Paul’s Pastoral Option (5.20.2017)

Scripture Readings: Acts 16:1-10; Psalm 100, John 15: 18-21

What does it mean to be pastoral?  I’ve heard some express concern that the concept is abused to take the easy way out.  I’ve heard others fear that the Church too often forgets to be pastoral.  Acts 16 gives us a view of pastoral ministry that both inspires and challenges.  We find these words, “Paul wanted [Timothy] to come along with him.  On account of the Jews of that region, Paul had him circumcised, for they all knew that his father was a Greek” (16:3).  In this sentence and a half, I see the reality of what it means to be pastoral and I want us to come along with Paul and Timothy for just a minute as we unpack what this word means for us as disciples.

What was Paul looking for in Timothy?  He was looking for a co-worker in the transmission of the Gospel.  Someone with whom he could proclaim Christ crucified and risen.  It is this desire, or rather conviction, to share the Gospel that led to what I’m calling Paul’s ‘pastoral response’.  He has Timothy circumcised.

We’re all big kids here, right?  I mean, ouch!  This moment shows us that true pastoral actions lead to taking on discomfort to reach the person.  An authentic pastoral spirit doesn’t compromise the Gospel for the sake of comfort, it compromises our comfort for the sake of the Gospel.  The gospel which is meant for everyone.

Acts tells us that Timothy’s circumcision was because of the Jews.  This challenges me because I often think of being pastoral as a way of reaching the distant.  Instead, Paul was intentionally pastoral to circumvent the rigidity that would not respect Timothy unless he was circumcised.  Paul is one of the greatest advocates that circumcision has no bearing on salvation in the New Covenant.  Despite his opposition to the rigidity of the Judaizers (those demanding gentile Christians must also be circumcised) he has Timothy circumcised to cunningly approach them.

As I prayed with the passage, I was distracted by the voices I’ve heard in the past complaining about those who are overly rigid or the overly lax in their pastoral approach.  My desire to solve that little dispute diluted the force with which I must ask myself if I’m being pastoral.  Am I compromising the Gospel for my comfort or my comfort for the Gospel, so that it can reach the person right in front of me?


Wearing Brand Names (10.8.1016)

As far back as I can remember I had a love-hate relationship with buying brand name stuff.  I knew it was important to some people whether your shirt had a little bird on it or if you really liked these Abercrombie and Fitch people.  Now that I am older, I only wear name brands if they come from the thrift store (I’m doing what I can to rock my dad-style).  However, I find myself torn about brand names when I get sent on food retrieval missions or grocery store runs when I’m not feeling imaginative.  I also struggle with what brand is better when buying power tools and the like.  And I am persnickety about my paint brushes.  I want Purdy or I don’t want it.  I’m sure I’m not the only who struggles with the question “In what should clothe myself?”  Our first reading gives us the answer.

In today’s first reading St. Paul wrote, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  To our modern sensibilities, this means we have bought into the brand name.  Through our Baptism, we are supposed to be a walking billboard for Jesus.  We don’t have to be obnoxious like Abercrombie and Fitch.  It might be more synonymous with the North Face logo on someone’s back shoulder or the Hollister bird where a pocket should be.  Either way, we should be about Christ and for Christ.  We should swear by Christ’s reliability and staying power with more zeal than people talk about Toyota or Honda.  I should be as ready to make the investment for Christ as I am for a Purdy brush.  We should be all in for Christ.  And that is just the connection from our modern perspective.

When we look at the ancient connection we remember that clothing was not a loose insinuation of status, but a declaration.  Today I can wear nice clothes and not have status, but in the ancient world, your clothes communicated who you were, what your standing was, and how you should be treated.  Paul declares Christ the great equalizer.  When we are Baptized, we are clothed in Christ.  We become co-heirs to the throne.  We share Christ’s mantle of priest, prophet, and king.  It doesn’t eradicate the structure of the society in which we live but does place a demand upon how we see one another.  Paul essentially tells us that our first impression of another Baptized Christian should be Jesus.  Here is a person to whom I must be Christ and a person who can be Christ to me.

In Baptism, we are clothed in Christ.  It is a marvelous gift of grace that demands a costly lifestyle.

A Guided Meditation

1b66c4f33289d343a73a914c3452ce7cI wrote this for one of our youth ministry gatherings.
If you can have someone else lead you through this, stop now and do that.
Otherwise, take your time through this exercise and don’t read ahead.

Our spiritual and mental abilities are gifts from God.  This includes our memory, intellect, and emotions, just to name a few of them.  During this exercise, we will utilize the gift of our imagination.

Take some time to quiet yourself, making room for the Spirit.

If distractions arise, ask the Lord to hold on to it for you so you can let it go.

Focus on your breathing or your heartbeat to help you do that.  Something automatic and repetitive.

If you are reading this to yourself, close your eyes during the pauses to keep your focus.

Imagine your are standing on the cobblestones of a courtyeard outside a big European style cathedral on a warm sunny day.  The cathedral is tall, made of stained glass and stone. In front of you are two massive double doors.


You walk toward the doors.  As you do, a man with dark, tanned skin approaches you.  He introduces himself as Paul.  “Follow me, I want to show you something.”


As you get close to the doors he stops, looks up and says, “This building gives me such hope.  Long ago, God was seen as so distant, but through Christ we have churches like this everywhere as a reminder of just how close God has come to us.” Turning toward you, “So close, even, that people laid hands upon Him and killed Him.  It truly is remarkable.  Anyway, what I want to show you is inside.”


He pushes the massive door open with great ease.  The church is huge and open.


Multi-colored lights stream through the windows, a baptismal font serenely trickles, you hear quiet chanting from up near the tabernacle.


“I love walking in here.  Can you feel it?  Can you hear it?  It is peaceful.  This peace points to Christ.
He is our peace.
He brings peace to creation and humanity.

He has carved out a space where we can all gather.  Where everything that we are can encounter all that is good, beautiful, and true.”


He leads you further into the cathedral, under the tall vaulted ceilings and warmed by the lights from the stained glass windows.


He directs your attention to the stained glass windows. They are the tallest you’ve ever seen.


“Look, do you see that window?


Glassblowers made rock, sand, and broken glass into these good and beautiful works of art that proclaim the truth of God’s love for us.  So to God blows His breath into us.  He holds every one of us in hands, each of us a colored piece of glass, with our own brokenness.  Yet, he bring us together in a good way, to make a beautiful work of art, proclaiming His truth.


Each shard belongs.


Each piece essential to completing the image.


All the glass, whether it is a blade of grass, Jesus’ toe, filler in the sky, or Christ’s heart is illuminated by one and the same sun.  So to, we are all made radiant by the same Spirit.


No longer are we discarded shards, but we properly belong to the whole.


Beautiful in our own right as we capture the rays of the sun, purposeful as we are built into the walls of the Church, and so good as we tell the story of Christ with our lives.


I once reminded the Christians of Ephesus, that: ‘You are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ himself as the capstone.  Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord.’


This window reminds us of that.


Like us, it only finds its true purpose when it is for Christ.  Christ is working in us, to make us a church of people not of walls.  Wherever you go, He wants you to bring the Spirit of God with you.  Like a piece of glass that can bring the rays of the sun with it.


You belong here.


You are meant to stand alongside disciples like Francis, Mary Magdalene, Maximillian, Theresa, Oscar, Thomas, even Peter and me.


You are a piece of colored glass.


Will you allow the Father to bring you into His image?


Will you let the Son wash you clean and hold you in place?


Will you let the Spirit fill you and shine through you?


Will you be like a piece of glass in this window?” He says as he slowly backs away leaving you looking at your window.




What did your stained glass window look like?

I invite you to talk to someone or journal about what it looked it like.  As well as:

  • Does that have a connection to your relationship with Christ?
  • How does that image speak to you?
  • Are there ways that you resist being part of that image?
  • What do you find encouraging about this metaphor?
  • In what ways do you struggle with it?

Feel free to offer comments below and share this or use it if you found it helpful.

Jesus Is

“After [Paul’s] arrival he gave great assistance to those who had come to believe through grace.  He vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the Scriptures that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 18:27b-28).  Those are the closing words of our first reading today.  It captures nicely what this whole section of Acts is all about.  Paul, invigorated by the Holy Spirit, is supporting, nurturing, growing, and defending the primitive church and the disciples it is composed of.  And why do this?  Why does he face persecution, arrest, and beatings?  Why does he stand for people he has never met, even former gentiles?  Why does he stand against his own people?  It really is a tense question.

No, I mean it.  It is a question of tense.  See how the last part of Acts 18 renders it, “the Christ is Jesus.”  This is a present tense statement.  10 times out of 10 you should talk about someone who was crucified in the past tense because they are, well you know, dead.  But Acts doesn’t read, “The Christ was Jesus.”  Instead, it says, “The Christ is Jesus.”  He still lives.

This is why St Paul does what he does the way he does it.  Not because Jesus was merciful, kind, stern, passionate, meek, humble, intense, etc, but because he is those things.  Jesus is.  That changes everything.  Death has lost, good can’t be outmaneuvered by evil, and justice and mercy will have the last word said in unison.

As we close this reflection, I find myself drawn to Matt Maher’s song, “Because He Lives.”  I’ll leave some of the lyrics below, but please, go and find it here if you don’t know it.  As we look at St. Paul, I think the words of this song tell us exactly why he lived, served, and died the way he did.

“…I believe in the risen One
I believe I overcome
By the power of His blood

…I’m alive, I’m alive
Because He lives…

I was dead in the grave
I was covered in sin and shame
I heard mercy call my name
He rolled the stone away…

Because He lives
I can face tomorrow
Because He lives
Every fear is gone
I know He holds my life my future in His hands…”

Jesus, you not only lived, but you live.  You are present.


Helping others Hear

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

There are some things people say we shouldn’t talk about at the dinner table.  Religion and politics are commonly found on that list.  For many people, I think circumcision might be on that list as well.  It is not a conversation piece that normally accompanies, “Please pass the bread”.  Interestingly enough, in today’s passage from Acts, Timothy is circumcised so that religion can be dinner table conversation.

Here is what we find in Acts, “Paul reached also Derbe and Lystra where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek.  The brothers in Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him, and Paul wanted him to come along with him.  On account of the Jews of that region, Paul had him circumcised, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.”  This is a powerful little chunk of information that Luke gives us.  Its power might be lost on us because we think of circumcision as a ritual akin to Baptism or a safe surgery at which no one bats an eye.  This is problematic because Baptism doesn’t cause pain and require recovery time.  Also, our nonchalance toward circumcision goes away as the recipient gets older and the medical practices get more and more primitive.  So let’s reformat what happened in Acts today.  Timothy has just heard that the Council of Jerusalem said he doesn’t have to be circumcised to be a Christian.  Then Paul shows up and asks him to join him because he would make an excellent evangelist.  However, Paul tells him that he should be circumcised.  So, adult Timothy, with the medical practices of 1st Century Rome, receives circumcision.  Yikes!

This compels us to ask “Why?”  The quick answer is, “for the sake of the Gospel.”  However, the Gospel doesn’t require circumcision.  It isn’t necessary.  Wouldn’t Paul avoid confusion about the role of circumcision in the Gospel if he had forbidden it to Timothy instead of requesting it of him?  I think the truer reason, which happens to be tougher to imitate, is that Timothy did it for the sake of those who might hear the Gospel.

Timothy had no reason to take on circumcision except to be more acceptable to his listeners.  The fact that he took on circumcision so that his voice would be heard should challenge the whole Church as we strive to imitate him.  I think we are tempted to burden and inconvenience the evangelized.  Yet, Timothy would seem to say “No, no.  Quite the opposite.  Evangelists take on whatever burden they can so that the heart of the evangelized can be free to respond and to prevent the impositions of evangelists from being confused with the demands of the Gospel.”  What are some inconveniences and sufferings that we can take on ourselves in order to share the Good News with them?

Lord, give us hearts like Timothy and Paul.  Hearts that desire so strongly for others to know you, that we are willing to undergo hardship to help others be open to you.

QotD – Love, a more cogent teacher – 2.8.2016

“We cannot help conforming ourselves to those we love.  It is in this sense, I think, that the great apostle says that, ‘the law is not made for the just.’  In fact, the just man is not just unless he has holy love.  If he has love, there is no need to urge him on with the rigor of the law, since love is a more cogent teacher and solicitor to persuade a heart possessing it to obey the will and intentions of its beloved. … Love is a magistrate who exercises his authority without noise, without bailiffs or sergeants-at-arms, but merely by that mutual complacence whereby, just as we find pleasure in God, so also we reciprocally desire to please Him.” (Sales, Francis de. Finding God’s Will for You. 8)

Sunday School

There is a strange line in today’s first reading.  Paul, in an almost off-handed manner, references how the Thessalonians have been instructed by God in fraternal charity.  It is almost like God is teaching Sunday school in Thessalonica (for which I imagine there would have been a lengthy waiting list!).  In all seriousness though, what is Paul referencing?  When did God hold a fraternal charity seminar in Thessalonica?  In today’s reflection I wish to explore three possible answers to that question, because — as disciples — we should all long to sit in the school of charity.  For if we have not love, we are nothing. Continue reading “Sunday School”

Whatever Happened to that Guy?

Reading: Acts 28:16-20, 30-31

Have you ever sat around with friends and reminisced about someone?  It usually starts with, “Hey, do you remember the time that so & so did this?”  An hour later you all have smiles on your faces as you’ve relived every positive memory.  Then it comes to a close as someone asks, “Whatever happened to him/her?”  Maybe there are vague guesses as to their marital state, the possibility of children, or which “M” state they live in now.  I wonder if this scenario ever occurred with Paul and his Roman guard. Continue reading “Whatever Happened to that Guy?”