Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Importance of the Lesser Lights

Friday, July 13 and Saturday, July 14
Scripture Reading—Colossians 4:2-18

 We’ve been given a good dose of reading from the letters of Paul in the daily lectionary recently.  And that’s a good thing.  Paul was an amazing person with a powerful personal story to share.  He was a force to be reckoned with as he tried to be faithful to God’s call on his life.  But as great as Paul was, he did not accomplish all he accomplished alone.  He was accompanied by a team of faithful followers and friends.  Like a movie rolling the credits at the end, Paul gives us a glimpse here into some of the people who supported him while he was in prison for preaching the gospel, indeed some of whom were in prison with him.  They’re an interesting bunch of folks.  For instance, Tychicus was a trusted representative of Paul.  Elsewhere in the New Testament, we learn that along with Trophimus, he was Asian, probably enlisted by Paul to help with the collection of the offering for the Christians in Jerusalem.  Here in Colossians, Tychicus is commended by Paul to the Colossians, together with Onesimus, a slave who has escaped from his owner Philemon (another of Paul’s letters) and become a Christian.   He is presented as a bearer of encouragement to other churches and is sent by Paul to Ephesus, perhaps as his replacement.  Aristarchus and Mark are mentioned here as fellow prisoners.  Aristarchus was probably one of Paul’s closest travelling companions from Ephesus to Rome.  Epaphras apparently founded and taught the Colossian church to maturity.  Here, Paul reminds the Christians in Colossae that Epaphras loves them greatly, so much so that he is constantly agonizing in prayer for them.  We know Luke as the beloved physician who travels with Paul and records Jesus’ ministry in his gospel and then gives us the detailed account of the days of the early church and the work of the apostles in the Book of Acts.  What a man he must have been!  Here Paul mentions Demas as a faithful co-worker, but in II Timothy laments the fact that Demas, loving the world more, deserts Paul and the mission.  The reference to Barnabas and Mark is interesting.   Barnabas accompanies and assists Paul throughout the Book of Acts.  Writers are not sure whether this Mark, John Mark, and the writer of Mark’s gospel are all the same.  But we do know that at some part Mark departs from Paul and returns to Jerusalem.  Barnabas wants Mark to rejoin them and Paul disagrees, Barnabas takes Mark, leaves Paul, and continues the mission without Paul.  I call attention to these lesser known people because on one hand, Paul’s mention of them reminds us that it takes many people to make the mission of the church possible.  It also shows us that not everyone involved in the mission agreed on everything all the time.  Some people were only faithful for a time.  There were disagreements over priorities and strategies.  Some people were steadfastly faithful and loyal; some fell away from one reason or another.  When we contemplate the imperfections of our own churches today, it helps to remember that the early church had similar struggles.  More than anything, I call attention to these lesser known people because I have a special place in my heart for the ordinary people who make the Christian movement vital, the ministers and laity whose names we don’t know, who serve in out of the way places, small, struggling churches, where numerical fruitfulness may not always be impressive, and where people’s imperfections are shortcomings are evident.  These lesser known people are every bit as important to the mission’s success as the apostles whose names we recall.  It takes all kinds of people, including us, to make  God’s love known to others!

Thought for the day:  God's mission is accomplished through the lives of great leaders we remember and venerate; but its success is also dependent on the prayers, loyalty, and faithfulness of ordinary people in out of the way places whose names are not long remembered.

Prayer:  O God, help me to find my place of service in your mission to the world; and help me to be faithful whether I receive recognition and praise or not.  Amen. 

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