31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
May 1, 2022
Acts 9:1-9, 17-19
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Right before Christmas, I had one of those lulls in energy that are simply a part of being human. I was preparing for Advent Craft Workshop, two worship services in the Sanctuary and another recorded online for Christmas Eve. And we were encountering another surge in COVID. I was busier than ever and tired, and this little voice started whispering in my brain “Why are you doing this?” “Will anyone even show up? Is this worth all of the effort?”
And then on December 20th, I turned the page on my Christian devotional calendar and it read, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Know that your work is not in vain in the Lord. Know that everything you do for God is worthwhile. And right in that moment, I felt refreshed. I felt filled with God’s Holy Spirit and energized to keep going.
These words that inspired me were written almost two thousand years ago by a man named Paul, an apostle, a messenger of God. He did not start out his life with this name though. One upon a time, he was Saul, a faithful, well-educated Jew, a man zealously devoted to the traditions and rules of his faith.
Unfortunately, it was not his desire to connect with God or even the hope to ground others in a relationship with God that gave purpose to his life. It was the desire to force others into compliance that drove him forward.
Forcefully trying to bend others to our will rarely goes well though. The more we try, the less successful we often are, which frustrates us and makes us push even harder to make them obey. And so it was with Saul. The more he tried to get rid of these followers of the Way, these people who were connecting with God in a new way, the more of them there seemed to be.
Saul was zealous though, totally unwilling to give up, determined to make the followers of the Way get in line and it led him down a dangerous road where he began to believe that any means justified the ends. This way of thinking can be a downward spiral that eats up inside, until we are an empty shell, totally consumed by fear, anger, and hate.
Saul was likely close to that point on the road to Damascus. Despite years and years of study, despite knowing the Ten Commandments and their prohibition against killing, despite knowing that all of earth’s people and creatures are created by God and precious to God, despite knowing that it is God’s will and not ours that should be done, despite knowing the values of his Jewish faith, Saul’s frustration and need for control overrode his faithfulness to God.
At this point, his faith, his values, his relationship with God, none of that mattered. All that was important was forcing these followers of the Way to comply or be arrested – and if they were to die on the way back to Jerusalem, well who was to say that was a bad thing.
It is here, on the brink of Saul losing his humanity, that the craziest thing happens. He is surrounded by a dazzling bright light, and he encounters the Risen Christ. Overwhelmed, he falls to the ground. And in this simple exchange, his life is changed forever. He is changed forever.
How can this be though? How can years of learning and a commitment to zealously following the rules and traditions of his faith with no room for alteration be changed by thirty five words exchanged with this unseen being? How can his anger and hatred be so suddenly replaced with devotion and love? How can years of following one path be changed in a moment?
It seems unbelievable. It sounds totally irrational and yet, this is how God and Jesus work all the time. They don’t try to get us to comply; they don’t force us to fall in line; they don’t even try to bend us to their will. They love us, and they come into our lives in ways that are totally crazy, unexpected, and irrational to the world, to connect with us and show us that love.
On a road to Damascus, through a devotional calendar bought at the Hallmark store, through encounters with people we haven’t seen in years, God and Jesus fill us with the Holy Spirit and show us that our lives have purpose, meaning, that we are called to passionately serve Jesus Christ, sharing his peace and love.
That is what happened when Saul encountered the Risen Christ. In a totally crazy, unbelievable moment, Saul’s life was forever changed. Instead of persecuting Jesus, he became one of the most passionate messengers of Jesus. Even though other Christians did not trust him at first, still he passionately shared everywhere he could that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. Even with dead ends and detours and times when others were breathing threats and murder against him as a follower of the Way of Jesus Christ, even then, he kept going.
Paul kept going, not because he understood the Way, not because he had come to believe through years of study, Paul kept going, kept sharing the good news of God’s love because he had experienced God, because he had met the Risen Christ, because he had been filled with the Holy Spirit and that gave him the strength, the inspiration, the passion to journey forward on the path God was calling him and him alone to follow.
It was quite a swing – from a time when he had almost lost his humanity, where he was filled with anger, fear, and hate, to being filled with the Holy Spirit, to trusting deeply in God’s purpose and meaning for his life and passionately sharing the good news of God’s love with all.
Where do you find yourself on that continuum? These days do you find yourself overwhelming filled with fear? Is it fear or even anger that drives you forward from day to day? Or are you in one of those lulls in energy? Wondering if how you spend your days, what you devote your time to even matters, is even worth it? Or are you passionately following your call, ‘Throwing yourself into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.’ (1 Corinthians 15:58), to paraphrase The Message’s translation of Paul’s words to the church in Corinth.
Where do you fall on this continuum?
Wherever you think you fall, I invite you to acknowledge that feeling, to acknowledge all that you are feeling and to also acknowledge that you are here – praising God, part by Christ’s community, breathing deeply of the Holy Spirit.
Breathe deeply with me.
Breathe deeply and experience God, meet Christ, be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Don’t think. Don’t rationalize. Don’t reason what does and doesn’t make sense, what is and isn’t possible.
Breathe deeply and experience God, meet Jesus Christ, be filled with the Holy Spirit.
And journey forward on the path God is calling you and you alone to passionately follow.