Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (2 Corinthians 11:16-33) transports me to Furman University Pastors’ School sometime in the early 90s, where Kim and I were the musicians for the week, and we were suite-mates with a couple from Plains, Georgia. The man was pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church where Jimmy Carter attends and teaches Sunday School. The pastor enjoyed our music, and thought President Carter would especially like to hear the hammer dulcimer, so he invited us to come and play music at Maranatha. He followed up on the invitation, set a date, and we were excited. We created a nice arrangement of Eternal Father Strong to Save, Jimmy’s Carter’s favorite hymn (no surprise since he is a Navy vet, and it is the Navy Hymn). Oh hear us when we cry to Thee, for those in peril on the sea! The Thursday before we were to leave for Georgia, we got a call from the pastor, saying we’d need to re-schedule. There was a perilous situation in Haiti, and President Carter had been called in to do some crisis control. We re-scheduled for a few months later. The Thursday before we were to leave, we got another call. There was a perilous situation in North Korea, and President Carter had been called in to do some crisis control. I started thinking we were some kind of jinx. Maybe the pastor thought so, too. We never got to re-schedule; the church changed pastors soon after that.
Paul had quite a few perilous situations come up in his life. He found his way into some tight spots. Like many things in life, you can endure a crisis by thinking, this will be a good story one of these days. Paul turned his crises, his perils, into bragging points. I’ll bet he was one of those guys who could always one-up anybody’s story. His boastful set of near-death experiences reminds me of my Uncle Ed, who was really bothered by the way his cousin Frank would top any story anybody told, especially war stories after WWII. One day Ed decided he’d invent a bragging story that Frank wouldn’t dare to try and top. They were in the country store, talking about the war, and Ed recounted a time he was in a firefight in Germany, as he and his company were crossing the Rhine River in assault boats. The bullets were flying overhead, the river was turning red from the blood and bodies were floating past. As one of these bodies floated past, an arm reached up. Ed took the arm and pulled the injured soldier into the boat, and lo and behold, it was his brother Sant! Cousin Frank didn’t miss a beat; he said, Well Ed that ain’t nothing, let me tell you about the time. . . He didn’t get to finish the sentence. Ed knocked him out cold with a punch to the nose. There were some perilous situations back in the country store.
I don’t have any reason to believe Paul was exaggerating his perilous times. He was sick of the liars and false prophets trying to one-up him, and so he just unloaded on the Corinthian church, proving his credentials as a follower of Christ by cataloging all the crises he had suffered for the sake of Christ. Beatings, arrests, sleep deprivation, you name it. It’s interesting that for the early Christians a criminal record was tantamount to having the credentials of a bona fide Christian. So Paul could turn to his rap sheet for bragging rights. I love how he ends his list of sufferings. After telling about the hard time in prison, the stonings, the lashes, the hunger and the hard labor, he concludes with something of an anti-climactic afterthought: Oh yeah, and then there was one other time when I almost got arrested, in Damascus, but I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands. From Paul’s description of his many perilous situations, it sounds like he could have used some intervention by a skilled mediator like President Carter. Or maybe he should have been singing the Navy Hymn in his worship: O Trinity of love and power! Our brethren shield in danger’s hour; From rock and tempest, fire and foe, Protect them whereso’er they go. Thus evermore shall rise to Thee, Glad praise from air, and land, and sea! As a veteran in the Lord’s Army, perceived as a threat to the empire, Paul could have written another verse, praying for protection from the harsh consequences of civil disobedience.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.