“The Fruits of Confinement” by St. Paul

A message from The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle:

How many times in the past 12 months have we longed for a travel adventure or just an escape to some different world than the one we now inhabit? Many of us long for the ability to travel again and to live more freely.

In preparation for Sunday’s part 2 of the St. Paul’s Day celebration, I had to sift through some old photos and files associated with a trip to Turkey in 2012. My talk on Sunday at 11 will be sharing some different perspectives on the sites associated with St. Paul and his world. I miss not being able to travel and see family, friends and places of interest and inspiration. As an Irishman, we are naturally nosey and inquisitive and the theory of why the Irish never conquered another country (anti-imperial) was that we simply enjoyed observing people in their context, rather than wishing to impose our culture on another. Nosey and inquisitive, we liked these strange foreigners as they were!

In rediscovering Paul and re-visiting these former sites associated with him, I am struck about how much this one life accomplished through his adventurous bold travels all over Asia Minor (without modern assistance) and how much of Paul’s greatest writings came from terrible confinement. He was chained to another person in prison while writing about the highest values of love and sharing a universal vision of equality before God. He often complained of sickness and “a thorn in the flesh” that may have come from early exposure to malaria. In confinement, he sent letters to his friends in different communities we will visit on Sunday. He shares the names of people he still loves and reflects on the times (good and challenging) when communities took him in, cared for him, or drove him out of town and into prisons. He spent years behind bars as a threat to the Roman state, in Rome and Ephesus. That fusion of the freedom of the road to go where the spirit is leading you and what you occupy yourself with in confinement (as we all struggle with COVID-19 restrictions) intrigues me. This is a part of what shaped Paul. The freedom to live, love and share the gospel will always be tempered with confinement and restrictions, yet Paul transcends all of the norms and seems to go way ahead of us.

There were times in my Christian journey, I did not fully understand Paul or his writings. I found him ponderous, bigoted, anti-women, homophobic and not a great friend to his Jewish neighbors once he became a Christian. Most of us have a love-hate relationship with Paul and may not even pay that much attention to him, but next to Jesus, he is the most important (male) figure in the Christian movement. We can argue Mary and Mary Magdalene also share extraordinary influence but we don’t have any of their writings, inner reflections and details about the communities that shaped, as we do with Paul. He gave us the Jesus story 30 years before the Gospel writers did and his ruminations on the faith are still read a billion hits every Sunday. He is Turkey’s most famous son, but the Moslem community hardly recognize him because he is not considered a prophet (as they honor Jesus and Mary). He has always been controversial, a trouble maker and a very earthen vessel (entrusted with an important message to humanity). This Jewish kid from Tarsus changed the world, and whether you like him or not, he features too large for us to ignore as a congregation NAMED under his patronage.

How might our understanding of Paul give us insight into living more deeply as 21st century Christians? I hope the tension between freedom of imagination and engagement with confinement (something that gave Paul his edge) may inspire his little flock perched on a hill above Philadelphia looking for something to do on a chilly Sunday morning, longing for adventure and insight. Join me from my confinement to the imagination of Paul and the places he knew. They shaped him and he shaped them, some more than others. Turkey’s position is contemporary proof that a prophet is not recognized in their own land, but we all still do not understand Paul fully, never mind know him. How might we all live into his name as the community of Saint PAUL in our confinement as well as our longing for freedom from all that holds us hostage?