Tag Archives: love

Conversion of Saint Paul

the-conversion-of-saint-paul-bartolome-esteban-murilloA Conversion Experience

Saul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christian believers. While in route he experienced one of the most dramatic conversions recorded in the Bible. In his own words:

“I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, `Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, `Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, `I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles– to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ ”  (Acts 26:12-18)

Well, that was Saul. He was persecuting Christians. Do we have any zealous people in the Church today who are persecuting their fellow parishioners? Well, that is another story.

What about those who have grown-up in the Church? Do they need a conversion experience? We need to understand that the Apostle Paul did grow-up in the Church. He grew up in Judaism which was the only church in his day. The rest of the world was pagan. He was living by the rules. He was educated in the best rabbinic tradition. Here is how he described himself:

circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.  (Philippians 3:5-6)

I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.  (Galatians 1:14)

We understand, of course, that this was the way Saul described himself before his conversion. How did he describe himself after his conversion?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  (Romans 7:15-19)

Paul goes on to say:

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   (Romans 7:24-25)

Conversion opened Saul’s eyes to reality. His religion had failed him. He needed more than religion. His his Lord Jesus Christ did not fail him:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:7-11)

Saul become the great Apostle Paul who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament. Does his testimony speak to us today? What is our testimony? Are we merely rules enforcers or are we ambassadors for Christ? The lost in this world is counting on us give witness to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

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First Sunday of Advent: Year C

Your Redemption is Drawing Near

We begin a new liturgical year. Happy New Year! Advent is season of expectation. We await the coming of the Christ Child. Advent is a season of preparation. We prepare ourselves to receive him deeper into our hearts. As we move through the season we look at the prophecies and preparations for the Incarnation – God with us – the first coming of Christ.

At the beginning of Advent, however, our focus is on the second coming of Christ. This is a subject that, to me, seems often neglected in many of our churches. The lectionary readings in the beginning of  the season emphasize the second coming. We are reminded that our spiritual preparation is not only for the first, but also for the second coming.

Non liturgical churches may wonder why the need for us to prepare ourselves spiritually. Has not the cross of Christ redeemed us from sin and death? What more can we do?

We need to look at the Early Church. Believers lived in a season of Advent continually. They lived in expectation that Jesus would be returning soon. That was a primary theme of their preaching and teaching, and especially for the Apostle Paul. Paul wrote:

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.   (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13)

Jesus taught instructed his disciples about his second coming:

Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”   (Luke 21:25-28)

He said that we should be able to read the signs which foretold of his soon return:

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.   (Luke 21:29-33)

Not only did Jesus speak about his return, but he emphasized that his disciples must be prepared for his return:

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”   (Luke 21:24-36)

If we are true disciples of Christ, then we must heed his words. What are the signs Jesus was talking about? The fig tree stood for the nation of Israel. From the Prophet Hosea we read:

Like grapes in the wilderness,
    I found Israel.
Like the first fruit on the fig tree,
    in its first season,
    I saw your ancestors.
But they came to Baal-peor,
    and consecrated themselves to a thing of shame,
    and became detestable like the thing they loved.   (Hosea 9:10)

We live in the time when Israel is sprouting leaves. It was given up as dead, but then it was refound. We live in a season when Israel will be fully redeemed. As disciples of Christ, we are the ingrafted branches of Israel. Are we ready for the return of our Lord?

Our lifestyles and interests tell us that we are not ready. Jesus said: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” Look how we observe this season. There is the frenzy of black Friday. There is little recognition of the season of Advent. Christmas shopping is here in full force.

We desperately need a season of Advent. We need a time of spiritual reflection. We need a season of self examination. But God has not left us alone in this task. Jesus is coming. But Jesus is Immanuel. He is still with us. He is ready to help us. He is our source for examination and preparation. Paul wrote: “May Jesus so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

In this busy season, let us take time to be with Jesus. Yes, he has paid the price for us. What are we prepared to do for him? Will we put him first? Will be love him with all our hearts? Will we spend time with him in prayer – in his Word – in his healing and deliverance?

Yes, we are seeing signs of the end times. Jesus said: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

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Saturday in the First Week of Lent

Covenant Keeping

The children of Israel are a covenant people. God made great promises to them which would be fulfilled as long as they kept his commandments:

This very day the Lord your God is commanding you to observe these statutes and ordinances; so observe them diligently with all your heart and with all your soul. Today you have obtained the Lord’s agreement: to be your God; and for you to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, his commandments, and his ordinances, and to obey him. Today the Lord has obtained your agreement: to be his treasured people, as he promised you, and to keep his commandments; for him to set you high above all nations that he has made, in praise and in fame and in honor; and for you to be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.   (Deuteronomy 26:16–19)

As Christians we are also a covenant people. We are in-grafted into the promises God made to Israel by our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Our covenant with God is better than the Old Covenant that God made with Abraham. Nonetheless, we are still required to live by faith as was Abraham.

Yes, we have great promises and blessings, but with them come responsibilities. Living by faith means trusting in Jesus to supply us with grace to help us to keep the commandments of God. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made it very clear that we are to obey all the commandments from the heart. He said:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.   (Matthew 5:48)

We have not been given a blank check to live any way we want. Our Covenant with God under the blood of Jesus does not cover deliberate sin:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.   (Hebrews 10:26-27)

Do we consider ourselves a treasured people, holy to God? If so, we will find great joy in keeping the commandments as God supplies us with his grace.

Happy are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD!

Happy are they who observe his decrees
and seek him with all their hearts!   (Psalm 119:1–2)

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Friday in the First Week of Lent

Fairness

Jesus told the parable of the workers in the field. The ones who worked only the last h0ur got the same wages that the ones who worked all day long. The early workers thought that their pay was unfair. They were not prepared for the master’s response:

Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”   (Matthew 20:14-16)

Some of us are late bloomers. Thanks be to God for his mercy! God does not judge the way we judge. He does not keep score by the amount of work we do for him. Rather, he judges the heart. Love does not keep a record of wrongs, but rejoices in the right (1 Corinthians 13:5-6). If we need a theological explanation then here it is:

Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die.   (Ezekiel 18:25-28)

It is time for us to give up score-keeping on others, and even on ourselves. The Psalmist wrote:

If you, LORD, were to note what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could stand?   (Psalm 130:2)

Jesus said:

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.   (Matthew 5:23-24)

The Gospel should free us from all score-keeping because we have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus. We should then forgive others and seek their forgiveness as well.

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