Easter 3C: Recognizing Jesus

Recognizing JesusFIRST LESSON: Acts 9: 1-6 (7-20)

To read the Acts passage

The importance of this passage is emphasized by the repetition. This is the quintessential conversion tale—a human, sure that he or she is right, passionate about what he or she thinks, is suddenly shown something else, something beyond what they had allowed themselves to see before.

Here, the success of the church’s mission even beyond Jerusalem prompts Saul to aim his hostilities northward toward the Syrian area of Damascus. But on his way to destroy the disciples of the Lord, he experiences what can only be characterized as the most Divine of reversals. Damascus at that time was an important Syrian city and a leading commercial center of the Roman Empire. It is inhabited at this time by many Jews and it is apparent that Saul felt that the religion and the belief systems of these Jews was somehow being threatened by this new Messianic movement. Now, the famous Damascus Road (which can barely be seen from Gulon Heights on the northward part of Israel overlooking Syria) is usually read as a description of transformation. But what is interesting is how Saul (now Paul) became so quickly well-versed in the Christian faith. It’s as if he took some sort of crash course in Christian theology before hammering out his masterpiece of a treatise that we call Romans. But, regardless, we know of Christ’s purpose for Saul / Paul—to bring Jesus’ name to the Gentiles. Perhaps Saul, now Paul, was incredibly smart. But, more likely, he was just searching like all of us do.

This whole thing for us 21st century educated Christians borders on the unbelievable. What does it mean for us? Do things like that really happen today? Well, there are times when someone’s closed mind and shadowed eyes are suddenly opened, right? Perhaps that’s what happened. Perhaps Paul was denying what he knew all along. I don’t know. Emilie Griffin writes that “it is clear that conversion begins with a restlessness of the human heart, which can find no resting place on earth.” In other words, it is not so much that God picks and chooses who of us is called to do God’s work but rather that there is something within each one of us that, prompted by restlessness, by the awareness that something is “missing”, or that there is something that needs to change, begins to listen to the voice that was there all along. Maybe conversion is more about listening than anything else.

The truth is, though, there is a question as to whether this was a conversion or a calling. Either way, Paul was still Jewish. He still honored his heritage. He had changed not from Jew to Christian, but from one kind of Jew to another. And ironically, this strong, zealous, somewhat angry young man, finds himself led into the city by another. Even that could be a conversion. But notice…God was not done with Saul once he saw the light, so to speak. Paul would begin a journey of discovery with God there beside him all the time.


  • What is your response to this passage?
  • How believable is this for you?
  • What does “conversion” mean to you?
  • What is the difference between a “conversion” and a “calling”?



NEW TESTAMENT: Revelation 5: 11-14

To read the passage from Revelation

This passage presents two hymns of praise, one to the Lamb and one to God (“the one seated on the throne”) and to the Lamb. The hymns acknowledge the Lamb’s great deeds through the death and Resurrection of Christ. The Lamb is worthy of this worship that is depicted here. The scene occurs in the so-called “heavenly throne room”. The scene includes God, who is seated on the throne and surrounded by four living creatures and twenty-four elders. And there’s lots of singing. Singing depicts hope for the writer of Revelation. In fact, there are more than fifteen hymns in the book and, probably thanks to George Frederic Handel, we recognize most of them. These are hymns that appear in the midst of darkness and despair. They are hymns of hope. But this is the Lamb’s first appearance in Revelation. The thought of the worshipped One being portrayed as a diminutive lamb is pretty new. This is different. This is not the strong and overpowering warrior but rather one that is humble enough to call us toward the Divine.

Now keep in mind the context in which this was written. In Asia Minor, religion was prevalent and was also very woven into the fabric of the political and social landscape. The people essentially worshiped and showered high acclaim upon the emperor (the one who sat on the throne). Groups of singers would be appointed to sing for the royal household for festivals. And those who were the highest followers, the religious leaders, would earn a high place surrounding the throne. So, here the writer is using that context to depict the sovereignty of God and God in Christ. As worship names what is worthy of that worship, it also dismisses competing claims; here, that dismissal would be of the political emperor, the earthly lord. You could almost think of it as a veiled expose’ of what was really wrong with the society. (In a commentary on this passage, Barbara Rossing, equates Revelation to the climactic scene in the Wizard of Oz, when the small and innocent Toto pulls the curtain back to expose that the great Oz was not what it seemed to be., available at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=4/14/2013&tab=3). So, essentially, the writer is saying that Rome, the great and final power, is not all it’s cracked up to be. Here, the passage names the Lamb as the one who sets people free, makes them a people, and owns their destiny. And for this, the Lamb is worthy of praise.

This passage turns us away from our own concerns. It talks about who we should look to, who we should worship and praise. It brings to mind wonder and awe, things that we don’t have a lot of all the time. It reminds us to contemplate what God has done in Christ. We are used to worshipping that which is higher than us, something that we can “look up to”. But here, we read that it is the lowly, suffering Lamb that is truly worthy. And Revelation, in its simplicity, with singing and humility, depicts the veritable hope of the world found in the brokenness of life. What does that do to our sense of wonder and awe when we find God in the brokenness of life?


  • What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  • What does “worship” and “praise” mean for us?
  • What does it mean to express “awe” or “wonder” about God? In other words, how do we honor God’s “God-ness”?
  • What does it mean for us to proclaim Jesus as Lord?
  • How does the context in which this was written change our understanding of this passage?


GOSPEL: John 21: 1-19

To read the Gospel passage

From the beginning, Peter seems to be portrayed as the leader. They have been fishing all night. Now it is day—a new beginning. And when their nets, empty before, are now beginning to tear from the weight of the fish, it is the Beloved Disciple who recognizes Jesus. Now, for me, the question as to why Peter was naked is something completely different. But St. John Chrysostom, the 4th century Bishop of Constantinople, writes this about this passage: When they recognized him, the disciples Peter and John again exhibited their different temperaments. The one was fervent, the other more contemplative. The one was ready to go, the other more penetrating. John is the one who first recognized Jesus, but Peter is the first to come to him.

The truth is that Peter, naked, baring all, holding nothing back, came to Jesus. Perhaps he was not the first to “get it”, but when he got it, he responded. Perhaps it is saying, once again, that we do not get it alone. We need each other to open our eyes, to allow us to see things we could not see before. We need each other to know of those places where God sets us free to jump in the water.

Here, Jesus, still the abundant Christ, feeds the Disciples yet again. Christ is still here—still feeding, still nurturing. The “Last Supper” was not the final meal. There is always breakfast on the shore if you’re just willing to jump in the water. However it happened, Peter was turned, “converted” if you will, from death to life. This sort of bumbling fishermen who years before had just been minding his own business and trying to eek out a life for his family, this ever-questioning disciple who often said exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time, this one who never quite got it, this one who, for some reason that I haven’t figured out saw fit to remove his clothes on the boat in the middle of the lake, this is the one, finally, that “got it” and was the first to show up for breakfast.

Several years ago, I was working on the historical write-up of the Endowment Program of my previous church for its 50 years. Somewhere buried in one of the files was a copy of the St. Paul’s bulletin from November 2, 1930. I think that may have been the first worship service in the new sanctuary. (It was also my grandparents’ wedding day, but that’s totally unrelated!) Anyway, typed into the bulletin was the Apostles’ Creed…


…He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence, he shall come to FUDGE the quick and the dead…


Well, of course it’s incorrect. But think about it…all during Eastertide, we have Jesus returning to earth in different ways. Eastertide reminds us that death and life are no longer easily separated. In fact, the two are the same. They both mean life. Perhaps Eastertide IS about the fudging of the quick and the dead, the living and the gone. Perhaps that’s the whole point. Perhaps we HAVE been converted to life, where’s there’s always breakfast.



  • What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  • What does the different responses of Peter and the Beloved Disciple mean for you?
  • Where do you see yourself in this story?
  • What does it mean to be “converted” from death to life?



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:


Give me a transformed and undefended heart. (St. Augustine)


Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what’s next or how. The moment you know, you begin to die a little. (Agnes de Mille)


“I won’t take no for an answer,”God began to say to me when [God] opened [God’s] arms each night wanting us to dance. (St. Catherine of Siena)





Dear Lord, grant me the grace of wonder. Surprise me, amaze me, awe me in every crevice of Your universe. Delight me to see how Your Christ plays in ten thousand places. . .to [God] through the features of [human] faces. Each day enrapture me with Your marvelous things without number. I do not ask to see the reason for it all; I ask only to share the wonder of it all. Amen.                                                          Rabbi Abraham Heschel



Conversion of St. Paul: A Culture of Change

Yes, you get a bonus this week!  Our church is using the Scriptures for the Feast Day of the Conversion of St. Paul, so you get extra Scriptures.  The usual Lectionary texts were included in the previous post.


"The Conversion of Saul", Michelangelo, 1542-1545, Frescoes, Pauline Chapel, Vatican, Italy
“The Conversion of Saul”, Michelangelo, 1542-1545, Frescoes, Pauline Chapel, Vatican, Italy

OLD TESTAMENT:  Acts 26: 9-21

To read the First Reading for the Conversion of St. Paul, click here

This Scripture is not really the account of Paul’s conversion, per se, but rather a reflection of it in the context of Paul’s defense before King Agrippa.  We know Paul’s story.  His conversion actually occurs in the ninth chapter of Acts, when scales fell from his eyes and he saw his life anew.  At this point, Paul has been a prisoner for more than two years in Caesarea and there is now a hand over of power of sorts to the new Roman Governor, Festus.  The new governor invites the Jewish king Agrippa to hear Paul’s case.  So Paul stands before both the head of the Jewish state and the Roman governor and tells the tale of what happened to him on the Road to Damascus and why he saw himself as being true to the vision of God that had begun the whole thing.

We read this passage as part of the Feast Day celebrating the Conversion of Paul—not Paul himself, mind you, but his conversion, his change, his vision, his sight.  Now we logical Methodists don’t really know what to do with this.  It sounds a little like a super hero who bursts out of his cloths revealing the letter of his true name and true self.  But that’s not really the way it happens.  The change for Paul was surely painful on some level.  After all, he had to take a good hard look at his own life.  And then he had to CHANGE—not just change his place or his clothes or even his name (his name didn’t really change on that road; rather, I think the translation changed later).  He had to CHANGE.  He moved from one that preached against this new way, one that fought tooth and nail to make sure that it didn’t take on, that this Gospel of Jesus Christ would just die a fast death before it messed everything up.  And then he CHANGED.  He saw something differently, something that moved him, perhaps kicking and screaming all the way, to being a witness for The Way of Jesus Christ.  Somewhere along the way, Paul saw something beyond himself.  Somewhere along the way, on that road or perhaps even before, he experienced the Risen Christ in a way that even he could not dispute.  Somewhere on that dusty road in modern-day Syria, Paul experienced the holy and the sacred.

The mystery of God’s transcendence is never static or predictable.  But in the midst of our ordinary and sometimes mundane lives, we are given glimpses of the holy and the sacred.  They come without warning.  They come without bidding.  Sometimes they come when we’re not quite ready.  But life is not just about those pinnacles of holy sightings.  If we spent all of our lives on the mountaintop, we would certainly get a bit of altitude sickness.  Life is an ordinary road on which we travel.  It’s got hills and valleys and a few potholes along the way.  And every once in a while, holiness enters and dances with us.  And then we must return to tell the story.

I must admit that over the years, I have had sort of a love-hate relationship with Paul.  I don’t know if it is his pushiness or his run-on sentences.  I have a feeling that it has more to do with the fact that he DID change.  After all, it is hard to put my own life against his.  When God dances into my path, I probably tend to cower in the corner a little, wanting to change, but not really willing to take the first step.  Maybe this week is not so much a celebration of Paul or Paul’s conversion, but a reminder that we are all called to turn and dance with the Divine.      

  1. What does this passage mean for you?
  2. What is your experience of Paul and his life?
  3. Where do you see your own faith journey in Paul’s?
  4. What does this passage call us to do as followers of this Way of Jesus Christ?


NEW TESTAMENT:  Galatians 1: 11-24

To read the Epistle passage for the Conversion of St. Paul, click here

Paul had founded the churches in the area in and around Galatia and then had moved on to do the same in other places.  But after he left, there were those who had questioned his authority, his “pedigree”, so to speak.  Instead, they were insisting that these new Christians had to first become Jews (or, in other words, be circumcised) or they were not really righteous at all.

So Paul begins by first re-establishing his authority not as a rabbi, a trained teacher, but rather as one called by God.  Paul doesn’t talk about his “conversion”, as if he is part of another religion.  Instead Paul refers to his experience as his “calling”, an experience in which his authority came not from human succession but from God.

This letter is odd.  It doesn’t begin with the normal salutation of the day.  Instead, Paul gets right to the point.  He is frustrated and angry that this newly-formed community seems to have gotten so incredibly off-course.

This is a difficult passage.  Paul is insisting that his calling, his authority, is divinely-received.  There is no tradition of the church or teachers.  There is no apostolic authority bestowed or any “laying on of hands” as Paul was ordained.  Paul, in fact, had never met Jesus and had actually spent years fighting against the very version of the Gospel that he was now so vehemently proclaiming.  This passage could very easily be interpreted as one in support of “non-organized” religion.  And yet, Paul is not completely denouncing Judaism; he is instead calling it to renewal.  (Hmm! It seems that most new denominations or new religions begin with a call of renewal for the ones that are already there.)  It’s not really clear if Paul sees himself as called to a revelation about Jesus Christ or a revelation given by Jesus Christ.  But Paul’s understanding of the faith was not one based on a set of rules or traditions but rather one that offered the tradition of faith to those on the outside.  Paul dared to believe that the revelation of God and the love of Christ is not limited by the bounds of our understanding of who God is.

In Feasting on the Word, Wendy Farley says it like this:

If this letter is bad news for authoritarianism, it can be good news for those committed to the constant renewal of Christianity.  It is good news for those outside systems of power who might see more clearly ways in which Christianity has cut off some of its own limbs in the name of tradition.  It is good news for all those oppressed by the church:  women, slaves, the poor.  It is good news for al those lovers of Christ whose wisdom about the Divine is distorted or repressed by leaders of the church.

Stepping back from the heat of this controversy, it seems that Christianity absorbed more of James than of Paul.  Though the Holiness Code and circumcision did not come to define Christianity, the rest of the Hebrew Scripture remains authoritative for Christians.  The authority of the church and its leaders has also survived just fine, but Paul reminds us that, as important as tradition may be it can never be adequate to the gracious and extravagant love God pours out on us.  For Paul, corralling grace in a particular community or in relation to particular practices will always violate the gospel.

I, personally, love the tradition of the church.  It keeps me grounded.  It gives me a springboard on which to start my journey of faith.  I don’t think Paul was against that.  He just didn’t believe that we should stop there.  So, Paul would probably contend that there was nothing wrong with holding the traditions of the faith and the traditions of the church close.  You just need to let them breathe into the present and leave room for the Holy Spirit to breathe into them a little.

1)      What meaning does this passage hold for you?

2)      What does holding too tightly to traditions do to the church?

3)      What does letting traditions go do to the church?

4)      Why is it that this balance is so difficult for us today?

GOSPEL:  Matthew 10: 16-22

To read the Gospel passage for the Conversion of St. Paul, click here

Well this is something that will just get people to sign right up!  But, seriously, this is not going to be a cake walk.  I think Paul’s ministry proved that.  These uncomfortable words are yet another reminder that this is not easy, that disciples are living an alternative Way in a culture that does not welcome it, that isn’t “built” for it.  But perseverance will depict the Gospel that you are called to preach.  And some way, somehow, you will be given what you need.

Buried in these words of seeming doom and gloom is a promise—that no matter what, God will be with you.  You will never be left alone.  But the Way is not the “easy way”.  It is worth far more than that.  The passage that we read begins with a reminder that the followers of this new way were in the minority.  They were not part of “accepted society”; they were not part of the usual.  They were not going to be welcomed with open arms.  But they had something of vital importance to say, something imperative to do.  It was their reminder to not be swayed, to walk head first into society and be who they were called to be.  God would be with them.  The words and the acts would come.

Now I don’t know if we are uncomfortable because we don’t get this or because we do.  After all, most of us do not live in a faith minority.  There are those who even go so far as to call this country a “Christian nation” (although, they probably should discuss that with our deist fathers who signed the Constitution.)  The truth is, it is NOT hard to call yourselves Christian in this country.  But I would argue that it is still difficult to follow The Way.  After all, we live in a culture of change.  But I heard someone say (and apparently forgot who!) that “in a culture of change, it is the learner that is set for change; the well-learned are poised to accept things as they are.”

I don’t think God came in Christ to create a majority religion but rather to show us another way, to show us a way that is not necessarily easy but one that gives us Life.  We are called to be learners of this new way.  The warning from this passage still holds.  There are still sheep in the midst of wolves. (And probably a few wolves in sheep’s clothing!)  There are still those that will pull you away from who God is calling you to be.  Have faith…persevere…and, most importantly, learn, and listen…listen for the music that calls you to dance a different way and to tell others why you are dancing.  

  1. What does this passage mean for you?
  2. What does this say about discipleship?
  3. How can this passage speak to us in our context?
  4. What does this say about witnessing or proclaiming the Gospel?

Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

 Help me, Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church, or closet, nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I am in Thy presence.(Susanna Wesley)

 I found out it is not what happens, it is how you tell it and who does the telling.  (Nancy Willard)

 If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments and life itself is grace. (Frederick Buechner)


You are the god who makes extravagant promises.  We relish your great promises of fidelity and presence and solidarity, and we exude in them.  Only to find out, always too late, that your promise always comes in the midst of a hard, deep call to obedience.  You are the God who calls people like us, and the long list of mothers and fathers before us, who trusted the promise enough to keep the call.  So we give you thanks that you are a calling God, who calls always to dangerous new places.  We pray enough of your grace and mercy among us that we may be among those who believe your promises enough to respond to your call.  We pray in the one who embodied your promise and enacted your call, even Jesus.  Amen.  ((“A Hard, Deep Call to Obedience”, from Searcy’s Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, p. 90)