May 1: Easter 3

Scripture Reading (CEB) verses from Acts 9:1-20

1 Meanwhile, Saul was still spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest, seeking letters to the synagogues in Damascus. If he found persons who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, these letters would authorize him to take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. During the journey, as he approached Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven encircled him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you harassing me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus, whom you are harassing,” came the reply. “Now get up and enter the city. You will be told what you must do.” Those traveling with him stood there speechless; they heard the voice but saw no one. After they picked Saul up from the ground, he opened his eyes but he couldn’t see. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind and neither ate nor drank anything. 10 In Damascus there was a certain disciple named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, “Ananias!” He answered, “Yes, Lord.” 11 The Lord instructed him, “Go to Judas’ house on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying. 17 Ananias went to the house. He placed his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord sent me—Jesus, who appeared to you on the way as you were coming here. He sent me so that you could see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly, flakes fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. He got up and was baptized. 19 After eating, he regained his strength. He stayed with the disciples in Damascus for several days. 20 Right away, he began to preach about Jesus in the synagogues. “He is God’s Son,” he declared.

‘A’ resurrection, not ‘the’ Resurrection

I am Saul

I am Paul

I am passionate about my faith

I am passionate about my faith

I will work tirelessly for what I believe in and I recognize that may hurt others

in order to keep the faith

I will work tirelessly for my beliefs too and I also recognize that doing so can hurt others

but living the faith is never going to be easy

I have made a choice to put myself on the line for my faith and if those who are out to destroy the faith get in the way, then I will move them out the way

I have made a choice to put myself on the line for my faith and will continue to do so even in the face of those who want to move me out the way

I am Saul

I am Paul

Faith is everything to me.

It must be kept true at all costs.

It is too vital to my culture, my traditions and how I understand life

Faith is everything to me.

It must stand true at all costs.

It is too vital for the Good News for traditions and culture to stand in the way

of this new understanding of life

I will seek out those who destroy the faith

I will seek out those who limit the faith

I will keep our borders pure and our traditions clean from contamination

I will cross every border and welcome in Jew and Gentile, slave and free

I am Saul

I am Paul

I will work for those in charge

I will work for Jesus Christ

I will hold tight to the church

I will break open the church

I will keep the faith pure

I will keep the faith growing

I will ensure the Way is dealt with…

And I will be its life

I am Saul

I am Paul  
(written by Roddy Hamilton)

The Saul/Paul conversion is a fascinating story – one that doesn’t finish with the text today, as it takes time for Paul (Acts 13:9) to fully emerge from under Saul’s shadow.  But this text presents us an interpretive challenge in deciding what message we need to hear today.  An appropriate lens of interpretation might be aimed at transgender kids – hearing that with time you can change your life, change your name, change your body, and better live into whom God is calling you to be.  Or there’s the lens of discernment and wisdom that it’s never too late to change a path you’re on, and in doing so, discovering all that you may have missed.  But since we’re still in the midst of Easter and the creators of the lectionary put this story here intentionally, we cannot help but see this as a resurrection.

Soon after Jesus’ resurrection (and his ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirt at Pentecost which we’ll get to in the coming weeks) the growing church was emboldened in their faith.  All that Jesus spoke about: his death, his resurrection, the promise to not abandon his disciples even in the midst of hardship – these all became a reality.  Peter and John picked up where Jesus left off, healing and caring for those in the community, holding feasts to share meals, and the faith was growing.  Growing in attention from others as well, persecution and martyrdom was used by those in power to deal with this splinter group.  But it didn’t deter those of ‘the Way.’ It strengthened them. 

Those of ‘the Way’ didn’t yet call themselves Christian, as many believed that this interpretation of Judaism and faith wasn’t a new thing.  They saw it as a ‘way’ of being in the world, a way of living that stood parallel to both religious and cultural norms, that recognized community humanity, common hungers, common needs.  This put what would become the early church at odds with many – as tribalism: knowing who is in, and who is out, defined much of their relationships.  This tribalism still lingers in the air as we call ourselves United…Baptist… Evangelical… even knowing within those are smaller groups named St. James’~Rosemount… Christ the King…Calvary…Or subscribe to one political party over another…

No matter the persecution and tribalism, those of ‘the Way’ were not swayed.  In fact, it might have had a strange ‘Streisand effect’ to this small movement of Jesus followers.  (The Streisand effect is a relatively newly-coined phrase that occurs when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor information has the unintended consequence of awareness of that information.) [1]  So even as some tried to stifle the growth of ‘the way’, it inevitably brought more attention, eventually to the eyes of Saul, a Pharisee.  The Pharisees were one expression, maybe even defined as a tribe, of Israel that stuck meticulously to their interpretation of the Torah primarily concerning themselves with purity.[2]  An equivalent to today might be those who only read the Bible literally, those who follow the Levitical purity codes alongside some of Paul’s less-than-favourable teachings.  (There’s many things that I believe are misguided about this way of living out one’s faith but that’s a whole other sermon.)  Suffice to say, that those seeking to retain the purity of their faith, would see this splinter group as ones corrupting it – and they employed people like Saul to prune those otherwise undesirable branches. 

Until one day that Saul was travelling to Damascus.  On the road, with companions to vouch for his unbelievable story,

suddenly a light from heaven encircled [Saul].  He fell to the ground and heard a voice asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you harassing me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus, whom you are harassing,” came the reply…  After they picked Saul up from the ground, he opened his eyes but he couldn’t see. So they led him by the hand into Damascus..

We all have blindspots – things we either refuse to see or pretend we don’t.  Saul was “just doing his job,” people of faith have a history wrought with domination and destruction even as we read scriptures of “love and forgiveness”, politicians are just “towing the party line.”  There’s plenty we don’t want to see. 

Which reminds me of the Easter dinner with my family.  See, I nearly ruined Easter.  And I don’t say this with an iota of pride but more disappointment in myself and a confession for you all.  At dinner we were talking about politics anticipating the provincial election coming up, and it got heated.  Red-faced heated.  We couldn’t stop arguing talking points – one side holding up the debt being saddled upon the next generation and the other about the suffering we’re enduring now.  In the safety and warmth of love and family, we refused to see how each side was blind to the other.

But we all do it – our unwillingness to see…

*and even as I say that I struggle anytime stories like these feature in the Bible because of the harm they’ve done to those who experience real blindness, implying it’s a choice to see, a choice for healing…and all that…*

Mihee Kim-Kort says that our unwillingness to see keeps us feeling empty …

The world feels heavy with the lingering scent of Good Friday, the darkness, the persistent shattering of the earth beneath, lives and livelihood in pieces on streets, the weeping from despair and sorrow echoes not too far off. Dreams like smoke and ashes curling up to the sky. There’s no need to provide a litany of circumstances and petitions because we all see, hear, and feel the litanies in our bones from the moment the sun greets us in the morning. [3]

Things feel worse now than ever.  How many of us have driven by the encampment on Victoria and Weber and just kept on driving?  How many of us will vote in the election to better ourselves, and not those who are suffering?  How many of us, like me at that dinner, would rather see difference rather than the message of this text and the reason why blindness is key to understanding this text, because of the radical interdependency it presents. 

Saul is helped from the ground.  Saul is led to Damascus.  On the other side of town, Ananias is locked away in fear of Saul, and is told to confront his own feelings of fear and death in order to help Saul.  They need each other, like we need each other, striking against our tribalism and Good Friday moments that remind us of our community humanity, common hungers, common needs.  And when connection is made,

[i]nstantly, flakes fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. [Saul] got up and was baptized.

This isn’t just a healing.  Saul experiences resurrection.

I spoke about death and grief the last two weeks, the feelings of loss that we carry, the memories of love lost and regret that overshadow daily life, but like Saul, resurrection is possible.  Saul isn’t the same person after being healed.  Saul makes a commitment of faith and embraces a new life.  This is death and resurrection played out.  For

resurrection is not one thing. It is a prismatic mystery. It is an unwordable story of God and Jesus and us: an experience of the beyond breaking in, the reality of love and life and justice and joy no matter the power of death. One story, a single angle of vision, can’t begin to explain or communicate it.

Whatever happened on that morning a long time ago, it keeps happening — to me and to millions of others in thousands of ways in a multitude of times and places. I’m less worried about what happened then than how we experience and practice it now.

We experience and practice resurrection when we live into the reality of love and life and justice and joy no matter the power of death.  That’s what we’ve been mindful of these two years in particular, but it should be true for all the years we’ve been blessed to walk this earth.  Death is our inevitable reality that wins when we refuse to share our love and or live only for ourselves, and give up our justice seeking as futile and practice self-serving joy.  We are the deciders of who experiences resurrection.  We are Ananias with life in our hands.  We are Saul’s friends picking him up from the road. We might even be Saul unable, unwilling to see that something new was possible. 

[Diana Butler Bass] once quizzed an old-fashioned liberal bishop about whether or not he believed in the resurrection. “Do I believe in the resurrection? Of course I believe in the resurrection,” he replied, “I’ve seen it too many times not to.” And I bet no two of those times were exactly the same.[4]

Thanks be to the God of resurrected life…for Christ is alive, saving, healing, here and now, touching every place and time![5]


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect

[2] https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12087-pharisees

[3] https://churchanew.org/blog/posts/mihee-kim-kort-im-still-waiting-on-the-resurrection

[4] Bass, Diana Butler, from Easter Sunday Musings, https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/p/easter-sunday-musings

[5] Wren, Brian, from the hymn Christ is Alive!

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