Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Acts 19: competing spirits in Ephesus

In Ephesus, Paul lays hands (v. 19:6) on disciples of John the Baptist, who then speak in tongues and prophesy.  The Spirit is dramatically proclaiming their adoption into the church he established back at Pentecost. He is saying: by my power you will speak my truth to people of different languages. My gospel will be spread throughout the world by many small people endowed with great power.

In Ephesus, Paul is good to his word to focus more on the Gentiles: after trying to speak in the synagogue but facing predictable opposition, he “had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.” Sounds like Greek to me. He’s there for two years, and God blesses so that “all the Jews and Greeks in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.”

In Ephesus, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, especially when practiced by your enemies. The Seven Sons of Sceva – even their names have a sssserpenty sssound – are exorcist wannabes who make the still-common mistake of thinking that saying the right words is a substitute for being in right relationship. (“If you don’t say ‘In Jesus’ Name’ at the end your prayer won’t work.”) The demon beats them silly. A mature, well-armed human being has authority and power over scary wild beasts, which is why we are able to cage tigers and stick them in zoos. Likewise do Christians enjoy authority and power over roving, ravening demons. Non-Christians, however, are just children lost out in the jungle, at night.

In Ephesus, perhaps after seeing what happened to the seven sons, many sorcerers come to faith and burn their scrolls. This is not quite the same thing as modern book burning. One can and often does replace a book, which in any case is usually a mass-produced object of little individual worth. By contrast, the scrolls contained the sorcerer's secret words of power. It’s more like a tradesman intentionally breaking irreplaceable tools and saying “I don’t need these anymore because I’m getting out of this lousy business.”

In Ephesus, the locally-favored fertility goddess Diana/Artemis is not so different from Ceres, goddess of agriculture, whose statue sits atop the Vermont Statehouse. Neither is the greed masked as patriotism, as practiced by the Ephesian artisans guild, so different than the squalid practice of our modern day Mystery Religion known as politics. A group protecting its own financial interest paints critics as outsiders who don’t love Vermont or America or or East Frogsquat as much as the rest of us do. The mob they incite disperses only after the City Clerk echoes Gamaliel’s advice to the Sanhedrin back in Jerusalem: let this thing work itself out, don’t do anything rash.  Religious tolerance may not always be smart politics, but it's good government. And in civic terms at least, it's good religion, too.

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