When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.
The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.
Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement. So Paul warned them, “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest. (New International Version)
Change is an emotionally charged word. For some, change is longed for. Those with adverse circumstances and difficult situations may look for change, and even for a miracle to turn their life around. Others want nothing to do with change; they’ve had a bad experience with it. Their fortunes were good, until something changed. And now they’re stressed out.
The majority of us have some sort of love/hate relationship with change – which is why there are people who look askance on Christianity and raise their eyebrow in skepticism toward Christians or religious folk in general. At the heart of Christianity is change, and change can be quite threatening toward a lot of people.
The Apostle Paul perhaps knew about change better than any Christian in history. He went from resisting change with violence, to embracing change so wholeheartedly that he became a victim of other’s violence. We meet him in today’s New Testament lesson as a prisoner being shipped from Palestine to Rome.
Paul’s message, at its core, is the good news of transformation because of Christ’ crucifixion and resurrection. It’s a message of radical and joyous change, of new life. And it’s also a scandalous message which impacts the surrounding culture.
Wherever the gospel of Jesus Christ went, people responded, and it influenced society to a significant degree. Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, political authorities, religious leaders, and cultural elites felt powerful shifts in their societies. Yes, a few became Christians themselves, but most resisted the change, and in some cases, in their irritated stress response, retaliated against believers.
The message of Christianity doesn’t yield to political forces that attempt to domesticate God; and that reality put many believers in the crosshairs of those forces.
Paul’s ability to keep up his witness to Christ, even while held prisoner under powerful Roman authority, comes from a theology that God is above all earthly rule and can make a way where there seems to be no way. In other words, no matter whether human institutions, empires, and structures either acquiesce or oppose the gospel makes no difference; God is able to bend any system and authority for divine purposes.
And this is precisely why the Apostle Paul appears calm, non-anxious, and able to encourage others in the center of a storm in which everyone might lose their lives. Put simply: Paul trusted God.
Yes, we have unwanted circumstances. Yet, if we are able to entrust ourselves to a good God (which may sound trite and easy, yet is anything but that) then we find that we’re also able to have a radical acceptance of the situation we’re presently in.
Faith and trust help us to accept difficult changes and respond to stress with resilience because faith is attentive to the following:
- Knowing change is coming. Throughout the New Testament we are told that adversity and suffering are an integral part of the Christian life. Paul wasn’t caught by surprise with a storm. In his life, he expected the difficulties to come.
You have seen me experience physical abuse and ordeals in places such as Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. I put up with all sorts of abuse, and the Lord rescued me from it all! In fact, anyone who wants to live a holy life in Christ Jesus will be harassed. (2 Timothy 3:11-12, CEB)
- Paying attention to the feelings of self and others. Emotions are not a necessary evil. They play a very important role in helping us come to grips with what’s happening. Paul acknowledged the emotions of everyone on the ship, as well as his own. And this became the pathway to both acceptance and encouragement.
There’s a season for everything
and a time for every matter under the heavens…
a time for crying and a time for laughing,
a time for mourning and a time for dancing. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4, CEB)
- Becoming resilient. The ability to adapt, to find ways of surviving and thriving, is buoyed by a robust faith which can see with spiritual eyes and make decisions of faith, hope, and love.
“When I was born into this world,
I was naked and had nothing.
When I die and leave this world,
I will be naked and have nothing.
The Lord gives,
and the Lord takes away.
Praise the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21, ERV)
Stress and change can be hard and overwhelming. Yet, at the same time, it can be an opportunity to put faith into practice and be a blessing to the world.
Assist us, Lord, in living hopefully into the future. In the face of change, help us to set unnecessary fears aside and to recognize our potential for creative response. Help us to develop a reasonable optimism and to guard against our own defensiveness. Be with us as we remember and celebrate former times, and keep us from unreasonable yearning for them, which takes us from the work you have set before us in our time. All this we ask in the name of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.