Monday, January 25, 2010

The Converstion of St. Paul

Monday, January 25, 2010 -- Week of 3 Epiphany, Year Two
The Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer)
EITHER
The Readings for Monday of 3 Epiphany, p. 945
Psalms 41, 52 (morning) 44 (evening
Genesis 14:(1-7)8-24
Hebrews 8:1-13
John 4:43-54
OR
The Readings for The Conversion of St. Paul, p. 996
Morning Prayer Evening Prayer
Psalms 19 Psalms 119:89-112
Isaiah 45:18-25 Ecclesiasticus 39:1-10
Philippians 3:4b-11 Acts 9:1-22

I chose the readings for the Conversion of St. Paul

"If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more... I regard everything as loss, because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." Philippians 3:4b, 7b-8a

Paul had an outstanding resume. He had done as well as you can do. He was disciplined, accomplished, prayerful, observant. He knew the religious expectations for a moral and pious life, and he had lived up to those expectations. He obeyed the law. He was zealous and obedient. He had done life right. But he was miserable. Perpetually anxious.

Performance anxiety. He asked himself constantly: Am I doing everything right? Am I forgetting anything? Is my heart pure? Have I treated all with proper respect? Have I neglected anything? His vigilance was so constant, that he could always aquit himself. Yes, he was following the straight and narrow. No one could fault him. He obeyed every law of God, he observed the statutes and commandments, he crossed every "t" and dotted every "i." No one could touch him for his conscientiousness and scrupulosity.

So why was he miserable? Perpetually anxious.

He wanted to feel that he was okay. He wanted to know that he was okay with God. He wanted the comfort of knowing that he was accepted and acceptable before God. The old words were "justified" and "righteous." That's what he wanted to be. A person who could live in the comfort of knowing that he was justified and righteous before God, that God accepted him. And he did his best. He followed every moral and religious expectation of uprightness. But he was miserable. Perpetually anxious.

He was trapped in a condition of anxiety. Performance anxiety. He did his best, but was it good enough? And maybe he had done everything right yesterday, what about today? ...and tomorrow? What if he missed something? What if he let his guard down for even a moment? What if he failed? If he ever failed, would that ruin everything? Forever? Those "what-ifs" haunted him. Deep within he wanted to escape them. What if it wasn't so hard? What if God wasn't a judge demanding perfection? What if God really loved him, really accepted him?

Don't think about that. Just stay vigilant and never let down your guard.

Like so many of us, Paul projected his misery on to others. It disperses your anxiety and self-questioning if you can find someone whom you know has failed and correct them. Take out your misery and anxiety on someone who really deserves it, someone you know is worse than you, someone you know is living in the wrong.

So Paul persecuted a sect who followed the false Messiah Jesus. But as he persecuted them, he saw in them a joy and freedom that eluded him.

On the road to Damascus, armed with arrest warrants to purge the wrongdoers from the earth, it all became too much for him. The righteous indignation and internal anxiety was too much to hold together. His whole world imploded. He was struck blind. He realized he was wrong. You can't earn your place before God. Paul couldn't. Nobody can. He had been wrong about that for his whole life. It's not all about performance. Nobody can perform perfectly enough to stand before God. But, it struck him, it doesn't matter. That's what the Jesus followers were saying. God loves us anyway. It's all about love. Paul was blinded by love.

It's all a gift. God's gift. God chooses us before we can earn it. Even while we are failing, God loves and forgives us with infinite grace. Just because that's the way God is. That's the God Jesus points to. It's all in the cross. The cross is the ultimate human failure, human evil. In Christ, God soaks up our failure and evil, and gives back nothing but love -- love that overcomes evil; love that overcomes even the last evil -- death. God swallows up death with resurrection.

And Paul's eyes were opened to the light. He knew that he was accepted by God -- justified, made righteous, in a right relationship with God. His justification was pure gift. Grace. It was God's pleasure to love Paul and to declare him beloved. All Paul had to do was accept the gift. That's faith. Trust that God loves us and accept the gift of unqualified love that frees us. Justification by grace, through faith.

Anxiety goes away. It's not about performance anymore. It's about love. We are loved. We are accepted. It's a gift. We are free.

Out of the energy of that loving acceptance, Paul found he was free to love as he had never loved before. As God as loved us, so we can walk in love. It's the most natural thing in the world. No more anxiety. Just love. And when you are loved so fully, you are free. Free to respond in a spirit of love. That's life in Christ. Everything else is just rubbish. Paul's only desire was to live "in Christ," and "be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection of the dead."

As the old hymn says, "I once was blind, but now I see."

Lowell
_____________________________________________

Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.


Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html


The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas

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