Can you believe it? We have come to the end of another year of Scripture study. I know for me that this has been the most difficult of all the years I have attended our study. Although I love the letters of St. Paul, particularly the way that he praises our God – oh, I wish I could pray with such eloquence! -, I have really struggled with these lessons.
At first I thought combining the Acts of the Apostles with Paul’s letters was a “stroke of genius”, because we would have more of an idea of how Paul’s letters fit in with the early years of the Church. We have learned about those early years. We have learned about the culture of the times in which Paul lived. We have seen the Church grow from those first small groups of Jesus followers to many thousands over the course of Paul’s life. It was both a miraculous and amazing story.
As I sit here thinking about the last weeks of our study, I have realized that my own worries about my sister’s declining health has “colored” my enjoyment of the study. I agree that some of the questions have been tedious; some of the lessons a bit too long for my taste. I haven’t been able to “imagine the scenes” in the words we have studied, as I like to do. Whether that was because of my being consumed by worries about my sister or the nature of the readings, I cannot really say – perhaps it is both. Being able to put myself into the words I am reading has, in the past, increased my enjoyment and my understanding of what I have read in the Bible. I miss not being able to do that with many of these lessons.
I started thinking this morning about the last two chapters of Acts of the Apostles, which are our lesson for this final week. Although I have never been on a cruise, as some of you ladies have been, I still couldn’t imagine “advising” the captain of the cruise ship that his course of action was unwise, that he should put in to the nearest harbor or all on board would be lost. Perhaps because the ship was so small given today’s standards, the travel so hazardous and long, the men (and women) who were on board a ship came to know one another quite well in such close quarters. Perhaps they all talked together about how the travel was going, what route was the best, etc. That scene in our reading this week was strange and almost “funny” to me. It seemed to me (from the 21st century) that Paul was arrogant to advise the captain, who must have been quite experienced in sailing. In our own day to tell the captain we had a “vision” would have elicited a stare, a head shake, and being confined to our cabin for the rest of the voyage. Life really is different now. Two thousand years ago almost everyone believed in a God or gods; the people were in tune with the natural world and were willing to accept that just living their lives required supernatural help.
I could imagine myself becoming angry when at Acts 27:21 Paul says:”Men you should have listened to my advice and not set sail from Crete” when the weather turned rough and dangerous. Had I been the captain of the ship, Paul might have “lost his head then and there.” How many times in my life has someone told me: “you should do that a different way; what you are doing won’t work”, and it turns out that person was right? Ugh! Smoke comes out of my ears when I realize the person advising me was correct.
Paul led an adventurous and dangerous life! His ability to escape from or survive impossible situations was surely a work of God, as was the survival of the early Church. What brave and committed men and women were chosen by our God to form the early Church and the Church down through all the ages until now.
It gives me shivers to think that we were also chosen to carry on Christ’s work, that we walk in the shadow of the giants of faith, who made the paths in the wilderness for us to follow. I pray that all of us, over this next summer break, will remember the struggles of those Fathers of our faith and realize that God calls us to those same struggles, that we have been blessed to have been chosen, and that our loving God smiles on us as we live out the life He has given to us.
Karen and I have remarked over this past year how lucky we have been to have such a sweet and steadfast group of ladies assigned to us – but then we have always been blessed with our small group. You have all given Karen and me ideas to ponder as we discussed our lessons. Your witness of your study and your lives are a living song of praise to our great and glorious God. May God continue to bless you as you go about your summer activities and bring us all safely back in the fall.
With much love and affection,
Karen and Franciene