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Posts Tagged ‘witnessing’


Acts 26:24-25: Reactions to Paul’s Speech

Monday, May 20, 2019

Richard Serrin: Paul in Chains

Paul presents a defense to King Agrippa of his work with The Way in Chapter 26 of Acts and these two verses give a succinct report of the reaction to his words. He is “speaking words of truth and reason” yet people think he is “mad.” You may want to read further into Acts to see how the courtroom scene continues to play out.

Paul’s experience tells us this: Having people believe that we are crazy is often the cost of discipleship.

We hear God’s word, we convert ourselves, we begin to perform acts of truth and mercy and reason, we do God’s work, we no longer fit the mold we were in, we move out and into a strange and liminal newness . . . and others notice this. They do not like the change of dynamic. They were comfortable with “the way things were.” They want the old “games” to continue. Our newness is a challenge to the “oldness.” We are new wine in old wine skins . . . and the old skins know that they will break. So, much like Paul before the Pharisees and King Agrippa, we will encounter derision.

In each of the Gospels we hear the story of the crippled man whom Jesus cures and in each version of this story (Matthew 9:6, Mark 2:11, Luke 5:24, John 5:8) Jesus tells the man to take up his mat and walk.  In the Synoptic Gospels all are amazed; in John’s story Jesus causes a stir because he heals this man on the Sabbath – a day when no work is permitted . . . not even the carrying of a mat.  We notice that Jesus supersedes this old Sabbath law and heals those who ask for his help regardless of the day or time.  In Mark’s Gospel the man’s companions lower him through the roof of a house and challenge even the rules of physics by bringing their friend into the very space where Jesus stands.  We wonder if we are persistent enough to act in this way for our own friends.

We notice something else about these stories.  Jesus does not tell the man he heals to walk away from the mat that has served as his home for so long, nor does he say that the mat is to be hidden in any way; rather, Jesus says: Go and take your mat with youThe mat becomes a symbol of what has been endured and overcome through the healing generosity of Christ.  We can choose to see our own mat as a burden and curse . . . or we can choose to see it as a symbol of God’s love for us and his presence in our lives.   The manner in which Paul defends himself and his story before Agrippa reminds us of the mat which he has taken up in Christ’s name – his work with and for God.

A few days ago I was asking what I should do with the mat I now carry around which serves as an outward sign of my work with and for God. Paul gives me an answer.  He does not fear the derision or persecution that may follow.  And he regards his “mat” with honor rather than embarrassment.   Paul is not afraid to be amazed by and though and for Christ.  He moves forward, still with the mat; and in quiet, persistent confidence in God and God’s plan, he does not back down, he does not step away. He stands and witnesses.

And so must we step forward.  So must we witness in truth.  So must we act . . . for who can say what effect our words and actions will have on ourselves and others? Perhaps, like Paul, we will hear the words he heard from the Agrippa before whom we stand to testify, “You will soon persuade me to play the Christian.”


A re-post from May 5, 2012.

For a blog on the Cost of Discipleship with poetry and reflections, click on the image above or go to: http://cost-of-discipleship.blogspot.com/2012/02/unquenchable-desire.html

First written on March 22, 2007 and re-written today as a Favorite.

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Acts 6Into the Maelstrom

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

St. Stephen

This reading may strike home for many of us today.  Our work is going well.  So well, in fact, that it is clear that more workers are needed.  The call goes out, workers are vetted and taken in . . . and then the grumbling begins.  Camps and sides form quickly.  The Old Guard feels the need to protect certain traditions and practices against the ideas of the Newcomers.  The newest workers push against the reactions of the old timers.  Protocols and policies change.  There is discontent.  We divide ourselves into factions or sects.  We either protect what we know or we tear down what we believe to be stale.  The story we read today teaches us how to behave when we enter the maelstrom.

Footnotes help us to understand the different factions.  “The Hellenists were not necessarily Jews from the diaspora, but were more probably Palestinian Jews who spoke only Greek.  The Hebrews were Palestinian Jews who spoke Hebrew or Aramaic and who may also have spoken Greek.  Both groups belong to the Jerusalem Christian community.  The conflict between them leads to a restructuring of the community that will better serve the community’s needs. The real purpose of the whole episode, however, is to introduce Stephen as a prominent figure in the community whose long speech and martyrdom will be recounted in ch. 7”. (Senior 193)

We notice almost immediately that jealousy brews against Stephen and commentary further helps us to understand the further implications of the conflict we hear today.  “The charges that Stephen depreciated the importance of the temple and the Mosaic law and elevated Jesus to a stature above Moses (6, 13-14) were in fact true.  Before the Sanhedrin, no defense against them was possible.  With Stephen, who thus perceived the fuller implications of the teachings of Jesus, the differences between Judaism and Christianity began to appear.  Luke’s account of Stephen’s martyrdom and its aftermath shows how the major impetus behind the Christian movement passed from Jerusalem, where the temple and law prevailed, to Antioch in Syria, where these influences were less pressing”.  (Senior 193)

Verse 10 tells us all: They could not withstand the wisdom and spirit with which he spoke. 

I am thinking of an article I read just last night of a similar conflict in the National Catholic reporter.  Written by Tom Roberts and entitled, “Seismic shifts reshape US Catholicism,” it investigates the inevitability of change that happens when humans form a community.  Liberals find that the change taking place is happening too slowly.  Conservatives believe that the change they see happening must be halted.  Moderates find themselves squeezed between these two inexorable forces.  The conflict will ebb and flow with the natural social, political and fiscal movements and everyone begins to gather their own opinions in defense of a stance.  Tensions ratchet upward.  Wisdom and the Spirit – rather than clearing the air – are shoved into oblivion and the inevitable explosion takes place.  As Christians, rather than succumb to the temptation to splinter into groups we must find a way to come together.

When we read this story in Acts we have the opportunity to look at ourselves to see how we fit into God’s plan for the world today.  When we read the story in Acts we have the chance to examine how we witness to Jesus today.  When we read the story in Acts we are called to examine how we allow Wisdom and the Spirit to influence our daily interactions with others.

When we are called to speak as Stephen speaks we must also be prepared to disappear into the maelstrom that will follow.

When we hear another speak as Stephen speaks we must be prepared to be open to the voice of Wisdom and the power of the Spirit.

When we enter the place where a conflict is raging we are called to witness as Christians must . . . with grace, and mercy, and wisdom . . . and always in the Spirit of God.


A re-post from January 22, 2012.

Image from: http://frbenedict.blogspot.com/2010_12_01_archive.html 

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.193. Print.

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Carlo Crivelli: Saint Stephan

Acts 7Discourse of Truth

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

We continue to reflect on the truth as Jesus describes it, the truth as Jesus enacts it. The following is a Favorite from November 9, 2010.

And then the high priest asked him, “Are these things so?”

If we were called to witness to the power structure; if we were asked: “Are these things so?”  What would we reply?  Some of us can imagine ourselves as brave witnesses; others of us know that we would have difficulty standing before our community to declaim the truth.

The story of power in scripture is about how it corrupts; it is also about how small and seemingly insignificant people gather courage to deliver a discourse of truth to an authority who wishes to control even the small details of lives.

Stephen takes to heart Christ’s admonition that we ought not worry about what to say or how to say it.  (Matthew 10:19)  He is so full of a light that pierces the darkness and reveals that which the power structure wishes to hide . . . that he is finally silenced with an angry stoning.

We may or may not be called to put our lives on the line in a physical way, but even so, we must be willing to speak out truth that does not coincide with or support in any way the false story woven by others – even if these others are our loved ones, our employers, or our popular heroes and heroines.

There is a fine difference between empowering and enabling others.  The official in today’s reading does not want the crowd to hear Stephen’s words of salvation . . . because then the crowd will stop paying tithes and bringing offerings.  Rather than accept responsibility for his own part in the decay and collusion, the priest questions the messenger: Are these things so?”

When we find that our discourse of truth brings howls of objection from the authority that stands above us, ready to wield the first stone . . . then we will know that we have touched a raw nerve.  Are these things so?”

And when the angry mob comes against us, may we be as ready as Stephen to say: Lord, do not hold this sin against them. 

Tomorrow, testifying to the truth. 


Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Stephen

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1 Peter 3:8-22: Salvific Suffering – Part II

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Antonio de Bellis: The Liberation of Saint Peter

How can we celebrate our mourning?

When we spend time opening Acts 5, and when we watch and listen to Peter, we discover how we might apply The Word to our lives.

We watch the apostles slip unseen from their prison, moving through locked gates and past watchful guards.

Do we ask Christ to open doors and safeguard us? Do we trust the Spirit who calls us?

The apostles go immediately to the Temple to proclaim the wonderful news that they were able to heal in Jesus’ name, the name of the man whom they taunted a few short weeks before as he hung on the cross.

Do we share with others the Good News of Christ’s movement in our lives? Do we celebrate our small victories and rejoice in the Spirit’s healing?

We follow the apostles as they brilliantly and boldly – and in every way like Christ – reply to the Sadducees that they cannot still their tongues or cease healing.  We hear them defy this wealthy group of men who collaborate with the Romans and supervise the rebuilding of the stone Temple.

Do we react with courage when others accuse us unjustly? Do we trust the Spirit to send us her wisdom and grace?

We hear the apostles as they witness to Christ when they say – as we all are called to say: Whether it is right in the sight of God, you be the judges.  It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard. 

Do we speak as these apostles speak? Do we listen as these apostles listen? Do we act as these apostles act?

Today we spend time with The Word as we learn how to celebrate our mourning.

Tomorrow, what do we fear . . . and why?

Adapted from a Favorite written in November 10, 2007.

 

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Matthais Stom: Supper at Emmaus

Matthais Stom: Supper at Emmaus

Easter is an eight day celebration beginning on Easter Sunday, running through the Easter Octave and ending on the Second Sunday of Easter. This tradition reflects the joy the early apostles felt as they experienced the new presence of the Risen Christ. Jesus offers us this same experience today. Wishing all those who follow the Noontimes a graced and peace-filled Easter Saturday.

April 26, 2014 – Luke 24:33-49

If we want to acknowledge the gift of God’s presence in our lives, let us first give thanks.

If we want to fully participate in the resurrection journey, let us first give thanks.

If we want the full impact of our own Emmaus experience, let us first give thanks.

If we want to share in God’s Easter hope, let us first give thanks.

If we want to share in God’s Easter joy, let us first give thanks.

And as we give thanks . . . let each of us become witnesses to the story we know to be true.  The story of God’s great love for all of creation, the story of  God’s plan for the salvation of the world.

For an Easter Saturday prayer and reflection, visit the You Are Witnesses post on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/2013/04/06/you-are-witnesses/

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

200px-Prophet_Amos_002Amos 7

God’s Servants

Through a series of visions Amos leads us to his central message: we must respond to God’s call to correct the social injustice we see around us.  In Chapter 7 we see the core of Amos’ message through a series of visions but it is perhaps his personality that moves us more than the images he describes.  Amos displays characteristics we see in Jesus, and these are the same tools we must nurture so that we might be faithful servants of God’s Word: frankness, brevity, an insistence to stay “on message” despite the chastisement and threats received from a corrupt civil, social or religious structure.

Amos refuses to hire himself out, as other prophets do.  He resists the urge to say more than Yahweh has told him.  He speaks, takes no credit or blame, remains faithful and tenacious, then stands down when his work of prophecy is complete, returning to the productive life he had lived before he stepped into history.

We are each called to be Amos.  We are each called to speak in witness to what we know to be truth and light.  We each live in the providential care of God.  We each have the power of speech and spirit.  We each must intercede for our family, friends and enemies . . . just as Amos does.  And then we may return to our work . . . living the Gospel we know to be true until we are called again by God.

Life lived in this manner becomes less complicated, less frightening, more fulfilling, and more peaceful.  Life lived in this manner – even in the midst of painful abuse and dire extremes – is seen as beautiful and serene.  Life lived as Amos shows us is life in its proper alignment – we become good and faithful servants doing the work of God.  As humble and honest workers we demonstrate our understanding that God is in charge, that God’s plan will not be thwarted, that God can be trusted to turn all acts of malicious damage into acts of saving love.

This then is the lesson of Amos: Speak when we know we must, listen for the Word always, step forward when called and back when the time for speaking has ended . . . act always in God and through God . . . remain always God’s willing servant who brings a full and open heart to each day, trust God . . . and stay out of God’s way. 

Tomorrow, a Prayer for Faithful Servants.

Adapted from a reflection written on May 18, 2008.

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Easter Saturday, April 6, 2013 – Luke 24:33-49

Rembrandt: Christ at Emmaus

Rembrandt: Christ at Emmaus

You are Witnesses

So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem . . .

In the moment that Cleopas and his companion realize that they have been journeying with Jesus, they rise from the supper table to return to Jerusalem.  The place that a short time before had symbolized disappointment, defeat and danger now is the focus of all their hopes.  They must return to tell the other disciples what has occurred on the road to Emmaus.

So must we tell others about the Easter story as we place all our hope in Christ.

They found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!”  Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way . . .

The Emmaus disciples rejoice with the disciples who had stayed behind in Jerusalem; they celebrate the reality that the Christ is still with them.

So must we rejoice as we celebrate with Christ.

While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you”.  But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.

It is difficult to ask our reason to bow to the miracle before them.  A few short days from now Thomas will stand before them insisting on hard evidence that Jesus has returned.  He must see and touch before he will believe; yet Jesus invites offers Thomas the evidence he needs in order to believe.

So might we be startled and terrified; so might we believe.

Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that is it myself.  Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have”.

Rather than preach to us, Jesus talks with us.  He never ceases to tell us in every way he can that he understands our circumstances and our emotions.

So might we be troubled with fear and doubt; so might we touch, see and trust.

While they were still incredulous for joy, and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.

Jesus still shares a meal with his friends just as he has done so often before.  He demonstrates undeniably that he is real for a phantasm cannot eat and drink and laugh with them.

So might we be amazed and incredulous; so might we share a familiar and intimate meal with Christ.

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures . . .

The Teacher never misses an opportunity to instruct them again on the Law of Love and the newness of God’s Kingdom.  The disciples allow themselves to be open to The Word.

So might we listen for the voice of Jesus; so might we be open to The Word.

Then he said to them, “You are witnesses of these things . . . but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. 

Jesus requires affirmation from his followers.  He also counsels them on the next steps they must take in their newly found work of Kingdom-building.

So are we called to be witnesses.

So are we clothed with power from on high.

So are we sisters and brothers of Christ.

So are we Children of the Living God.

So are we loved both deeply and well.

So are we.  So are we.  So are we.

Amen.

Tomorrow, at the Sea of Tiberius . . .

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Sunday, October 7, 2012 – Genesis 26 – Settling in Gerar

We might take time today to pause and reflect on the marvelous stories we find in this first Book of the Bible; we see humanity with all foibles and glories.  Today’s Noontime is no exception to this for today we read about Isaac, the precious son of Abraham and Sarah, and we anticipate that we will hear only good of him then we will have miscalculated God and his plan for us.  We will have missed the valuable lesson that the patriarchs and their families who established and passed on the covenant with the Living God are to be seen as ordinary people who make ordinary mistakes in their ordinary lives.  These people about whom we read are us.

When we allow ourselves to spend time with a commentary as we sift through the details of this story, we will see that the players in this drama behave much as we do today when faced with moral, physical and political dilemmas.  They weigh odds and consequences.  They make decisions. They have regrets, experience deep suffering and great joy.  They find that life holds no guarantees as they duplicate the labor of previous generations by re-digging Abraham’s wells.  They plan and execute deceptions and endanger their tribe.  They work toward and achieve success and so become objects of envy; and they are eventually sent away from the place they have made their home.  They are persecuted, separated and marginalized, and they watch all that they have gained through labor move into the hands of others. Their prosperity has become their curse.  Isaac, Rebekah, Abimelech and the others live out their lives struggling against their shifting circumstances and as they do they teach us much. 

There was a famine . . . We too, suffer from famines and dry times in our lives, asking God what we are to do and how we are to do it.

So Isaac settled in Gerar . . . We too, make decisions about our families, our health, our jobs, hoping that we have not missed an important detail.

Isaac was afraid that if the men of the place would kill him on account of Rebekah because she was very beautiful . . . We too, enter into deception impelled by our fears.

 Isaac sowed a crop and reaped a hundredfold that same year and the Philistines became envious of him . . . We too, experience prosperity that can bring problems of its own.

Isaac went up to Beer-sheba . . .We too, move house, change jobs, enter into and leave relationships as life pushes and pulls at the details of our living.

And all the while, as we are re-digging the wells first begun by our ancestors and as we call and count on God, others watch us to see what holds us up through struggling, what brings us peace in turmoil, what sustains us in desperate times.  And we might pray that despite our deceptions, and despite our fears we will have lived a life worth watching.  We may pray that our own Abimelech will come to us to ask: We are convinced that the Lord is with you, so we propose that there be a sworn agreement between our two sides – between you and us. Let us make a pact with you.

And when Abimelech offers this tangible sign of peace, let us also pray that we will be generous in our reply as Isaac is.  And let us hope that we too, prepare a feast of celebration that God has been with us and that despite our weaknesses . . . we have witnessed to the goodness of God. 

To continue reflection on Isaac, Rebekah, and how their lives might mesh with our own, go to the Genesis Chapter 27 post on this blog: (7-19-2011) 

To learn more about Gerar go to: http://bibleatlas.org/gerar.htm or http://www.bibleplaces.com/gerar.htm or http://bibleencyclopedia.com/places/Gerar_wheatfield.htm

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