Paul cannot be leaving, no!

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

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Paul cannot be leaving, no!

Now compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem. What will happen to me there I do not know, except that in one city after another the Holy Spirit has been warning me that imprisonment and hardships await me.

Imprisonment and hardship just keep flowing down the pike. Paul has no reason to expect those persecutions to stop; the Holy Spirit is telling him so, and his body speaks too, not yet recovered from his last bad time.

Paul might be ready to die.

I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and ministry, the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the gospel of God’s grace.

Paul speaks to his Ephesian brothers, his friends, those he loves. He knows this moment is goodbye. Perhaps they know it too. The fresh smell of the sea fills their nostrils during this time that none of them will ever forget.

But now, I know that none of you to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels will ever see my face again. And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God!

We will never see his face again. It was shocking to hear Paul say those words out loud. His words are stirring up a waterspout, and I can’t help but turn my face away, turn it out to sea, blinded by salty tears and absolutely unable to believe him. Never see Paul again? I would have thought these circuits of preaching and singing and teaching and blessing would be unbroken, going on forever.

And maybe they will, but without Paul.

A bountiful rain you showered down, O God, upon your inheritance. You restored the land when it languished, your flock settled down upon it, and in your goodness, O God, you provided it for the needy.

Margaret and I have said goodbye a few times, to our church families, to our sons and daughters, to our parents. Most nearly, to our parents, to Margaret’s mom Dorothy, whose love for her children bound them together more than we knew. It has been difficult to regain that equilibrium.

When we left our church in Waynesville, more than a hundred people gathered with us for a potluck, an ordination, gifts and a farewell. Even now thirty-four years later the memories feel fresh, and when we visit a friend in Waynesville we are closeted with each other in the warmest airs of love.

Blessed day by day be the Lord, who bears our burdens; God, who is our salvation. God is a saving God for us. The Lord, my Lord, controls the passageways of death.

Paul, stop a minute. Let us grasp your words, and then let us reject them. We will not survive without you, for you are the bulwark of our faith, and the cannonballs of doubt and fear continue to fall hard upon us. You look up and shake your fist at Satan; who will be doing that for us now? Must we eat the meat of your teaching suddenly, in a moment, when most of the milk is left to drink?

Paul looks up, and into our eyes. And we know he will be gone in just a moment. Gulls flutter around us, their white feathers blessing. All our hearts are filled with the Father’s love.

 (Acts 20, Psalm 68, John 14, John 17)

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