Posts Tagged ‘Acts of the Apostles’


I do chuckle at those that desperately want to harken back to what was. Whether it is politically, socially or religiously. Usually they cloak themselves in the veneer of a religious or political tradition (or both) and in the case of those that try to recapture Christendom or the flailing Christianities, I do ponder if they have read the actual stories they claim to grow their beliefs from. It is a challenge regardless, and may appear as a rude take, but let’s unpack it a bit more.

We are going into the Acts of the Apostles. This is the second book of “orderly history” the Physician Luke was attempting to write down of the history of the early Jesus movement is what tradition tells us. Shortly after it is recorded of Jesus’ Ascension, and Mary (his Mum) playing a key role in choosing a replacement for Judas Iscariot, we move into the day of Pentecost. Before we deep dive however, let’s unpack a few key points so one knows what the heck I am rambling about.

The Christian Holy Bible is two books (possibly 3, but let’s keep it simple). The larger portion is the “Old Testament”, what I refer to as the Hebrew Bible, the scriptures of Judaism. The shorter part, is the New Testament, or the Christian Testament as I refer to it. It is a collection of stories and writings of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but also letters and history of the early movement of his followers which was an anti-thesis to the Roman Empire movement of power, segregation, oppression and control. The early movement shared everything, and men & women were equals, hence the importance of Mary of Nazareth blessing the replacement, and for those who have read the Gospel accounts, it was the women who were witness to the first sighting of Jesus post-death.

Which brings us into the Book of Acts, or known as Acts of the Apostles. It is a collection of stories of the early church, the highs and lows and struggles. Pentecost is the church day of celebration taken for when the Holy Spirit came down upon the Apostles (Formerly Disciples) so they could speak in tongues. Pause– this is basically a reversal of the ancient myth in the Hebrew Bible Book of Genesis, the Tower of Babel, that was used to explain where languages came from, this piece we are to see in what is to come is more of a universal translator where all could hear and understand (Acts 2:1-23).

The story comes from Acts 2:14-36 (English Standard Version), please note scripture is in italics, reflections are in bold:

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.[a] 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

Third hour of the day is about 9 a.m., I know the argument of drunkenness is plausible but it misses the point, that there was those in the crowd reacting to hearing their own language from those that they did now know. It was an attempt to discredit, Peter, a fisherman, who did alright for himself, he owned his own boat, but had spent the last 3 years travelling with the Rabbi that had so scared the status quo their only way to deal with him was to execute him.

What also was laid out was due to the translation clear communication in an understood language. Common ground was being created. Then Peter, takes the steps to honour the past, no matter how messed up and chaotic it was. He starts with a Prophet.

17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
    before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Peter had learned from the best. Calling out the opiate religious rulers. Those tolerated by the Empire because they kept the masses pacified to be used as nothing more than cattle within the Empire. Here Peter, reminds them of what a Prophet during an ancient occupation and exile had exalted. See prophets were not future seers as we like to use them in this day and age to build coffers in churches. The prophetic voice is one that speaks into the current reality, and calls out the rulers who are causing harm. It is directed at the religious leaders, the declining, neigh, dying Christendom that has existed since Constantine converted to conquer in 325 CE, and is words to be heard today to remind us what our purpose is– Care, Love of Neighbour as we love ourselves (this is how we show love to the Holy Mystery above all else. As Pope Francis reminded us, first you pray-then you act).

The message is about the power that exists within each of us. The pouring out, is the moment of enlightenment, when we resonate with the divinity breathed into us at Creation. Pause, and reflect. How do your actions show love of self and neighbour? It is a resonance with the connection of life- business, politics, family and church.

 

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus,[b]delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

Peter then built upon the teachings of the past, and pointed to the now. The Empire could not kill the love gospel. What does that mean for us now? To often we hold to the past and yearn for it to return that we are unwilling to learn and grow from the lessons there. We are unwilling due to fear, anxiety, and quest to maintain the power and control we have to step into the unknown of the new light.

But what happens if we step into the new light?

25 For David says concerning him,

“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
    for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
    my flesh also will dwell in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
    or let your Holy One see corruption.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

David is a highly beloved historic figure. After exile, the nation had re-set his story from 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings, in the highly sanitized 1-2 Chronicles. By sanitized, remember when Wal-Mart took R rated movies, and edited them to be family fair? Or the editing Turner Classic Movies does. All the excess violence, rape, murder plots, were removed, and David was presented as this holy warrior. What is lost when one takes away the evil? That which is meant to be overcome? Simple, we get a picture of life where you must always be good. No I am not condoning rape and murder, though in the time David was functioning as a monarch was allowed to. What I am saying, is we need to honour the whole person, but also understand restoration. Whether it is in our communities or justice systems. It is not simply about constant vilification, and revenge. 

If the soul is willing to change and heal for the betterment of themselves and others, then it is our calling within the Holy Spirit to create space for that as well. For would we not wish the same quarter given us?

The firm flipside of that however, is that we must also hold space, and carry through with restoration, healing and reconciliation with the victim so they too can be truly whole once more. It is the debate and growth that is lost when we sanitize our past and cannot use it is a foundation for healthy growth forward.

 

29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 

That is firm to remember. If we hold in the past without the healing that is possible. No, I am not pointing only to the spiritual. That is a piece of it, but within the blessings we are also given medicine, scientists, doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc. True healing with the power of the Holy Spirit from the traumas of the past and present…is trusting the Holy Spirit in the other. It is the path of healing laid out, and by entering into it, like one in faith would enter into a prayer meeting with that level of faith and trust… well… new life is just around the corner.

34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35     until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

The cross is messy and nasty. We have attempted to individualize it, and bring it down t a simple prayer of contrition at an altar call post after filling coffers. Crap on a stick people we have missed the point. It is about the person, the neighbour, the whole of creation. The past being pointed out as buried points to the cycle of life. Dust to dust. Or as one state recently passed, corpses as compost. We are interconnected. We choose love, we choose life it means we choose a path of reconciliation, healing and belonging.

Honour the foundation that you have built your life on. Know good or bad, the past is in the past. Deal with the pain, trauma and loss. It does not do our body or communities well to suppress and hide it. It is a hard path, but well worth the release of what is next. Thank your system for the internal gremlins that though may have held you back- kept you safe and going forward. Then do the work to release and eliminate.

A new day is here. One day at a time.

Will you build upon the past and let your new life fully bloom?

What does growing reconciled with your past mean for your present and future?

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Check out the YouTube Channel- Ty Ragan

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coverSeeking to understand…building on the past, preparing for healing and reconciliation to move forward:

A stone skipping across a pond leaves ripples with each impact.

The joys and life of traumas are the like the skipping stone through the generations.

Soul Ripples

What happens when the helper needs help?

For over 20 years Ty Ragan served his neighbour from the rough camps to the shelters to home and every where’s in-between. The simple life lesson of Jesus of Nazareth to love your neighbour as yourself was the centre question to be answered in his life. In May 2016 his life would begin to change drastically through unknown seizures and strokes.

Enter into the ripples that brought him to 2016, the transformational power of love of family and friends as he seeks new ripples in hope for his soul.


…Jesus son of Mary, honoured in this world and in the next, and of those granted nearness to God.

-Sura 3:46

                The Crusades were a horrific time within the Empire phase of Christianity. It was about anti-Semitism (travelling to and from the Holy Land was a great excuse for the warriors to cull the Jewish in the lands) and to let blood run high in the Holy Land battling the “infidel”.

During one such crusade time a disgraced Crusader received a call to something different. Francis was a party animal, one of those wealthy ne’er do wells many towns and communities know of. He thought to increase his lot by bravery in the Crusades…suffice to say he was not a good Knight, and wound up injured in a burnt out church where Jesus spoke to him through the San Damiano cross calling him to rebuild his church. After stealing supplies from his father, and rebuilding 3 fine parishes he was once again revisited and redirected to actual community based around hope and loved. Even beaten and imprisoned by his own parents, just emboldened this man to cast of (literally) the clothes of wealth and walk naked into the world.

The Franciscan movement is what began. Part of the life lived that receives little mention outside of the international circles (as most just know Francis for his love of animals, not activism) so he has been reduced to the garden statue or fountain. Yet it was in the midst of crusade times this rabble rouser and friends upset the apple cart, and not just in the challenge for equity and justice for the poor. Nope, he also crossed treasonous lines by going back onto the Crusader path to meet with Sultan.

Why?

To pray together.

To talk.

To share bread.

To be community.

Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was ever inclined to God and obedient to Him, and he was not of those who associate gods with God.

-Sura 3:68

Francis and his community understood an eternal truth. God is the source of all that is, all that exists within and through and lived out of the Holy Mystery. The source-Love- was not to be confused with the manifestations. That is…the wells are not the river.

We want the labels to divide. Those in power hope that we allow the labels to divide. Yet, there is another way. A way where we acknowledge the One River, and sample one another’s well water in a safe place of community, sharing prayers, sharing discourse, sharing bread. Being like Francis and the Sultan. That piece of light in the darkness.

And he will teach them the Book, and The Wisdom, and The Torah and the Gospel.

-Sura 3: 49

This is why my family hosts an inter-faith Questing through the Qur’an; and a Brunch & Bible (where we travel the roads of the Gospel of Luke & Acts of the Apostles) on alternating weeks. To share the foundation stories. To see where we connect. To hear where we differ.

To know  we are still united in our diversity.

                Much like Francis’ call to bring the gifts of peace, hope, faith, joy and love to Sultan. But also to receive these same gifts from Sultan.

For, what are we in humanity,

if not neighbours….

francis

The Gospel story, the faith story has not ended. It is not sealed. Each of us in our journeys, our lives continue to write in the book of life about how we live within, through and out of the love that is the Holy Mystery. So what is the new chapter you are starting in this moment?


English: Saint Luke the Evangelist. Russian Ea...

English: Saint Luke the Evangelist. Russian Eastern Orthodox icon from Russia. 18th century. Wood, tempera. Luke is the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. He is considered one of the Four Evangelists. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A nineteenth century picture of Paul of Tarsus

A nineteenth century picture of Paul of Tarsus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Introduction

St. Paul of Tarsus is a divisive figure within the church today (much as he was in his day). The challenge of St. Paul is not simply his writing, but his life lived out prior to conversion and post-conversion. This short paper will be examining a treatise on the life of St. Paul just prior to the turn of the 20th century. The challenge is that the writer of this work has expounded nothing new, or rarely anything that would not have been evident through an inductive reading of the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline Epistles.

W.M. Ramsay with the flair of the era puts pen to paper to craft St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen. The text attempts to bridge what is historically known of the life and times of Paul, while balancing it with the written record by Paul, and his followers (ala Luke author of Acts). Ramsay leans on Paul’s writings to prove one of his theories that Christianity is not just a religion, but a system of living life as action (p.13). Through this concept a summary of the work will be prepared, followed by interpretation of some key points within the text as seen by this writer.

Summary

Ramsay set out a synopsis of the historical record typologies (p.13-14) to give the reader and understanding of where he had been. The summary itself of the work is to provide an understanding of who Saul of Tarsus was and who he became on the road to Damascus as he became Paul of Christ. Ramsay expounds on the privilege that Paul was born into as a Pharisaic Jew (p.29) to a family in Tarsus of the Roman Empire (p.27). This is the link that Paul would later use to escape some tortures as he was a citizen of Rome, as a full blooded Tarsian since his family roots most likely dated back to the refounding of the city under Antiochus IV circa 175-164 B.C. (Ramsay, p.27).

This wealthy young man was classically trained by a powerful religious sect of his time, whose family had station and prominence within Jewish circles. All this ended for Saul of Tarsus as on the Road to Damascus he heard the voice of Jesus calling him Home. As the Apostle called out to the gentiles, his wealthy family saw not an Apostle, but rather an apostate (Ramsay, p.29). This new standing Paul brought led to his disowning by his family, loss of personal wealth and safety. Yet it did not remove his Roman citizenship.

St. Paul Traveler and Roman Citizen is a work that takes the reader through a biographical outline of the life and times of St. Paul of Christ.  This life though due to the age of the text can lead one to not fully comprehend the movement of academic discoveries which will be touched upon next.

Interpretation

As Ramsay borrows from the Biblical text that Paul had a fixed and steady gaze (p.30) it is with bemusement this writer can see the subject looking upon his biographer the same way. Luke, a fellow traveler with Paul wrote two books Luke-Acts which could have been two parts of a trilogy cut short, but it is the work of Acts of the Apostles that Ramsay uses to not only place Paul’s letters in historical context but also interpret them (p.41). Is this a proper reading of the letters?

Ramsay’s hypothesis is that this physician cum historian took his role seriously and sought out the sources to authenticate the historical premise of his writing (p.62). This does a disservice to the ancient methodology of communicating truth espoused by such theologians as John Shelby Spong and Matthew Fox, as well as historians John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. The idea of literalism and modernity’s take on historicity is not what the purpose of the writing was. Yes, there were facts but there is also a method of allegory, metaphor, and understanding of the movement of story.

For it is this drive for literalism that has Ramsay still wrestling with what Paul’s thorn in the flesh is? Could this simply be an allegorical device, much like the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John, to allow the reader entry into the story to realize we each have our own thorn to live with? Instead, Ramsay postulates that the thorn is a species of chronic malaria fever (p.59) which comes out after he writes eloquently that it is this recurring illness that leads Paul to preach to the churches of Galatia (p.58).

Through the use of needing to discern one meaning, the ability of the Holy Spirit to speak to the reader through their own life circumstance and experience of the believer when they come to the text in an open prayerful form is hindered. This is the challenge with texts written in the modern mind they tend to pigeon hole God into one way of being, while there is the challenge of the lacking of mystery within liberal spheres at least the liberal method of coming to scripture does tend to open one up to multi-layered and themed meanings.

Ramsay may be weak in some areas, but there are nuggets hidden within his text. The paralleling of the Roman education with the Christian is one of these gems. The goal of Rome, as with many empires, is the unification and education of their populations with the Empire’s ideas (Ramsay, p. 63) and that the idea of fruition for Romans was only for amusement (p.78). This was the antithesis of what was found in Pauline teachings of the Church for their concept of fruition was not only for amusement, but feeding (p.78) and this led to classes where education and work go hand in hand that created bonds for the lower classes of the Empire with this new religious sect due to relevancy within life (p.78). The unique trick is that the way this policy worked itself out did not anger the Empire at first, as it appeared Christianity was not opposing the Empire’s systems but rather supplementing them (p.79).

For the astute Biblical student the educational pedagogy of the Pauline church shows how the church used the system, subverted it to its own aims of conversion and growth within the Great Commission. Ramsay grows this idea by hypothesizing that Paul had grand dreams for a religion that spread to the corners of the Empire, being mirrored within Paul’s travels to Rome then Spain (p. 139). Obviously Paul was not content with localized evangelization or discipling, one has to ponder if this quest for expansion was driven by the loss of wealth and position at his conversion?

It is questions that begin to arise as the reader connects the life snippets that are never addressed within Ramsay’s work that leaves the reader feeling isolated and not knowing where to take their inquiry next.

But following this expansionist, wounded pride hypothesis, more evidence is laid out by Ramsay himself. Due to Paul’s raising, education, and political training he astutely understood how to leverage positioning within the Empire for expansion. For Paul planted the first fully gentile congregation outside of the synagogue system within Pisidian Antioch (p.63). It is the outreach to the gentiles that created the controversy within the early church, but if Paul had not taken the gospel out of the synagogue there is a strong possibility that when the church had been expulsed from the synagogues it would have died. This shows Paul’s forethought, and understanding of religious dynamics that this writer can only attest to his time as a Pharisee, and member of the Sanhedrin.

This astuteness was also relevant when it came to first contacts for planting churches. The example used by Ramsay is that of the city of Ephesus which was the seat of government for Asia (p.148) and as such was a hub for travel, communication and ability to affect change. This was reflected in the Asian churches later revealed in Revelations (Ramsay, p.149) where all within the spheres of influence of Ephesus.

The idea of planned and systematic growth is old hat for religious movements today, but could it be that Paul was not only a traveler but a pioneer in this style of evangelism? Historically the church would see a repeat of this with Celtic Monastics spreading out throughout the world in the Middle Ages, but then shortly after the founders of churches left the communities themselves would implode. Paul’s plants showed staying power as they were able to survive the tumultuous times of the early church.

His mystery spirituality style of Christianity overlaid James, Bishop of Jerusalem, and Judaic Christianity and overtook John’s more Gnostic style church to become the leading “brand” of the Way of Christ if you will. Ramsay’s strength is not his inductive reading of Acts and the Pauline Epistles, the strength within Ramsay is that he lays out little gems of history that when taken together can illuminate a new picture of whom Paul was. For the uninitiated reading Paul can be painful, even though his letters are the earliest texts of the New Testament. Paul’s theology has shaped the church more than any other New Testament writer, and at times it can appear as the writings and life of Paul have shaped the faith more than even the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth.

Is Paul a controversial figure within Christendom? Yes. Is he a controversial figure for those who may want to meet Christ? Yes. The challenge of any course is to be able to meet Paul, and see him through sympathetic eyes. For even with what this Apostle accomplished in taking the faith outwards, it is easy to lose sight that there is a story, a life.

That life is not like many of the other early Apostles from the working and lower classes. Paul was a child of privilege. He was the son of Roman citizens, who although the family line was Jewish, they still could claim birth rights within the Empire; they were not conquered and seen as little more than property. Paul was trained as a Pharisee, he was there when Jesus was executed, a member of the Sanhedrin, he voted to create the first martyr in Stephen, and made a career out of destroying early churches. For a family, a holy man of Paul’s emerging stature was a sign of pride.

Then this happened:

9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s   disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues           in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether    men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared             Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He      fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you    persecute me?”

                5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into     the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

                7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes        he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three            days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

                10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a             vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

                11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a    man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man       named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

                13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all   the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here     with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

                15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to             proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I             will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

                17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he           said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the    Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he         could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he         regained his strength.

(Acts 9:1-17, New International Version).

In the life of Paul, what the believer experiences is the loss of the old life, at the time of Baptism the symbolism of dying to the old life and being born again. As Saul emerged from the water and became Paul in Christ, he went from family Holy Man to Christ’s Apostle to family apostate and lost his loved ones, his wealth and his world. Yet in the midst of this personal crisis he drew closer to God, learned a trade, and went out to live his true vocational calling.

Conclusion

Is Ramsay’s text on the life of Paul worth the read? When this writer first started the analysis it was going to be a resounding N-O! Instead as the words have come together, connections seen or not seen emerged it became apparent that this older take on St. Paul of Tarsus has illuminated why Paul possibly does matter to the church today. It shows someone whose life was radically changed, who used his skills from his past life to glorify Jesus and build the reign of God here on earth.

Paul’s life shows the continual discipleship model as those communities he planted or met, through his letters he continued the dialogue and ministry with. He showed astuteness for understanding his world, being engaged in the body politic, and standing firm in what he believed. He also shows the believer how to use one’s rights, but to ensure they are also upholding their own responsibility as they move forward in life to their society in being a good citizen.

Under Emperor Nero St. Paul of Tarsus’ life would face a tragic end at the end of an axe blade. Nero’s cover for his incompetence that ravaged the Empire’s capital with fire, was to blame this small religious sect of The Way for destruction. Paul as one of the most active evangelists and teachers was seized, tried and convicted, but due to the actual Roman citizenry they could not execute him in the arenas or be crucified on the highways as these methods were for the lesser than full humans (as they were inhumane) which led to his kinder martyrdom if there is such a thing.

St. Paul Traveler and Roman Citizen should be approached as one would approach any faith development. Bringing your own bias, experience, and prayers then letting the Holy Mystery illuminate why this matters to you. For this writer, the life of Paul, while never his favourite had new light shone upon it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reference

Ramsay, W.M. (1894). St. Paul Traveler and Roman Citizen retrieved from             https://ntsmoodle.com/mod/resource/view.php?inpopup=true&id=146   13 October 2012.