Letters from Prison – Week 3 // We Have What We Need // Pastor Kate Murphy

From his prison cell, Paul writes to his friends imploring them to ‘clothe’ themselves with ‘compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;’ and then to ‘put on love’ on top of all that, because love will ‘bind them all together in perfect unity.’  I think of Paul writing that letter in his prison garb–having lost the freedom to do something as simple as dress himself.  I imagine this idea came to him as he wrestled with the shame and humiliation of incarceration–the Holy Spirit reminding him that even though he appeared powerless, he was still and fully empowered to live boldly as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Wherever we are, whatever our circumstances–nothing has the power to limit our choice to live with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  No one has the power to prevent us from clothing ourselves in love.  This isn’t a sentimental, decorative, inspirational thought–this is a decree.  Paul, in chains, says–this is how we fight our battles.  This is our kingdom strategy.

This is the work of the church–the body of Jesus and it is how the Risen Christ is redeeming and reclaiming the world.  Are you in?

We live in a culture that screams that might makes right, that violence makes peace, that money and authority and privilege determine impact.  In chains, as he writes letters that will change the world, Paul testifies to otherwise.

A friend shared this thought on social media this week–inaccurate eschatology causes the church to: wait for a King who already reigns, wait for a Kingdom they’re already in, wait to become who they already are, wait for an age that’s already come, wait for a victory that’s already won, wait to do what they should already be doing.

Beloved–we already have everything we need to live as the people of God.  And we have a uniform – the first step is putting it on.

Letters from Prison – Week 2 // Paul & Mandela // Pastor Kate Murphy

The Apostle Paul wrote most of the material we find in our New Testament. But not while sitting at a desk drinking coffee. He wrote letters to his friends while he was imprisoned for treason, inciting riots, and leading an insurrection. Paul knew eventually he would be executed by his jailors (and he was). But he did not pray for freedom or ask God to rescue. His only plea was to have ‘sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.’  Paul was not desperately begging for God to restore him to his old life–‘for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain…I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is better for you that I remain in the body.’  Paul was ready to die and be with Christ (which he considered ‘better by far) but he was also eager to ‘go on living in the body, which will mean more fruitful labor for me.’  Wherever he was, he was going to serve Jesus.

Sitting in his prison cell, Paul had a foot in both worlds–the life on earth and his life with Christ in the Kingdom of God.

This week, along with Paul’s prison letters, I’ve been reading the letters Nelson Mandela wrote while in prison.  Like Paul, Mandela was convicted of treason and inciting riots.  He was sentenced to life in a hard labor prison camp.  Though he had grounds for appeal and powerful friends, he refused to appeal his sentence.  He wanted his imprisonment to bear witness to the evil brutal injustice of the apartheid regime.  He fully expected to die on Robbins Island.  And yet—he completed multiple degrees while he was imprisoned.  His letters are full of requests for textbooks and examination registration forms.  He also mentored other activists in non-violent philosophy, wrote tender letters of encouragement to his wife and children and continually badgered prison officials and politicians. 

Sitting in his prison cell, Mandela also had a foot in both worlds.

How were these brothers able to live with such courage and hope while enduring the dehumanizing trauma or prison?  Where did they find so much wisdom and love to pour into others?  How were they able to live so passionately and yet hold their lives so lightly?  I hope you’ll join us as we learn from these two great saints how to live with hope and power in the midst of great suffering.

Letters from Prison – Week 1 // Paul & Martin // Pastor Kate Murphy

This Sunday we dive into a new worship series called Letters from Prison, because that’s exactly where some of the most profound and beautiful witnesses to life in Christ are born.

Each week we’ll pair part of a letter the apostle Paul wrote while he was in prison with portions of letters written by other Christian saints.  We’ll begin by reading Paul’s vision of what unity in Christ looks like and then we’ll see how Rev. Dr. King’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail puts Paul’s theories into practice.  I know you won’t be sorry if you read through both of them before worship on Sunday.  But if you don’t have time–here’s the bottom line.  In healthy Christian communities–unity doesn’t mean pretending to be the same or swallowing pain or making false peace with injustice.  Unity in Christ requires gentleness, humility, patience and putting up with people in love.  And it is the only soil capable of growing the fruits of redemption and transformation.

As we move into the longest and hottest days of the year, may we find the wisdom and courage we need from the witness of the saints who have come before us–especially those like our brothers Paul & Martin who laid down their whole lives in faith so that we might find freedom and living hope in Jesus.

First Loves – Week 4 // Nothing but the Cross // Pastor Kate Murphy

I resolved to know nothing among you except Christ, and Him crucified.

If I’m honest with you, I’m still learning to love the cross.  I understand that it is the holy center and the whole hope of life in Jesus–but I struggle to see it as beautiful.  Resurrection, I love.  Jesus feeding the hungry, blessing the children, casting out demons, forgiving sinners, walking on water, healing the sick, raising the dead: love, love, love, love, love, love, love.

But the cross is not easy to love–and yet scripture says what is on display on the cross is not the sinfulness of people or the wrath of God or the ruthless inevitability of suffering and death.  The witness of scripture is that on the cross (and only on the cross) we see the glory of God.  How can this be?

Even in the earliest days, there was a great danger that the church would be infiltrated by the values and lies of the culture.  That people who claim to be worshipping Jesus, when really they were worshipping the false gods of violence, wealth, nation and power.  From the very beginning, there was the danger that people would misunderstand who Jesus was and the nature of his kingdom.  Which is why Paul, earliest and most prolific church planter, had to begin reforming his churches even as he formed them.  He knew the best way to make sure that people put their hope and faith in Jesus was not simply to focus on Jesus–but to focus on ‘him crucified.’

The cross is the key to everything.  Until we learn to see it truly (and unlearn some of the horrific blasphemous popular theologies), we will not know Jesus.

That first love we are chasing in this season–we first see it on the cross.

I hope you will join me as we consider the cross and the beauty of God’s love it reveals to us.