Acts 28: The closing verses of the Acts of the Apostles, as Paul makes his way to Rome.
Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.
The Final Acts: There’s no place like Rome
In college, I spent a semester in Rome, ostensibly studying art history, or Italian, or something. As I recall the most popular course was wine-tasting. I did happen to make some life-long friends, an extraordinary gift that keeps on giving. And I discovered that the moniker “eternal city” developed for a reason. There’s something about the light of Bella Roma. I reflected on those days as I looked at this week’s readings from the Book of Acts, which take us on a trip to Rome.
This week, we conclude our journey through this book, as we’ve been invited by the Presiding Bishop over the Easter season to read Luke’s story of the start of the church. In the final chapters, we read about shy and retiring Paul speaking in front of all kinds of political authorities. We hear about conspiracies to put him to death, with quick thinking youth helping Paul escape. We read about shipwrecks and snake handling (sounds like the makings of a pretty good movie) and finally about his arrival in Rome where the indefatigable apostle finds a way to continue his ministry.
Paul had long hoped to get to Rome, to use it as a launching pad for a westward expansion of his ministry, specifically to Spain. He had it all figured out. I imagine him crafting strategic plan, mission statement, articulation of vision, communications strategies, goals, objectives, metrics, indices, power point presentations, social media, who knows, maybe bumper stickers and coffee mugs.
He had one kind of trip to Rome in mind. The Holy Spirit had another.
As is often the case, life happened instead of what he planned. Yet even under restrictions of imprisonment, the book of Acts tells us he found his way to Rome. He found a way to build community, to preach the kingdom of God. Scripture tells us he did so with confidence. After a long career repeatedly met with resistance, we are told that no one was forbidding him. That must have been a great joy.
I suspect we each and all spend our lives making plans. We may think we have it figured out. If you’re like me, we imagine we can clue God in on what really needs to happen, as if the Holy One were a bit out of touch. Sweet but somewhat clueless. In need of our guidance.
And then we find ourselves in a totally new situation. We face new challenges, for which we may not be prepared or equipped. That’s where God shows up, as we find that we have not been left alone, as we hear a call to trust that next steps will be revealed, as we have opportunity to test whether we really believe that all will be well and all manner of things will be well, to test whether we believe that love wins.
That can be true in our individual lives. How many of us are living the life we would have scripted from the beginning? On what resources can we rely when course changes, when as Garmin says, we have to recalculate?
That can be true for our congregations. We are not gathering in the church in which our parents gathered. Our children will not gather in the church in which we gather. How will we discover an agile faith for a common life that is both new and faithful and pertinent?
That can be true for the wider church. How can we enter into God’s mission for the world, a world that is changing quickly, a world where the church may not command as much attention or influence as in previous generations? (We can start by inviting the Presiding Bishop to preach at a royal wedding. How awesome is that?)
Tradition has it that Paul was martyred in Rome. I’m pretty sure that was not what he’d planned. But the word martyr really means witness. His remarkable witness has changed us all, as he shared the message of grace offered without condition, the message of love from which we can never be separated. That message offers power to move forward amid the changes and chances of life, even and especially when life throws curve balls.
Last week of readings for the Good Book Club :
- MONDAY, May 14: Acts 22:30—23:11.
- TUESDAY, May 15: Acts 23:12-35.
- WEDNESDAY, May 16: Acts 24:1-27.
- THURSDAY, May 17: Acts 25:1-22.
- FRIDAY, May 18: Acts 25:23—26:32.
- SATURDAY, May 19: Acts 27:1-12.
- SUNDAY, May 20 (Feast of Pentecost): Acts 27:13—28:44
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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