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What Road Are You On?

Easter 3 Common Lectionary Year C 

Acts 9:1-20

©2016 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

I can’t tell you how much I’m going to miss
having Joёlle sharing in worship leadership
with me!
This year we have taken a lot of time
to talk about how to share the liveliness
of this Christian faith with children in worship,
in ways that engage all ages.
Our Lenten “Sensing the Gospel” series
where we explored the Bible
through our senses together
was like the icing on the cake for this discussion,
but I wasn’t going to pass up on this last chance
to ‘read’ the Bible in this way with Joёlle,
who has been willing to portray all sorts of characters from the prophet Joel, to Jesus to Judas, and now to Saul.

When you’re working with children,
they are used to narratives
where the bad guys are bad
and the good guys are good.
Kids can take a lot of nastiness,
just so long as good wins in the end.
Luke follows the classic narrative plot
to the letter;
he pulls no punches,
making sure that we actually despise Saul
before this story even begins.
You see, Saul appears in Acts a few chapters earlier as the man who holds the coats while Stephen is stoned to death.
A chapter later he is – and I quote- “ravaging” the early Christian communities, dragging off women and children and men to jail for following Jesus.

I’d like to think that Luke is simply piling
this on thick,
stretching credibility,
making Saul more evil than reality,
but then again, you know what he looks like;
you’ve seen too much of him in recent months;
the strident one egging on the racist violence
at certain political rallies,
holding anti-Islamic, or anti LGBTQ signs
outside state legislatures,
convinced that he or she has a right
to their bigotry.
There is nothing in the world quite so frightening,
and ugly and evil, as moral rectitude
dressed in religious garb;
Saul and his ilk are everything that the
Dream of God stands against;
the antithesis of everything Jesus taught,
lived and died for.
So I’m sorry, Joёlle,
the man you portray this morning
is the last person I would choose to walk
the road of life with,
the last person I’d welcome into my home,
or my religious community.
The road that man was on,
as far as I’m concerned,
leads straight to hell.

However, and for this, God be thanked,
I don’t get to write this story;
I don’t get to choose the ending for it.
They are not my benchmarks for holiness
that are weighed in the balance here,
but God’s.
This is in fact, God’s story.

Let me show you how we know this:
As Saul and his goons are making their way
from Jerusalem to Damascus-
– a 200 km, or 8 to 10 day trek,
of increasing suspense,
like Dementors scouring a darkening sky,
“breathing their threats and murder…..”

Tout à coup, suddenly, out of nowhere,
defying credibility on every level,
there’s this massive cosmic light show,
complete with sonic boom
and heavenly voices
that would make Darth Vader quake!!

“Yeah!” We shout from the sidelines,
Now he’ll get it! Just desserts from the hand of the Almighty!
The Green light sabre, the willow wand,
cracking the sky with instant judgment
for Satan’s henchman Saul!!……….

But…. I don’t get to write it!
Luke’s voice from the heavens,
is the quiet voice of the Crucified One,
who speaks not with condemnation,
but with a question:

“Saul, why?
Why do you persecute me?
Is this the road you want to be on?”

To every Saul who ever was,
Jesus’ question is the same:
Why does fear rule your life?
What are you afraid of?

What would happen if your belligerent certainties
or your fragile insecurities,
were dismantled and dis-armed,
by compassion,
by care, by love,
by vulnerability willingly shared within community?
What road are you on?
What road do you want to be on?”

The roads we all travel, with certainty or fear,
you know the ones I mean;
the Devil-may-care teenage rebellion road;
the please the boyfriend/girlfriend
at any cost road;
the “I’ll take care of my health when I’m older” road;
the “just one more drink” road;
the political or religious certainty road that allows me to trample and bully;
the turn- a- blind eye to corruption, or injustice, or racism, or sexism road;
the road where we are stymied of our creative uniqueness because we are fearful of what others might think;
Are these the roads we want to be on?

One thing I’ve never noticed in all the times
I’ve read this story, until preparing for today,
is that Jesus’ next word to Saul
was not to turn him around,
send him back to Jerusalem, tail between his legs.

But rather, this:
“Get up, continue your journey to Damascus,
and there you’ll be shown and told what to do.”
There is no U-Turn!
This road Saul is on doesn’t change!
It’s Saul who changes.

These life roads we’re on,
raising the family,
getting through school in one piece,
trying to age with wisdom and grace,
trying to live healthily with chronic illness,
the road towards meaningful, fulfilling vocational occupation,
all these paths, roads,
these journeys, may not necessarily change outwardly
when the voice of Jesus meets us on that road.
It is we who change.

That change is not easy, God knows.
We may find ourselves, like Saul
interrupted, upended,
rendered for a significant three days,
of death-like blind helplessness,
awaiting our own resurrection,
and, significantly,
reliant upon the kindness of others
to help us walk our roads, and reach our destination.

And there’s the rub!
It’s where this incredible story
meets the potholes of reality.
Luke tells us that God had a bit of a tough time
convincing the Christians in Damascus to trust that Saul,
– their arch-enemy-
was indeed a changed man;
that he could be trusted with
his own newness of life,
and with their lives.

One of the group, Ananias, said to God,
what I would have said.
“You have to be kidding! Do you know, God,
what this man has been doing to those of us who
follow the Way of Jesus?
No way is he coming within a country mile of us!
No way can such evil in the world be changed!
No way can the broken be mended!
Impossible! Incredible!
No way can the sinner be forgiven…..”

But that’s the thing about this
“Way of Jesus” isn’t it?
We’re a strange and motley crew,
we who walk it,
and from one day to the next
we never quite know if we’re saint or sinner,
broken or whole,
lame or leaping,
Saul or Paul.

But this we do know, because of this Gospel:
to Jesus it doesn’t matter.
Doesn’t matter what we’ve done,
what detours we’ve taken,
who we’ve hurt in the past,
how easy or how hard it is
for us to stick to the Way,
this road of humility,
compassion, care,
of love and vulnerability,
of grace and forgiveness,
of commitment to community,
and to living God’s Dream.

All that matters is that we
listen with our heart,
that we hear the voice of Jesus
as often as we need to,
Not a word of condemnation, only this question:
“What road are you on?”
What road do you want to be on?
Well then, travel on, follow me.”

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