This is the reason that I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things. So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain; and I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf, that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. The God of peace be with all of you. Amen.
August 31 marks the end of the unofficial Nonconformist Church Year. Some of us awarded ourselves a breathing space in August before activities start up for September. Now the demands crowd in again relentlessly. We hope there might still be time for the Spirit-filled good ideas we have been churning over to be implemented.
Paul had some rather big good ideas in mind. Off to Rome and then Spain. If he reached there, perhaps explore further north. If he ended up crossing the English Channel in a small boat, what sort of reception would he receive? But as so often, something a little more mundane had to be done first. The collection he has organised had to be taken to Jerusalem. If he had prepared a Risk Register, he was not inclined to be paralysed by it. Never mind the risk of being robbed when carrying large amounts of cash on lonely roads. Never mind the risk proud Jewish Christians would reject the charity of well-intentioned Gentile Christians. Never mind the risk that other Jews would take their violent revenge on this lapsed Pharisee. He was going anyway. Not for Paul any idea that Christian leadership is about telling people to avoid risk.
Christian leadership is however about mutuality. The passage is about how everyone can draw strength from another. The collection was wealthy Gentile believers supporting impoverished Jewish ones. Paul is not too proud to ask for prayers for himself from the Roman Christians. His friends there will give him a holiday before his European adventure.
As the new Church Year starts, perhaps we need to ask who will be our encouragers, giving us the courage we need to take those risks to which we are called. And to whom can we give courage?
God of Jew and Gentile Thank you for every example where Christian fellowship leaps over human barriers. Thank you for those who have encouraged me in the hard times, when reason said it was too risky to follow your way, when my courage was collapsing. Keep me open to whoever you want to use to encourage me in the days ahead. Stop my busyness blinding me to those whom I can encourage. Keep me grateful. Amen
John Ellis Area Leader for West Kent and East Sussex Synod Area