Rufus’ Mother And Mine – Part II

“Greet Rufus, whom the Lord picked out to be his very own; and also his dear mother, who has been a mother to me.” What touching words!

Who is Rufus and his mother, whom Paul endearingly claims to be his mother?  The only other reference is by St. Mark: “And they (soldiers) compel one Simon, a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.  And they brought him (Jesus) unto a place called Golgotha.”

The soldiers picked up any wood that was handy, rough, but strong enough to hold a man hanging, possibly cut from an Olive or Sycamore tree.  As Jesus left the walled city of Jerusalem, his strength and tottering limbs failed.  The impatient soldiers forced Simon from northern Africa to carry the beam to the place of execution.  Was he a black man and a sympathizer of another human being?  Did he ever hear of Jesus before?

We do know Simon had a wife and two sons, Alexander and Rufus.  This unexpected forced labourer and his family became disciples. Finally, I come to the widowed old mother, the wife of the only person in history who bore the cross with Jesus. Since there is no further mention of Simon or Alexander, theologians deduce they have by then passed away.  Rufus did what a man has to do and the mother did her part –mother’s care and hospitality.  Paul had first hand inspiration to include hospitality to the list on the fruits of the Spirit; which by the way is just as important as teaching or preaching and prophesying!

Now we can sense Paul’s tender heart beat.  Here we meet not the Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee of Pharisees who sat at the feet of Gamaliel, the great Apostle to the Gentile, but the man – Paul.

nathan phillips square

Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto

Leaders with an intense vision and a dogged determination, have greater needs than what we think.  If you get closer to them as I have, few will open up and fewer still may bare their souls and confide.  Bear with me a simple experience with the late Dr. Mark Buntain, the great missionary to Calcutta, during one of his several visits to Toronto between 1971 to 1987.  Grace and I and the girls (though very young they would still remember) took the pastor to downtown Toronto, Nathan Philips Square.  It was winter and kids were skating and having fun.  It was then that I saw Pastor’s eyes twinkle and hilariously hebehaved like a teenager!  He told me he used to skate there years ago as a youngster!  You see, for a short time he was not thinking of sermons or cumbered with the burden of raising support for Calcutta, but could get away and be himself.

Imagine Paul writing to the Corinthian Believers:  “I’ve been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again.  Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me 39 lashes.  Three times I was beaten with rods.  Once was stoned.  Three times I was ship wrecked.  Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea…..I faced dangers from rivers and from robbers.  I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews as well as from the Gentiles.  I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas…..Besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for the churches”.  This widowed mother and son’s home was heaven on earth!

Now I can feel Mahathma Paul reminisce his stay with Rufus and his dear mother.  St. Paul had never seen Jesus the Son of Man, except the risen Lord on the Damascus Road.  Was it coincidence or divine pleasure of the Heavenly Father to connect Paul, the once persecutor of Jesus, now to know personally this precious family? There evidently was a closer bond!   Paul could come any time to the Cyrenian home and say “Mom I am home!”  The old mother was not too spiritual that she was blind to the natural.  She saw Paul’s heart but also his hungry stomach, a bath and a clean bed to sleep!

This is what I mean by “in search of moderation”, the balancing of all virtues.  The old widow and her son ministered as unto the Lord. We are called to be ministers!

God bless,    Danny Paul

 

Rufus’ Mother and Mine – Part I

“Rufus’ Mother and Mine.”  These four simple words, personally speaking, have opened a new thinking process in me. It gave me an insight, at least a glimpse, to the heart of Apostle Paul.  I have read all his epistles many times with greater attention to the beginnings and the endings. That begs the question, when did this habit start?

Mark Buntain

Mark Buntain

It was around 27 years ago, in 1986 when my pastor from Calcutta (missionary and close friend, the late Dr.Mark Buntain) was visiting us in Sharon, Ontario.  Just before saying good-bye, I gave him the Bible, following my old Indian Custom for the pastor to read a portion of Scripture and pray. I did not have to ask; he understood what I meant.  I remember it like yesterday.  Guided by the Holy Spirit, he turned to 1 Corinthians and read 1:1-9.  He emphasized verse 9 “God is faithful”.  His advice, after reading the Word and prayer gave an indelible leading for our daughter Lalitha and future son-in-law Jeremy, both finishing their University degrees then and starting a career as teachers.   Instead they became missionaries joining The Celeberant Singers, for 13 years.  This experience did more than receiving divine directions by two young people.

It gave me a unique interest to read and study all the persons uniquely referred to in Paul’s writings.  It was then that I first started to faintly feel the Apostle’s heart.  I must admit there is a certain degree of nostalgia connected with this as well.  My grandfather was converted from Hinduism to Christianity, at a town called Vijayawada, on the east coast of the Bay of Bengal.  At his open water baptism, he changed his name from Partha Sarathy (Sanskrit for Chariot Driver) to Paul!  For those interested in Hindu religion, part of their Scripture called Gita is the discourse between Arjun the King and Partha Sarathy, who was Lord Krishna incarnate in the form of a chariot driver.  Their discourse was on Dharma, the righteous duty of man.

I do not normally come heavy on quoting Scripture verses, lest I be branded a Bible Thumper.  In this instance, please read Romans 16:1-16.  By the way, scholars confirm “the book of Romans has been called the greatest theological document ever written.  In this letter Paul explains the Good News, the climactic revelation of God to the world through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul reflects on the human condition, on the meaning of our lives on earth, and on our hope for the world to come.  He constantly moves us back to the fundamentals of God’s truth revealed in Christ, and he teaches us to deal with the problems, failures, and disputes that characterize life in this world”.

Here Paul was not referring to doctrinal conflicts and settling disputes. He was not prescribing how to deal with immorality in a multicultural congregation or a member taking another Believer to court. That was all dealt with. Here, at the end of it all, Paul opened his heart and ended proclaiming his genuine admiration, love and expressed his gut feelings for the flock.

Did you miss the odd and the obvious?  Are you taken by surprise just looking at the list of names at the end of Romans 16, as I was?  Did you notice the number of women mentioned there; how about that for a Mother’s Day Sermon?  Paul got a lot of rap, some branding him a male chauvinist; others calling him rude and unkind to women.  In my opinion, it is the opposite.  In fact, he was ahead of his time in praising them.  Let me correct myself.  Jesus and his religion is the greatest emancipator of women in the world.  Even the Old Law did not fully recognize their rights.  Some treated them as chattel.  The status that Jesus brought about did not end up like an unfinished symphony.  Paul, inspired by Jesus, picked up the challenge and advanced it further.

Did you notice who headed the list?  Phoebe, who was a Deaconess of the Church in the port city of Cenchrea!  KJV calls her a servant (servant of Jesus Christ) or minister of the church.  Paul greeted 27 Roman Christians, of which 10 were women, who played an extremely important role in the early church.  Again, of the 27, Paul commends her worthy of hospitality and care.  It is commonly accepted that she carried this epistle in her baggage.  It is a gentle joke among scholars that Phoebe carried the great Reformation in her bag.  Of course, they are referring to the verse that the “just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17), which later became Martin Luther’s main thrust towards Reformation.  Just to provoke some wild imagination, suppose she lost her baggage on the ship to Rome?

Aquila and Priscilla

Aquila and Priscilla

Next on the list is an interesting couple by name Aquila and Priscilla.  They were business people.  Today we label them as lay people.  I would call them the Church builders.  Paul was their guest and had worked along with them.  The church was actually in their home.  Look at their ministry as recorded in Acts 18:24-26.  Apollos was eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures; spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, though knowing only the Baptism of John.  “When he began to speak boldly at the synagogue, Aquila and Priscilla took him home and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly”.  Later on he mightily convinced the Jews by the Scriptures that Jesus was Christ.

Yes, it is a rare gift to discern people like this couple and others like them and grant them the recognition they deserve. Paul did it.  Here is a practical example in the Scripture what is theoretically called the “perfecting of the Saints”.

What about Rufus’ mother? Please forgive me I have exceeded my self imposed 1000 word limit and will continue on Rufus’ Mother and mine as part 2.

God bless,   Danny Paul

Saints Without Halos

I had never heard of a town called Kane, Pennsylvania, USA until I met my friend Bob Meckley, who grew up there. Last month Grace and I drove to Kane to attend late Dave Meckley’s funeral, Bob’s son. As I drove through the beautiful Allegheny National Forest heading towards this old town it was as though I was driving through a page of United States’ magnificent landscape and heroic history. The town was built 150 years ago in 1863! It is the Black Cherry capital of the world!

220px-TLKaneIt was named after its founder Thomas Kane, who wore more hats than that of Buck Tail Regiment. He was a general during the Civil war, was wounded and was also a prisoner of war. Obviously he named many of the main streets after his fellow Major Generals, like Fraeley Street, Greves, Biddle and so on. Although not a member of the Mormons, himself a Presbyterian, he supported their cause. He was a Reformer and an Abolitionist. If I am not mistaken, he had something to do with the famous Underground Railways – an extraordinary man indeed!

Lest I get carried away with the geographic or historic details of Kane, I wish to focus on my theme, Saints without Halos. There is no ordinary man or woman with God – none.  They are all special.  We know that it was a woman called Hadassah, later queen Esther, whom God used to avert a massacre of Jews in Persia.  God used a young servant girl, possibly a slave, for the healing of General Naaman from Leprosy. More than the cleansing, Naaman got the opportunity to meet the Prophet of Jehovah, Elisha, and experience what I would call a spiritual encounter in his life.

Many have read about King David, but few knew Jesse, his father. Yes, he treated David typically as the youngest son. However, David must have watched and learned from his father the important task of shepherding.  Later, David twice protected his sheep, once killing a bear and another time a lion.  Scripture frequently refers to David as son of Jesse.

I wonder sometimes, while we dwell so much on Biblical characters, do we, without knowing, place them in a different slot and thereby miss the scriptural applicability for us now? I perceive why James, as leader of the Jerusalem Church writing to Jewish Christians undergoing persecution, emphasized “Elijah was as human as we are.”   Our picture of Elijah is the fiery prophet, but seldom consider him having bouts of discouragement or breakdown. Driving around Kane, I started thinking about one of its heroes, the late Rev. Orbis Meckley, Bob’s Dad.  He was born in 1899. Soon after high school, he enlisted in the army to be trained as an officer in WWI. After the war, he learned the basics of carpentry, got married, started a grocery store, and raised a family.

Around this time, he was influenced by his cousin to become a pastor. Bob told me that he spent a lot of time reading and studying.  No surprise!  I have great admiration for men and women who work hard for a living and yet recognize the call of God on their lives to preach, teach and govern.  By then he extended his business to livestock and coal. Though “a man of like passion,” quoting James, and despite the heavy workload, he took ordination as a minister of the Church of God in 1934. His learning basic carpentry came handy to build his first church in 1950. He built a second church around 1953. This church is still functioning with a lively congregation in the downtown core on Fraeley Street. On one occasion, he drove all the way down to Kentucky and helped a fellow pastor build a church. He and his wife Mable brought up five God-fearing children; June, Orbis Jr, Neal, Bob, and Beatrice. He went to be with the Lord on 11 November 1985 at the age of 85.

While I am not familiar enough to write about all their children, grandchildren or great grandchildren, I do know his Son Bob Meckley and his grandson Rev. Robert Meckley of Elkhart, Indiana. I understand Rev. Rob Meckley’s son is studying for the ministry. During my visit to Kane, I met his granddaughter Sharon, husband David and their children; a truly beautiful family. As I parked near the Church on Fraely street I was singing to myself one of Ralph Hudson’s hymn: ‘Tis a glorious church without spot or wrinkle, washed in the Blood of the Lamb’.

I asked Bob what was his Dad’s legacy?  Bob replied without any delay or hesitation, he was exceptionally friendly to all the immigrants at that time, the Czechs, Slovaks, Swedes and Germans. (This is music to my ears as an immigrant from India). Furthermore, Bob continued, he was a realistic man. What did he mean by that? How can I define it? I take it, as a disciplined military man, as a hard working Grocery store owner, as a loving husband, as a Dad and finally as a pastor, he looked at life and service not fancifully but realistically. It was a daily walk. There is a small but interesting verse recorded by St. Luke. The context was when Jesus was advised to leave town as Herod Antipas was plotting to kill him. Jesus said “I must walk today and tomorrow and the day following”. Is not this the hall mark of a Believer? They walk with chin up and at times with chin down, but walk they must. A Christian never gives up, however tough, as Churchill said, “Never, nevuh”!

Saints like these without Halos are all over the world working at a secular job or preaching behind a pulpit and in some instances both. The earth is crammed with them. Let us learn, nay, cultivate the habit to spot them and honour these saints. Who knows?  We may be entertaining angels unaware.

God bless, Danny Paul