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Tuesday Tidings April 29, 2024

Dearest Members of Bethlehem,


“Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains were unfastened.” -Acts 16:26


Recently I was listening to a historian describe prisons in first century Palestine (yes, that’s what some pastors do with their free time).  It was an interesting conversation.


Interesting, because so often, when we hear about Paul being in prison, we either don’t give it a second thought, or just superimpose our current sense of prison on the biblical text.


Turns out there might have been some interesting nuances to prison-life in Paul’s time.  First, some of these first century prisons would not have been far removed from the public but were very much a part of it; perhaps located on important thoroughfares, a constant and visible reminder of the consequences of breaking the law.


Next, this scholar, Matthew Larsen, suggested that there might have been a barred window facing the street.  It would be these windows that illuminated the dank cell and provided access to the prisoner.  Friends and family members would have passed greetings and food through these barred windows to sustain the prisoner.


Finally, that means that it could have been the case, that as Paul was writing letters from prison, he was dictating to a trusted confidant on the outside.  You can almost see it in your mind's eye, Paul peering out, a trusted friend scrawling feverishly, all for the sake of the Gospel.  What an inspiration!


But there’s more… it is thought that Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and the Philippians were written from prison.  These epistles contain beautiful inspiring language, about - of all things - our freedom in Christ, our liberation from sin, and our breaking free from the shackles of shame and guilt.


It’s a reminder, that Paul found a way to use the challenging settings in which he found himself to inform his work on Christ’s behalf. 


When we’re drawn into this life of discipleship, when we affirm those baptismal promises; we are never guaranteed continually favorable circumstances.  But we can be assured that the Spirit will allow every experience to deepen and inform our faith.   


Question for reflection: If you could ask Saint Paul one question, what would it be?


Yours in Christ,

Pastor Dan


God of grace, you are our strength in difficult times, our hope in moments of despair, and our peace when all seems unsettled.  We lift our thanks and praise before you this day for the perspective and sense of purpose that you perpetually provide.  All this we pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.

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