard, 19and on the third day with their own hands they threw the ship’s tackle overboard. 20When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.

21Since 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. 22I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24and 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.’ 25So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26But we will have to run aground on some island.”

Paul's final journey begins

Good morning all,
After his hearing in front of Festus and Agrippa the two leaders agreed that Paul could have gone free except that he had appealed to the Emperor. So today Paul's journey to Rome begins. Of course in those days getting from the Middle East to Rome wasn't as simple as getting on a plane. In today's reading we mostly learn details of the travel, which gives us a sense for the difficulty of the journey. Since it's a geographical reading I've linked a map of Paul's journeys so we can see what we're reading.

The conclusion of this reading is a nice piece of foreshadowing. Paul warns his captors that their plan isn't a good one, but they continue on regardless. We will see how that choice turns out. Of course, it isn't really surprising that the centurion listened more to the pilot than to Paul, but since we've been following Paul all this time we know that he probably knows more than one would expect.


Acts 27:1-11
27When 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. 2Embarking 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. 3The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul kindly, and allowed him to go to his friends to be cared for. 4Putting out to sea from there, we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us.

5After we had sailed across the sea that is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. 6There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship bound for Italy and put us on board. 7We 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. 8Sailing past it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea. 9Since much time had been lost and sailing was now dangerous, because even the Fast had already gone by, Paul advised them, 10saying, “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.” 11But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

trial evangelism

Good morning friends,
Today Paul finishes his defense with an evangelical bang. He's already told Festus and Agrippa about his amazing call to ministry on the road to Damascus. Now he tells how he went out in mission to proclaim the good news and how the new thing he proclaims is really only what the prophets said would happen. He ends with a pitch to Agrippa since he expects he already knows about the movement.

When Agrippa asks, half mocking and half disbelieving, if Paul is trying to make him a Christian, Paul tells the truth: he wants everyone to believe in Christ. As he tells us, Paul's mission is to proclaim God's love in Christ to a wide range of people, "to both small and great." His ministry has brought him to trial and even that is an opportunity for testimony. For Festus and Agrippa the irony of the situation is that, rather than setting him free, Paul's appeal to the emperor is now what is holding him prisoner as he waits for the voyage. Of course, for Paul the travel ahead will also be a ministry opportunity. Lord, give us eyes to see how we can reach out in love to others too.


Acts 26:19-32
19“After that, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20but 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. 21For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22To 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: 23that 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.”

24While he was making this defense, Festus exclaimed, “You are out of your mind, Paul! Too much learning is driving you insane!” 25But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth. 26Indeed 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. 27King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”

28Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?” 29Paul 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.” 30Then the king got up, and with him the governor and Bernice and those who had been seated with them; 31and as they were leaving, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to the emperor.”

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sharing conversion

Good morning all,
Paul continues his defense this morning by telling the story of how he went from persecuting the church to helping it to spread. We've seen Paul tell this story several different times in Acts, because it is the foundation of his ministry as an apostle. Jesus appeared to him in a bright light and called him to be the apostle to the gentiles. This story tells Paul's listeners a lot about Paul. His hope is that people will see that he shares their beliefs and even shared the zeal to persecute the church before God changed his mind. That will help them understand that the Way of Jesus isn't something new and twisted, but is what God promised to do through the Law and the prophets.

God talks to us in many different ways, but God's presence is what gives us power for ministry. Most of us haven't had an experience of God like Paul did. For many of us we have to practice listening to hear God's voice because it is a quiet voice wedged in among many others. Some of us experience God most clearly in community, in service and fellowship with others. Some experience God best outside in the beauty of creation. Others find God in scripture or in song. Wherever we find God it's important for us to make time to be open so God can lead us. God didn't stop speaking when the last book of the Bible was finished, and God still has plans for each of us if we seek that quiet voice to hear what they are.

God bles,

Acts 26:8-18
8Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? 9“Indeed, I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10And 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. 11By 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.

12”With this in mind, I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, 13when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. 14When 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.’ 15I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16But 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. 17I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18to 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.’

Monday, May 10, 2010

on trial again

Good morning friends,
Today we hear Paul make his defense in front of King Agrippa, Queen Bernice and Governor Festus, among others. Paul explains his case in terms of his Jewish faith. For Paul and other Jewish Christians their faith in Christ was a natural growth from Judaism. Non-Christian Jews felt like faith in Jesus was not an extension, but a perversion of Judaism, which is why they are so vehement in their opposition.

Paul particularly picks up on the difference between Pharisees and Sadducees, claiming that this is the controversy at issue. For Paul as a Pharisee, belief in the resurrection of the dead comes naturally. So he explains that this belief in the resurrection is what has gotten him into trouble. We've seen him exploit this division before in addressing Jewish critics. We'll see where he takes this argument from here and how he uses this opportunity.

God bless you as the week begins,

Acts 25:23-26:7
23So 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. 24And 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. 25But I found that he had done nothing deserving death; and when he appealed to his Imperial Majesty, I decided to send him. 26But 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— 27for it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner without indicating the charges against him.”

26Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and began to defend himself: 2“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, 3because you are especially familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews; therefore I beg of you to listen to me patiently. 4“All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, a life spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem.

5They 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. 6And now I stand here on trial on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, 7a 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!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

King Agrippa and the City of God

Good morning and Happy Mother's Day,
Today we see Paul's case progress through the Roman system. The local Roman King, Agrippa, comes to Caesarea with his wife Bernice to welcome Festus, the new governor. While Agrippa is staying there Festus explains his confusion about what to do with Paul. Felix left him in prison, so Festus now has to deal with him, but the charges against him are religious charges. That means Festus doesn't have the background to settle the case and probably doesn't care much about the underlying questions. At the same time we can tell he and Agrippa feel at least a curiosity about Paul. It might be that the spread of Christianity made it interesting to these leaders and the look forward to the chance to hear more about it.

Our reading from Revelation shows how the close of John's vision. He sees the final redemption of the world. The new Jerusalem comes down from heaven as the center of God's loving rule. In that day we won't need a temple anymore because God will be our temple. The kings of all nations will come into the city bringing gifts and seeking God and from God's throne a healing stream will flow. The tree of life, like the one in Eden maybe, will grow there with leaves to heal the nations. This vision for the fulfillment of creation is one of beauty, peace and God's loving presence. It shows us that all will be well in the end, giving us courage to keep the faith now in struggle.
May God's peace fill you with joy,

Acts 25:13-22
13After several days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to welcome Festus. 14Since 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. 15When I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me about him and asked for a sentence against him. 16I 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 defense against the charge. 17So 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.

18When the accusers stood up, they did not charge him with any of the crimes that I was expecting. 19Instead 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. 20Since 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. 21But 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.” 22Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he said, “you will hear him.”

Revelation 21:10, 21:22-22:5
10And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. 22I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25Its gates will never be shut by day-and there will be no night there. 26People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.

1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

a new governor

Good morning everyone,
A new governor is in charge as we begin today's reading; Festus succeeds Felix and inherits, among all the other issues, Paul. Right away the Jewish leaders advocate sending Paul to Jerusalem for trial. Like before, a big part of their motivation is that the journey will give them a chance to kill Paul themselves. In that period the center of religious power for the Judea was Jerusalem, as it had been for centuries. Roman government of the area was centered in Caesarea, a city on the Mediterranean coast. Transferring Paul to Jerusalem seems to signify giving jurisdiction to the religious leaders, even though Festus says he would be the judge in either case.

When Festus examines Paul he asks Paul where he wants to be tried. Paul appeals to Rome, a right he has as a Roman citizen. It may be that he feels (probably rightly) that Rome will be fairer with him than the religious leaders. He also might be remembering God's call to witness to Christ before kings and emperors, which the journey to Rome will facilitate. We will see Paul use the opportunity to present the good news to many different people over the next chapter. By God's Spirit even hardship can become an opportunity for ministry if we look outside ourselves.


Acts 25:1-12
Three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem 2where the chief priests and the leaders of the Jews gave him a report against Paul. They appealed to him 3and 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. 4Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea, and that he himself intended to go there shortly. 5“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.”

6After 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. 7When he arrived, the Jews who had gone down from Jerusalem surrounded him, bringing many serious charges against him, which they could not prove. 8Paul 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.”

9But 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?” 10Paul 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. 11Now 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.” 12Then Festus, after he had conferred with his council, replied, “You have appealed to the emperor; to the emperor you will go.”

Friday, May 7, 2010

contradiction and call

Good morning friends,
Today we learn that Paul's speech isn't the first time Governor Felix has heard about Christianity. Felix sends him away but calls him back from time to time. Luke tells us that Felix hoped Paul would bribe him. He also says that when Paul talked about faith and Jesus and the coming judgment, Felix was afraid. It's interesting that Felix was afraid and wanted to send Paul away, and he wanted to talk to him at different times and get money from him.

We can probably relate to Felix here a little bit. We want to hear more about Jesus and we find that story compelling. At the same time, the gospel frightens us sometimes, maybe because we worry about measuring up to our calling or because God's love is overwhelming. Often too, there's part of us that wants to get something out of our faith: good feelings about ourselves, security, fellowship. It's OK to have these conflicting feelings about faith in Christ; in some ways being human means living in contradiction. Our goal is not to banish contradiction or to obsess about pure motives, but to seek to hear Christ's call in the midst of all those complications and to open ourselves to the transformation that the gospel offers.


Acts 24:22-27

22But 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.” 23Then 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.

24Some 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. 25And 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.” 26At 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. 27After two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and since he wanted to grant the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Paul starts his defense

Good morning all,
Today Paul makes his defense in front of the governor and his accusers. He doesn't say much, nor does he use the opportunity to say anything about Jesus. Instead he explains himself as a worshiper of the God of his ancestors according to the Way. So he's saying that he is Jewish and in fact pretty traditional about his Judaism, but according to the Way, which is the way of Jesus.

I like Paul's quick explanation: he believes in the resurrection so he tries to always have a clear conscience. It is a simple statement and gets to the heart of his belief. There's also a lot missing from what Paul says, though as we'll see later, he has more to say in the course of his various trials. I hope whenever someone asks me about my faith and actions I can be cheerful in saying what I believe instead of giving in to fear and anxiety.

God bless,

Acts 24:10-21

10When 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. 11As you can find out, it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem. 12They did not find me disputing with anyone in the temple or stirring up a crowd either in the synagogues or throughout the city. 13Neither can they prove to you the charge that they now bring against me. 14But 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. 15I 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.

16Therefore I do my best always to have a clear conscience toward God and all people. 17Now after some years I came to bring alms to my nation and to offer sacrifices. 18While I was doing this, they found me in the temple, completing the rite of purification, without any crowd or disturbance. 19But there were some Jews from Asia—they ought to be here before you to make an accusation, if they have anything against me. 20Or let these men here tell what crime they had found when I stood before the council, 21unless 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.’”

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A case against Paul

Good morning sisters and brothers,

I think a quick recap is in order. Paul was placed in protective custody by the Romans after a riot broke out trying to kill him when he went to the temple in Jerusalem. Paul's Roman citizenship gave him good standing with his captors and in addition to treating him pretty well, they have also protected him from an assassination attempt. He's recently been sent, under heavy guard, to the governor's office and today the Jewish leaders arrive there as well to present their case.

The true part of their case is that Paul is a ringleader of the "sect of the Nazarean" (followers of Jesus). The mistaken part is that he was going to profane the temple. It's hard to know if that's an honest misunderstanding or a willful incitement. Acts tells us they had seen him earlier with a gentile Christian companion so they thought Paul was going to take him to the part of the temple reserved for Jews. That wasn't the case. At any rate they have made their case to the Romans and Paul will respond tomorrow.

God bless,

Acts 24:1-9
Five 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. 2When 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. 3We welcome this in every way and everywhere with utmost gratitude. 4But, to detain you no further, I beg you to hear us briefly with your customary graciousness.

5We 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. 6He even tried to profane the temple, and so we seized him. 8By examining him yourself you will be able to learn from him concerning everything of which we accuse him.” 9The Jews also joined in the charge by asserting that all this was true.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

protecting a prisoner

Good morning friends,
Having heard about this threat to Paul's life the tribune responds by sending him to the governor. He sends him during the night and under heavy guard to protect him from the conspirators. This whole section is a reminder that Rome could be a friend or a threat for early Christians. The tribune isn't protecting Paul for Paul. He is protecting him because he is a Roman citizen and because he wants to look good to his superiors. Notice how he tells the story to the governor: "When I found out he was a Roman citizen I went to get him."

If we remember a couple days back that's not exactly what happened. The tribune went because he heard there was a riot and saved Paul as a byproduct of that concern for order. He didn't find out Paul was a Roman citizen until later. There are privileges that come with citizenship, but we are called to use those privileges not just for ourselves. Christians are called to advocate and stand with all people, especially the vulnerable. In these times where citizenship is such a contested topic we lift up the rights of those who are not citizens and everyone government and the powerful find easy to ignore.
May we be faithful to our loving God and our neighbor,

Acts 23:22-34
22So the tribune dismissed the young man, ordering him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of this.” 23Then 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. 24Also provide mounts for Paul to ride, and take him safely to Felix the governor.”

25He wrote a letter to this effect: 26“Claudius Lysias to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. 27This 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. 28Since I wanted to know the charge for which they accused him, I had him brought to their council. 29I found that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but was charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. 30When 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.”

31So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him during the night to Antipatris. 32The next day they let the horsemen go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. 33When they came to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. 34On reading the letter, he asked what province he belonged to, and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” Then he ordered that he be kept under guard in Herod’s headquarters.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

connecting with his audience

Good morning all,
Today the Jewish Council assembles to bring their charges against Paul. Paul seeks to be both forthright and deferential here. He also thinks strategically about how to win over the council. He notices that there are both Pharisees and Sadducees on the council so he takes advantage of that division. Since he grew up as a Pharisee, Paul naturally relates Christian faith to his Jewish faith and points out the continuities. He tells the council that he's on trial is for his belief in the resurrection of the dead. This statement is meant for the Pharisees, who also believe in the resurrection. If he can convince them that Christian teaching fits within that framework he may overcome the opposition and may bring in some new believers. We also see God encourage Paul to keep his strength up because his job as a witness for Christ isn't over yet.

Our second reading from Revelation gives us a glimpse of the conclusion of history. The heavenly city comes down to earth for us to live in with God. One day God will put an end to death. God will wipe away every tear from every eye; pain and hardship and oppression will be no more. God gave early Christians who faced increasing oppression for their faith this vision of how God's covenant promises will one day be fulfilled to help them maintain their courage. The same vision and the knowledge that God is the Alfa and Omega, the beginning and the end, sustains us in hope when times are hard. One day God will make all things right; until then we pray and work for a better world.

God bless,

Acts 23:1-11
1While 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.” 2Then the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near him to strike him on the mouth. 3At 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?” 4Those standing nearby said, “Do you dare to insult God’s high priest?” 5And Paul said, “I did not realize, brothers, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a leader of your people.’”

6When 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.” 7When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8(The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.) 9Then a great clamor 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?” 10When 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. 11That 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.”

Revelation 21:1-6
1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."
5And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life."

Saturday, May 1, 2010

asserting his rights

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Paul's defense is interrupted by the crowd shouting for his death. It's not completely clear what exactly in Paul's speech triggers this response, probably Paul recalling Jesus sending him explicitly to the gentiles and Paul's heavenly vision of Jesus. At any rate, the crowd has heard enough and they have made their decision about Paul. Fortunately for Paul he's still in Roman custody so the crowd can't kill him.

At this point the tribune takes Paul away to examine him further. Here Paul plays the trump card he will use for the rest of the story: he is a Roman citizen. That means he has rights to certain judicial protections. As we see from the tribune's response, Paul's citizenship is also a mark of status that leads the tribune to take him more seriously. From here the tribune decides to let Paul free and to bring his accusers to state their charge.

Blessings on your weekend,

Acts 22:22-30
22Up 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.” 23And while they were shouting, throwing off their cloaks, and tossing dust into the air, 24the 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.

25But 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?” 26When 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.” 27The tribune came and asked Paul, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28The tribune answered, “It cost me a large sum of money to get my citizenship.” Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.”

29Immediately 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. 30Since 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.