Paul and Barnabas continued on from Perga
and reached Antioch in Pisidia.
On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and took their seats.
Many Jews and worshipers who were converts to Judaism
followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them
and urged them to remain faithful to the grace of God….
(They) expelled (Paul and Barnabas) from their territory.
So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them,
and went to Iconium.
The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
(from Acts 13:14, 43-52)
Pondering the Word…
Recently, there have been a series of articles in The Guardian
addressing a study, commissioned by the UK, on the persecution of
Christians worldwide. This report, along with those from Open Doors, a
non-profit organization that monitors global Christian persecution,
indicates a significant increase over the past two years in the risks
Christians face, primarily in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
someone who lives in a nation that espouses religious freedom, and that
is populated predominantly by people who at least identify as Christian,
the reality of religious persecution seems distant and almost
unimaginable (although recently, the US has experienced more of this
problem, particularly for those of minority faiths). This kind of thing
happened to the early Christians like Paul and Barnabas who were
challenging the status quo. How can this still be happening today?
Reports of increased persecution lead those who are threatened (but
able) to mount stringent and prejudiced defenses and to counter-attack
which leads to nothing but more violence. Or those persecuted are forced
to flee their homelands. I have yet to see anyone so threatened “shaking
the dust off their feet” or moving forward filled with joy. What lessons
does this scripture have for us as we confront persecution today?
Living the Word…
People like Paul and Barnabas who remain faithful by moving forward
without malice don’t tend to be long for this world, and the idea of
suffering persecution for the sake of the Name is not something many of
us desire. How can we keep ourselves motivated to remain faithful, not
just to God, but to the grace of God? Being faithful to the grace
of God means we can stand firm when the going gets tough. That grace
encompasses many things: compassion, to be in visible solidarity with
those persecuted; courage, to stand up to those who would demonize
others because of their faith; patience, when we are questioned or
belittled for our beliefs; joy, in knowing that God has an eternal plan
for peace and freedom for each one of us.
Pray this week for those who face oppression or persecution that God
will grant them relief from their struggles. Pray for those who
persecute others, that the God of all will open their eyes and hearts to
love and acceptance. And pray also for ourselves, that we will remain
faithful to God’s grace within us so we can radiate the joy and the
light of the Holy Spirit despite the darkness that surrounds us.
"I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly."
What do you think Jesus is saying here? Some preachers speak of abundant
life as being in the form of worldly wealth and comfort, and some live
that out very conspicuously. The preceding verses talk about sheep.
Sheep don’t have complex needs: food, water, and someone to guard and
tend to them. They likely don’t realize if their shepherd is someone who
goes the extra distance to protect them, or is one who is just concerned
with how he or she will profit from them. Perhaps the idea of abundant
life means we are blessed with the knowledge that our Shepherd is
extraordinary, even willing to lay down his life for us, and the
abundance we receive from this awareness is the gratitude and awe that
someone so great cares for us. Abundant life is not measured in dollars
and cents, but in a heartfelt peace that we are so loved.
Then they gave
lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias...
(Acts 1:15-17, 20-26)
The casting of lots to make decisions, particularly with supernatural
guidance, is called cleromancy. There are numerous instances in the Old
Testament when God instructs someone to cast lots to make a decision.
Nowadays, some consider this superstitious or even evil. Yes, we still
use “rock, paper, scissors” to decide who goes first, but thinking we
can discern God’s will by casting die? I don’t think so. How do
we discern God’s will? Good discernment involves both the mind and the
heart. Discernment is always between two goods (like Matthias and
Barsabbas). We pray for the Spirit’s light, then use our God-given
intelligence to consider the pros and cons, and our imagination to
picture the outcome of each option. Then we listen…to movements in our
heart, to the advice of trusted confidantes, to God’s quiet whispering
voice. We might prefer to have the randomness and immediacy of dice to
absolve us of responsibility for the way things turn out, but God calls
us to call upon his Spirit, to take the time to reflect and to listen.
Now that’s divine guidance!
out and said, “Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also
in the one who sent me,
and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.”
The two verses that precede this verse tell us that many elders believed
in him, but did not acknowledge him for fear of being expelled from the
synagogue—“they preferred human praise to the glory of God.” I
imagine Jesus “crying out,” desperate to get his point across, to have
people understand what he is trying to tell them. I think about those we
talked about on Sunday, rendered silent for fear of harassment or worse.
It is not that they who remain silent prefer human praise; they are
often trying to preserve their very lives. Jesus came as Light for the
world, not to condemn, but to save. Let those of us who are free to
practice our faith raise our voices and be unafraid to acknowledge that
Light in the name of those who, due to persecution, cannot.
“I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart.”
(Acts 13:13-25, ref. Ps 89) “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever
receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives
the one who sent me." (Jn 13:16-20)
wonder about what Jesus says here. It seems to me that so much gets lost
in the translation between the one sent by God—Jesus—and those of us
Jesus sends to carry the message forward. But I find solace in what God
has to say about David, a man after God’s own heart. The same David who
commits adultery and murder; the same one who at times runs away, who
lets his ego take hold, but through it all seems to know intimately
God’s love and mercy, and returns over and over again to experience it.
If you, like me, question your worthiness as Christ’s voice in the
world, look to David, God’s flawed but faithful servant.
"I myself have set
up my king on Zion, my holy mountain."
learned something new today. According to biblical scholar Robert Alter,
“Zion is a modest mountain on the crest of which sits a modest
fortified town, the capital of a small kingdom, surrounding by vast
empires.” I always thought Zion was the biggest and best, but as per
usual, God chooses a quieter, simpler approach. Let’s follow God’s way
today: Where might you be a quiet, humble presence amid the clamor of
the world’s vast empires?
know me, then you will also know my Father.”
The operative question Jesus asks is, ‘Do you know me?’ ‘I mean, do you
really know me? Because if you do, there should be no question
about knowing or seeing the Father.’ How well do you know Jesus? Have
you spent time getting to know him, not just know of him? Do you
read and try to experience Jesus in the words of Scripture? Have you
sought him out where he says we will find him today?