Last Sunday (The Third Sunday after the Feast of the Resurrection) the Eucharistic lectionary of the Episcopal Chruch appointed a lesson from the Acts of the Apostles which recounted the conversion experience of Saint Paul, who was also known as Saul. Saul was a devout Jew and a man of great learning and fervor for the religion of his ancestors. He was dutiful in observing Jewish ritual and Jewish law to a fault. The reading which begins at verse one of Chapter nine of the Acts of the Apostles starts by saying that “…Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went the the high priest and asked for letters to the synagogues at Damascus. Saul; not content to persecute those of the Way in Jerusalem and its environs was intent on traveling to a foreign country and inflicting as much pain as he possibly could on people he really did not understand or even wish to understand. He, much to my regret, reminds me of me: the high church anglo-catholic who would much rather hurl billows of smoke from his Thurible at those sitting in his Chapel during the Offices than to really reach out and get to know them or, heaven forbid, find out what was truly bothering them.
And, as we all know, the story then turns into one of revelation. Saul encounters what is said to be a “light from heaven” which flashed around him. And inside that light a voice calls out to him by name: “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me? ” And in his helplessness and confusion Saul asks “who are you Lord?” And the voice answers “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Then comes the turn. The version related in Acts moves directly from helplessness and confusion to a direction to take action: “a call to arms if you will.” So Saul is now admonished to “enter the city, and you will be told where to go.” And, then it is said that Saul “arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened he could see nothing . “
The story then shifts to what I would call the agent or the reciprocal. A disciple called Ananias is hailed by the Lord and asked to perform a particular task, a task ordained not of human will but one of divine will. Ananias is to “lay his hands upon Saul” so that his sight night be restored. At first Ananias is hesitant and he doubts the commission as being a treacherous and dangerous one knowing the propensities of this man named Saul. “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, he says, and he continues “and how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem.” But the Lord answers “Go for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.” Ananias is further commanded to “lay his hands upon him so that he might gain his sight.”
When I first began to contemplate this scripture (and the contemplation is on going) I saw in this an affirmation of the divine commissioning of Apostles (and their descendants -Bishops) through the laying on of hands. Even in Jewish practice there was something about the laying on of hands upon a person which signified the transmission of divine power.
But as I thought about this and read the other accounts of Saul’s conversion (see Acts 22.4-16 ; 269-18 and Paul’s own account at Gal.1.13-17) I began to realize that this scripture is not mainly about the laying on of hands but rather about discipleship and calling. Oh yes, this passage provides support for Paul’s legitimacy and authority as an Apostle but it has a much wider application. We are the Lord’s and when Jesus wants you to do something you will do it; believe me. You may be afraid and you may be reluctant but in the end you will find the strength and resolve to carry it through. This is not because of your own strength but rather due to the strength and resolve of our Lord Jesus who knew us even before we were born. The call will not be difficult to discern though it may not come as a flash of blinding light. But rather it may come as a definite sense of purpose and commitment to accomplishing a goal almost single mindedly and without heed for the cost no matter how hurtful and painful it might be. I can personally testify to this as I have experienced a call which I fulfilled with loving joy and without heed for the great pain I have suffered as a result. But I can truly say God has not abandoned me and the Lord Jesus continues to stand next to me in all things.
On final observation to be a disciple of the Lord will cost you. It is not free from pain. As the scripture stated “…for I will; show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:16-17).
I invite you to be open to and heed your calling . I invite you to perform your calling no matter what the pain, and to suffer for the sake of Jesus name.” You do not have to be an Apostle or Saint though in a sense that is what you become. He is a kind master and will comfort you. So do not be afraid to take up your yoke and serve him as did Ananias and Saint Paul. Amen.
I have ofen felt that the incense we use on certain occasions serves as a metaphor. A metaphor for what is referred to in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bile, as the” Glory of the Lord.” In certain books God – Yahweh appeared to the Hebrews from within a cloud . This was to protect them as to look upon the face of God was death. After studying the conversion story of Saint Paul the notes in my RSV make it abundantly clear that light, powerful light, also serves as the a metaphor for the glory of the Lord.