Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Chains cannot hold it, neither can darkness overcome it . . .

Today we got to peek inside one another’s silos. By that I mean we each got to share a bit of what we are doing and our motivations for continuing in this fight. The first exercise pointed out that we each thought it was our love of justice or our feelings of compassion which motivated us, but there was, as one might expect, something far deeper that stirred us all. Not surprisingly, Archbishop David chose to root us in the imprisonment of Paul. I say not unexpectedly because David is very much aware of the need to root the effort in Scripture and to remind us of the well from which we draw our strength. We forget that truth at tremendous cost not just to ourselves but also to those whom we seek to free in His name.

Paul’s house of imprisonment is off a house along the Via del Corso. Archeologists are beginning to think it was Paul’s place of imprisonment because of the structure of the site. A church has been built over a church which was built over a church which was built over a significant shrine. Tremendous effort was made to preserve the site by the early Roman Christians. It was an amazing thing to sit and read Luke’s account of Paul’s imprisonment and of Paul’s own writings to Timothy which, if the professionals are correct, occurred at that site. You can see from the pictures that the rooms were rather small by our modern standards in the West.

Though Paul had no real chains, his house arrest was no less an effort to contain the Gospel than any time he had been jailed. This imprisonment of a bit over two years would be different, though, because it cost him his life. Early Church tradition holds that Peter and Paul were persecuted within days of one another in the eternal city. From the secular perspective, this would seem to be abject failure.

The same can be said of the work of most of us gathered who spoke today. The secular world might like to measure people rescued, recidivism rates, people jailed, and other measures. Yet those measures remain infinitely small when compared to the sheer number of those enslaved. Worse yet are the seeming failures. Many of us have had to learn hard lessons through failure, lessons that have cost us or those whom we have tried to rescue dearly. At times, as one presenter noted, the waves of anguish and misery and hopelessness wash over us like tsunamis.

David’s choice of Paul was simply divine. Looking in those rooms, at that little well, one could not help but wonder at the Apostle’s own sense of failure. He was stuck in a relative small space, thereby preventing him form his normal peripatetic ways. One cannot help but wonder that the Apostle did not feel like a failure, like a man spent. And yet, we all stood in that room where he once stood. Though the emperor took Paul’s life in a mad rage, he could not contain God’s joyous news! People travelled from all over the Mediterranean to speak to Paul about the Christ and about issues facing the early Church. Men like Timothy, perhaps Onesimus, Luke and others depended upon his wise council from that confined space.

More amazingly, look what happened. Though Paul was confined in a small space for two years and eventually beheaded at the whim of the mad emperor, the Gospel not only escaped—it flourished! Paul’s work with those who came to visit and his willingness to lay down his life for the sake of Christ paved the later way for Christianity to be adopted by another emperor and truly begin is spread to the ends of the earth.

Our work, as I described it above in silos, is much like Paul’s. Prior to this week, all of us have operated independent of one another, laboring for the freedom of those enslaved and for the repentance and reconciliation of those who would use them. No doubt in our little corners of that effort, we have felt useless, impotent, overwhelmed by the world around, and even wondering if anyone or God cares. Bishop Eraste has been fighting governmental inertia in Burundi. Ken has been fighting all the world’s governments because none of them seem to care for seamen. Prodip and Subarshan battle abject poverty in Bangladesh and other countries along the coast of the Indian Ocean. Some are survivors. Some of us have experienced the rejection of our help. At times, we have all wondered if it is worth it, if we can help turn the tide in this battle. Our pilgrimage today reminded us each of the power of the Gospel. It cannot be contained by walls any more that it can fail to set us all free from our sins. Better still we neither labor alone nor is its success in any way dependent upon us! All it requires on our end is the mustard seed of obedient faith, and God takes care of the rest.

We will win this battle. Maybe not in our lifetimes, maybe not even in the lifetimes of our grandchildren. But we will win this battle in the end. We know. Just as assuredly as His Gospel cannot be chained in any prison, neither can its light be snuffed by the evil and darkness of the world. He has already overcome that which we fight. We need simply to labor faithfully and watch as He brings His kingdom of heaven to earth, His light into the darkness, and His freedom into slavery.



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