I Can See Clearly Now

I Can See Clearly Now

To me, chapter 30 seems to be about competing visions of and for the future. Paul has a vision of one world united in the kingdom of God under Christ. The religious establishment has a vision of the chaos and turmoil that would undoubtably be the “birth pangs” of such a transformation. When we read Acts today, it is very easy to judge those who sought to stop Paul and the rest of the early church, but I think that’s being unfair to them. We may disagree with their METHODS, but, generally, I think their MOTIVATION was to preserve what they thought of as the purity of the people of God.

I think it’s not so much that those who opposed Paul had no vision. Rather, their vision of the future was myopic. They could see in the near term that Paul was advocating a major upheaval of the social order of they day.

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28)

It’s hard to think of a more disruptive statement than this in the well ordered society Paul was speaking to! Is it any wonder that the religious leaders of the day, charged with a sacred trust to preserve the purity of the Jewish people, would see Paul and his message as something to be stopped at any cost?

But those who opposed Paul weren’t the only ones who suffered from near sightedness. We see it also within the church. When Paul is preparing to go to Jerusalem, he receives word of a prophetic vision, showing that Paul would be bound if he continued. So the fellow believers urged Paul to change his plans. But Paul would have none of it. He had a different vision. It’s important to note that Paul did not deny the validity of Agabus’ vision. Quite the contrary — he accepted is as valid. It’s just that he saw beyond that limited vision, to the greater plan that lay ahead.

So, what does all of this mean for us? Are we open to seeing where God may be doing a new thing in the world, even if it disrupts and destroys things we’ve held dear, even sacred? And how do we know when that “new thing” really IS of God?

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Worthy of the Call

Worthy of the Call

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Extremely powerful words, both to the church in Ephesus and to us. Even from the depravity of prison, Paul calls us to live a life worthy of the call God has put upon us. This passage is a common charge and benediction at the end of a worship service. The words are familiar, eloquent, and inspiring. There is a part of me that reads these words and waits for the inner choral response … “A-men, a-men, a-a-a-a-men.” The danger of using great passages of scripture as liturgy is that the meaning becomes more about the ritual of saying or hearing the words than in the words themselves. These words, for instance, are often heard as a dismissal, but they’re not just nice words to finish the service. They are spoken from a deep passion and urgency … They are a vision, a hope, and a caution. Don’t let the fight, the hard work, the mission of the Church lead you to be less than you had hoped you would be or less than Christ deserves.

As the “called out” body of Christ we are to be humble and gentle, patient and loving. When faced with persecution and harassment like the early church experienced … it’s easy to fight among ourselves over who’s more “right” and who knows better. It’s hard to be patient when we’re tired and scared, and our colleagues are on death row. It’s hard to be loving when our own people turn against us.

I see that. Our church members aren’t faced with imprisonment or martyrdom, but many Presbyterians are still scared and impatient. I know I am. Congregations are facing huge challenges for survival, and when we struggle to survive we don’t always “play nice.” Churches experiencing financial, leadership and membership challenges may find they also experience more conflict and crisis.

Some of us are heading to our national General Assembly in a few weeks, and our commissioners are already being lobbied to vote “in favor of …” or “against … ” Some are afraid of the most “controversial” issues: gay marriage and our policies on the Middle East. Others try to please everyone with compromises. We label each other as “liberal” or “conservative” or “evangelical” or “progressive.” We make friends with those who think as we do and put down those who see things differently. We argue, “it’s a justice issue” “it’s about love” “it’s what the Bible says” “it’s unnatural” “It kills people” “we need to send a clear message” “it’ll harm our relationship with …” “it won’t change anything” or “it’ll change everything.”

Paul tells us when it comes to the mission of Christ we are to keep up the race, to persevere, to keep on … but to do so in love. Always in love. It’s not just about getting the job done, it’s about living a life worthy of our call. Integrity, humility, kindness, compassion … this speaks louder than any fancy politicking. Remember it’s Christ we’re serving … the same Christ … there is unity of Spirit in Christ.

Our church and our world are polarized into us and them, the good and the bad, the right and the wrong, the smart and the dumb, the educated and the ignorant, the reasonable and the unreasonable … but there is a common source of life and hope in Jesus Christ. So remain humble and patient, be gentle and focus on peace. In the end it’s about the quality of our lives, not the results of our voting. There is love which binds us together. That love is over all and through all and in all.

Assignment … Chapter 30

assignment_icon This week we’ll be continuing the story of Paul.  That’s Chapter 30: Paul’s Final Days.  For those reading along in your own Bible, the reference is: Acts 20-2327-28Ephesians 1-6; 2 Timothy 1-4. Look for this week’s reflection/s on Monday Morning.  In the meantime, make comments or ask questions here.  Or on the facebook group page, or on Twitter using the hashtag #apcthestory.