Friday, January 27, 2012

Channeling Paul: words from the amphitheater at Caesarea

Meggido and the Plains of Armageddon
From Nazareth we travelled to the ancient site of Megiddo. Megiddo is in the valley of Har Meggido, or (Anglicized) "Armageddon," the site of several historical battles.

The dig has revealed 29 layers, representing 29 civilizations, and the site is a textbook example for the state of the art of archeology. People lived at Megiddo from approximately 7000 BC to 586 BC. It has remained uninhabited since the time of the Jewish exile to Babylon.

Elijah sticking it to the Prophets of Baal
Our next destination was Mount Carmel, site of the famous "dueling prophets" story where Elijah taunted, defeated and destroyed the prophets of Baal.
It rained, the wind blew, the sun came out, the temperature dropped, and then it rained some more. The mountain makes for a spectacular setting, and it is easy to imagine the theatrical tone of the pivotal confrontation. I have always liked Elijah for his honesty, his hesitancy, and eventually his great courage. God was so patient with him, even when he felt sorry for himself and did his best to avoid taking God at his word.

aqueduct at Caesarea
DEREK channeling PAUL: Finally, and with the wind blowing hard off the Mediterranean Sea, we spent the afternoon at Caesarea Maritima, stopping briefly at the Roman aqueduct before spending an hour or so clambering around the amphitheater, the circus, and the ruins of the amazing palace the Roman governor occupied, right on the shore.

Back in Egypt, when Dr. Tuttle was assigning meditations to his students, he asked me to share something with the group when we came to Caesarea. It was here that Paul offered his defense of the Gospel to Governor Festus and King Agrippa.
Standing in the ancient amphitheater to speak, with the deep blue of the Mediterranean behind me and the towering clouds billowing, the scene struck me as surreal. I could feel the gravitational pull of history, the insistency of Paul's commitment to the Gospel, and my own constant search for the right words at the right time tugging at my spirit.

That's me, sharing some words in Caesarea Maritima
THIS IS WHAT I SAID: "Before reading the scripture from Acts 26, I'm going to offer a little background from the great drama that plays out over the preceding chapters:
  1. Paul's message hits too close to home in Jerusalem. The religious authorities decide to clamp down.
  2. The Romans don't want to see a citizen lynched, so they take Paul into protective custody, right here in Caesarea.
  3. Governor Felix is pressured by the Jews but eventually passes the buck to the new guy, Festus.
  4. Festus wants to make a good impression with Herod Agrippa. So the two of them get together and ask Paul to explain himself before passing him further up the food chain via an E.O. (the group we were traveling with) "eastern Med." cruise to Rome.
  5. Paul gives Agrippa and anyone else listening his best "15-minutes of Jesus..."
  6. Festus tells Paul he's crazy, but Agrippa is intrigued and challenged; "Almost persuaded" according to one translation.
Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to become a Christian?" Agrippa said. "Short time or long," Paul shot back, "I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what i am, except for these chains..." (Acts 26:28-29)

Roman villa by the sea
"So yesterday, just before last light, I walked on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to think about this passage and to skim some stones. And here's what I'm thinking - as a writer, as a journalist, and as a passionate follower of the Way of Jesus.
"We meet people like Festus and Agrippa every day. We work alongside them, worship together, live in the same house, share the highway, stand in line at the store, volunteer with the P.T.A.... And I'm wondering what kind of story my life tells them?

"Does my life tell a story of love and clarity and light? How persuasive is the narrative? Do the twists and turns of the plot-line support - or call into question - the foundational premise of the Good News? Does my life story articulate with eloquence how startlingly wonderful it is to know and to love Jesus?

Taking in the history
"I thought about all of this, down by the Sea of Galilee, and I came to the conclusion that what Jesus wants is this: Jesus wants us to tell the truth about the love of God... simply by being.

"To tell the truth about the Gospel of Love, simply by being.

"Paul stood here - in this place - at the crossroads of history, and what he said was supported by the authority of a life lived as if everything Jesus promises is true. And it reminds me of something Paul wrote - later - to his friends in Philippi:
Shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life. That way I can boast on the Day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.
"I have this image of Paul, standing right here, holding out the Word of Life to Agrippa, and to Festus, and to anyone else listening. And here we are, January 11, 2012. Is the world we live in persuaded at all that what we're holding out to them is the real thing?

A beautiful day to on the edge of the Mediterranean
"So yesterday - just before the last of the light slipped behind the hills - I walked out on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to think about this scripture and to skim some stones on the water... and I wondered how far the ripples might travel...?"

I've got to tell you, speaking right there, in that setting and in the shadow of Paul, now that was something to remember  - DEREK

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