Thursday, May 28, 2015

Blessing the Meal

 33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 (We were in all 276 [6] persons in the ship.) 38 And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea. (Acts 27:32-38 (ESV)
The presence of mind that Paul has here is the astonishing part. He knows that they are about to be shipwrecked. He knows the people will need sustenance in the cold water. So he bids them to eat. But not only that, he blesses the food first.
This is a bit peculiar because Luke uses words that remind one of the words of institution as Jesus used them and as Paul records elsewhere. He takes bread, blesses it, gives thanks and breaks it. Actually the word Eucharist means to give thanks. The word here used for gives thanks can be translated as both blessing and thanks and probably ought to be both. But that the words remind one of the Lord’s Supper it is by no means necessary that this is what Paul was doing especially since there is no wine here.
Now there is a note of 276 people being in the ship. We get a better idea perhaps of the size of the ship that we are talking about, and the amount of people Paul is addressing over the noise of a storm. This perhaps also sheds light on what is going on with the blessing, an allusion to the feeding of five thousand. The bread that they eat, as little as it is will be enough to sustain them. Sometimes it doesn’t take much, but just a little to get them through.

Still, even if this isn’t the Lord’s Supper per se, the people know that the food they are now eating has been blessed by a man of God, and is therefore sanctified by prayer and the word of God. This would be a common practice for Christians that lasts to this day. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4-5 (ESV) So we give thanks at meal times, and bless our meals together that those who eat with us may  also be blessed by God. In this way all of life, and even a microwave burrito takes on sacred character as it sustains us in the work God has given us to do here and now. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Escape Plan Destroyed

 27 When the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. 28 So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. [4] A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms. [5] 29 And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. 30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship's boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship's boat and let it go. (Acts 27:26-32 (ESV)

Paul had said that they would run aground on an island. When the Island is coming the sailors want to take a boat and let the ship fend for itself. A heavy ship does not do well coming to shore. Usually runs aground someway before the shore and tosses people in to the sea, where as a boat can be taken right up onto land. But Paul won’t have it. He lets the centurion know that it is all or none. We are all saved or none of us are saved. If these men don’t stay in the boat, you will be lost. And there went the escape plan. The boat is cut from the ship. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A True Prophet

21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.” (Acts 27:21-26 (ESV)

“I told you so.” No this isn’t what Paul says. “You should have listened to me.” You have to wonder how those words hit upon the captain and owner of the boat, Paul’s guard, the rest of the men in the boat staring at their own death. It’s not cool. That any in the boat would survive would be a miracle of its own. This isn’t really the time to be trying to score credit for being right. But then that isn’t what Paul is doing. His words aren’t meant to be an, I told you so. They are only meant to establish credibility to what he is about to say. Now Paul is going to tell them that their lives have been spared. No one is going to lose their lives. Paul says this with a prophetic voice. He wants it to be taken as prophecy. And in order to do this he says, remember when I said? Well now that is happening, isn’t it? You can trust that what I speak is true. Now you can take heart when I tell you, none of us will perish on account of this storm.

Paul here draws on the Old Testament criterion for a prophet in doing this. A prophet had to establish the credibility of his words by successfully predicting what was going to happen within the immediate future. If what he said didn’t come to pass he was to be stoned to death. Of course, being as people have generally despised God’s word the true prophets would be stoned to death anyway. And false prophets would make a good living telling people what they wanted to hear, whether it became true or not. Always much safer being a false prophet when it comes to life in this world. False prophets were not known to suffer as much as Paul suffered for the truth. But then on this day, the passengers in the boat would be happy to know they had a true man of God in the boat that would spare their lives because he had interceded for them. A true prophet loves even those who do not listen to him, even as Jesus forgave those who murdered him. God’s prophets want all men to be saved because this is what God wants. And now those saved in this boat will take heart not only in their temporal lives, but they will listen to Paul concerning Jesus and the resurrection too. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

When the Helper Comes

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27 (ESV)
But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:4-15 (ESV)

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”
It is the coming of the Helper we celebrate today, both in this anniversary of the Pentecost day in which the Spirit fell upon the disciples like a tongue of fire enabling them to give voice to the living word of God and the salvation of man in Jesus Christ, and in the baptism of Embryn who here in these waters has received the gift of the Holy Spirit and life everlasting in accordance with Peter’s great Pentecost sermon in which he tells not only  the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but all Christians everywhere that Baptism is for you and for your children. It makes sense doesn’t it? That Baptism, the birth of water and the spirit by which we are born again should offer salvation and eternal life not only to those children of God whose jaded hearts and skeptical minds are the product of years of abuse by the world, but also for these little ones whose faith Jesus admonishes us to have when he says that “unless we become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” This is the work of the Holy Spirit, to bear witness to Jesus Christ, in water, word and blood, and thereby to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, and thus to enter us into the kingdom of heaven.
This he does by bearing witness to Jesus Christ who became man for us men and for our salvation, who died in our place on the cross, and rose for our justification. This is why, in fact there is so little preaching about the Holy Spirit in Lutheran churches, because we take it for granted that the Holy Spirit is at work, not when we are talking about him, but when we are proclaiming Jesus Christ, when we like Paul can say we know nothing but Christ and him crucified. We know the Holy Spirit is at work in and through the word, in and through the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We trust it is so because he tells us it is so through that selfsame word he proclaims through Peter and Paul when he inspires them with the gospel of Jesus. They Holy Spirit proclaims Christ, because it is Christ who became man, it is Christ who took upon himself the sins of the world, it is Christ who carried the burden of our sin on his back in the form of a cross, it is Christ in whom God dwelt bodily and reconciled the world to himself on the cross. Christ who rose from the dead, who ascended into heaven, and it is Christ who will return to judge the living and the dead. And this is the message with which the Helper, the Paraklete, the advocate comes to convict the world with, to convict you and I who receive the Holy Spirit that the world cannot receive, cannot welcome, because the world has crucified Jesus whom the Holy Spirit glorifies as he blows where he pleases.
This is why we look a bit skeptically when and where the Spirit is being emphasized, where gifts of the Spirit are given priority. They are gifts of the Holy Spirit, and when they are given by the Holy Spirit they are not there to draw attention to themselves but to bring focus upon Jesus. They are not given for the purpose of bragging, or making a show. It was this sort of thing that Simon the Magician saw and coveted. That sort of thing for which Peter condemned him. He wanted the Spirit for his own personal use, to be beckoned at will to do his bidding. But the Spirit is not here to do our bidding, but the bidding of the Son who sends him and the bidding of the Father from whom he also proceeds. And this bidding is the will of the Father who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth that is his name. And to this end, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not always the great and spectacular shows of force you find in the book of Acts, the speaking in tongues that people of other languages may hear you in their own language. No, sometimes the gift of the Holy Spirit is boldness to speak the name of Jesus in the face of opposition, the ability to comfort with the gospel in the face of affliction and persecution, sometimes it is the ability to administrate well and use the treasures of the church properly, sometimes a cheerful heart with which to support the ministry of the church financially, but most of all the joy of salvation that floods the heart with the living waters of faith, hope and love by which we abide.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Abandon All Hope?

Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. 14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. 15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, [2] we managed with difficulty to secure the ship's boat. 17 After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, [3] and thus they were driven along. 18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. 19 And on the third day they threw the ship's tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. (Acts 27:13-20 (ESV)
All hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. Of course, Luke here means only salvation in the earthly sense, to be saved from worldly calamity. The storm rages for days on end. They lose their cargo and even their tackle. It was the kind of storm Jesus sleeps through, but causes the rest of us to grab on to whatever we can and hold on for dear life. The kind of storm that causes the sailors to toss Jonah overboard.
There are times like this in a person’s life when the storms rage and a person wonders if he will ever see the light of day again. Perhaps it is actually a storm at sea. That still happens, and ships sink. Perhaps it is cancer. Perhaps it is financial catastrophe. There can be a myriad of things that happen that cause a person to lose all hope.

But there is a hope we never have to abandon and that is the hope of eternal life we have in Jesus Christ. Here we have salvation that transcends this world. And a God who cares about you enough to die for you in this world is not one to abandon you to the seas of this world. Even should we die in the midst of these storms, Jesus is there for us holding us in his hand. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fair Havens

And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. 2 And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. 3 The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for. 4 And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. 5 And when we had sailed across the open sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. 8 Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.
 9 Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast [1] was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there. (Acts 27:1-12 (ESV)
Paul advises that the voyage will not be a good one, but the centurion doesn’t pay attention to him. Paul wasn’t inexperienced in travel and does note that he himself had suffered shipwreck three times. Yet it would make sense to listen to the ship owner and pilot.

I don’t know what to read into Paul’s perception. The truth is that the sea was rough on boats at that time of year, and everyone knew it. Yom kippur falling in October, there are many storms. So Paul could just be going off of common knowledge and knowing that travelling at this time of year wasn’t a good idea. But no one wanted to stay in Fair Haven.  On the other hand, it could be Paul prophesying. In any case they go and Paul proves prescient. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Great Or Small

24 And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” 25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” 28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” [2] 29 And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
 30 Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. 31 And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (Acts 26:24-32 (ESV)
“Your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” I suppose this exposes Festus a bit as being a practical man. Not that he wasn’t educated, or didn’t value education, but he saw its limitations, and had perhaps run into not a few who were rendered incapable in life by an enthusiasm for the ivory tower. It’s funny though that that should be Festus’s argument and reason for denial, when the Areopagus, the quintessential ivory tower, would for the most part laugh at Paul for saying what he said. Most objections to Christianity over the years has been that it is a religion for the simple minded, the na├»ve, yet, this religion has founded the greatest universities and has captivated the intellectual giants of western tradition.

Paul turns his attention to Agrippa appealing to what he knows as none of this has happened in a corner. Agrippa is amazed that Paul would  try to convert him in so short a time. Would that we all had the zeal that Paul had, great or small he said. Paul just doesn’t care. Thank god for the low hanging fruit if there is such a thing. Never underestimate the power of the Spirit at work in the Gospel.