Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Last week I touched on prayer as one of the four points of vital ministry as outlined in Acts by the earliest example of the Followers of the Way: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42).
Today’s readings recall some of those teachings. First we have Paul, a second generation Apostle, if you will. The first major Apostle we learn about that didn’t actually know Jesus in the flesh. He become a Follower of the Way after a dramatic conversion experience following his attempt to stamp out all the Jesus followers he could. In Paul’s conversion experience, Jesus, in the Spirit, meets him on the road to Damascus.
In the spirit, Jesus strikes Paul, then named Saul, blind and then directed him to a disciple in Damascus, in fact probably one of the ones Saul had set out to arrest. This disciple would restore Saul’s sight. Saul, a Pharisee son of a Pharisee, became a devoted follower of Jesus the Christ and eventually the premiere Apostle to the Gentiles. Along the way he or his biographers dropped the name Saul in favor of Paul, a very symbolic way of putting to death the old self and putting on his new self in Christ.
Richard Rohr has this to say about such a journey:
“When you go to the full depths and death, sometimes even the depths of your sin, you can always come out the other side—and the word for that is resurrection. If we are honest, we acknowledge that we are dying throughout our life, and this is what we learn if we are attentive: grace is found at the depths and in the death of everything.”
In the Acts passage we find Paul teaching in Athens, capitol city of Greece: What is he teaching? He proclaims our Creator God to be the One God above all and in all, through whom all is made and all people live and move and have their being. He teaches that God does not dwell in an idol made of artisan’s hands but in fact is not far from each of us. He teaches that God “has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31) Meaning, of course, the resurrected Jesus. Right from the start we have witness to the resurrection; a stumbling block to many but life-blood to the believer.
In speaking to the Athenians, Paul is also living out another teaching, one from the Apostle Peter which we also read for today: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)
Have you ever had someone ask you, “Why are you so happy all the time?” Or, “How can you remain so calm after all you’ve been through?” Questions like those are all the opening you need to share “with gentleness and reverence” the hope that has been born in you, the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Contemporary liberation theologian Miguel De La Torre writes,
“…for the recipients of 1 Peter to obey Christ [was] to live apart from the empire of their time. Likewise, for us today, to obey and follow Christ is to live apart from the empire of our present era… a theology of identity forces those who claim Christianity as their faith to examine their lives to see if they have more in common with the empire the author of 1 Peter writes about, or with the victims of empire”
If we are honest with ourselves, we might recognize that Jesus was a victim of empire; and if our lives are to reflect that of our Lord, we have a difficult journey ahead. I suspect there is a call for us here – perhaps we are especially called to reflect the light of truth, transparency, honesty, integrity and morality in these present times.
Fear not! The Good News of Jesus Christ is redemption from all that is sin and death, deceit and dishonesty and lack of integrity and morality. Peter’s teaching on baptism in verse 21 reminds us of this all-important fact: First, God loved us.
“Baptism is really about perception. … To begin to perceive ourselves as first and foremost loved by God, whether we think we have earned that distinction or not, is to begin to widen our spiritual, emotional, and intellectual horizons, to see beyond that which oppresses in the here and now. Rather than being consumed by the suffering, we are rejuvenated by the recognition of a larger purpose, a connection to a power greater than that which oppresses.”
What is that greater power? Listen: Jesus our Teacher speaks:
“lf you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
“l will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. ln a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (John 14:15-21)
Love. That is the greatest power of all. Love is at the root of truth, honesty, integrity, mercy and compassion. In loving others, we live into the river of love that is God: flowing deep and wide; to all, in all, and through all. If we can sense our small tributary in the one great river of life and live it out – doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God, then indeed we might be called blessed. So let us be about this good work in the name of our Lord Jesus.
May all glory be to the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
Questions for Reflection
According to First Peter, we are told Christ was put to death in the body but made a live in the spirit. What does it mean to be made alive in the spirit? Jesus says he will send the Advocate to be with us once he is gone. Can you identify a time the Holy Spirit was with you? When? What was it like? Do we have in us this same Spirit, and can we show others what life in the Spirit is like? What is it like for you?
Household Prayer: Morning
I give thanks for the gift of life and breath that is mine today in Christ. Make me eager to do good and to resist evil, and grant me the wisdom to recognize the difference. Fill me with your assurance in all I say and do that I may share the hope that is within me in gentleness and reverence of Christ. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
O God, in whom I live and move and have my being, you hear me when I cry and listen to my prayer; you set my feet on steady ground, you never leave me alone. As I rest in you tonight, sanctify my heart in Christ, and fill me with your strength, that I may rise to love and serve you and greet another day. Amen.
 De La Torre, Miguel A. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 McClellen, Gordon. Feasting on the Word…