The lectionary text for today comes to us from Acts 9:1-20, but I'm only going to focus on a few verses.
First I want to read verses 1 & 2 of the chapter:
1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 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.This story is about the conversion of St. Paul, the author of half of the New Testament, a man who singlehandedly was responsible for planting churches during the first century all over the Roman Empire, including in Rome.
But at one point in his story Paul was called Saul, a Pharisee, a potential star rabbi, with an assured seat on the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious council. And Saul hated Christians. He even took responsibility for the execution of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
In the first part of this passage Saul is breathing out threats and murder against Christians, hauling them before the Sanhedrin, where presumably they were tried, and executed, or thrown in prison if they were lucky.
Saul was reacting out of fear to the spread of the Christian faith. It frightened him to see how quickly people embraced it, and he lashed out.
But if you skip to the last verses of the passage, this is what you get:
19 For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”That's some whiplash isn't it? At the beginning of the chapter, Saul is breathing out threats and murder against people who proclaim that Jesus is Lord, and in the last verses he's hanging with them and going into the synagogues proclaiming it himself.
If that's all we had of the story, it would seem crazy, right? How could someone make such a U-turn?
But we do have the rest of the story. And if you read the in-between verses that we didn't read here, you'll discover that what happened to Saul (who later became Paul) was that he encountered Jesus.
More specifically, he experienced Jesus. And it was the experience of Jesus that turned his life upside down and changed him from someone who wanted to eradicate Christians to someone who wanted everyone he met to become a Christian.
Right about now in our world there's a lot of uncertainty, fear and anger. We're waiting for better news, but it doesn't seem to come. And it's easy in this tense space to let our anxiety and anger out in unhealthy ways.
What we need more than ever is to experience Jesus--to purposefully seek an encounter with Christ.
Maybe the way we encounter Christ is as simple as intentionally going out into nature to pray and be still. Or taking advantage of the down time to read through the stories about him. Or to journal and engage in conversation with him.
Or it could be as simple as continuing to check on our neighbors and friends. To find ways to stay connected, to meet needs to live outside of ourselves even though we are afraid. All of these are ways of experiencing Christ all around us, in us and through us.
And when we experience Jesus, it changes us. It helps us see more clearly who we really are, and what we are called to do. And this has the power to change the world if we are brave enough to step into it.
May this be true for you today and every day. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.