Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"The Hand of the Lord Was With Them"

El Cinco de Mayo

Today's Word:
Acts 11:19-26 (The believers came to be called Christians)
Psalm 87:1-7 (I tell of people in foreign lands among those who know the Lord)
John 10:22-30 ("The Father and I are one")

Cinco de Mayo is a holiday celebrating the defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. People with Mexican roots celebrate it everywhere. Over, the years the day has become very commercialized and many people see this holiday as a time for fun and dance.
--excerpted from Wilson's Almanac (www.wilsonsalmanac.com)

In last Sunday's reflection I touched on the subject phrase in saying, "God is on our side." I also put forth the idea that God being on "our" side is not the proper way of looking at it. To say "God is on our side" indicates a possessiveness we want to avoid. Remember? It's the greater understanding we should desire and pursue. Luke, the writer of Acts of the Apostles, sees this clear distinction in his account of the growth of the Church. The leadership and the community are on God's side.

Congregations were springing up in many places in the Eastern Mediterranean. Most noted of these in the list Luke gives is Antioch, in modern-day Syria. Antioch will become well known for the remainder of the 1st Century; it is one of the seven major churches given in the book of Revelation. As the communities apart from Jerusalem grew, so did concerns among the Jewish believers of "The Way" of inclusivity. The leaders at Jerusalem (which included the Apostles) sent Barnabas, a trusted disciple, to Antioch to check things out. Barnabas was more than pleased at what he saw. Further, his encouragement to the community drew others into it.

Sudden growth has its problems. If there aren't enough good leaders, people with vision and foresight that is a gift of the Holy Spirit, growth can actually strangle a community. Barnabas sees an opportunity here. He reassures the people in Antioch that they won't be left without guidance. He then sets off to look for an old friend.

Biblical scholars indicate it's been about three years since Paul of Tarsus experienced his conversion on the road to Damascus. In that time Paul was at home; most likely studying, praying, and sorting out how he 'fit in.' He had to leave Damascus rather quickly after he began preaching for Jesus there as opposed to against him. From what we know of Paul, I will presume that he maintained contact with the believers in Jerusalem and elsewhere. He would not be content to live out his days as an itinerant tent maker - not with the lives of those he had harmed before his conversion weighing on his conscience. He knew he would make good on his indebtedness to the One who revealed Himself as true Lord.

When Barnabas arrived in Tarsus, explaining his experience at Antioch and what it offered, Paul went there with him. For the next year they continued to work tirelessly, continuing to build the community. The community became so well known that all believers had a new sense of identity and purpose. As such, they began to call themselves by a new name...the Anointed Ones, or as we know it, "Christians."

If "God is on our side," we may still stumble and fail - and in so doing, question many things. If we're on God's side, if "the hand of the Lord is with us," great and wonderful things happen.

Today, I pray that I am on His side, and walking in His ways.

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