Saturday, May 11, 2013

A letter from Paul to his mother

Acts 16:16-34

 This week, I began wondering how a letter from Paul to his mother would sound. I also wondered if she would be a believer in Jesus. Finally, because of the Lucan record of wealthy women following Jesus and supporting his ministry, I chose to have Paul’s mother also believe in Jesus.
I use his Jewish name, Saul, instead of the Roman name, Paul, because he is writing to his Jewish Christian mother. While the letter has the shape of ancient letters, I have chosen to not try to imitate Paul’s language.
Of course there is no biblical record of such a person, and his father is only implied in his heritage as a Pharisee and as a Roman citizen. But it can be fun to imagine. The Jews call this midrash – creating a story to expand and explain what we do know.
Saul, servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, to Hannah, beloved mother to me and faithful servant of Christ Jesus. Grace and peace to you.
I give you thanks for the gift you have sent to support the ministry we are so passionate about. And I am pleased that you continue in the faith I have come to know, and that I work so diligently to share with the world.
Mother, we have been in Macedonia for only a few days, and the Spirit has brought many to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is clear that we were truly sent here by the Spirit, and I rejoice that I can serve in this ministry.
Let me tell you some of the latest episodes in my ministry. When we arrived in Philippi we checked out the city, and on the Sabbath we went in search of a Jewish worshiping community. We found them outside the city gate, near the river. A number of women were there, and one of them, Lydia, quickly believed in Jesus. She invited us to her home so we could share the story with her household. We baptized all in the house and continue to have worship there.
As we went around the town, hoping to share Jesus with others, a slave girl began to pester us. She constantly interrupted us with her chanting. "These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation." Eventually, I became so weary of her constant presence I determined I needed to stop her from disrupting our ministry.
As it happens, it was a demon that made the girl very valuable to her owners. She was able to foretell the future. After some time in prayer, I was able to cast the demon from her. For the first time in many years, she was free of the demon and she could be the person God created her to be.
Unfortunately, Mother, I am not sure she was happy to be so changed. She was suddenly less profitable her owners, and she must have been sent to some hard labor instead of wandering the streets selling the news of the future. I maintain she is better to be free of the demon’s control, even if it means she spends the day hoeing the grain fields.
This change certainly made her owners very angry, and they had Silas and me arrested and put in prison. We spent our time telling stories and singing praise to God. About midnight, there was a rather powerful earthquake. The doors of the prison were sprung open; our chains were strained to the breaking point; and we were all free of our restraints. We could all have run away, but the Spirit prevented any of us from leaving; the other prisoners were still there, and we, too, remained in our place.
It quickly became evident that the jailer was afraid of the consequences of the earthquake. He was personally responsible for each prisoner, and he could not afford to lose one of us, much less all of the prisoners at once. He was about to fall on his sword in shame, but Silas and I prevented him. We called out to him to not be afraid, and that we were all still in our places.
The jailer brought lights, secured the other prisoners, and took Silas and me to his home and fed us a wonderful meal. As we ate we told him about Jesus and God’s grace, and he and his household were baptized, just as Lydia’s household had been. They were all so relieved to know they are forgiven. Other gods would exact the death penalty for some of their sins, and the grace of our Lord Jesus offers forgiveness and wholeness. How easy it is to believe in Christ Jesus!
I plan to gather Lydia and her household together with the jailer and his household. They will be the core of a new church here at Philippi. Lydia’s house is large enough to serve as the place for worship. Already, I have grown to love the people here and I know that their faith in the Lord Jesus will grow and produce abundant fruit. We rejoice in the Lord, and anticipate with joy the blessings of the future.
I wish, Mother, that I could be with you, but the Spirit has sent me here to Macedonia and beyond. I intend one day to see you again, but I cannot say just when. I know you are blessed by serving the orphans and widows in the name of our Savior, and I am encouraged by your determination to care for God’s children just as Jesus would want you to.
Please accept my regard and my devotion to you. Greet the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, especially my sister and her family. Greet all those who share the grace of God in the name of Christ Jesus.
The letter ends here. I find it exciting to imagine Paul as he passionately shares the good news of Jesus’ love and grace, and develops congregations of new believers.  When you think of Jesus, of God’s grace, of the forgiveness and love God has for you, are you as passionate as Paul? As Lydia and the jailer?
It is good news for all people, and worth sharing. The Spirit sent Paul to Macedonia, to reach people there with the good news. We don’t need to go as far away as Macedonia to share the good news of Jesus with those who have never experienced God’s grace. The person God is sending you to may be right next door, or in the grocery store, or in the car repair shop. To whom is God sending you?
Please pray with me. We find it hard, Lord, to be passionate about your love and grace. We find it scary, Lord, to risk telling others about your gifts to us. Help us to find our passion for you. Take away our fear. Open our mouths, so we will speak openly of you. In your holy name, we pray. Amen