Sunday 7th March 2021
It’s hard, O Lord, when the message hits home; when we see, in the sins of our forebears, our own; when getting real has toppled our self-styled crowns and the weight of our guilt drags us down. But you, dear Lord, are always ready to forgive, when in the Holy Spirit we choose to live. And so, we lift our heads bare and humbled, as we cast aside thinking that was dark and jumbled and in your forgiveness we find the light to walk again in the path that is right.
How is Lent going for you, did you decide to give something up and are resisting the temptation to break your fast from whatever it was. Did you decide to give more time to God and are sticking to your plan or have you already succumbed to temptation. If you have just be assured that God is ready to forgive and help you start again, he knows our weaknesses and will help us to triumph over them in the end, we just need to take everything to him – the good, the bad and the ugly that dwells within us and he will clean us up through the power of his blood, shed for each one of us by Jesus on the cross.
After Paul’s vision when the Lord said to him – don’t worry, I’ve got this in hand, there are other folk in town working for me, so carry on as you are, you won’t come to any harm – we now find him in another tricky situation.
When Gallio was made the Roman governor of Achaia, the Jews got together, seized Paul, and took him into court. “This man,” they said, “is trying to persuade people to worship God in a way that is against the law!”
Paul was about to speak when Gallio said to the Jews, “If this were a matter of some evil crime or wrong that has been committed, it would be reasonable for me to be patient with you Jews. But since it is an argument about words and names and your own law, you yourselves must settle it. I will not be the judge of such things!” And he drove them out of the court. They all seized Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the court. But that did not bother Gallio at bit.
Ok so what is going on here, Gallio is the Roman Governor of Achaia, the region in which Corinth sits and the way he deals with the situation when Paul is brought before him shows his lack of sensitivity towards the Jews and their Law and also his lack of concern about the early Christians.
The Jews, on the other hand, are very concerned about what Paul is doing so they get hold of him and take him to court, accusing him of ‘trying to persuade people to worship God in a way that is against the law.’ After hearing the accusations, Paul is just about to speak when Gallio butts in, not giving him a chance to say anything.
Let’s take ourselves back to last week and Paul’s vision, what was it that God said? “Do not be afraid, but keep on speaking and do not give up, for I am with you. No one will be able to harm you, for many in this city are my people.” Now I have a question here! Did Gallio know he was working for God at that moment and I think the answer must be no! So doesn’t that just make what God can do all the more amazing, when he uses folk to do good without them even knowing they are being directed by Him? Can you think of a time when you recognised this happening?
Anyway let’s continue with the story because surprisingly enough Paul doesn’t have to say anything as the situation is taken out of his hands and resolved in his favour. Gallio speaks about the issue saying:
- It is not a matter of an evil crime or wrong that has been committed
- If it was it would be reasonable for him to be patient with the Jews
- It is an argument about words, names and the Jewish law. (Showing that Gallio isn’t interested and will not be drawn into their disputes)
- They must sort it out for themselves (Gallio isn’t going to get involved and he makes this very plain when he says, “I will not be the judge of these things”)
- Gallio drives then out of the court – the case is closed
This is a disaster for the accusers as they lose face and now need someone to vent their anger and frustration on, someone (a scapegoat) to take the blame. That someone is Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, who is seized and beaten in front of the court and everyone.
Just as an aside here, I wondered what had happened to Crispus who in verse 8 we were told was the leader of the synagogue. Well I had a little delve around and came up with two lines of thought – firstly that Crispus was replaced by Sosthenes, the theologians Tom Wright and John Stott take this view (maybe it was after he became a believer). Secondly that Sosthenes is a later name of Crispus and that it was the same man, but I couldn’t establish the author of this view so am leaning towards discarding it however if you have any other information or thoughts please let me know.
Now back to Gallio who is totally not bothered by what’s happening to Sosthenes and doesn’t do anything to stop the beating that he is getting. For the Jews I think because their plan hasn’t worked out as they intended they have ended up looking foolish, with their credibility challenged, which is probably not a good place to be in.
John Stott says in his commentary on this passage that:
Gallio’s refusal to take seriously the Jewish case against Paul or to adjudicate was immensely important for the future of the gospel. In effect, he passed a favourable verdict on the Christian faith and thus established a significant precedent. The gospel could not now be charged with illegality, for its freedom as a religio licita (this means approved religion) had been secured as the imperial policy.
Wow! God at work again, he really doesn’t do things by halves does he? Not only is Paul safe and well this time, when challenged by the Jews (just as Jesus promised in the vision) but also he has been given licence to preach and for Christianity to receive the same respect and privileges that Judaism is awarded within the jurisdiction of the Romans in Corinth. What more can I say except that I am left with two questions and they are: what if anything does this say to us about how we live today and are there any lessons we can learn?
I’m not going to explore these in depth here but my first thoughts were about being open to listen to God and what he is saying to us and also our obedience in trusting and then going and doing what he asks. Paul even after the past experiences of beatings and times spent in prison does not stop preaching and teaching the Good News of Jesus Christ which he has been instructed to do. Just as God is faithful to him, Paul is faithful in his mission.
Prayer: Lord, help us to trust you to work in our lives and not to shy away from the tasks that you give us. As we have seen from this reading today, you are in control and are to be trusted with every situation that impacts on us. And you even work through those who don’t know you for the good of your people. So we thank and praise you for your unending care and love. Amen
God bless Rev Sue
Sunday 14th March 2021
Today is Mothering Sunday but why do we celebrate it, what are its origins, when did it all start? Well, we know that it has been celebrated in Britain since at least the sixteenth century, and that it was originally a day on which domestic servants (many of whom were very young) were given a day off to visit their families. One reason for the visit seems to have been the custom of whole families visiting their ‘mother church’. This may have been the local cathedral, or it may have been the church where family members were baptised. Either way, it was an opportunity for a family reunion. Something I think most of us would love to be experiencing at the moment but one day soon, the travelling and meeting up restrictions will be lifted, and we will all be able to meet up with our families once again.
Prayer: Creator God, this morning we give thanks to you for the gift of life: for all that we touch and smell and hear, for all that we taste and see and feel and for every experience that has made us who we are. We also come to give thanks for our parents, especially our mothers on this Mothering Sunday, and for those who have been like mothers to us. We also pray for parents whose children did not make it into this world with breath in their lungs or stayed for just a short while before journeying to be with you. Help them in their sadness to know that each and every aborted, miscarried, still birth or died soon after birth child, is loved and cared for with you. Lord in your mercy, hear this prayer. Amen
Now we continue travelling with Paul as he makes his way back to Antioch.
Paul stayed on with the believers in Corinth for many days then left them and sailed off with Priscilla and Aquila for Syria. Before sailing from Cenchreae he had his head shaved because of a vow he had taken. They arrived in Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He went into the synagogue and held discussions with the Jews. The people asked him to stay longer, but he would not consent. Instead, he told them as he left, “If it is the will of God, I will come back to you.” And so he sailed from Ephesus. When he arrived at Caesarea, he went to Jerusalem and greeted the church, and then went to Antioch. After spending some time there, he left and went through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the believers.
Another short reading but a long journey, after leaving Corinth Paul set sail with Priscilla and Aquila from the port of Cenchreae arriving in Ephesus and eventually reaching Antioch, a journey of around 1200 miles and all this done only by ship and on foot. Once again we discover stuff to unpack in these six verses, notably about Paul’s new hairdo.
Apparently just before he leaves Cenchreae he goes and gets his head shaved and the only clue we have as to why is that it’s because of a vow he has taken. I find it incredibly frustrating when the writer (Luke in this case) doesn’t tell us why? Thank goodness for the commentary writers who I am depending upon to give us some sort of insight and logical clue.
So I begin with Loveday Alexander who in her commentary on Acts says:
The visit to the barber’s in Cenchreae is a tantalizing note. Paul’s vow should probably be understood in light of the Nazirite vow of the Old Testament (Numbers 6:2,9) where the shaving of the head is one of the marks of a life dedicated to God’s service, and it may be linked with Paul’s planned return to the Jewish heartlands.
Tom Wright explains that:
Sometimes in Paul’s world, people would make special promises as a sign and reminder to themselves of solemn prayer and undertakings they had given to God. Perhaps, when the Lord told Paul to remain in Corinth for longer that he had been expecting to do, he decided to mark the moment by not having his hair cut again until he left the area…Paul was finally about to leave Corinthian soil; so, if he had been growing his hair as a sign of his trust in God to keep him safe through a long time in Corinth, now would be the appropriate time to have it cut.
And finally John Stott adds:
The reference to his hair makes it almost certain that it was a Nazirite vow, which involved abstinence from drinking wine and from cutting one’s hair for a period, at the end of which the hair was first cut and then burned, along with other sacrifices, as a symbol of self offering to God. If the vow was completed away from Jerusalem, the hair could still be brought there to be burned. Such vows were made ‘either in thankfulness for past blessings’ (such as Paul’s safekeeping in Corinth) or as part of a petition for ‘future blessings’ (such as safekeeping on Paul’s impending journey).
So they sort of all agree on what the reason could be and I think that is where we will have to be satisfied with the answer they give, which seems probable. Anyway they arrive safely in Ephesus and Paul as he usually does find’s his way to the synagogue, where he has discussions with the Jews. Remember he is still trying to convince them that Jesus is actually the Messiah they have been waiting for. Apparently he is asked to stay for a while but declines the offer, saying if it’s what God wants, he will return.
He then sails from Ephesus to Caesarea and seems to make a detour to visit the church in Jerusalem (maybe to burn his hair as a symbol of self offering to God as John Stott suggests) and then goes on to Antioch, where we are told he stays for a while before travelling through Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening the believers in the churches there.
My goodness Paul certainly gets around and although it seems like a whirlwind tour I’m sure it took him a long while to complete. So let’s just recap on what we have discovered from today’s reading:
- That Paul’s travels continue to take him far and wide
- That he had good reason for shaving his head
- That he was still trying to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah
- He continues to teach and strengthen the faith of the believers
Maybe you have found something in the scripture reading that has spoken personally to you, if you have and you want to share it I’d love to hear from you, just send me an email or phone me.
Dear Lord, we thank you for what we have discovered today or maybe we were already aware of where this story was going. Maybe there has been something we didn’t know, maybe this passage has spoken clearly to us or maybe we are left wondering what impact it will or should have on our lives. Whatever or whichever place we are in, we thank you that you are always unfolding the Good News in front of us and strengthening our faith just as Paul was doing as he served you all those years ago. Amen
God bless Rev Sue
Sunday 21st March 2021
As we come before the Lord today let us weave silence on to our lips, let us weave silence into our minds, let us weave silence into our hearts and let us close our ears to distractions, our eyes to attractions and our hearts to temptations. Let us be still and know that He is God and listen for His voice.
Prayer: Amazing God, we come before you today listening for your voice, listening for your instructions and asking for your wisdom to carry them out. Help us to live a life of service to you, one routed in studying the scriptures, prayer and reflection because following this path can deepen our relationship and faith in you and also help others to do so too. Help us to be a light in the darkness of this world which points to you and your saving grace. Amen
One man who we haven’t met until now, who seems to be doing exactly what we have just prayed for is Apollos and we meet him in this last part of Acts 18.
At that time a Jew named Apollos, who had been born in Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent speaker and had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord, and with great enthusiasm he proclaimed and taught correctly the facts about Jesus. However, he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him home with them and explained to him more correctly the Way of God. Apollos then decided to go to Achaia, so the believers in Ephesus helped him by writing to the believers in Achaia, urging them to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who through God’s grace had become believers. For with his strong arguments he defeated the Jews in public debates by proving from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah.
So who was this man Apollos? Let’s have a look and see what the scriptures tell us. Well we know his name and also that Luke hasn’t mentioned him before, so he is completely new to us. He is a Jew, who was born in Alexandria, which is in Egypt and he now for some reason comes to Ephesus.
Alexandria was the second largest city in Egypt after Cairo and one of the largest ports on the Mediterranean coast. It was a major centre of civilization in the ancient world and a place where Greek and Jewish cultures intermingled. A place of learning and discovery and it was here that Apollos was born and brought up. We don’t know very much about him personally but he seems to be a fascinating character. According to Luke, he was an eloquent speaker who knew the scriptures thoroughly and had been instructed in the Way of the Lord. So he knew about Jesus and was also going around full of great enthusiasm telling others about Him and according to Luke, Apollos knew what he was talking about, the facts were correct.
However there seems to be something Apollos doesn’t know and this is where Priscilla and Aquila come in. They recognise his area of weakness; however they don’t disclose this in public but take him aside, inviting him into their own home and there they share with him the things he is unaware of, accomplishing it in a sensitive and tactful way which doesn’t show him up or put him down in front of others but just gives him the opportunity to learn more.
But what is it that Apollos doesn’t know? Well Luke doesn’t give us the exact answer to that question but tells us instead that Apollos was only familiar with the baptism of John. Now I think we can all agree that he was talking about John the Baptist and we know he baptised people in the river Jordan telling them to repent of their sins.
The theologian Tom Wright says:
The heart of the matter seems to be something about Christian baptism in the name of Jesus, and about baptism in the Holy Spirit. It may well be that Apollos does indeed already possess the spirit…… But nobody has told him that from the day of Pentecost onwards the church had welcomed people into its full fellowship through baptism in the name of Jesus.
What Tom Wright says makes sense to me so I think it could well be the answer to the question of what Apollos didn’t know at that time, what do you think?
As we move on we now find Apollos thinking about and deciding to travel to Achaia. We know that Paul had already spent some time in this region and maybe Apollos just wants to see how things are going or maybe visiting there was part of his original plan after visiting Ephesus.
Anyway the folk in Ephesus obviously think it’s a good idea and write Apollos a letter of introduction to the believers there, urging them to welcome him. I think this must say a lot about how he has impressed them and the trust they have in him and as you can see he proved to be a great help to people when he got there. He appears to have been such a gifted speaker that he publicly demonstrated how the scriptures showed that Jesus was the promised Messiah and even defeated the arguments of the Jews who didn’t agree.
So is there anything that has stuck out for you in this reading? For me I think it was the way in which Priscilla and Aquila acted after they had met and listened to what Apollos was saying.
- They soon realised that there was a bit of a problem and obviously felt they had to do something about it.
- Now sometimes we don’t always deal with people as we should (in a God like manner) but to me it seemed that the way they dealt with the issue was very guided by the Spirit.
- They could see that Apollos was genuine and had been gifted by God with the ability to share the Good News. But his teaching was lacking the full facts.
- So they take him aside, offer him hospitality in their home and quietly and sensitively educate him in the bits that are missing.
- Because of the way they have done this, Apollos isn’t belittled and doesn’t lose face in front of the crowds. Instead he is happy to listen and learn and then carries on sharing the Good News much more effectively.
- There is an absence of jealousy or condemnation on the part of Priscilla and Aquila and instead just a willingness to help.
Father God, Jesus came so that we could learn about your ways of doing things and there is evidence of the impact made on the lives of folk in this scripture reading. Help us when we have to deal with sensitive and maybe difficult situations to always be thinking about how you would want us to act. Teach us Lord to think before we speak or act, so that our way of doing things will always be in tune with yours. Help us to reflect in this time of Lent on the things we do or say and how we can do these more effectively for your glory. Amen
God bless. Rev Sue
Palm Sunday 28th March 2021
The gates of Holy Week are open and we come to celebrate our King who rides a donkey. Lord Jesus, we bring to you the best of what we are and we lay down our lives in service, as you laid down your life for us. (rotw)
Prayer: Father, enshrined in mystery, we adore you. Closing our eyes, we seek you within, and praise you for meeting us there. Son, riding on a colt, we adore you. We praise you for your generous love, one with us. Holy Spirit, guiding and inspiring us, we adore you. Through you we praise the mystery and the majesty that manifested in frail flesh, yet overcame it. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in adoration we celebrate your victory. Amen (rotw)
For the next couple of weeks we will be leaving the book of Acts and following Luke’s narration of what happened on Palm Sunday and the week after as Jesus travelled to Jerusalem during the period that we now call Easter. So join me for the journey of a lifetime and one in which we will be challenged. A time of reflection and a time of decision making as we discover why Jesus was here.
As he came near Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead with these instructions: “Go to the village there ahead of you; as you go in, you will find a colt tied up that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If someone asks you why you are untying it, tell him that the Master needs it.”
They went on their way and found everything just as Jesus had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying it?” “The Master needs it,” they answered, and they took the colt to Jesus. Then they threw their cloaks over the animal and helped Jesus get on. As he rode on, people spread their cloaks on the road.
When he came near Jerusalem, at the place where the road went down the Mount of Olives, the large crowd of his disciples began to thank God and praise him in loud voices for all the great things that they had seen. “God bless the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory to God!”
Then some of the Pharisees in the crowd spoke to Jesus. “Teacher,” they said, “command your disciples to be quiet!” Jesus answered, “I tell you that if they keep quiet, the stones themselves will start shouting.”
So it is now what we call Palm Sunday and Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem, just like others who are going there to celebrate Passover. This was when the Jewish people remembered the time when their ancestors were liberated from Egypt by God through Moses, who led them to freedom after being slaves for 400 years.
He has been travelling around the countryside but now arrives near Bethphage and Bethany, close to the Mount of Olives and its here that he gives an instruction to two of his disciples. He tells them to go on ahead to the next village and acquire some transport for him. It seems that he has already made arrangements and they just have to go and pick up the four legged vehicle, which just happens to be a donkey – well actually a colt – a young donkey.
Now strangely enough, how Jesus intends to arrive in Jerusalem has already been written about back in the day of Zechariah (520-518 BC). Zechariah said this of the future king:
Rejoice, rejoice, people of Zion! Shout for joy, you people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you! He comes triumphant and victorious, but humble and riding on a donkey – on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)
So what do you think about that? Not a king on a strong and beautiful horse, but on a humble donkey, as Jesus shows that his kingdom is the other way up to the worlds. Caesar would enter a town riding on a white stallion, accompanied by important people and also soldiers for protection whereas Jesus comes on a little donkey, cheered on by the common people who are tossing their coats in the donkey’s path. The contrast between the two ways is massive.
Now I just want to pause for a moment and think about the use of the coats to firstly lay over the donkeys back so that Jesus could sit on them and the ones that were thrown down in front of the donkey as he and his rider went by. Now you like me probably have a few or many different coats that you can wear depending on your choice of the day. However most of the folk who were there that day would probably only have one coat, if they were lucky, so it was a precious possession.
You see whether you have a coat or not could be the difference between life and death on a cold night. And if you read the Jewish rules on borrowing it says that if your coat was the thing you borrowed against and it was the only one you had, the lender had to give it back to you every night so you wouldn’t freeze to death.
Anyway, not all laid down their coats (possibly because they didn’t all own one); some cut palm branches and laid those on the ground according to the other gospels who also tell this story. But let’s move on with Jesus as he gets near to Jerusalem, at the turn off for the Mount of Olives because here we find his followers getting more vocal. It’s a large crowd of disciples and they are praising God and thanking him for all the great things they have seen and heard; all the things that Jesus has said and done; the teaching, the healing and the compassion of this man. They shout out, “God bless the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” This man Jesus is someone special, they can feel it and they also repeat similar words like the angel’s song when Jesus was born – peace in heaven and glory to God.
Can you imagine it, the noise, the euphoria, the joy and the wonder of it all? And then the Pharisees try to burst the bubble as they tell Jesus to get the people to be quiet. They don’t like what’s going on; they are blinkered to the majesty of Jesus, they can’t see him for who he really is, they just feel threatened, you just have to feel sorry for them don’t you?
And Jesus, well he doesn’t stop them, in fact he says that nothing can stop it, it has to be because even if the crowd were quiet then the stones would be shouting and singing instead. What does this mean?
For me it says that nothing can stop the will of God, nothing can change the outcome, God is in control and we either journey with him or reject him and the consequences will be as a result of the choice we make. My choice is to follow Jesus, what’s yours?
Gracious God, we thank you for being with us today. We bless you for being our hero and the focus of our praise. Send us out into the part of the world where you have put us full of love, joy and hope. Let our enthusiasm be infectious to those we meet, and may others be drawn to you, especially in this most holy of weeks. Amen
God bless Rev Sue