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Do not be afraid

by davesandel on May 22nd, 2020

May 21, 2020               (today’s lectionary)

 

Do not be afraid

Paul’s road trip continues!

I am so happy to be reading these chapters of Acts in our continued-cum-not-really-permanent-but-sure-feels-like-it sheltering in place. If I can’t go, I have more time to go with Paul.

Paul left Athens and went to Corinth, a journey overland of 37 miles. Corinth was long a commercial and naval rival to Athens, destroyed by the Romans for rebellion and then a hundred years later (44 BC, about a hundred years before Paul arrived) refounded and rebuilt by Julius Caesar.

There he met Aquila and Priscilla, immigrant Jews from Rome, and they made tents together.

Tents on Friday and teaching on Saturday. Paul worked hard, but on Shabat he only opened his mouth – God did the work. Paul’s obedient conviction, God’s truth, and the open ears of Corinthians made for some excellent discussions in the synagogue. “The Lord makes his salvation known. In the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.”

What happened to Paul’s buddies in Philippi? A messenger must have found them, and they found their way down to Corinth. The arrival of Silas and Timothy changed things. Paul began preaching full-time after they arrived. Did they urge him on? Or maybe they earned the living so Paul could be the missionary?

Seems like everywhere he went, the Jews who listened least were those with the largest reputations and longest family trees. That’s one thing, but when they begin to tell others not to listen, Paul gets really angry and curses them with the best Jewish curses.

These are passages that anti-Semites must love, fueling their hatred-from-a-distance.

But I think of Paul as a cornered mother hen, or cow, or bear … he will protect his children at the cost of his own life! And always, as he shakes Jewish dust off his sandals, there are many Corinthians  who will listen, be baptized and become Christ-followers. Jesus speaks of a woman bearing her baby, her agony turning on a dime to ecstasy. That’s Paul.

“Sing joyfully to the Lord all you lands. Break into song, sing praise!

Silas and Timothy were gone for weeks, at least, and Paul expected them any day in Athens. Jesus will be leaving his disciples, as Paul did. Jesus tells them he’ll be gone for a bit, but they don’t understand.

“What is this little while he talks about?” But Jesus continues to confuse them when he says, “You will weep while the world rejoices.” Is Jesus feeling sorry for himself and his disciples? Might sound that way, but he continues his prophecy in fact, “You will grieve, and then your grief will become joy.”

It’s easy for us to see what he’s talking about. But I think the disciples didn’t see at all. At least they don’t have long to wait.                       (Acts 18, Psalm 98, John 16)

 

May 22, 2020               (today’s lectionary)

One night in a vision the Lord spoke to Paul. “Do not be afraid.”

On his road trip so far, Paul might have been getting a little gun shy. He has been ragged by nasty, bullied crowds who in turn bullied him. He has been cursed and beaten, thrown in prison, stoned, left for dead, and left alone even by his friends, as he travelled alone to protect them. In spite of his nature, Paul might indeed have been afraid.

The Lord stepped in. “Do not be afraid.” Open your mouth and I will speak. And you will be safe here – “I have many people in this city.” God’s words turned out to be gospel-true. Paul stayed in Corinth longer than anywhere, and because of the verifiable date of his court case before Proconsul Gallio, (between 50 and 52 AD), accurate dates for much of the rest of Acts can also be established.

Actually, Gallio refused to hear the case. The precedent he set with this refusal essentially legitimized Christianity in the Roman Empire. Christianity was, as far as Gallio and therefore Rome was concerned, was only a Jewish sect, not a new religion, which would have been illegal and crushed.

Not that Jews in Rome were tolerated. Current emperor Claudius, banned all Jews from the city. Less than a decade later his son Nero blamed Christians for the 64 AD Fire of Rome and crucified or burned them as living, screaming “Candlesticks of Christianity” to light his parties. (Gallio’s brother Seneca was Nero’s childhood tutor, by the way.)

Paul remained for quite some time and after saying farewell to the brothers sailed for Syria, together with Priscilla and Aquila.

But before they sailed he shaved his head. Paul took a Nazirite vow after his vision of God’s assurance, and eighteen months later the time of his vow was complete. Another parallel with our pandemic deprivations … at last Paul could get a haircut!

 

Clap your hands, all ye people

Shout unto God with a voice of triumph

Clap your hands, all ye people

Shout unto God with a voice of praise

Hosanna, hosanna

Shout unto God with a voice of triumph

Praise him, praise him

Shout unto God with a voice of praise!

 

“Oh yes,” Jesus says, “You WILL weep and mourn, but then your grief will become joy. Like a mother with her baby, her tears of anguish turn to joy. Her child has been born into the world!”

Who said that the varieties of religious experience, and in particular religious worship, should not be fed with emotion?  Surely not any mother whose frenzied sweat and prolonged agony of labor are released along with her slippery baby, and she collapses with cries of joy. Overwhelmed. Exhausted. Satisfied. Alive!

With his metaphor, Jesus gives us this Great Permission. So worship. Watch the people in Quebec (second link above) dance around their church. Enter in. Feel what God gives you to feel. “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.” Listen to Jesus, accept the emotion. Accept the gift, as the Gaithers have for decades.

Do not be afraid.                (Acts 18, Psalm 47, John 16)

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