Persecution, Prison and Proclamation # 3.
- 18 July 2021
- Bruce Kaye
Sharing our Faith
Persecution, Prison and Proclamation # 3
Sharing Our Faith.
18 July 2021 Bruce Kaye
One aspect of failing hearing that I have discovered in recent times is that you can actually have quite entertaining conversation. If you don’t get the first, or an early key word I have found that you can continue for several sentences before figuring out that you are on totally different planets. At that point it is best to just laugh and start again.
In other circumstances the conversations may be quite serious. When I started study in the university of Basel in Switzerland the language was German. While desperately trying to learn this language I often found that I totally misunderstood what someone had said to me, or what I had said to them.
Of course, you don’t have to be half deaf or linguistically half competent to find yourself in a conversation in which you are talking at cross purposes or out of different world views. As christians if we want to explain our faith to our fellow citizens these different presuppositions can be a problem on both sides of the conversation.
It is not a new problem. Paul and Barnabas ran into it in Turkey a long time ago. Our reading today tells the story of his troubles of this kind in Lystra. Lystra is now a collection of ruins 200 kilometres from the Mediterranean coast and not far from Iconium which is now a city of 2.2 million.
Paul and Barnabas were having trouble on their preaching travels. Paul preached in a synagogue in Antioch which had some gentile members. Some of these Jews and Gentiles became christians. As members of the synagogue both these groups would have been familiar with the history of Judaism from the Old Testament. Paul’s sermon in the synagogue would have been quite intelligible to them. He had something to build on. A week later the whole city turned up and Paul declared he had been sent by God to be a light to the gentiles which meant that he lost some of his new converts and alienated a lot of the rest of the Jewish population in the city. Paul and Barnabas were run out of town.
They went to Iconium and much the same thing happened again. This time they were threatened with stoning and so they fled to the surrounding country and came to Lystra.
In Lystra a crippled man listened to Paul speaking and Paul recognised that he had faith to be healed, and so he called him to stand up, which he promptly did.. Not surprisingly this caused a commotion. The response to this miracle was shaped entirely by the culture and religion of the locals. They shouted out in the local language, which Paul and Barnabas did not understand, that the gods had come down to them and they called Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes. The local priest of Zeus confirmed this identification by preparing to make a sacrifice. Crowds gathered to take part.
At that point Paul and Barnabas finally realised what was going on and rushed into the crowd to intervene. ‘We are mortals just like you and we have come with good news that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God who has provided all your needs.’ There was no sacrifice by the priest of Zeus, but neither was there any public preaching and Luke records no conversions.
The Lystra visit came to an end with the arrival of hostile Jews from Antioch and Iconium who persuaded the crowd that Paul and Barnabas were criminals. With the result that Paul was stoned near to death. Nursing his injuries, Paul departed for Derbe with Barnabas.
What happened in Antioch, Iconium and especially in Lystra shows how complicated sharing the gospel can be. In each place division and opposition arose. In Antioch and Iconium Luke is able to report preaching and conversions – not so much in Lystra.
In Lystra Paul and Barnabas were dealing with a culture whose categories and habits of life offered very little point of contact for a christian message to gain entry or for real communication. After the healing of the lame man Paul and Barnabas lost any control over events. The whole thing is wrapped up in the culture and religion of the locals. Luke does not report any announcement of the gospel as in other places, no reference to Jesus and no story of conversions. Luke tells us that disciples looked after Paul after he had been stoned but nothing about who they were. As Luke tells it, Lystra was a bit of a disaster. Moreover, the story unravels because of language troubles for the apostles.
The mission of Paul and Barnabas was aimed at doing two things; to evangelise in the mountain regions of modern Turkey and to form and support churches. This is basic first generation apostolic activity. But most people in the early centuries became christians because of contact with individual christians, and the same is true today.
This puts the focus on the witness of individual christians. The christian witness we are called to is about Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour in our own lives. It is part of who we are and how we live as christian people. Sometimes that means explaining our beliefs. More often it is sharing what being a christian meant for you in some circumstance in your life. In other words, it is about how we live as christians in our day to day lives, what Christ means to us in the ordinary circumstances of our lives. Not theological discourse. Sharing something of our lives.
Take the opportunity to share your own experience, especially in relation to some significant event in your life, and how christian faith helped you in that experience. It is the witness of a lived experience of Christ that will move someone to faith, not some finely tuned theological propositions. No matter how different we are from one another there are some things that are common to us all – birth and death and the great milestones in between. Sharing with another how you have coped with these things as a christian is a living witness to Christ, to which we are all called. AMEN