A reading, a reflection, and a prayer
Acts 20: 13 – 38
We went ahead to the ship and set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul on board there; for he had made this arrangement, intending to go by land himself. When he met us in Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. We sailed from there, and on the following day we arrived opposite Chios. The next day we touched at Samos, and the day after that we came to Miletus. For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; he was eager to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him. When they came to him, he said to them: ‘You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews.
I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus. And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace. ‘And now I know that none of you, among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom, will ever see my face again. Therefore I declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.
I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing. You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”’ When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed. There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again. Then they brought him to the ship.
O, for an Aegean cruise, island-hopping, then sending a postcard to my Ephesian friends to join me on vacation. It may read like that, but this was no summer holiday for Paul. Here is literally a man on a mission. Paul is heading for Jerusalem, like Jesus before him, recognising enemies are out to get him, time is short, to both share the good news of Jesus with all, and warn his friends of dangers to come, from enemies without and within. Sensing this will be the last time he sees them, Paul says his goodbyes, with many tears. Like Jesus, there is for him, no turning back, nor finding another way. “A captive to the Spirit” Paul is led by the Holy Spirit, showing him that “imprisonment and persecution” await him.
I have no testimony of such a powerful leading of God’s Spirit. Mine is much more everyday, but as I look back I can see the Holy Spirit’s guidance and nudges to take God’s way. When house-hunting, our home was the first we looked at, only added to the list to fill a morning, and unattractive for many reasons. Yet, we walked through the door, and both had an overwhelming sense we were home, so strong a feeling God wants us to be here, that it trumped even whether we liked it or not! We were “captive to the Spirit.” But this led us to the church where we belong, the ministries God blesses us with, and ideally situated for child-minding duties. How often in our lives we have seen the beautiful pattern of living Christ’s way, when we let the Holy Spirit take control. Sadly, how often we claim our lives back selfishly, my decision, my way, – what a mess the picture becomes. I pray we heed Paul’s warning to stay attuned to the Holy Spirit, and give ourselves to Jesus’ Way, supporting the weak, and discovering every day, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Holy Spirit within, keep me focussed on Jesus
In remembering his life and teachings, seeing Jesus in my life today,
Teaching me to hear Jesus, especially when vulnerable and weak.
Holy Spirit without, keep me focussed on Jesus
In hearing the cry of the world, seeing Jesus in the lives of the vulnerable,
Teaching me to share our weakness to see hope through our tears.
Holy Spirit between, keep me focussed on Jesus
In binding broken hearts and repairing broken relationships,
Teaching me the deep truth, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”