Rev. Sandy Johnson
The Life & Message of the Apostle Paul: Called to Love
Auschwitz prisoner #16670 was an unusual man. Born Raymond Kolbe, he was a citizen of Poland but also an ethnic German from his father’s side. He was called into the ministry when he was young, joining the Franciscans. He was ultimately ordained a priest in 1918 and became known as Maximilian Marie. “After the outbreak of World War II he was one of the few brothers who remained at the monastery. He organized a hospital and when the town was captured by the Germans, he was briefly arrested. He was asked to sign the Deutsche Volksliste which would have given him the same rights as those German citizens,” recognizing his German ancestry, however he refused. He did not wish to be known to be in cahoots with the Nazi party. He was released and he continued to work in the monastery, where he and other monks offered shelter to refugees from greater Poland, including 2000 Jews that they hid from German persecution. Ultimately the monastery was closed down the German authorities in February of 1941, and Fr. Maximilian was transferred to Auschwitz.
At the concentration camp he served as a priest to the inmates and “was subject to violent harassment, including beatings and lashings, and once had to be smuggled to a prison hospital by friendly inmates” for treatment. “At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting the deputy camp commander to pick ten men to be starved to death in an underground bunker to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men cried out, “My wife! My children!” Fr. Maximilian volunteered to take his place.
“According to an eye witness, Kolbe led the prisoners in prayer to Our Lady. Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. “The guards wanted the bunker emptied, so they gave Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Kolbe is said to have raised his left arm and calmly waited for the deadly injection.”
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This type of love gets our attention, doesn’t it? To witness or hear of a situation where someone literally dies for another is almost more than we can understand.
Jesus said in John 15:12, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” We know that Jesus also chose death in our place. He laid down his life for all of us, out of his complete and utter love for you and me.
We are all called like Jesus, like Maximilian, like Paul, we are all called to love. But what is Love? Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 that “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
This is the type of love that Jesus expects of us and the type of love that Paul was living as he stepped out on his second missionary journey. Following the Jerusalem Council that we learned about last week, Paul and Silas set out to Thessalonica, Athens, and Corinth. They left Philippi, traveling west toward Thessalonica. When they arrived, they did what they had done in the other cities, they found the local synagogue and began to teach. They were “arguing with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, saying, “This is the Messiah, Jesus who I am proclaiming to you.”
Some believed but many others became jealous and formed a mob to assault Paul and Silas. They were infuriated that they would even suggest that there was another king, King Jesus. “When the opposition turned violent, Paul and Silas were hidden by some of the new believers, including a man named Jason who appears to have been hosting Paul, Silas and Timothy.
“The new believers in Thessalonica feared for the lives of the apostles, and Luke tells us that in the middle of the night, these believers helped Paul, Silas and Timothy to escape.” They were called to love Paul and his companions and helped them to safety.
The group next stopped at Beroea, thirty-six miles southwest of Thessalonica. Again, arriving in the new town they went to the synagogue to preach. They were warmly welcomed and their message was accepted eagerly, according to scripture, by both Greek women and men of high standing. But their success in Beroea was short lived as some of the Jewish leaders who had opposed them in Thessalonica arrived and began to stir up trouble for them again. In an effort to protect Paul, some of the new believers, who were called to love him, escorted him south 210 miles to Athens in Greece, leaving Silas and Timothy behind.
Athens was not a big city at point in time. With a population of only twenty thousand it was small in comparison to Corinth or Ephesus. It was the center of Greek culture and philosophy. As Paul made his way around the city, past temples, markets, civic buildings, and synagogues, he was disturbed to see all of the altars and temples that were dedicated to the many pagan gods. Scripture says that “he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols.”
Following his pattern of evangelism, Paul went to the synagogue and argued with the Jews as well as those in the marketplace, really he spoke to anyone who would listen. (My husband thinks that of me sometimes!) The story Paul was presenting sounded strange to them, they called him a babbler, but some were curious and asked to learn more. Then Paul finessed them as he affirmed their religious beliefs, although they were different from his own. He praised them for being people of faith rather than criticizing them for their pagan beliefs.
So often as Christians we think that we have to prove to others that our way is the right way, that we have all the answers and do whatever we can to discredit someone else’s beliefs. Unfortunately that approach rarely works and instead pushes people away from us rather than attracting people to faith in God. When we wish to share what we have, when we think that someone might need Jesus, we share that news by our actions, by showing our neighbors the love of God. We are called to love and love is what we need to do.
Paul understood this and despite being criticized and opposed, Paul continued to demonstrate God’s love by following the call God had put on his life. He loved God and was willing to do what he was asked. Even when it meant that he would be in harm’s way. So Paul preached to the Athenians, working to find common ground with them; demonstrating the places where their faith experiences were similar. They could agree that “God is the maker of all things and, as such does not live in temples made by human hands.”
This teaching was not so different from what they knew to be true. They themselves had an altar to an “unknown god” and Paul was able to demonstrate to them that this unknown god was in fact the God of the universe, revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. This God, our God is as close as the air we breathe, incarnate within us as the Holy Spirit. Paul was successful in pointing out that their use of idols made of gold, silver and stone was a mistake, but one that Paul said God would over look. Paul, called to love these Athenians, demonstrated God’s love through his teachings. Unfortunately not everyone received this teaching with grace. And Paul left Athens with lukewarm results and traveled to Corinth, a much larger city of nearly 250,000.
Corinth was not really much different from Athens. The streets were lined with temples to various deities and at the city’s acropolis was a large temple to Augustus. Paul had left Silas and Timothy in Beroea and arriving in Corinth he met two Jewish tentmakers, a husband and wife named Aquila and Priscilla. They had been run out of Rome when Emperor Claudius decreed that the entire Jewish population was expelled from Rome, so they came to Corinth to set up their business. Paul, also a tentmaker found a common bond with this couple.
Eventually Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth which freed up Paul to focus more time on ministry and less on making a living. As had been his custom he went to the synagogue and began teaching about the Messiah. It didn’t take much time for the Jews to grow tired of Paul and his far-fetched ideas and they excluded him from the synagogue. Acts 18:6 says that he was “opposed and reviled.” In response Paul said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Then he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, whose house was next door to the synagogue.” In essence Paul left the synagogue and moved in next door and continued to preach and teach the Gospel to all who would listen. This synagogue was open to all, those Jews who were believers as well as Gentile converts and those seeking the truth.
“Ultimately the leaders of the original synagogue brought Paul before the magistrate, accusing him of “persuading others to worship God unlawfully. But Gallio, the provincial governor, threw out the case.” Paul attracted many new converts, many from the lower end of society, those from the margins of proper society. By today’s standards Paul was a failure. He did not create a mega church, he was thrown in jail, he was persecuted, arrested, reviled and hated. Many of the congregations he founded fell back into their old ways as soon as he left which was frustrating to say the least. There was much bickering and arguing over the new ideas which to Paul seemed so clear, so simple, but like any new teaching it was difficult to accept and comprehend.
But Paul wasn’t called to do the things that we might thing would define him as “successful.” Paul was called to love, he was sent on these missionary journeys to love the people he came in contact with. Why else would he endure the hardships he did? He was in love with God and willing to do whatever God called him to do. Filled with God’s love, it was a simple assignment, but it was never easy or without pain.
We too are called to love. We are called to love the Jew and the Gentile, the homeless woman and the disabled man, the Black, Mexican, and Filipino; we are to love the republican and the democrat, the lesbian and the transgendered; we are called to love the little children and the elderly; we are to love our planet and take care of her and all the creatures within it. As we live the life that Christ called us to live, we first and foremost are called to follow his commandment: In John 13:34 he says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Jesus called each of us to love and we can use Paul’s example as our guide. We must be comfortable in being uncomfortable, we must be willing to go where he sends us, regardless of the possible peril we might encounter. We must be willing to step out of our lukewarm life and dive deep into the risky world of being true followers of Jesus Christ.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximilian_Kolbe Accessed June 3, 2016.
 John 15:13
 Acts 17:2b-3
 Hamilton, Adam. The Call. The Life and Message of The Apostle Paul. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. Page 127
 Acts 17:12
 Acts 17:16
 Hamilton, Adam. The Call. The Life and Message of The Apostle Paul. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. Page 132
 Acts 18:6-7
 Hamilton. 139-140