Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
Bible Background For the next few weeks we will be exploring the book of Acts. The book of Acts is known to be a continuation of the book of Luke, same writer, same audience. This is a book of the bible that is written by a Christian for other Christians. Luke, who is known to write both Luke and Acts, was probably a Gentile Christian in the late first century and is writing around 85-95 CE. This is even years after Paul writes his letters. For Luke, because of Christian persecution, it is important to maintain continuity of the Christian community to Jewish roots. This is a movement that is opened up to both Jewish and Gentile Christians with definite roots in tradition. Ancient tradition has Luke writing from Antioch but he obviously has strong ties to Paul’s teachings and the churches that Paul served.
Today we specifically are looking at Luke’s interpretation of the conversion of Saul to Paul. Saul was a well known Christian persecutor. He was the one who held the coats of those who killed the disciple Stephen (in chapter 8). The crowd knows who Saul is and in chapter 9 he is on his way to persecute more Christians. It is important to note here that while Saul is walking on a path, the Christian community that Luke is writing to was known as people on “The Way.” It is significant to note that Saul will be finding a new way with the people of the way. Christian life was a way of life, not necessarily a certain set of beliefs. Christian life was about character in the world, a way to follow Jesus.
Back to Saul…he is on his own way to Damascus when he is struck down by a blinding light. Jesus’ voice speaks to him. This is Jesus telling Saul that when he afflicts the oppressed he is directly persecuting Jesus. Again, Jesus stands with the marginalized. It is a personal offense. Jesus then gives very specific instructions. So often we stop at this point and forget the rest. We call this a conversion experience but when we do that we miss the other half of the story. This is not just a conversion; this is a call and commissioning story, much like a calling of the disciples before him. Saul is now called into a new “way,” transforming violent power into peace and justice. He is called away from the violence of the way before.
Plus, this call is not alone. We sometimes forget the rest of the story. The instructions send Saul to Ananias, one who has become a disciple. Ananias is wary of what Jesus is asking him to do. Saul is well known as a dangerous man. Ananias has to step in as community to surround Saul in a new way and a new community. Saul can’t transform alone. His call is not one that is solitary but only in a communal context. Not only does this call transform Saul into Paul it also transforms Ananias. When we are called into a new way of active faith, we can’t do it alone. We can’t help but be transformed and if we are part of the community in a new call, we can’t help but be transformed too. The good news here is vast, full, and broad. It is open to everyone. God doesn’t leave us alone. We are fully transformed and fully part of this community of call. We are essential to each other in the way.
Quotes of the Week “Most people in America, when they are exposed to the Christian faith, are not being transformed. They take one step into the door, and the journey ends. They are not being allowed, encouraged, or equipped to love or to think like Christ. Yet in many ways a focus on spiritual formation fits what a new generation is really seeking. Transformation is a process, a journey, not a one-time decision.” ― David Kinnaman
“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” ― Wayne W. Dyer
“Every story of conversion is a story of blessed defeat.” ― C.S. Lewis
“When God is going to do something wonderful, He or She always starts with a hardship; when God is going to do something amazing, He or She starts with an impossibility. ” ― Anne Lamott
Acts 9:1-19 (NRSV)Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Questions for the Week
When has God completely surprised you with call?
When has God asked you to do difficult and unexpected things?
Has there been a time when God has redirected your call into a new way?