Third Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – Pondering on our conversion stories

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.” (Acts 9:1 – 3)

You know beloved reader, Saul/Paul really did not change who he was – he just changed sides. The same perseverance that fueled his persecution of the new believers motivated him to preach and make converts to belief in Jesus Christ. When one takes about changing one’s life and being “reborn” it does not necessarily mean they are a totally “new creation.” It means their purpose and goal in life has shifted. But it is the same person with the same gifts and talents – just re-purposed for the Divine.

“He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” (Verses 4 – 9)

Now my perspective in the above comments may come from my own “conversion story.” Which really was not a conversion as much as growing into faith. At each critical stage of development in my life I re-committed myself to the Divine. Young child, older child, coming into adolescence, adolescent, very young adult, and then young adult. After deciding to attend seminary, it was less of a new step and more of a being steeped in faith. For others maybe it was a complete change and turnaround, just as Paul I am sure would tell his conversion story.

“Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” (Verses 10 – 12)

Now it is at this point of the story where, for me, a deeper faith story comes to light.

“But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Verses 13 – 17)

We, as believers, may do the “easy” stuff of faith. But there are those called to risk a great deal . . . . or everything in the name and for the sake of the Divine. And I speak from experience when I say, you cannot always know how it will turn out. All you can do is be faithful to the call of the Divine. Saul/Paul was in dire straights – blind and dependent on those who he had originally sought to persecute. As you may remember, beloved reader, in the Jewish society of that time there was no possible way for someone who was blind to make their way in the world. Blind men (and women) were dependent on charity and alms, and family members who might undertake for them. Saul/Paul must have been frantic.

Ananias must have been equally shaken. To voluntarily go to where Saul/Paul was staying and identify himself as a follower of Jesus. Who knew if it might have been some elaborate plot to catch a “Christian”?

“And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” (Verses 18 – 20)

And woe betide to anyone who tried to dissuade Paul of his faith in the Lord God and Jesus Christ. Adamant to the extreme. Unwilling to settle for half or lukewarm faith. All or nothing for Paul!

Who were you, beloved reader, before you came to faith? What is your conversion story? What skills and talents that you had before have you used in service of the Lord? Are you using the best of your skills and talents in service of the Lord? And finally, what skills, talents, and traits did you have to turn aside from because of your new faith? Important questions! May you continue your journey through the post-Easter season toward what the Divine has called you to, retaining the very best of yourself! Selah!

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