Friday, January 28, 2005

Kings and Queens

A sermon preached on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (tr.)
At St. Paul's Episcopal Church, St. Joseph, MI

O Lord, be present in my speaking and in our hearing to your glory. Amen.

What an awful lot of violence in the readings for today!

In the first reading, Saul is persecuting Christians: throwing them in jail, having them punished in the synagogues, voting for them to be put to death, even chasing them to other cities to bring them down. One imagines Saul with all the self-assurance of Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts: “Off with their heads!”

Into this scene of violence and persecution comes Jesus. Well, not necessarily Jesus as we see him in the gospels, but we know it’s the Lord. There is a bright light from heaven which, oddly enough, speaks Hebrew. Saul and his companions fall to the ground, but it is not from being hit or pushed: perhaps it is out of awe or reverence. At any rate, Saul hears the Lord addressing him, and in that address, he is changed: changed from persecutor to persecuted, changed from one who harasses the church to its greatest missionary, changed from Saul to Paul.

In this transformation, Paul gave up what he had held dear so that he could embrace what was of ultimate worth, new life in Christ. And being changed like that, he knew he would no longer live as a bully, as a man of violence. He also knew – or soon found out – that this change would make him a target of others.

In the gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples that they go out defenseless, like sheep among wolves. Our testimony about Jesus and our changed lives will make us different, and will make us targets, and will not necessarily make us loved or appreciated.

But again, as Paul found out, our “defense” if you want to call it that, is not superior firepower or better tactics and strategy. Rather, our defense is to be defenseless. As Christians we do not embrace a life of violence, even if it might mean a personal cost for us.

Of course we have not always been very good at that. Historically there have been times when we seemed more like wolves among sheep, or even worse, wolves in sheeps’ clothing. We have been persecutors as much as we have been persecuted, and being on the side of the empire, whether under Constantine, Victoria, or our present regime, makes adhering to this pretty difficult.

I’m not sure it has to be that way, and at any rate, Jesus calls us to something much more. He calls us to a nonviolent witness, one which clings to Jesus’ own example, and dares to live differently. He calls us to be willing to suffer violence and persecution, rather than inflicting it on others. He calls us to proclaim, by word and deed, a kingdom of both wisdom and innocence, which has the power to change us for the better, one in which God is, as Paul himself discovered, the King of our hearts. Amen.

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Blogger Sarah Dylan Breuer said...

Interestingly enough, if you look in the book of Acts, Paul is known as Saul long after his experience on the Damascus road -- Acts 13 is the latest, I think. Historians tend to think that (if he was indeed a Roman citizen) his name was probably Somethingus Saulus Paulus, the 'Somethingus' being the name of the family through whom citizenship came to Saul/Paul's family.

It doesn't affect your argument all that much -- certainly, a lot changed for Saul when he encountered Jesus, even if his name wasn't one of the things that changed.



Friday, January 28, 2005 7:03:00 PM  

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