We kicked off a new weekly gathering this week at MainStreet we’re calling Three Taverns. I began with the following reflection on the name.
Paul brought the message of Jesus and the gospel from the backwaters of Galilee to the epicenter of ancient civilization: imperial Rome! It was a long journey filled with incredible hardships and set-backs, multiple imprisonments, beatings and all manner of persecution.
If you read the Book of Acts carefully, you’ll discover it isn’t really about Paul’s (or Peter’s) journey to Rome. Its a travelogue of the gospel message about Jesus! Its all about the movement of the Word from Jerusalem to Caesar’s Palace. Its the long and winding road the Wisdom of the Ages traversed to get from the backwater of the Palestinian foothills into the heart of the ancient world’s power-brokers and influencers. Today, we still need that Word to travel!
But God loves to send out His Message, not in bottles floating off into the sunset on oceans of chance, but into fragile human vessels like the feisty yet unbending character of Saul of Tarsus known to us as the Apostle Paul.
The risen Jesus gave Paul a daunting commission, come hell or high-water, or stoning or shipwreck:
“I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” Acts 13; Isa 49).
Like Jeremiah 500 years earlier, God had placed a message in Paul’s mouth that burned hot like a fiery coals shut up in his bones — he had get it out and tell the world about Jesus and the kingdom! Paul knew, and Luke wants us to know, that this message could not be restrained or contained even if the messenger was at times. Listen to how Paul puts it:
“Because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained” (2 Tim 2:9).
No phrase better sums up the apostle’s life: “The word of God cannot be chained.” Or, in another favorite moment of firm resolve and vocational zeal, Paul wrote:
“But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus–the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
Now, can you imagine, after nearly 30 years of anticipation and struggle, the excitement he must have felt when he finally landed on the shores near Rome? The Christians got wind of the great apostles arrival, and sent a welcome committee or entourage to greet him. The apostle and members of the Roman church he’d never met embraced with hugs and tears at a place called Three Taverns, some 30 miles from his ultimate destination. Here’s Luke’s account:
“And so we came to Rome. The brothers there had heard about us and traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. When Paul saw them, he was encouraged and gave thanks to God” (Acts 28:15).
I picture him tired and weary, wearing tattered clothes and sun/wind worn skin, gathering around tables for a hearty meal, a good drink and feasting on meaningful table fellowship and conversation. There he first shared his gospel about Jesus face to face. Luke’s description of this monumental moment for Paul is certainly one of the understatements of ancient biography: “Paul was encouraged and gave thanks to God!” You think? I bet he enjoyed a cold drink or two with his newfound Christian brothers and sisters as well.
So, why are we calling our new weekly gathering Three Taverns? Because the Message about Jesus and the teachings of Christ still needs to make that long journey today — from the backwaters of obscurity, from the far-off country of cliches and caricatures into the heart of today’s world’s current questions and issues, and addressing our world’s deepest needs and longings. At Three Taverns, we welcome a strange, foreign word from across the seas of time! As we gather I’ll do my best to be a “wise teacher trained in the Kingdom bringing out of the storeroom new treasures as well as old” (Matt 13:52).
For too many Christians, the teachings of Jesus have been robbed of their social relevance and most of their political teeth have been pulled and sharp edges sanded down. The church gave many a Jesus who walked 6 inches above the ground, was concerned only with private morality, personal spirituality and how to get to Heaven. Such a bland Jesus would never have been crucified! I want to unchain some of the wild and socially subversive teachings of Jesus, and let his upside down Kingdom wisdom and values speak into our current societal issues.
Each week when we gather around tables for food, drink, fellowship and conversations on fascinating topics, I hope the ancient scriptures will carry ideas that may be currently far from our minds suddenly into plain view, to the forefront of our minds. As it does, may we also “be encouraged and give thanks to God together!”
Like Paul, a hero of mine, I have staked my life’s work and vocation on the conviction that Jesus’ message and teachings cannot be chained or contained! That’s why my Facebook profile trumpets the last word recorded about Paul in the Bible: “He proclaimed the kingdom of God [in Rome] and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31)!
Join us at Three Taverns every Wednesday evening at MainStreet as we explore and discuss timely and timeless topics together with all boldness and without hindrance!