Monday, March 7, 2016

Listening to Paul

Choral Evensong is primarily a service of music and reflection - but our practice here is to have a short reflection (about 400 words) to encourage some thinking, even disagreement.  This evening the second epistle from Paul to Timothy triggered some thoughts.  

Lent 4 Choral Evensong 2016

2 Timothy 4.1-18

I am trying to listen to Paul but I am not finding it easy.  You never get to have a conversation with him – he holds the floor and talks at you, issuing orders, firing instructions, verbs rattling like a nail gun: “proclaim, persist, convince, rebuke, encourage, be sober, endure, suffer, evangelise…” We have of course been accustomed to listen respectfully to him – his voice is sanctified as scripture – and he is undoubtedly a hero of the faith (what would the New Testament be without him?) – but even given all that, are there moments when we (in thought at least) raise our eyebrows and feel the tug of a mental reservation?

Of course, one understands your sense of urgency: you believed the world was ending and Christ returning – imminently.  In the manner of a ship’s commander, with the vessel sinking, there was no time for nuanced theology or elaborate pastoral guidance; everything was necessarily short, sharp and in summary form.   After all, the world was coming to an end … but you got that wrong didn’t you?  The time scale was much greater than you had allowed for (see Psalm 90.4 and 2 Peter 3:8).  Is it just possible that you might have got some other things wrong as well?

So I find that I not only struggle with what you say, I find myself just disagreeing.  After all, this : “proclaim, persist, convince, rebuke, encourage, be sober, endure, suffer, evangelise…” sounds remarkably like a sales pitch and a program for talking the opposition into the ground, overwhelming everyone by the flow of words and argument.  Is that really what this is all about?  I watch Donald Trump, I also watch the tele-evangelists, ours is a time when we have become word-weary and suspicious of the media and of belief: how would you speak in our time? 

The world has changed Paul, how would you speak to the life of the mind today?  Would you engage the arts and sciences as you did on Mars Hill (Acts 17.22-31)?  By the way, I think you’d need the internet.)  Science is so much more complex now and changing almost daily.

How would you manage differences of opinion?  What about other faiths? Is God more than tribal allegiances and formulations?  Is God more than you allow for?

Just one other thing Paul: I have never heard you instruct Timothy or anyone else to listen?  Do you listen Paul?

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