This is the First Sunday of Lent.
Most of us are into our season of denial and our season of avowal. We give something or some things up, and we take on something. This is our preparation for Easter, our reminder that we must be ready when the Bridegroom comes.
Some sort of fasting, which has been de-emphasized since Vatican II, is undertaken as a reminder of the forty days Jesus spent in the desert being tempted by Satan. I can relate to that. Among other things, I give up sweets. And oh is it hard going by the ice-cream freezers in the grocery store…and looking at the Valentine’s box of chocolates.
But that’s nothing compared to what Jesus endured. But it is a symbol, and it is a reminder for me of his suffering as well as how good I have it now.
And yes, I cannot live on bread alone. Neither can you. Neither should any of us. That’s part of what Lent is for me: a reminder of my station in life and how some people cannot even get bread to eat, let alone give up chocolate.
But this is not a time of melancholy or anguish about the rest of the world. As long as I am doing what I can, when I can, then I am imitating Jesus. Some of us can go into the Peace Corps, or on missions to the slums, or work in soup kitchens once a week. Some of us cannot. But we do have this time of Lent to remind us of these hardships and to instill in us a renewed desire to make our part of the world as good as it can be, however small it is.
When Jesus did come out of the desert, he said a very important truth: “The kingdom of God is at hand.” He wasn’t saying “it’s about to come” or “suddenly you will see it.” He was saying the kingdom of God is at hand. Now. Here. You.
Yes, you. You are the kingdom, because God is in you, here, now.
When we pray, we often think of our prayers rising up to heaven. As we read in Revelation, “The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” So that image sticks in our mind. Prayers ascend. But we know we don’t have to imagine or believe that. When we go into our room, alone, and shut the door and pray, aren’t we really praying to what is in our hearts already? We are surrounded, a part of, within and without…God.
Today’s First Reading talks about God’s covenant with us. A permanent state of being, a binding, a relationship with God. Little by little throughout the Bible, we see the idea that God is always with us, in us, being brought forth. So that when Jesus teaches, he says it explicitly: “at hand.”
And in the Second Reading, Peter is reminding us of the meaning of baptism, “…an appeal to God for a clear conscience…” and a reminder of the resurrection. And a reminder of the passion of Christ.
So on the First Sunday of Lent, we have the Liturgy in which each part is saying Lent is a reminder: of God within us, of Christ’s sacrifice for us, of everything that has gone before and which will come after to tell us a very simple message: The kingdom of God is at hand.
Lord, today we ask you for guidance and help during this time of remembrance and preparation. We are “. . . awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Help us as we wait. And remind us that, as he said, he is already here.
Fine, powdery, dark gray and black ashes, smudged onto our foreheads in the shape of a cross, for all the world to imagine what we’ve been doing, looking like we bumped our heads while cleaning out the fireplace, and forgot to wash that part of our faces…
Just a few ashes…symbolizing more than most of us realize as we go through the motions of Ash Wednesday. What do we say to people who ask us the obvious question: What IS that on your head? Why do you have black stuff on your face?
Why WILL we participate in this strange custom this evening? What DOES it mean? The spiritual practice of applying ashes on oneself as a sign of sincere repentance goes back thousands of years. Frequently in the days of the Old and the New Testament, when someone had sinned, he clothed his body with sackcloth and covered himself with ashes. [Jer. 6:26] The sacramental that we are observing today arises from that custom, the spiritual practice of observing public penitence. Church history tells us that the liturgical practice of applying ashes on one’s forehead during the Lenten Season goes back as far as the eighth century. This was accompanied by different forms of fasting, prayer, sacrifices, charity towards others, etc… The writings of St. Leo, around 461 A.D., tell us that during the Lenten Season, he exhorted the faithful to abstain from certain food to fulfill with their fasts the Apostolic institution of forty days. In the days of the Old Testament, many tore their clothing as a sign of repentance.
Today, we use the ashes as a reminder of who we are. The Bible tells us
that we came from the dust and to the dust we shall return. The first
human was formed out of the dust of the earth by God and then God breathed
life into that dust. That is a powerful image. One that is meant to
remind us that without the breath or Spirit of God moving in us, we are
just like these ashes: lifeless – worthless.
The ashes that many of us will wear tonight are meant to be for us symbols of our repentance and signs that we truly seek to follow in God’s path.
The people in the Biblical stories probably put the ashes on top of their
heads – so why do we, instead of putting these ashes on our heads, put them
in the sign of the cross on our foreheads?
We do so because it is a reminder of how we are sealed for Christ. In most
churches when a baby is baptized the minister or priest uses oil to mark
the child with the sign of the cross. The mark of the cross is a mark of ownership. These ashes tonight remind us that we are Christ’s – that he died so that we might live. These may be just a few ashes but they mean a lot. They are a symbol of our need for God. We are nothing but dust and ashes apart from God.
But what about Lent itself? What is it? Why do we have this season? Most of us were taught that the lengthy period of Lent was one of penitence and fasting, a time provided for those who were separated from the church by their sins, so they could be reconciled by acts of penitence and forgiveness.
For most of us, Lent is the time of sometimes painful self-examination, during which we scrutinize our habits, our spiritual practice, and our very lives – hoping to make ourselves better, trying to make ourselves worthy of the love of God. We “step up” our prayer, fasting, and self-denial in order to remove worldly distractions from our lives. And we take on Bible study, classes, and service projects in order to add meaning and depth to our existence. For some children, Lent means no sweets, for teenagers, less time on Facebook. For adults, it may be consuming less meat or alcohol, or attending that Lenten course offered by the Church.
However we go about it, the goal is pretty much the same: Lent makes us ready for Easter. Quite simply put, we are better able to appreciate Resurrection joys come Easter Day by enduring these Lenten disciplines now.
The Old Testament Lessons, the Psalm appointed for today, and today’s Gospel Reading all tell us the “how” and “why” of Lent. But then, there is Paul. Saint Paul tells is, right off the bat, in the very first verse of the Epistle for today, to “BE RECONCILED TO GOD.” Nowhere does he say, “Observe a Holy Lent, THEN be reconciled to God.” Not after enduring a forty-day fast. Not after lengthy Bible study. Not even after prayer, but now, here, today: Be reconciled to God. Paul not only invites us to be reconciled to God, he actually beseeches us. That is, he pleads, implores, presses, begs, and demands. “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. … Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation.”
If we but recognize this, if we are but reconciled to our God NOW, and THEN work toward our Lenten goals of fasting, of prayer, and of penitence, if we seek to discipline ourselves during Lent, and make those disciplines into daily habits, we will not only most assuredly have the Holy Lent we all desire, but will come to live a more holy life in general. And isn’t that, really, what Lent is all about in the first place? Amen.
As we first enter the Lenten season, the focus almost always seemed to be about change. Questions such as, “What am I to give up for Lent?” or even, “What task or new habit can I incorporate in to my daily life?”. As we all know, change, though scary at times, is almost always good. Just as the change that came over Jesus in Mark 9:2-9
“Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”
Peter, John and James witnessed a rare sight, the Transfiguration or change, of Jesus. Just as we experience change during these days of Lent, so did Jesus on top of the mountain. But what I find interesting is that these men still recognized Jesus as, well, Jesus. Though He was clothed in “dazzling white”. He was the same teacher, and friend, that these gentlemen had always known. They recognized Him still, and were humbled by the change that manifested in Him at the time.
Often times we fear change because we wonder, “Will my friends and family still love me?”. Or those around us may even question the changes, fearing this new person we have become, will not be as welcoming to those around us. But Jesus changed, and did Peter, John or James flee in fear? No, actually after Peter witnessed Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah, he wanted to literally roll out the welcome mat. Not entirely understanding what was happening, but trusting Jesus, Peter wanted to build a dwelling for all three. He was so excited to be a witness to this special occasion, he sought some way to preserve the moment. If such an occurrence happened now, I can almost guarantee every one of us would want to do the same. But instead of constructing tents, we would quickly be updating our status on Facebook, or posting like a gazillion pics on Instagram. Or just as likely, our fingers would quickly be flying across our keyboards, sending out Tweets about what an awesome time we had hanging out with Jesus.
So, we know Peter, John and James had this life-changing experience on the mountain. They witnessed Jesus’ Transfiguration, as well as a booming voice in the cloud declaring exactly who Jesus is, and are instructed to listen to Him. When I first became a Christian, and was walking on wobbly stones in my faith, I often asked God, “Give me a sign, show me you are You”. Well as you can imagine, that didn’t happen. And honestly, if it had, I wouldn’t be so sure that I could have even believed my own eyes. Yet, don’t we all strive to witness the true face of God, to see with our own eyes that He really is just who He says He is, and can do what He unequivocally declares to be done? Yet as we read in the Bible, true visitations by our heavenly Father are rare. But, He is still just as real to us today as He was so long ago on top of that mountain.
As we use this time to manifest changes in ourselves, as we strive to develop a deeper relationship with our blessed Father, let us never forget that He is right here with us. He is sitting at the kitchen table as you sip that first cup of coffee. He is standing in the check out line at the store. He is in the car on our daily commute home in the evening. And, He is there when we finally decide to put our daily cares to rest, and before we close our eyes at night, whispering “Thank you God for another day.”.
You met with Moses on the top of a mountain,
And when he descended his face was shining
And in your power he brought your laws to a needy people.
You met with Christ on top of a mountain
And he was transformed with brightness
And descended with renewed strength.
Lord, we want to meet with you and be transformed by you
And to bring your transformation to the world around us.
Help us to bring your presence to the lives of those burdened with sickness or pain,
And those weighed down with confusion or grief.
Bring your healing touch to those lives today,
And let us support those we know in need with a constant friendship.
Help us to bring your change to a troubled society,
Where people are unsure of so much and where change comes so fast.
Give us the grace to understand people’s problems and anxieties
And the strength to tackle difficult issues head on.
Help us to work together to transform a needy world,
Whether through giving or educating or leading by example.
Give us the wisdom to see through big and complex issues
And the love that will keep us going when problems are overwhelming.
Help us to always be a beacon for you,
Individually and together.
We don’t stand on any lofty mountain
But we have a God who is changing us every day
And through whom we can reach out to change a broken world.
Be with us today Lord and help us take whatever step is next for us.
We ask this through the power of your love.
Reading 1:MAL 3:1-4
R PsalmPS 24:7, 8, 9, 10
Reading 2: HEB 2:14-18
Gospel: LK 2:22-40 OR 2:22-32
22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
Today,we as a church celebrate The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. This feast is celebrated exactly 40 days after the birth of the Lord. This Feast is also known by the name of ‘Candlemas’, as the church blesses candles and often hold candle processions on this day, to indicate the light of Christ in the world.
Today is a day of both shadow and light. But it is not limited to today. Shadow and light are the reality of our lives and our world each and every day. As human, sometimes we go into the darkness by our own choices or actions and at other times it may be as a result of someone else’s action or simply through the circumstances of lives.
Sometimes we hide in the darkness avoiding the light because we are ashame or feel guilty. We do not want to admit the truth of our lives to ourselves and we sure do not want another to see that truth about us – our thoughts or the things we have done and left undone. The shadows, we sometimes think will hide us. Other times we may live in the night of fear not knowing what will come next or how we will cope. We may experience times when we sense being powerlessness and life seems out of control. There are those times when the black hole of sorrow and grief sucks out the life and the light of our world and we seem unable to escape the darkness. Sometimes we experience the darkness of ignorance and confusion at those times. We can become blind to our own identity, lost on the path of life, seemingly without meaning or direction.
No matter how large we may sometimes feel the shadow in our life to be, or how dark the night may seem to us, the light of the Lord is still ever present.
Sacred Tradition says that Simeon was 270 years old when he met Jesus in the temple and that he was blind. Yet Simeon himself declares to God, “My eyes have seen your salvation.”
Yes, Simeon was blind. Yes, Simeon saw salvation. But he did not see with physical eyes. He saw with the eyes of his heart. Simeon experienced an inner seeing.
Christ is both the Light we see and the Illumination by which we see.
That Light and that Illumination are revelatory. They reveal mercy and forgiveness in the shadows of guilt and shame, presence and courage in the night of fear, compassion and hope in the blackness of sorrow and loss, a way forward in the blindness of ignorance and confusion, and life in the darkness of death. The flame of God’s love consumes the darkness, fills us, and frees us to go in peace just as God promised. We have seen salvation and Simeon’s song now becomes our song.
Hence the link with the candles that we link with today. Our Lord Jesus is the one light which is eternal. No matter how dark we may at times see our lives as being, no matter the situation we may be facing, we know the Lord has been there first and is our ever loving and ever guiding light. All we need to do is reach out, let our faith see that light and to let it always guide us.
Let us pray to our Lord, the light of the world:
O Lord, We thank you for the light that shines from within! Help us this day and always to recognize the several points of light that shine within us: the light of faith, the light of hope, the light of love! Regardless of whether or not the sun is shining or the rain is falling in our lives, remind us that there is a light that you have given us that is eternal and which will never go out. Help us through our lives to brighten the world of the depressed, to glow in a world of darkness and to shine when others struggle to find joy. Remind us that we have a light and that you have commanded us to let our light shine. In a time of pain, may our light be a light of peace. In a time of hate, may our light be a light of love. In a time of poverty, may our light be a light of prosperity. In a time of scarcity, may our light be a light of abundance. Bless us this day and always to be your shining light to the world. Help us to let that light shine that all people might see your goodness, mercy and power, shining through what they see in us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour we pray. Amen.
The First Anniversary of the Transition to the Lord of The Servant of God, Phil of Madison IOFM
Today we come to together as his church, his clergy family and his dear friends, to remember our dear brother, The Rt Rev Philip Gerboc IOFM, on this, his first anniversary of his Transition to Eternal Life.
We all dearly loved our brother Phil. He was constantly striving in doing the Lord’s service. Phil spent a lot of time in political ministry, constantly working to improve conditions for the needy, and working to get acceptance for all our dear Lgbtqi brothers and sisters.
The servant of God Phil of Madison IOFM, passed into life eternal on 2 February 2017, after a couple of weeks in a coma with a severe double stroke. He was ordained to the priesthood on 27th May 2012 and was, at the time of his transition, the Vicar General and Bishop-elect of the Diocese of the Great Lakes of the Unified Old Catholic Church.
He was born on 19 February 1962 in Cleveland, OH to the late William and Kathleen Cullen Gerboc, the youngest of 4 children. He ministered to the homeless, mentally ill, and poor in Madison, Wisconsin and was known as the “Labor Priest.” He founded The Independent Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscan Order of The Unified Old Catholic Church, as well as the IOFM Third Order. He was also instrumental in the foundation of the church itself. Philip was one who fought for the faith, no matter the cost, who stood up for the down-trodden, who continually worked for the betterment of mankind. He truly exemplified Christ’s command to feed the hungry, to house the homeless, to clothe the naked.
Like his hero, St. Francis, Fr. Phil dedicated his life to service. A dedicated, die hard Franciscan, he could quote the Omnibus at length, at the drop of a hat, ad infinitum.
And like St. Francis, Phil has left us too soon.
Phil was a wonderful example of being a true, devout and faithful servant of God, and there is such a lot about his devotion, that we can all follow in our own lives in the service of our God. He was genuine, so sincere and would stop at nothing to care for those in need. He even put his own health at risk because others came first. I know that I am only one of the people in the church who has been blessed by the example and the love and friendship of Phil. He was very protective of his dear clergy brothers and sisters, and I remember fondly the amount of times, he would hear someone was giving me a hard time, and he would come and jump to my defence, always wanting to ensure people would treat me as Phil thought I deserved.
Thank you so much dear brother for your love and friendship, and for your example. You have indeed left a light shining in all of our hearts, and I just know you are carrying on your excellent service at the throne of the Heavenly Father on high.,
I will close with this poem Written by Lisa DeVinney on November 26, 2014:
Well Done, Faithful Servant!
Well done, faithful servant!
You ran a valiant race.
You pressed with fervour toward the mark;
And always sought My face.
Well done, faithful servant!
You stayed the course with love.
You reached out to a hurting world
With grace sent from above.
Yes, well done, faithful servant!
Come, rest here at My throne.
And let Me tell you just how much
I’m glad to have you home.
And now, My faithful servant,
Come, walk along with Me;
And find the joy awaiting you
For all eternity…
We love you!!!
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our God and our Creator. Amen.
Before I begin my homily on today’s Gospel reading I’d like to take a little time to reflect on the lives of the Saints whose memorial we celebrate today. It’s impossible for us to know with any certainty how many have gone to dwell in the presence of God since Christ opened the path to do so through His atoning sacrifice. However, these saints of God both known and unknown play an important role in the life of Christians not only as intercessors but as examples of lives lived for Christ.
Two such saints, whose memory we keep today are Saints Timothy and Titus; some of you may have heard of these men but to many they will remain little known characters of the biblical narrative. Both Timothy and Titus were companions and co-workers with Saint Paul travelling with him on his journeys and faithfully ministering to the growing Christian community.
So what is it that these men preached on their journeys? Quite simply, like all the apostles, Paul and his companions preached salvation in Christ and it is this which the Gospel speaks of today albeit veiled in the allegory of parable.
The word parable is one that we often hear bandied around when we’re studying the scriptures but it’s one that we often don’t take the time to define to those who may not be familiar with the jargon of biblical analysis. In general terms a parable is a simple story told to illustrate a deeper, often spiritual meaning. The parable was a teaching method that Jesus used frequently. He was fond of taking images from the everyday life of those around him and using those images to convey the great mysteries of the Gospel.
I have heard it asked before why Jesus would choose to teach like this instead of simply “saying what He meant” and as it happens an answer to this is actually found within today’s Gospel. In the reading we find “With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.”
From this we learn that Jesus was using the parables as a means of keeping higher truths for those who were ready to hear them. We have to remember that Jesus preached in public where any could come and hear Him. By speaking in parables those without faith and no desire to learn would simply hear an interesting story being told whilst those with faith in their hearts would be able to digest that story and find hidden within it the gems of the Gospel. In private, with his closest followers though the Gospel’s author tells us that Jesus did speak and teach plainly.
So today we hear a story about farming; the occupants of Israel in the first century AD were typical of many cultures of the time; they were subsistence farmers and herders and so Jesus’ story of growing plants from seeds would have been easily understood and grasped. To us separated by distance and culture sometimes these stories feel far less familiar and their meaning can be hidden behind a thicker veil.
In this parable Jesus begins by making mention of the Kingdom of God; when we hear this term it’s easy to conjure up images of a throne and God sitting upon it ruling over the Earth. However often the meaning of this term is far more mystical and refers to the whole span of God’s interaction with his creation. For this reason Jesus using this term is a way to tell those of His listeners who are of faith that what follows will be about God’s plan for humanity or what is often termed the plan of salvation.
The parable that Jesus tells is of a man planting seed. The seed falling upon the ground seeming dies and lies inert until without notice new life springs forth. This story, though interesting if you’re into gardening does have a far deeper and significant meaning. In this case the man who is planting the seed is none other than Christ himself. What is it that Christ came to this earth to plant? He came to plant the seeds of the Gospel; He travelled, taught and preached so that Israel could hear the Gospel and carry it throughout the world. So in this parable Jesus tells us that the seed of the Gospel, though it may at times seem to fall on barren ground and be dead, will always spring forth new life when those of faith are attentive.
The seed laying in the ground seemingly dead has a double meaning; Jesus is the Word, the Gospel incarnate and we know that his ultimate faith was to die for our sins. In this parable He was reaching out to His followers and trying to prepare them for what lay ahead. That He would die and they would become disheartened thinking that the Gospel was dead but that in His death new life would rise.
It is through this great promise of a new life that we all find the hope of our salvation. We are all but seeds, we contain a divine potential to unite with God in total perfection, basking in His divine presence and worshipping Him in unending glory!
It is my constant prayer, that each and every one of us will live our lives in the hope of the resurrection and our ultimate salvation in Christ. May the abundant grace that God has given us flow out of us and may we always be prepared to share the great message of hope with all we come in contact with.
Let us pray:
Blessed Father, we thank you this day for the great gift that you have given us in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. May we all live worthy of this great promise and one day, when our mortal walk is over, return to you and dwell in your glory. May the example of Saints Timothy and Titus every be before us and guide us in our service; may we spread the Gospel as called and serve those people in our care in the spirit of these great saints. In the name of Christ, our Saviour. Amen.
Today is the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, or Saul as he was known in Hebrew. Who was he?
First, let me say that his name change had nothing to do with his conversion. Paul was the Roman version, and speculation is that as a Pharisee he was more drawn to the Romans than the Greeks and preferred the Roman “Paul”. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 he says he has “become all things to all people” and would probably be more accepted by the Gentiles with a Roman name. He was first referred to as Paul for the first time on the island of Cyprus. All that being said, he is variously cited as knowing Greek (the lingua franca of the region), Aramaic, and Hebrew, and perhaps Latin.
Second, Paul was a Pharisee. Sadducees, the other major social movement, favored Hellenization, or Greek influence. They also emphasized the importance of the Second Temple and its rites and services, and recognized only the Written Torah (with Greek philosophy) and rejected the Oral Torah, the Prophets, the Writings, and the resurrection of the dead. The Pharisees mostly believed the opposite of these stands.
But of most importance, Paul was educated. He was a scholar of the Torah, learned in the traditions of the Hebrews, and zealous in defending and protecting the Jewish laws and rites. Paul was such a strict adherent to Judaism in those days that he watched the martyrdom of Saint Stephen and approved of it. But Pharisees were not the “nobility” as such. Those were the Sadducees. So he was a “man of the people” but a sophisticated one. That education and erudition, as well as his “commoner” status, was probably why Jesus chose him to minister to the Gentiles.
Finally, he was a Roman Citizen through his father’s lineage. At that time, being a Roman Citizen was a high honor and carried with it protections and status. So he was free to travel throughout the Roman Empire and be accepted everywhere he went.
Then, in the twinkling of an eye, he is felled to the ground and rendered blind while Jesus remonstrates with him and orders him into a new calling.
The words in the two renditions of the story in Acts are matter-of-fact. We are left to put our own spin on the story, including the dust rising up from Paul’s body as he falls, the probable fright of Paul and his companions at the event and the bright light, the terror of Paul being blinded, and the complete confusion of Paul who won’t find out what’s going on until he gets to Ananias’ house.
As with many other miracles, we are given the opportunity to fill in the narrative with our own experiences. And isn’t the imagination more horrifying than anything we are told or that we read?
But how confusing or disturbing…or unsettling…to realize that even though twelve men have followed Jesus for three years, they were not prepared enough to spread the Gospel by themselves. For when it came to confronting the worldly citizens of the Roman Empire, a bunch of fishermen, tax collectors, and other poor Jews were probably no match for the trials to which Paul was ultimately put. Holy and fervent though they were, Jesus needed a person of a different sort to take on the Roman world and leave behind the theological basis for what had happened by the incarnation and ministry of Jesus Christ.
I have always thought of Paul as something of an insecure person. Having to say that he was “just as good” as the Super Apostles seems to me to be a bit much for someone so anointed to carry The Word. But then I think of myself. I’ve been told that to most people I’m seen as a strong, forceful, and competent person. It’s really when I’m in my room, talking to God, that I’m perfectly willing to admit that I’m as weak, frightened, and insecure as Paul was.
And then, wonder of wonders, I also remember Paul’s fears to which he admits in writing, and the “thorn in the flesh” to which he was subjected. Yes, he was truly a common, yet learned man. Yes, he was truly a force for Jesus as well as a scared, but brave, soldier of Christ. Yes, he was the perfect Apostle to speak to all of us for over 2,000 years.
Would that we could all be knocked down from our perches in such a fashion.
And so, I end with the refrain from one of my favorite hymns, and fervently hope that I will be heard:
Here I am, Lord. Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.
Lord, knock us down if you must, but through your eternal goodness, give us the courage and strength to carry on as Saint Paul did and bring your message to the world.