Thursday, April 23, 2015

It Takes a Community

By Colleen O’Sullivan 

On his journey, as (Saul) was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  He said, “Who are you, sir?”  The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” 
There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias.  The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul.  He is praying…  So Ananias went and entered the house; laying his hands on him, he said, “Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight.  He got up and was baptized.   (Acts 9:3-6, 10a, 11, 17-18)

Lord, we give you thanks for those who have helped to shape and guide us as we seek to follow your Way.
There’s a proverb that says “it takes a village to raise a child.”  It’s equally true that it takes a community to form a Christian.  Conversion and transformation begin with God, but the process always continues through us, the church.
I don’t know anyone with quite as dramatic a conversion story as the apostle Paul’s.  On his way to Damascus, intent on persecuting followers of the Way in that city, Saul, as he was known at that time, is stopped dead in his tracks.  Bright light surrounds him.  He falls to the ground and hears a voice calling to him, which turns out to be the voice of Jesus.  The Lord identifies himself as the one whom Saul is persecuting.  Whenever evil is inflicted upon the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, Jesus suffers with them.  Jesus tells Saul, who has been blinded, to continue to Damascus, which he does with the help of the men traveling with him.
After three days, Jesus enlists the aid of the fledgling church in the city.  He appears to Ananias in a vision, telling him where to find Saul.  Very reluctantly, Ananias, as a representative of the Damascus Christian community, agrees to go to him and to pray over him for healing of his blindness.  Saul’s reputation has preceded him, and Ananias is afraid of this man who’s known for his rabid hatred and persecution of Christians.  Through the laying on of hands, the apostle is filled with the Holy Spirit.  He regains his sight.  He is washed clean in the waters of baptism.  The believers then offer him sustenance, because he has eaten nothing since keeling over on the road. 
In this story, I think we can see a paradigm for conversion and transformation.  Whether we’re talking about a major turn-around from unbelief to faith or one of the many “mini” conversions we may experience as we grow in understanding of what it means to follow the Way, it all begins with God.  It is God’s grace that opens our hearts to Jesus.  God’s grace may come in the form of tough love, as witnessed in today’s reading from the Book of Acts.  I can’t think of any other way God could have gotten the attention of that zealous persecutor of Christians than to literally knock him down and stop him dead in his violent tracks.  More often, though, God’s grace comes in gentler forms, creating desire for and openness to God in our hearts.
But that’s only the beginning.  Transformation is a process and we, the Church, the Body of Christ on earth, are asked to help one another as we seek to follow the Way.  Sometimes that means praying for others’ healing.  It means living lives that can serve as a conduit of the Holy Spirit to our brothers and sisters.  It means being willing to forgive as we are forgiven.  It means offering mercy and sustenance to the stranger, the hungry, the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned. 

As you’re praying today, recall and give thanks for all those who have helped or are helping you to be conformed to Christ and to follow his Way.

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