by The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 16:6-10), Paul receives what is known as the Macedonian call. He has a vision of a Macedonian man pleading with him to “Come over to Macedonia to help us.” Paul immediately sets sail from Troas and makes his way to Philippi. On the Sabbath, he encounters Lydia, a purveyor of purple cloth, and she receives and accepts the Good News from Paul. Lydia and her household are baptized, making them the first European converts.
As his first church in Europe, it is not surprising that the tone of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is marked by its joy and tenderness for a community that is clearly dear to him. Paul is writing from prison, and he uses the letter to both reassure the faithful that his imprisonment is not impeding the spreading of the gospel and to embolden them to continue to “live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27) and to “in no way [be] intimidated by your opponents”. (1:28)
Some 1900 years later, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used his imprisonment to reassure the faithful and to embolden his followers to stand fast in the face of persecution and struggle. In his 1963 letter from a Birmingham jail, Dr. King referenced Paul’s Macedonian call, and he said he was compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond his own hometown. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere……But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”
What does their courage and example have to say to the church today?
When has the boldness and courage of another’s witness strengthened your faith? How have you responded?
Gracious God, help us to be inspired by the examples of the saints before us in order to be emboldened in our own lives and witness as disciples of Christ. Amen.
The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope is Vicar of the Washington National Cathedral