Another of the guest #LentArt posts this week, today from my friend, fellow 4 Corners conspirator, dog devotee (no-one is perfect), broadcaster, Parish Development Co-ordinator and Training and Facilitation Officer for the Down and Connor Diocese, author of "Finding God in the Mess" and "Deeper into the Mess" newbie blogger over atgymforthesoul.life.
How grand St Paul looks. He appears as a giant confidently stepping off his boat, back-lit in gold and ready for the mission. The city on the hill looks small in comparison. An open curtain in the nearest building signals a welcome for the great man. Today’s #LentArt piece is part of a 32 square metre mosaic adorning the wall of the Church of St Nicholas in Kavala, Greece. It is the claimed site of St Paul’s arrival into Macedonia as part of his second set of missionary journeys. Kavala is (rightly) proud of its calm to fame and perhaps this pride led to the grand size of St Paul in the mosaic.
Paul arrived in Macedonia after having a vision of a man pleading for him to come. Paul took it as a sign from the God and set sail with Timothy and Silas. He had lost his friend Barnabas to an argument over whether or not to take John Mark with them. Barnabas wanted John Mark. Paul didn’t. They split. Now the name Barnabas means ‘son of encouragement. Having lost his encouraging friend, I wonder if Paul might have stepped off his boat feeling more discouraged and a little less confident than the mosaic shows?
Maybe, maybe not. But one thing is for sure; going on a journey, seeking to bring news of God with you is often a hard one to take. Paul knew this more than most. He endured beatings, stonings, imprisonment and finally death during his journeys.
And yet, let’s take a closer look at Paul in the mosaic. Specifically, let’s look at how his hands are portrayed. One is ready to give a blessing and the other clutches tightly to a book of Scripture. Paul arrived in Macedonia after a row with his friend. He arrived taking a risk that a vision he had had was indeed a message from God. But, let’s remember that he arrived having seen the power of God in his own life and in the lives of the communities of faith that he helped establish. He knew that he brought Good News with him and that he was not the important one. Rather, he preached the message of the important one. Perhaps he did step off that boat full of encouragement and confidence after all!
All round the world, all of us are on a tough journey. It is one that brings the hardships that Paul faced and more. We know what it is to suffer at this time. And we might get to know that more in the weeks to come. I find it consoling to see the confidence of St Paul in the mosaic. He stepped into the unknown armed with nothing more than the Good News. He knew he was not in control. And he reminds me that there is one greater than I in control. The mosaic, depicting a scene from 2,000 years ago, calls to us to maintain hope and confidence in the power of God, especially in these era-defining moments of hardship. We are pressed on all sides, but never crushed as Paul himself was to write to the community in Corinth.
Paul wrote as well to community in Macedonia. Specifically, the lectionary today reminds us that, having landed, Paul made his way to Philippi, an ancient city re-founded around the time of St Paul by retired Roman soldiers and their families. Paul, sponsored by the wealthy business woman Lydia, preaches Jesus Christ crucified but risen to all who would hear. As Paul’s missions were, his time in Philippi was a mix of preaching, people turning to Christ, Paul annoying the authorities, imprisonment and beating.
Still, in his letter back to the community in Philippi from his jail cell in Rome, Paul writes with great fondness. Our reading today concentrates on the start of that letter, Chapter 1, Verses 1 through 11.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1:1-11 (NIVUK)
See how these verses set out for us today a perfect way to live each day. They begin by bringing us to a place of peace (Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 2). Perhaps today, even in the midst of worry, we too could take a little time just to be quiet and ask God to send God’s peace into our hearts. We could spend a few minutes simply being in this peace.
Paul then moves on to gratitude (I thank my God every time I remember you. Verse 3). Its seems Paul knew the value of being grateful. St Ignatius of Loyola, too, tells us of the importance of gratitude. Indeed he said that it is impossible to discern God’s will for you without gratitude. So, today we could spend some time being grateful. Perhaps we could list three things that we a grateful for at this time. Even in the midst of worry and crisis we can find three things, I’m sure. We give the thanks to God and let that gratitude open our hearts.
Having been grateful, Paul then expresses his love (… how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. Verse 8) for his friends. To whom would we want to express our love today? Is there someone we need to forgive or be forgiven by? Would this open the door for our ‘love to abound more and more’? (Verse 9). Perhaps, today we could sit with these words and allow love to transform us once more.
Paul then finishes giving rightful praise to God (to the glory and praise of God. Verse 11). Perhaps today we might stop and ask ourselves what we might do today that would give glory and praise to God? Could we imagine that God might want us to think out of the box, out of our normal routine? Paul was touched by God in a dream of a Macedonian man pleading for him to come to his land. What dream might God have in store for us today?
Lord God of all goodness,
Let us know your peace of mind and heart,
So that we may see clearly in these days of worry,
And that we might be grateful for what you have given us.
In gratitude allow our love to abound more and more.
Allow us to dream, Lord God,
And for your world.
Strengthen us, Lord God
To be your presence of love, joy and mercy,
As we face into uncertain days,
Inspired by your Apostle Paul,
Who knew hardship,
But knew all the more of your great power.
We raise our eyes, our voices and our actions,
To the glory and praise of God.