Speak Lord: To help us speak

Paul's Place

Today is the 4th Sunday of Easter, and the first reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles. It tells of the missionary work of Paul and Barnabas in what is modern-day Turkey.

Paul and Barnabas carried on from Perga till they reached Antioch in Pisidia. Here they went to synagogue on the Sabbath and took their seats.

When the meeting broke up many Jews and devout converts joined Paul and Barnabas, and in their talks with them Paul and Barnabas urged them to remain faithful to the grace God had given them.

The next sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the word of God. When they saw the crowds, the Jews, prompted by jealousy, used blasphemies and contradicted everything Paul said. Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly. ‘We had to proclaim the word of God to you first, but since you have rejected it, since you do not think yourselves worthy of eternal life, we must turn to the pagans. For this is what the Lord commanded us to do when he said:

I have made you a light for the nations,
so that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.’

It made the pagans very happy to hear this and they thanked the Lord for his message; all who were destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread through the whole countryside.

But the Jews worked upon some of the devout women of the upper classes and the leading men of the city and persuaded them to turn against Paul and Barnabas and expel them from their territory. So they shook the dust from their feet in defiance and went off to Iconium; but the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

Acts 13:14,43-52

One of the ways in which the Bible, and the Church’s reading of it, helps us today is by preserving and re-telling stories of failure. The Old Testament and the New Testament are full of stories of people failing to understand, failing to follow through if they do seem to understand, confronting opposition and persecution. These negatives really ought  never to come as a surprise when we encounter them in our lives, ministry or mission today. They are par for the course. Indeed Martin Luther claimed ‘persecution’ as one of the marks of the Church, alongside ‘One’, ‘Holy’, ‘Catholic’ and ‘Apostolic’ – though perhaps that was special-pleading.

The bigger picture of the Bible’s story and stories is of God’s over-arching love and mercy that calls us on, and offers protection, encouragement, hope even in greatest darkness.

In today’s reading Paul and Barnabas respond to opposition with apparently immediate joy. We may be a little slower to admit joy into our hearts, but please God we will never keep at at bay for too long.

  • What challenges do you face?
  • What helps you?
  • What undermines you?

Window and place of proclamation of the word at Paul’s Place, an evangelical centre in Antalya, Turkey. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

 

Speak Lord: Source of all that is good

Pilgrim martyrs

The Second reading at Mass on Sunday, the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time begins a number of weeks of reading the Letter of James – termed ‘an epistle of straw’ by Martin Luther (in other words he didn’t like it!).

You might like to (re-) read the Letter as a whole. It is short. And having that overview will surely enrich your hearing and praying with the extracts over the coming Sundays.

It is all that is good, everything that is perfect, which is given us from above; it comes down from the Father of all light; with him there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow of a change. By his own choice he made us his children by the message of the truth so that we should be a sort of first-fruits of all that he had created. So do away with all the impurities and bad habits that are still left in you – accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.

Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

James 1:17-18,21-22,27

The translation of the Scriptures used in our Lectionary is from the Jerusalem Bible. In this case, the translation of the first line of this passage introduces an idiomatic English structure which, particularly when read without the previous verse, may make the sentence less clear, and some readers to stumble.

It could however simply read: ‘All that is good, everything that is perfect, is given us from above…’

This is a staggering profession of faith, a confession of thanksgiving. One of the reasons Luther was less than keen on the Letter was because of its emphasis (elsewhere) on our good works. But here, right at the beginning, James sets out his stall. All that is good begins with God. All we can do, and should do, and must do, is by way of response to the God who is Good, and who shares with us his love and goodness in an infinite number of ways.

  • Count the blessings of today.
  • Give thanks to God for them.
  • Think how you can best make use of them.
  • Do your best.

Carving of St James and pilgrim martyrs, Musee Calvet, Avignon. (c) 2014, Allen Morris