Today is the commemoration of the Conversion of Paul. While I often relate to the impetuous outspoken nature of Peter, I can just as easily relate to Paul. Saul, a man of strong, even zealous convictions, pursuing his own path with a slavish fervor. Literally stopped in his tracks by God, renamed and redirected. Upon his conversion, what must have gone through Paul's mind? For starters, "What have I done?!" As I contemplate the range and depth of perhaps even visceral emotion that must have occurred, it would be easy to focus on that aspect of Paul's story, and bind ourselves to it. In each of us, there are moments where we have sensed a collosal mistake. But the message instead is not so much about who Paul was, but who God IS. And so after the " what have I done" moment, I believe there must have been a moment of liberation for Paul.
But then reality comes hurtling back. Think about the followers of Jesus, and what they must have thought. There would be Paul, amidst the murmuring comments of others, the doubt of his sincerity, the anger and hurt over his past. The weight of not only his own recognition, but the response of the followers that did not wish to embrace him, trust him, see him as a fellow brother in Christ. I think about in our own congregations the divisions that can threaten to tear our community apart when we focus more on the "Saul" in someone, than the God in our midst.
"You want me to do what?"
I urge you to read the post of Eric at Heart of a Pastor where he quotes a great story from Brennan Manning's Ragamuffin Gospel. Forgiveness is more than accepting our apology, it is about forgetting our sins. For Paul, for you, for me.
How easy is it for us to grasp that unending love? To live that love? For me, it is pretty hard. But we are freed by a God who loves and forgives and forgets anyway.
Freed from the shackles may we be inspired to go out and proclaim that message of grace, mercy and forgiveness to those desperate to hear this good news we know. And to live it in our lives. And may we trust in that message of forgiveness for ourselves.
May we heed the words of the great Gerhard Forde, who in The Preached God:Proclamation in Word and Sacrament urged his listeners, newly called pastors, by bestowing the gospel message:
"Remember above all, that the promise of the Father, the power from on high is, above all, the power of forgiveness. Don’t forget to claim that also for yourself. You are not called to carry the world on your back. You are not called to be religious megalomaniacs, gurus or whatever. You are witnesses. You see, there is a real good news here for you, too. You aren’t called to do it all. Just to bear witness. God will take it from there. You will be clothed with power from on high. Speak that word of forgiveness! Preach it!"
And may we allow that message of forgiveness to trickle down into the deepest recesses of our soul. And to remember that no matter who we have been, God IS.
Enjoy this great song from Casting Crowns.