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Saturday, August 17, 2013
Today’s Reading | Acts 22:6–16
“While I was on my way and approaching Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Then he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. I asked, ‘What am I to do, Lord?’ The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.’ Since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, those who were with me took my hand and led me to Damascus.
“A certain Ananias, who was a devout man according to the law and well spoken of by all the Jews living there, came to me; and standing beside me, he said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight!’ In that very hour I regained my sight and saw him. Then he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear his own voice; for you will be his witness to all the world of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you delay? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.’ (NRSV)
Conversions are life-changing experiences. When people share with me stories of their conversion experiences, I have found that, as different as they are from each other, they often pivot on a significant question.
In this account of Paul’s conversion from Saul to Paul, from a zealous Jew to a passionate reformer of religion, Paul’s conversion pivots on the question that Jesus directs to Paul. This was not a theoretical or philosophical question. It is concrete, urgent, and highly personal. Addressing Saul by name and in the second person, Jesus asks Saul directly, “Why are you persecuting me?”
It seems to me that at the heart of any thorough conversion is the personal realization that the way I have been living, the things I have been pursuing, or the approach I have been taking brings harm upon another person. When that recognition takes place, and my desire no longer to harm someone leads me to revise my worldview and to redirect my course of action, I have undergone a conversion.
Paul’s conversion fueled his great reformation of the church to be inclusive of every kind of person—Gentile and Jew, slave and free, and male and female. It is as though the question by which Jesus converted Paul in the first place continued to reverberate throughout his life, making it impossible for Paul any longer to teach and pursue religion in a way that would bring harm to others.
Not all conversion experiences endure; some are short-lived. Perhaps the power of a conversion rests in the question that confronts us in the first place. The question that Jesus poses to Paul, “Why are you persecuting me?” is a God-given question that perhaps can convert us all.
Almighty God, please forgive me for the fickleness of my commitments. Address me directly, personally, and powerfully with the questions that you would have me pursue for the rest of my life, for I want to be your faithful servant. Amen.
Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life
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