31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
February 12, 2023
Acts 9:1-9, 17-19
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
He had a lot to lose. It is understandable why he would ignore the whispers of the Spirit, calling him to follow Jesus Christ. He had a lot to lose. His status in the community. His identity as a solid, dependable, following the status quo man. And his anger and judgment. If he listened to the Spirit and followed Jesus, he would need to give up his anger and judgment of others.
You might think that was a good thing – that everyone wants to give up their anger and judgment. Not so much though because anger and judging others often makes us feel superior. Anger and judging others can make us feel in control. Declaring some people our enemies can bind us with others and make us feel less alone. It can be a driving force moving us forward in the world. There is a reason why leaders from the beginning of time have stirred up anger and resentment in their followers. Anger and judgment of others can be very community building.
It’s not very ‘community of Christ’ building though so if Saul was going to follow Jesus, he was going to have to give up his anger, this anger that fueled him forward and gave purpose to his life. He was going to have to give up the admiration he received as a zealous persecutor of those troublemaking Christians. He was going to have to give up his comfortable life and his ‘this is how things should be’ mindset.
I don’t know how many times the Spirit whispered in Saul’s life, calling him to follow Jesus. I can guess though that each and every time, Saul ignored God’s still speaking voice. Each and every time, Saul chose his own path through life instead of God’s path. Until…..this day on the road to Damascus.
Saul was ramped up on the road to Damascus. He was breathing threats and murder. He was focused on rounding up all of these rabble-rousers so that they could be punished and forced back into compliance. He was focused on working his way up in the ranks of the religious political hierarchy. He was not listening to whether this was God’s will. He was not listening to God, period. So God came to Saul in a very dramatic way – a light from heaven and the resurrected Jesus. God came to Saul in a way that he could not ignore any longer.
As powerful as this experience was, as life-changing as this encounter with God through Jesus Christ was, I imagine it was still really hard for Saul to let go so he could let God. I imagine it was really hard for Saul to let go of his old life for God’s new life in Jesus Christ. I imagine it was really hard for Saul to let go of his plan for God’s plan. It is really hard for me to let go of the world’s blessings for God’s blessings. Like Saul, I want to be respected and well thought of. I want to feel like I belong. I want everyone I know to always think that every idea I have is the best plan ever. Best Plan Ever!
When I am so focused on my path forward, on my wants and desires though, I completely overlook God’s presence in my life. I miss God’s leading. I fail to see the abundant ways God is calling me forward, calling us forward – until God needs to use a dramatic way to make me see.
It wasn’t a flash of light from heaven and the resurrected Christ speaking to me; however last Monday, I was gathered with a group of church members for a book discussion. The book is about living an exciting life with God and sharing that excitement with others. I know. I’ve never thought about my life of faith as a life of excitement, but there we were, gathered to discuss why being a Christian matters in our lives, when the exterior door opened and in walked a woman who wanted to learn more about the church. It felt pretty dramatic to me. I’m not sure God could have been any clearer about the path before us.
God’s presence is all around us. God is constantly speaking to us, guiding us. It’s hard to let go of our plans, our wants, and desires to let God in though.
How about letting go of demons though? How about letting go of those things that imprison us, that hold us back, that sometimes tear us apart physically, mentally, and emotionally? It seems like it would be a no brainer to let go of those things to let God in.
Mary Magdalene had demons, seven demons. You would imagine that when God came into her life through Jesus that Mary Magdalene would have jumped for joy to be freed, to be healed from her demons. And yet, we hold on to our demons every day. We hold on to our addictions small and large – food, shopping, alcohol, self-medication, negative talk about ourselves and others. Our lives would be better. We would be lighter and filled with more joy if we let God guide us and love us, and yet, we continue to hold on to our demons.
I wonder how hard Mary Magdalene held on to her demons. I wonder what demons she struggled with. The gospel of Luke gives us a little hint when the writer mentions that Mary Magdalene and some of the other women provided for Jesus’ ministry out of their own resources. Money can definitely be a demon. Love of money. Fear of not having enough money. The desire to control money. Or control others with money. Money can be a demon or money can be a resource. It simply depends on whether we see money as something to be stock piled, as something that controls our every decision, or whether we see money as a resource to be shared and we let God guide our decisions.
Just as challenging as it was for Saul to let go of his status and privilege to become the Apostle Paul and serve God through Jesus Christ, it was equally challenging for Mary Magdalene to give up her “demons”, give up those things she thought were her life, those things she thought would bring her life. When she did though, she was free to experience God through Jesus Christ. She was free to experience God’s love, God’s peace, and God’s joy. She was free.
It’s scary to let go of control, to let go of our plans, and let God guide us. It’s challenging to choose God’s path instead of our own. And it is also wondrous and amazing.
When I let God in, when I acknowledge God’s presence all around me, when I feel attuned to God and God’s spirit, I feel a sense of wholeness, a sense of rightness. I feel joy. I feel at peace. It’s an incredible feeling. It’s a feeling God wants for all of us.
God is real. God is with us in every moment and in every breath, through whispers of the Spirit and when we need it, more obvious, dramatic moments. And when we let go of the distractions, when we let go of those things that hold us back from experiencing God, we can let God in. We can live in unity with God, and we can live every day with that sense of wholeness, that sense of rightness that comes from walking faithfully with God.