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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Acts 21:37—22:16

Just as Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” The tribune replied, “Do you know Greek? Then you are not the Egyptian who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?” Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of an important city; I beg you, let me speak to the people.” When he had given him permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the people for silence; and when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:

“Brothers and fathers, listen to the defense that I now make before you.” When they heard him addressing them in Hebrew, they became even more quiet. Then he said:

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today. I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I went there in order to bind those who were there and to bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment.

“While I was on my way and approaching Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Then he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. I asked, ‘What am I to do, Lord?’ The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.’ Since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, those who were with me took my hand and led me to Damascus.

“A certain Ananias, who was a devout man according to the law and well spoken of by all the Jews living there, came to me; and standing beside me, he said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight!’ In that very hour I regained my sight and saw him. Then he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear his own voice; for you will be his witness to all the world of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you delay? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.’” (NRSV)

After Paul was beaten, arrested, bound, and about to be thrown into jail, he asked if he could say something to those against him. His hearers became very quiet while he spoke to them in their own language, Hebrew, about his transformed understanding of God’s radically inclusive, saving love. They listened for a while but then erupted with demands that Paul be killed. The next several chapters in Acts describe how Paul’s life was on the line before he was released to go to Rome. In the meantime, Paul heard the Lord say, “Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome” (Acts 23:11). Paul lived out his new vocation for God. He used multiple occasions to testify, “I have a hope in God . . .  that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteousness” (Acts 24: 15).

We American Christians in 2018 are not caught in a life-and-death situation, period, let alone because of our faith. What threatens our witness is that we are ignored or discounted, with daily nibbling away of what we believe and stand for because the world worships the idols of greed, deceit, power, racism, military might, and materialism. Nevertheless, God calls us to resist such erosion, to be courageous in following the way of Christ. The strength of our witness lies not in how much influence we appear to have or not have, but in our integrity and faithfulness to God. Our challenge is to refuse the erosion of our hope, to hold fast in faith and trust that God’s Spirit is mightily at work in ways we cannot see.

Give me strength, glorious God, to bear witness to your light and truth. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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