the kindness of the centurion, Julius, Acts 27

2 Jul

“The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.” Fred Rogers

On his journeys as the Pharisee Saul and as a changed new believer in Jesus, Paul encounters, and embodies evil and kindness; death and resurrected life; blindness and sight.

As Saul, he held cloaks of murderers and agrees to Stephen’s death; as Paul, he prays over, baptises and, in kindness forgives jailers.

As a persecuting Pharisee, he travels to Damascus to break up and imprison families. As Paul, he gently restores churches with his healing words, his letters, his epistles.

And blindness on the Pharisee road is replaced by the sight and sound of Jesus which lead to Ananias’ hands, life and loving forgiveness.

But this is all Paul, his journeys, his life.

There are others Paul meets on his many roads. Not the least is Julius, a Roman centurion,

‘When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. 2 We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.

3 The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. 4 From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. 5 When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board.’

Julius, without any doubt, is life-battled, a hardened Roman soldier. He is a Centurion, who is in ‘kindness’ to Paul.

But, this is not really so. Why?

Because Julius’ kindness is not directed to Paul. It is given to another.

In the Greek ‘kindness’ is chréstos or ‘gentleness.’ Here we have a soldier moved to a soft, empathetic touch. Gentle. Julius gently allows Paul community with friends who meets his needs. But his real need is for a touch, a loving touch. And Julius gives it because he sees not just Paul but Jesus through Paul’s words, through Paul’s actions.

Julius can be gentle because sees God and not bust Paul. And this sight melts a hard soldier into an empathetic man who sees, hears and feels.

And in seeing Julius is named for kindness.

With his name Julius lives and he will travel beside Paul.

Each makes the other, gently, human. Kindness makes us all human. It is the most honest of all gifts.

Johanson, joey, my son, &David, his hero

1 Jul

david, his essence

My son Johanson loved sports; the Mets and baseball; WWF ( now known as WWE ) and Greco-Roman wrestling. He participated in both, especially wrestling during the winter season.

He was very proud of never bring ‘pinned’ even if he lost. He avoided being pinned by not trying. He got on his knees and hands in the middle of the mat, head down, and never moved. He was never forced to the mat; why?

He never tired to wrestle a difficult opponent. Never.

Muscular and short; smart and quick; he hated to lose. An orphan we adopted when he was 14, Joey had a very poor self esteem. He had to win. Always. To be the smartest and the best, not the overlooked and the forsaken, no love, no acceptances or words could convince Joey to try to wrestle a difficult opponent. He could not lose if he did not try. He avoided stepping into difficult matches, against giants in fields.

David, Jesse’s son, was placed by his family in fields of sheep as a young teen.

Psalm 78, a song of remembrances, ends describing David as being part of a family of Judah; so loved by God that God

‘… ( He ) chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved.

69 And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever.

70 He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds:

71 From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.

72 So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.’ KJV

David is described here as a young man composed of four essential qualities. These qualities are all connected by one overarching quality: vulnerability. This is the essence of David.

The Oxford dictionary describes ‘vulnerability’ as “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”

David, as the Psalm closes, is described not as a shepherd, but as a servant. This is David’s first essential quality: he serves. How does David serve? Verses 70 and 71 describes David as being taken,

‘from the sheepfolds:/

71 From following the ewes great with young’

David is among the sheep. He is not yet called a shepherd. He is called a servant because he is among the most vulnerable. He is with female sheep, ewes, who are ‘great with young.’ He is with young mothers, who are on the verge of giving birth.

This is his first step in God’s leadership training. God places a vulnerable young man with his most exposed creations, pregnant sheep. David is those who are most exposed; thus he is also exposed, as vulnerable as those he watches.

As a second step, David’s God ‘ brings/brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.’

Why are the names Jacob and Israel used here? Isn’t it just one person? Why both names?

From Jacob comes the 12 tribes. He feeds these 13 children, these coming tribes. But Jacob was a deceiver, one who cheated his brother Esau and his father Issac. The blessing he steals is irrevocable. He will be able to feed. But he is called to do more. He is called to change.

And he is changed as he wrestles with the Angel of the Lord the night before he is to reunite with Esau. ( Genesis 32: 28 ) That night his name is changed to Israel, to ‘one who contends, one who wrestles.’

We are the the blessings of that wrestling, we are sons and daughters of God. We are his inheritance. His people loved and blessed.

In this second step David is called both to feed and bless the people, to bless the Lord’s inheritance. He is called to be king, priest and prophet. He is to feel and fill all three roles. He is to be vulnerable to all.

In David’s leadership development his third step can be seen when

‘… he fed them according to the integrity of his heart…’

David feels the people, his ewes, his young, with his heart. So David feeds them. David meets their needs. And he does so with integrity. He feeds all; the flocks grow; he touches them as he feels and feeds them again. A man after God’s own heart, David is vulnerable before them all.

And in David’s last step of leadership development, David,

‘…guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.’

David guides. He doesn’t push or beat or guilt; he doesn’t punish or resent. David guides.

He leads gently. He leads with vulnerability. He is open to being broken and open. He is now God’s servant shepherd.

Vulnerable, he leads.

Paul, handed over Acts 27

30 Jun

Acts 27,

Paul, ‘handed over

“When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. 2 We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.”

Paul, in Roman chains; Paul, who motions with one hand as he speaks; Paul is now being ‘handed over’.

Saul always used both hands. He used both his hands to pray and teach; to reach out and persecute; to cover and uncover his eyes after being blinded.

Saul becomes Paul when he totally hands his life over to his Jesus. When he, in total vulnerability, in willingness to be open and broken, gives the shape of his hands to his Highest Power, his Jesus.

When we are vulnerable, we have hands that, at sometimes the same time, are both open and clenched close.

Open, I let Jesus lead. He takes me by his hand and guides, we glide together.

Closed, I hold on to my position, my point, my decisions. I am not ever wrong. His, or another’s hand, cannot guide. I lead.

Yet, at times Paul, Paul, is both closed and while closed, being lead by God, ( as when he insists on moving to Jerusalem). And Paul can also be lead by Jesus with open hands and willing to be turned over to anyone’s hands, even a Roman Centurion.

Vulnerability is the choice, the ability, the willingness to choose either hard form.

Because in life Jesus had both open and closed hands. Immutable, yet Mutable, as when he changes water into wine at a Cana Wedding feast, Jesus’ hands are both.

Open and closed, he guides; he leads.

Acts 26, in a full court, only Agrippa is there for Paul.

27 Jun

Acts 26,   ‘“Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”‘

‘So Paul motioned with his hand …’

Caravaggio, an Italian painting, choose two depictions of Paul on the Damascus road. Paul’s hands are prominent and in motion in both images. In the one below, in a Roman chapel his hands, both his hands are closed . He is unwilling to feel, or see; to accept or receive anything. His hands are closed.

But in front of Agrippa, Paul can only raise one hand. His other is Probably, at his side , chained. Paul speaks with his one hand, 

…Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”

So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: 2 “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, 3 and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.

4 “The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. 5 They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. 6 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. 7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. 8 Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?

9 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished,and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.”..,

That is where Saul, soon to become Paul, is going – from Jerusalem to Damascus. But, again, he is met on this Damascus road with light..,

Here, Caravaggio has Saul’s face open, bathe in light, surrounded by a calm horse. Saul here is reaching out to Jesus, to His light..

“On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic,[a] ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’

“ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue youfrom your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyesand turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repentand turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. 21 That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

30 The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them.31 After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”

32 Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

“Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

Paul’s hands are in chains. He can lift and motion only one hand, one arm, to King Agrippa. But in Caravaggio’s paintings Saul’s arms and hands are both closed in darkness and opened in light to Jesus’ voice, His light.

Saul was both closed and opened on this, his road. He is portrayed in both stances and while we can not know which painting is an accurate picture, I like to think that both are spot on.

At time’s I have open arms; at others closed arms and hands before Jesus. I have to travel both ways to be able to lift on, even one hand and arm to Him.

When I lift, I become like Paul.

Lift before our Agrippa’s so they hear, they listen. Raise, rise as best you can.

Let his light lift your heart, mind, self. Rise.

Acts 25, Festus, ‘I did not delay…’

25 Jun

‘A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. 14 Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. He said: “There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. 15 When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.

16 “I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges.17 When they came here with me, I did not delay the case, but convened the court the next day and ordered the man to be brought in.18 When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. 19 Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. 20 I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. 21 But when Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.”

22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear this man myself.”

He replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him.”

New to the role as governor, Festus is keen to rid the palace and jails of any and all ‘left-overs’ from Felix’s reign. Paul is a two year and counting left-over. 

My Irish mother-in-law used to at, ‘a new broom sweeps clean, an old broom knows the corners.’ Festus is attempting to sweep the palace clean; no more delays, action and movement. Tomorrow we hear and see Paul. And so shall Festus, who agreed to send Paul to Rome without hearing him through. 

Tomorrow will come without delay.

answers, Acts 25

24 Jun

‘Paul answered: …’

What is an answer? Answers are words in search of their mates, in search of questions.

Paul’s questions are: where are you? How,  why did you get here, waiting over two years for this trial? 

Sometimes, we can respond to, answer, our own questions –

“Paul answered: I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. 11 If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”

12 After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”

Paul is going to Caesar, to Rome. Because he knows who he is, a Pharisee, as well as a Roman citizen, who believes in the resurrected Jesus. 

And he is going to testify about who he is and how and what he believes in Rome.

Jesus is his answer, and Rome’s.

Jesus answers.

25 Acts, Paul is ‘surrounded’

22 Jun

Paul’s Trial Before Festus

25 “Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, 2 where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. 3 They requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. 4 Festus answered, “Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. 5 Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there.”

6 After spending eight or ten days with them, Festus went down to Caesarea. The next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him. 7 When Paul came in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him. They brought many serious charges against him, but they could not prove them.

‘When Paul came in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him.’

Paul is surrounded. But…

8 Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”

9 Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?”

10 Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. 11 If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”

12 After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”

Surrounded.

Paul has many near him. He is surrounded by Jews at this trial; Festus and Romans sit in council and surround the Jews and Paul with their military and politic powers; –

-and, yet, as Acts 23:11 tells us,

11 “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

Surrounding them all, Jews Elders and Roman officials; witnesses and soldiers; surrounding us all is Jesus.

He is near; he hears and sees; he guides and leads. Jesus surrounds Paul; Jesus loves the surrounded Paul.

He loves you; he loves me. He surrounds all.

fathers, days, trying

21 Jun

my perspective recently changed, adjusted, switched on fathers, good fathers

living in NYC during the heyday of Sports Radio, Mike & da Mad Dog, from in my experience, I always thought of Italian men as being in two groups,

kind of like Mike being the generous ‘good all giving’ shirt off your back Italian and the Mad Dog, Chris Russo, as the loud self-centred un-listening insensible and insensitive Italian. in summary..,

• the generous Italians
• the Greedy, self centred Italians

but I am so wrong, so wrong… on so many counts

How?

I thought that Mike was the generous one. He gave Chris on Chris’ birthday the redesigned Barry Bonds jersey. He gave tickets on the radio to fans for big games. He argued vigorously, loudly, like Italians in at a Sunday family meal. He seemed on the surface generous. But I was wrong.

Mike gives only to hear himself giving; to be the Pope and da Judge and Jury. Always right, he could never ever listen. To callers or guests; to Chris or life. All was on his terms and, therefore, all his shirts had a cost, a quid pro quid to for him. And at most times he was at both sides of the exchange in question.

Chris sounds like he isn’t listening, but he is. He is generous in his reflection on Mike ‘n da Mad dog, praising his partner. He admits when he is wrong. He is seeking self understanding. In a phrase, he listens. I sense Chris is flexible and series to be a listener, learner. He is trying.

For me today, Chris is the generous one; Mike the sel-absorbed one.

And me? I am both sides of that Italian persona: self-centred and self reflective; a hoarder and a giver; miser and generous.

Yet, like Samuel Jackson’s character ‘Jules Winnfield’, I am in a ‘transitional’ period.

I am trying to be more generous, even when in a moment I face resentment, a self-pity, a despair.

I am trying to invite to invite ‘breathe’ a pause in when I feel unseen; not heard; not asked.

I am trying to listen to all. Even trying to be open to myself.

I am as Jules states in Pulp Fiction’s diner scene, ‘I am trying Ringo, I am trying real hard.’

I am trying… trying.

trying.

And that is what and only what a ‘present’ available father can do, can be, … someone who tries.

Acts 24, Paul’s four words for Felix

20 Jun

Paul’s life, his work, freedom and his testimony is on the line in his Caesarea trial. After his first speaking, he is placed basically in what we call today ‘house arrest.’ He can meet with his friends and have them fellowship and needs met. And he can and does meet with the governor, Felix and his Jewess wife Drusilla. It is in these two years of house arrest that Paul shares essential words,…

22 ‘Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. “When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.” 23 He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.

24 Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” 26 At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.

27 When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.’

What are Paul’s essential, life on the line, words ?- for Felix …

‘….listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid …

Paul speaks of, his faith in Christ Jesus, righteousness, self-control and the coming judgement. Felix is afraid of all four. As a governor Roman, he can not be seen as worshipping a God other than Caesar. As a man who accepts and encourages bribes, Felix does not, is not ‘right’ or straight with his own exercise of law. As a lover of monies he is not under self-control, but under the control of money, of avarice. And he is afraid of being judged.

The judge can not, does not have the skill to discern his own life, his own eternal life.

Dear friends, see yourself today. And call unto Jesus in faith, true resurrection faith, ..,

Paul’s defense, Acts 24

19 Jun

Acts 24, Paul’s defense,

Paul’s defense is that he did nothing to offend in Jerusalem. He speaks to Felix here,

10 ‘When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. 11 You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. 13 And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. 14 However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15 and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.

17 “After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. 18 I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. 19 But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. 20 Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin— 21 unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.’

Dear, Paul is on trial and ready to die for the ‘resurrection of the dead’.

Major on the majors; live and be ready to die for your major, Jesus.