|I still miss the wildflowers in the springtime.|
Rewritten memory suggests that I had the social awareness to not have spent the whole first month of school with my jaw wide open. Yet I will say that I often wondered if I was dreaming that I was in a movie of what high school in Texas was like. Early moments of a substantial conversion can be like that - hard to comprehend. There is the desire to retreat, to dismiss it. You thought you knew who you were and where you were going but now your horse is gone and you are walking out of Ananias’ house and you may not feel like you are breathing real air.
For Paul who was also Saul - everything has changed he was (and remained) a Jewish man, a Roman citizen, a person of privilege and authority. And suddenly the living Jesus comes to him in what bible scholars call a theophany. It changes every sense and thought and duty and aim. Everything must have felt unexplainable flipped upside down - an alien landscape. What Paul is to become is an agent of light, a swashbuckling proclaimer of the God who is nothing but Love; the one God who in Jesus was slain, who rose, who lives.
All of his life experiences feed into the person he is going to become. Both his Hellenistic life and his pious Jewish expertise. Yet where he was once inwardly focused and resistant to change Paul now takes on an outward and adaptable trajectory. This person of power and esteem becomes a tradesperson, a tent maker which also meant leatherworker. The kind of employment that his home of Tarsus was known for, and the kind of work that can help sustain what matters most - the Mission of Good News for All.
There is a good little book called something like Saint Paul, the Apostle Everybody loves to Hate. The title is sensational. It is a clear attempt to sell books - both to those who adore Paul, And those who think they don’t. The book resembles my push and pull relationship with Saint Paul. I love him because a little bit of his story feels like my story Early righteousness and a lucid moment and a mission in Jesus’ name to places and duties I would have laughed at in my old ways. I can see that he was trying to do the best he could with this mash-up of an ancient tradition and a new revelation. Paul was trying to shepherd small communities that were feisty and complicated and spread out over wild distances.
My difficulties with Paul I think have more to do with things he says that are not love God, love neighbor. And I have to remember that my discipleship is imperfect and hope no one is reading my correspondence in worship in a thousand years. My frustration with Pauline things, however, is more about the way at times we manipulate him - pull out single sentences and hurl them at each other. Use his writings to let ourselves off the hook from the parts of being justice making good news people that are tiresome or might turn our world upside down. I don’t expect Paul to be consistent or perfect - he wasn’t and how could he be? Yet still - overall I find his gifts to our mission to be lifegiving again and again.
Sometimes I say my conversion went from 0 to 60 but that's only part of the story. And while I didn't fall off a horse blinded by Jesus’ light, yet the way in which my path was rerouted and completely changed - yeah - I feel a sense of connection with Paul today. Yet it is the trickle of my story, like I suspect most discipleship stories, it is the everyday nudges and questions asked and patience shared in the community before and after that made this discipleship real, this way with Jesus what it is. The faith isn’t a box to check off it is a building of trust, moments of falling upward and exploring new partnerships so that we may become a people who look and sound and act more like Jesus.
I believe that the living risen Jesus is present with us in our doubts and anxieties and stubbornness too. Sometimes I wonder if Jesus had been luring Paul for a long time, But it took this push off his high horse to set him free. We are invited to love the past and adapt and change for the mission and the future, and I hope you will step out in courage and candor following the Spirit of God. I hope you will keep asking questions and digging deeper and loving as Jesus loves. Will you go feed? Will you go tend, go love?
Jesus helps us up from our fallenness- but he does not leave us there standing still. The constant motion and drama of Acts, the otherworldliness of Revelation, the direction of the Gospel of John it is all outward, yet also centered in communities of discipleship like Grace Church. Further out and further in.
It is the living resurrected Christ that scattered all of Paul’s deadness In the dust on the ground that day. And now - in baptism - God has filled and compelled and sustained this person to foster Good News living communities that are clearly a cast of the imperfect and the misfits - just like you and me. Paul was sent to the people that Jesus invites to his table - all all all. And to tell the good news with such daring and creativity - that the world has absolutely been changed for the better by him. However- he didn't do it alone and he didn't do it by pretending nothing had changed. Let’s go - Jesus is sending us out to do the work he has given us to do.
Easter 3 RCL-C
May 5, 2019
Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey