Tuesday, January 25, 2011
-- Week of 3 Epiphany, Year One
The Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle
To read about our daily commemorations, go to our Holy Women, Holy Men blog
Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer
the readings for Tuesday of 3 Epiphany (p. 944)
Psalms 45 (morning) 47, 48 (evening)
Galatians 1:18 - 2:10
the readings for Conversion of St. Paul (p. 996)
Morning Prayer: Psalm 19; Isaiah 45:18-25; Philippians 3:4b-11
Evening Prayer: Psalm 119:89-112; Ecclesiasticus 39:1-10; Acts 9:1-22
I chose the readings for the Conversion of St. Paul
I find the conversion of St. Paul to be a compelling story.
He says of himself, before that moment, he was a good man -- as good as can be. "If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless."
But he was miserable. Think of it as performance anxiety. Like being the child of a perfectionist parent. He never knew if he was measuring up. Worrying about whether he was "right enough" or "good enough" left him preoccupied -- self-centered in some way. It left him anxious. He didn't feel the restful peace that comes when we know in our bones we are in relationship with God, and we are comfortable in our own skins.
Psalm 19 says it nicely:
Who can tell how often one offends?*
Cleanse me from my secret faults.
Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me;*
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.
Paul couldn't get to the peace that comes when we know we are truly freed from secret faults and presumptuous sins.
Like many who are earnest, sincere, and intense, he became pretty radical. He wanted to be right. He followed the right as he was taught by his religious heritage. And he fought for the right, trying to scourge from their community the threatening heresy coming from those following the way of Jesus.
Under his former name Saul, before his conversion, he was there as a leader for the stoning of Stephen. Maybe something happened then. Maybe when he looked at Stephen -- condemned as a heretic, dying and yet at peace, offering forgiveness to his killers -- Saul saw a peace and centeredness that he lacked.
Luke tells it this way in the Acts of the Apostles: "Then they dragged [Stephen] out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, 'Lord do not hold this sin against them.' When he had said this, he died. And Saul approved of their killing him."
Saul the righteous. Saul the anxious and troubled. He sees a heretic who has a strength and peace that Saul knows he lacks. On the road to Damascus, it hits him like a rock. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"
I think what hit him was that the peace he sought -- a right relationship with God -- was not his for earning it, for being zealous, and of the right breeding and theology, for being perfect and just. A right relationship with God was simply a gift offered. A gift to be accepted. Accepted by faith. Take the gift and you are okay. You are at peace. Justified before God. It's all from God. It's just a gift. And Jesus is the mediator. The one who appeared to be the big heretic, the ultimate symbol of sin, crucified sin, and brought the gift of life to light through his resurrection. Accept the gift of acceptance. "Justification by grace through faith," became his gospel. And God changed his name from Saul to Paul.
With that change came a total change of identity. The old Saul died and the new Paul rose. Where before he was proud to be Hebrew, Jewish, a law-abiding Pharisee -- now he was a simple human being whose life was hidden in Christ. Every barrier between humans broke down in the face of God's abundant gift of acceptance for all. No more divisions. No more male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free. (Can anyone doubt if Paul lived today he would include straight or gay?) All of the human divisions melted before the unifying love of God.
Paul broke the profound boundary between Jews and Gentiles, becoming the apostle to the Gentiles on behalf of the Jesus movement which previously had been a reform movement within Judaism. It was Paul who made Christianity a world movement.
Paul invites us to give up the personal improvement project of making yourself acceptable. He invites us to accept our acceptance as a glorious gift from God. He invites us to give up all of our divisions and to recognize we are all God's children -- equally loved, equally accepted. The wonder of it struck him blind for a while. And when he regained his sight, he saw the whole world anew.
Happy Conversion of St. Paul Day. May you arise this day knowing yourself to be God's beloved -- accepted as you are without having to be fixed first. May you see everything anew -- we are all God's beloved children. We need do nothing more than to accept the gift. Then live freely. Free to love and accept. Free to give away everything, because everything has already been given us. That's the gospel of Paul.
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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 missionstclare.com -- Click for online Daily Office
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 -- Click for Divine Hours
Discussion Blog: To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to http://lowellsblog.blogspot.com, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.
| |The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.
See our Web site at www.stpaulsfay.org
Our Rule of Life:
We aspire to...
Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church