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Posts Tagged ‘Apostle Paul’

In the daily lectionary at this time in August is the continuing lection of the Apostle Paul’s arrest, trial and then sent as prisoner on board a ship, bound for Rome, for another trial, this time as a Roman citizen.  As many of you know, the voyage ended in storm and shipwreck in the last chapters of Acts of the Apostles.  An aside:  one of those perennial questions is, if you were a billionaire (cost of living means no longer imagining to be a millionaire!), what would you want?  I would invest in Netflix style multi episode series, such as filming the short stories of Flannery O’Connor, the space trilogy by C. S. Lewis…and Acts, as it is in the Bible, and the last chapters are the obvious climax.  If you have not read the last chapters of Acts in sometime, I encourage you to do so.

In today’s episode, Acts 27, Paul is on board, with 276 passengers, and the ship hits a “northeaster” (27: 14), a “tempestuous wind” (a “nor’easter still is!) and they could not tack into the wind, but were blown by it along the coast of the island of Cauda.  They had to jettison ship gear to lighten the load and ride the waves.

18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. 19 And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.

Paul is visited by an angel who tells him none of the ship’s manifest will be lost, but the ship will be wrecked.  This goes on for fourteen days and today these verses stood out:

33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength,[f] for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.”35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.

In the middle of the storm Paul broke the bread giving thanks to God as the Apostle cared for them. In John’s Gospel, after the feeding of the 5,000, John reports, after Jesus comes to the other side of the Sea of Galilee:

23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.

In the middle of the deserted place, the Evangelist wants to tell us again:  “…the Lord had given thanks”.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and the Apostle Paul tells us, “In the night in which He was betrayed, He took bread and when He had given thanks…”

In the midst of storm, desert and betrayal, Jesus and His people give thanks to the Lord for His gifts to them, their “daily bread”.  Maybe a bigger part of the mighty deeds in the Bible is that people give thanks to the Lord in the midst of situations that they know they are at the end of all things.  They know again Who is the Lord Who gives all.  In the midst of storm, desert and betrayal, giving thanks not only for what we have, but Who has us.  This is Christian courage and encouragement.  I am not sufficient for this things on my own, we in Christ are and so the Apostle Paul, “ in the presence of all he broke…” the bread.  This seems to have made quite an impression on the centurion, Julius (vs. 1).  After all:

The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. 43 But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. 

Again the Apostle, 1 Thessalonians:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 

And once more, Philippians 4:

11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

The Apostle learned Christ, in the midst of a storm, and so many other times.  We have a whole bunch of learning left to us! 

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“…the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Introduction:  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s  “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”  dated April 16th, 1963, was written to clergymen who did not like the non-violent protests of civil rights movement. Like the Apostle Paul, Dr. King wrote from prison. His letter is an apologia, a defense of  non-violent protest against injustice.  It is a long letter. Below are citations from it.  You can read the entire lettehere. The entire letter is worth the read.  He should be noted for the “I Have a Dream” speech and whole lot more.

Reflection:  Dr. King wrote this when I was nine years of age.  One of the most important inventions of the 20th century is still the television.  We saw in black and white on the nightly news non-violent protesters beaten, hosed and pursued. I still remember my Father saying this is not America.  This letter is a measured response to the resistance to resistance to evil.  I have emphasized a couple of quotes below that I think are especially needed in our time in the Church within the public square.

First, note that Dr. King had no troubles with the “separation of Church and state”.  It was not about the 10 commandments in a court house but in the courts of public opinion and policy.  Still is.  It is not about manger scenes alone in public squares but His Incarnation for us in our public squares.  

Second, he had no trouble invoking the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as reflective of our “Jude0-Christian heritage”.  We must not be either as we witness the executive and judicial branches of government usurping our founding documents to enforce health care and abortion, and abortion as health care;  mandating the denial of marriage between man and woman;  government setting policy for the  whole nation by the abnegation of the Congress and the people to the federal government’s agencies;  allowing a virulent religion which hates homosexuals and women to have a pass.  Since the State can do all of this  as a supposed “moral good”, then what is stopping said State from even more curtailing of our Constitutional liberties?   As Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of blessed memory wrote, When the Church is excluded from the public square then the State will become the church.  No one could convince Dr. King that the Church did not belong in the public square.  Yet, many are still doing that these days in the name of immoralities and abortions of conscience.  We must take heed to Dr. King’s epistle:

  • I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my a particular home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
  • We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was “well timed,” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the words [sic]”Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
  • We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
  • You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.”
  • Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. To use the words of Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, segregation substitutes and “I-it” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship, and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. So segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Isn’t segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.
  • We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws. I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
  • But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist for love — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice — “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ — “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist — “Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist — “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist — “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice–or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
  • There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest. (emphases my own)
  • Things are different now. The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.
  • But the judgement of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I am meeting young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.
  • One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, and thusly, carrying our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

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Lord God, heavenly Father, You sent Onesimus back to Philemon as a brother in Christ, freeing him from his slavery to sin through the preaching of the Apostle St. Paul. Cleanse the depths of sin within our souls and bid resentment cease for past offenses, that, by Your mercy, we may be reconciled to our brothers and sisters and our lives will reflect Your peace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Read an Entire Book of the Bible!  The Book of Philemon (English Standard Version). It’s shorter than many of my blog articles: 

1Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philemon’s Love and Faith

4 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. 7For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Paul’s Plea for Onesimus

8Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required,9yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I

became in my imprisonment. 11(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.

Final Greetings

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24and so doMark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

 Reflection on verse 11:  Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.

“Oh, he’s useless…no good.”  “What a useless waste of time!”  “It’s useless.  I give up!”  At one time or another we have all said something like that and it is a word of judgment, of law: a judgment of others or of our selves. It appears that in the  house and home of Philemon, Onesimus was useless.  We are not told in what ways he was useless as a slave.  Not obedient?  Slothful?  He had talents and abilities he did not use?   Maybe he did alot of, well, “brown-nosing”?  We do not know.  But he was useless.  We do not know why Onesimus ran away.  A conjecture:  like Jonah, the Lord caught up to Jonah as Jonah ran away and Onesimus’ uselessness was catching up to him as he ran away and the Lord found him in a jail…with His Apostle!  Then what a conversation Onesimus and the Apostle had in jail!   The  Apostle Paul knew Luke’s Gospel full well…after all, in Acts, Luke has sections in which he reports  he was there with Paul.  And at the end of Philemon, notice who else is with Paul in Rome! (verse 24)  The Apostle knew the Lord’s command:   ”Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that  repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.”  (Luke 24:  46-48)  “Yes, Onesimus, your uselessness is real!  You are not doing as you should and so you dig a hole deeper for yourself and you can not get your self out.  And now you are a runaway slave and so are a criminal and the hole is even deeper.  Philemon has his rights under Roman law.  But there is One Who went into the hole Himself, born under the law:  Jesus Christ, God Himself.  The Lord has shown you your sin but better: He has shown you your Savior!  And that hole was His Cross and grave.  Luke told us that Jesus forgave a repentant thief on the Cross.  He even forgave me, the chief of sinners.  You have heard my story. Onesimus, He is risen and by His blood, He makes you right with God.  The Lord became a slave, as we all were enslaved to sin and death and the power of the devil, in order to bear our sin in His own Body.  Onesimus, His commands are not burdensome: repent and believe in the Gospel.”  In Christ Jesus alone, and His decision for us and for our salvation, Onesimus became more than a slave, a brother, Paul’s child and heart.  Onesimus’ name literally means “useful”.  In Christ Jesus, Onesimus became his own name.  He was lost and was found.  Even now.

Post-script:  According to a letter from St.Ignatius to the Ephesians, as he was going to be executed by the Romans for the Faith, Ignatius mentions one “…Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love and…your bishop.” (that is, pastor)!  St. Ignatius wrote this around the year 100. So this means that Paul’s letter to Philemon  was written only 40 prior to Ignatius’ letter.  We do not know if the two men so named were one and same, never the less, it is in keeping with the working of the Lord Who creates out of nothing, from Abraham,an idolater,  to Moses, a murderer and a stutterer, to David, a lad, to Paul, a persecutor of Christians, to a runway slave named Useful.

 

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