Too Many Stars in the Sky?

We’ve skipped a few centuries from last week. Humans have started to develop from the creation story. Again, we need to remember that these stories are being written and created not as they are happening but in hindsight. Following the story of creation there is the story of Cain and Abel and the first murder—the first act of violence, then the story of Noah and the ark. Several generations later, Abram appears.

The basic story of Abram goes like this:

Abram and Sarai are very elderly and Abram is lamenting to God the fact that he and Sarai have no children and that his slave will end up inheriting everything he has. God speaks to Abram and tells him that he will have as many descendants as stars in the sky. Abram and Sarai travel around a bit. They spend some time in Egypt. They wander a bit more and then God and Abram have another conversation and again Abram laments that he has no children of his own.

Sarai had a slave girl named Hagar. Hagar had a child by Abram and named him Ishmael. Sarai becomes jealous of Hagar and her son and has them expelled from the camp. They wander in the desert. They are out of water and Hagar thinks they are both going to die. God speaks to Hagar and tells her that from Ishmael will come a great nation. Muslims trace their lineage to this story, to the child Ishmael, and then back to Abram.

Sarai still really wanted a child of her own. God and Abram have another conversation. God again promises Abram that he will have many descendants. At this point, his name is changed to Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah. God appears to Abraham and Sarah and announce they will have a child. Sarah laughs and laughs because she is so old—there is no way she could have a child. Isaac is born and Abraham now has two children to fulfill the promise God made.

Image from:  http://arttrak.blogspot.ca/2013_09_01_archive.html

How many stars are in this picture? Can you count them? How did they get there? All these pinpricks of light in the sky brighten the night.

There are 7.4 billion people in the world right now. It seems that God’s promise to Abram to create many nations and have many descendants did indeed happen. I imagine the people writing the stories of Abraham and Sarah (several centuries after Abraham and Sarah were alive) trying to figure out how there came to be so many people in the world. Their conclusion, which we see in this story, is that God was fulfilling a promise.

But what does the planet do with so many humans? How does the earth sustain so many humans let alone other life?

The original invitation at creation was to till the earth, to care for it and enjoy its abundance within limits. There was wisdom in setting limits and boundaries. But while the earth is abundant, it cannot continue to sustain so many creatures indefinitely—especially if one species consumes and destroys so many resources.

What do we do with a promise like the one made to Abram thousands of years later? Is the promise still valid? Part of the way many humans make sense of life is to look towards a new generation of ourselves. We often look forward to children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In our culture, this often means making sure that children have advantages. Perhaps it means giving things up so that the next generation can have more. Most of us have heard stories of parents who went hungry so their children could eat. There is value in continuing life. But where do we draw the line between what we need and what we want. Many of us are comfortable. We have good, healthy food. We have homes and vehicles. We have technology and appliances of various kinds. I like being comfortable but I am also conscious that, even in Canada, we have people who live much closer to that survival line than I do.

In many First Nations cultures there is a concept of the Seventh Generation. In this tradition, every action and decision is considered for how it will impact descendants seven generations into the future. I wonder if we would live differently if we could combine the seventh generation teaching with the concept of boundaries and limits in our relationship with the earth? Could we bring healing?

We see the earth struggling to sustain life. We see humans struggling with each other. God’s promise to Abraham was many descendants. God seems to have come through on that. How do we live up to our original covenant to care for the earth and observe limits? When we covenant in relationships, we agree to be in relationship and to work on the relationship. It doesn’t necessarily end when one person makes a mistake or breaks the covenant. There are opportunities to come back and try again. We continue to be in a covenant with God. The boundaries were broken but the boundaries are still there. There continues to be a responsibility to live within the limits.

My invitation to all of us is to reflect on the limits we find in the earth and to reflect on how we live within those limits as individuals and as a society. As we rediscover the limits, may we be open to changing our own lives so we live well in the creation.

 

 

In the creation story, humans are given one boundary—to not touch the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But they did touch that tree, and with it came knowledge. We have inherited that knowledge and the responsibility that goes with it.

15 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

 

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ge 15:1–6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Breath of Life

With the Narrative Lectionary this fall, we are starting back at the beginning of the Biblical story with a creation story. There are two creation stories in Genesis and this reflection is based on part of the 2nd story.

What we need to remember about the creation stories (and many other Bible stories) is that they are true even if they are not fact. It is true that God created. It is true that humans are part of that creation. It is true that there is sin (brokenness, pain, suffering) in the world.

Most scholars agree that the creation stories were written thousands of years after creation actually happened. They were written after slavery in Egypt, after wandering in the wilderness, after the Hebrew people had conquered surrounding lands, after king David, after the Babylonian and Assyrian exiles. After all this happened the people started asking questions and telling stories about the beginning of their relationship with this God who had led them through all these ups and downs. The stories of creation evolved into what we have today.

In this second story, we hear how God created an earth creature. This is the first act of creation in this story. The word translated as earth being comes from the Hebrew adama which means soil. This is where the name Adam comes from. It simply means earth creature. And it is this clay figure that God breathes life into. Breath, spirit and soul all share the same Hebrew word. God animates this living being with soul and breath.

In the first creation story, God speaks and things happen. In this creation story, God fashions and forms the humans and all the creatures. This is a God who has gotten their hands dirty in the mess of creation. This is a God, playing in the mud and the clay.

Take a handful of modelling clay. Touch it. Squish it. Imagine that this is the clay that God formed into humans. See if you can make something out of your little bit of clay. What does it look like? What does it feel like? It might be something, but is it alive? It is simply a lump of clay. If you breathe on it, does it also breathe? There is something special about the breath of God that breathes life. There is nothing else quite like it in the universe.

This story speaks to the uniqueness of God’s breathe, God’s spirit and the ability of God’s spirit to infuse the creation with life. Within this creation, the humans were given one task: to till and keep the earth. They are given permission to eat from every tree—except one—the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Is this too much responsibility—to care for the earth, to eat and enjoy its bounty within limits? Is it too much to ask? Within this abundance and responsibility, we find the first brokenness in the world. Following the creation of humans, the giving of abundance and boundaries we hear another story. The story of the snake. There is an interaction between the snake and the first woman that goes like this:

The snake goes to the woman and entices her to eat from the one tree that is off limits. “Come on, it will be ok,” says the snake. The woman tries to resist but she knows she wants that fruit, it looks so good hanging there. So she takes it and shares some with the man. This is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And when they ate this fruit, their eyes were open. Just like we hear stories in the gospel of Jesus healing blindness, there is a moment where everything changes and suddenly, there’s no going back to not knowing something, to not seeing something clearly.

This moment in human history brought with it the ability to recognize good and evil. It brought with it the ability to choose right and wrong. It was also a moment when the boundaries were broken for the first time. This moment in human history brought the humans more responsibility. Up until this moment in time, their responsibility was to till the earth and care for it and enjoy the bounty of creation.

Because we have inherited the knowledge of good and evil, the knowledge of the boundaries and the task of caring for the earth, we have also inherited the responsibility that goes with the knowledge. As humans, it is often greed and our inability to accept boundaries that puts us into conflict with other people and with the creation.

How many wars have been started over land, oil, power, water? How much of our human greed causes environmental destruction: the pollution of air, water, soil, the destruction of wildlife habitat, the extinction of species? As a race, we have forgotten whose breath is within us. We have forgotten our task. We have forgotten our boundaries.

Our faith invites us to return to who we are meant to be. We are called to an awareness of God’s breath and spirit within us. That’s why we breathe in silence at the beginning of worship. It takes us back to that place of creation. It takes us back to the breath of God that is within us and around us. When we have a sense of that breathe we are better able to navigate the choices of good and evil. We are better able to recognize the abundance of the creation and we are better able to accept the boundaries and limits of that creation. May it be so in us.

The Story of Job, the Story of Grief

The book of Job is 42 chapters long. The song above does a pretty good job of summing up the book. Job was very good and very wealthy. Apparently, God and the other heavenly beings notice Job. So they have a bit of a contest to see if Job will curse God. The only rule is that Job can’t be killed.

So first, all of Job’s property is lost – the livestock and servants killed, his children dead. Job prays and is pretty philosophical about these events: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Next Job becomes very ill. His wife says to him: “Curse God, and die.” Job continues to pray and speak for God. Job’s friends hear about what’s happening to him and come to sit with him. Job laments. This means that he pours out his thoughts and his prayers. All of the anger, the rage, the wishing it were different. He pours it all out to God. He wonders why these things have happened to him. Why has God given him darkness? In the midst of his turmoil and grief God speaks to him. God reminds him that “human beings are born to trouble, just as sparks fly upward.” Pain and suffering are a part of the human condition. It doesn’t mean that God has gone away, only that there is sometimes trouble in life. Job and God have this conversation for several chapters.

His friends get in on the conversation saying that his children or himself must have sinned in order to cause these terrible things to happen. Job or his family brought this tragedy upon themselves. Job responds by defending God. He maintains his innocence saying: “I am blameless; I do not know myself.”

Job’s friends and his wife spend the book, trying to convince Job that he is responsible for these terrible things and that God has abandoned him to his fate. Job refuses to be moved. He spends most of the book defending God and maintaining that he didn’t do anything to cause these tragedies and still pouring out the anger, the pain and frustration of deep grief.

It isn’t uncommon for us in times of grief, in moments when we walk with death to ask these questions. Where is God? Why is God causing these terrible things to happen? If I did such and such would God heal and restore? Could I have prevented a death, a terrible illness, a tragedy? I’ve asked myself a lot of these questions in the last few weeks. If God is all powerful, God could prevent tragedy, death, illness. Since God doesn’t prevent these things, what good is God? Why do we bother to have faith at all in the face of death and tragedy?

The easy way to respond to God in the midst of tragedy is to walk away. To curse God, to believe that since God didn’t prevent the tragedy God must not be watching, not care, be punishing or maybe not even exist. This is what Job’s friends tried to convince him of.

Job saw another path. He maintained that even though these terrible things happened, God was not the cause. God became the place where Job poured out everything that he was thinking and feeling, while maintaining a relationship with God. He asked God the hard questions: Why? Where are you? and then he listened for the answers. God responded by showing Job the wonder of creation. Job came through this tragedy. He had more children and built up his wealth again. His life did not end with tragedy. He trusted God enough to hold all the strong emotion of grief. He trusted in the goodness of God and recognized tragedy for what it is—something that happens in the world.

When we experience death, illness and tragedy in our own lives it can be difficult not to stay present with God. It can be difficult to ask God the hard questions. It can be hard to pour out all the anger and pain so it no longer consumes us—in body, in mind and in spirit. Job was able to do this and found fullness of life beyond his tragedy. God’s love continues to surround us and hold us even in the face of profound pain. Don’t give up in God in tragedy and death. This is when God’s love for us is strongest and when we need it most.

Forgiveness

There’s been some conflict in the Corinthian church. We don’t know what the conflict was but whatever it was it created a rift within the congregation and it appears that someone was disciplined. Paul is watching this conflict unfold and feels the pain of the broken relationships. He writes that when one person is hurt everyone is hurt. Conflict between two people affects more than just the people involved. It harms the whole community.

In this passage, Paul urges the community to forgive the wrongdoer. The Greek translated here as forgive has to do with “giving freely.” The implication being that there is no requirement or expectation to forgive. When we think of forgiveness we often associate it with an apology which leads to the relationship going back to how it was before the hurt. You might have heard the phrase “forgive and forget.” With these words it seems that the hurt is over and done and now we can get back to normal.

But it doesn’t always work that way. I had a situation where someone scared me and I locked myself in my house for almost three weeks. When I finally found courage to tell someone, a meeting so that this person could apologize. After he apologized, I was told to forgive and forget. But I was scared and angry. For several months after this if the other person walked into a room I needed to leave.

Even though an apology was made and forgiveness was asked no one received healing. I didn’t feel the person involved truly understood what he had done or how it impacted me. A few weeks later, the same behavior that had scared me was directed at someone else. How could I forgive and forget when I knew the behavior that had caused me distress hadn’t changed. It was just directed somewhere else. In this scenario, it felt like the primary concern was in ensuring I made the other person feel better and that I was quiet about the situation so no one else needed to be upset. I was being asked to be responsible for his well-being. But seeking forgiveness requires repentance – a change in behavior. This person was not seeking forgiveness because there was no change in behavior. What he was seeking was my silence and in my silence I would give permission for his behavior to continue. I didn’t keep quiet and that raised other uncomfortable situations.

We can look at forgiveness from the perspective of the wrongdoer. If I have hurt someone and go to that person asking forgiveness, I am asking them to be responsible for making me feel better.  In order for me to feel better, I need someone else to tell me whatever I did was OK or somehow let me off the hook. Apology and forgiveness are often linked. In our culture, an apology means admitting that we hurt someone. The original meaning was about standing by a position and was not an admission of guilt. This is about explaining what we did and why and allowing the person who was hurt to decide whether the explanation resolves the conflict. This creates an opportunity for the relationship to be restored.[1] It does not pretend that the hurtful event didn’t occur. It does not simply smooth over conflict but invites a conversation about what was hurtful and how the relationship can be mended.  Truly seeking forgiveness requires repentance – a change in behavior. Someone once told me that repentance is “being in the same situation and behaving differently.” So the next time we find ourselves in a situation where there is potential to cause hurt we choose a different behavior. In choosing a different behavior, we seek and find God’s forgiveness. Incidentally, neither Jesus nor Paul encourage people to ask for forgiveness. In the passage we heard this morning, the wrongdoer has been punished in some way but there is no mention of them seeking forgiveness.

From the perspective of the person who has been hurt, forgiveness is for their own healing so that they are able to live fully. It is easy when we are hurt to blame the person who hurt us, to want to cut them off or to hurt in return. To forgive means to “give freely.” Paul’s letter is speaking to the people who have been hurt and asking them to love the person who hurt them. They are being asked to forgive so that the relationship between them may be restored.

There is an implication with the Greek word used here that in forgiving, both parties will be restored in the relationship. I want to show a video which shows the ways in which forgiveness functions in restoring relationships.

Paul’s letter reminds the Corinthian congregation to forgive, console and love the person who hurt them. It reminds me of Jesus’ words in the gospels:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28). The implication is the same: don’t hold onto hurts, don’t repay one hurt with another. This doesn’t mean ignoring what has happened but be actively engaged in creating the conditions for healing. In the video, the mother didn’t forget that her son was killed but she sought an opportunity to let go of the hurt in her own life. In doing so, she transformed her own life and that of her son’s killer. She didn’t set out to fix him or change him but simply to find healing for herself. Her work of building a relationship with her son’s killer showed courage, love, compassion, forgiveness and the strength of prayer. It did not bring her son back or condone the killer’s behavior but freed her for fullness of life.

[1]. James Rowe Adams, The Essential Reference for Biblical Metaphors (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2005), 119.

Pentecost Whirlwind

From this experience of Pentecost, the new community of Jesus-followers received gifts. Not one gift. Not the same gift for everyone. Except that these are not ordinary gifts. The Greek translation means something more along the lines of “spirit induced phenomena.”[1] We think of a gift as something given freely once and for all. But spirit induced phenomena only works when the spirit is at work. A gift should be something we can pull out whenever we need or whenever it pleases us. A spirit induced phenomena is not about us and what we can do. It doesn’t rely on our willingness to share whatever our “gift” is. A spirit induced phenomena is what happens when the spirit works through us.

In this passage, we hear Paul writing to the community. He identifies that the community used to be pagan. Again, the translation needs an explanation. Pagan in the Greek simply means a group of people who share something in common. This group was outsiders. They were not part of the Jesus group. Nor were they viewed as part of God’s people. And yet the spirit of God worked through them. The Jesus followers wondered how this group of outsiders could say “Jesus is Lord.” They wondered how this group of outsiders could praise God. The Jesus followers clearly saw this group as outsiders who had no claim to God or to Jesus. Paul reminds the community that following Jesus is not a head decision. It isn’t something that is necessarily logical or even tangible. The spirit comes upon people unexpectedly and moves people to extraordinary actions. Through those actions the spirit—and by extension—God is experienced.

We run into problems when we want to only use our heads and think logically about using our gifts. Our minds sometimes limit the possibilities. We might ask “what’s in it for me?” We might think to ourselves, “I’m tired of sharing my gifts and no one notices anyway.” “What difference does my little gift make in the grand scheme of the world…It seems like a pretty pointless gift.” When we think this way we think of our abilities and resources as gifts. They are something that have been given to us. They belong to us and we can choose to use them and share them—or not. Our ability to use our gifts relies on how generous we feel at any moment.

In that first Pentecost story, it wasn’t gifts that were at play. It was a spirit induced phenomena. Who knew those Jesus followers could speak so many languages? Who knew that speaking a different language could influence so many people? Three thousand people were baptized. And it wasn’t an orderly, planned experience. It was spontaneous and unexpected. It was a moment where the spirit moved in a community and the entire community recognized and was touched by that spirit of God. It wasn’t about the spirit touching one person for their own benefit. The entire community was touched by the spirit for the benefit of the entire community.

The way that the spirit moves is different in each person. It looks different and we are not expected to all receive the same abilities through that spirit. But each of us do receive a little bit of the spirit, which the spirit uses for building up the entire community. When the spirit is at work we no longer ask, “How does this benefit me?” Instead we ask, “How does this benefit my community or the world?” Maybe we don’t even stop to contemplate the benefits. Sometimes the spirit is described as a whirlwind. If you get caught up in a whirlwind there isn’t time to stop and think. It isn’t until the whirlwind stops that you can reflect on the experience. The whirlwind might seem scary as we see it coming towards us and we might hope that thinking, asking questions and getting caught in our answers will stop the whirlwind or at least slow it down. And so we ask: “What if…?” “What will so and so think…?” “What’s in it for me?” Sometimes this works—temporarily. But the Spirit doesn’t stop or do what we want. The Spirit is always in motion and always working through us—even when we try to slow it down or stop it. So we have a choice. Fight against the Spirit. Resist the Spirit with all our might or embrace the Spirit. Get caught up in the whirlwind and see where we land.

One of the other images used for Holy Spirit is fire. I’m hesitant about using this image right now because we all have the destructive images from Fort McMurray in our minds this week. These images conjure up danger, horror, worry, despair, desolation, grief, lament and helplessness. There may be some similarities between fire and our experiences of the Spirit but to draw those similarities out feels unhelpful. It seems to trivialize the very really experience of people whose worlds have just collapsed so I am not going to attempt to draw that parallel today.

But I will ask some questions to help us see the Spirit in a place that seems desolate. How is the Spirit at work in the midst of destruction and grief? How is the Spirit rebuilding and restoring the community?

The Spirit is messy, disorderly and inexplicable. It brings with it chaos and uncertainty. It doesn’t stop because we are hesitant or uncomfortable. It brings with it moments and experiences we can’t explain. It works through us and others to transform the world.

[1]. Bruce J. Malina, and John J. Pilch, Social-science commentary on the Letters of Paul (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 112.

Life after Death?

One of the biggest questions in life is often what happens after we die. Some people embrace death. Some people are comfortable with their own mortality. Some people resist death. Some people are afraid of death.

When the first Jewish scriptures were written there was no concept of an afterlife within the Jewish faith. Other faiths and cultures had a concept of an afterlife but the Jewish people did not. By the time of Jesus, the idea of an afterlife was being debated within Jewish culture but there was no consensus. Some Jews believed in an afterlife. Some did not.

For those that believed in a resurrection they had in image of an event sometime in the future. At that moment, all the dead would be returned to life. What that afterlife looked like was also up for discussion. No one knew for certain. No one knows for certain.

Jesus lived within the Roman empire and the early churches were established within that cultural context. The Romans absorbed the religious beliefs present within the empire. Corinth was a Greek city and many of the new Christians in Corith were Greek and so they brought their beliefs with them to their new faith. Within the Greek traditions, usually the after-life began at death with a trial and followed by a movement either to something like paradise or hell.

These traditions evolved into some of the Christian beliefs about heaven, hell and judgement day. These beliefs were absorbed and adapted from other religious traditions.

So Paul is putting his two cents into this conversation about what happens after death. Some of the new Christians believed that there would not be a resurrection of the dead. Paul argues that if there isn’t a resurrection for those who have already died then Jesus wasn’t raised either. The same rules apply for everyone. If Jesus could be raised, then others could be raised. If Jesus was not raised, then no one else could be raised either. Jesus must have been raised because there were witnesses to the resurrection.

Paul quotes from the Hebrew scriptures to ground the new Christians in what is already familiar to the Jewish Christians and what might bring a new word of hope to the Greek Christians. He quotes the prophets who believed that there would be some type of cataclysmic disaster—something terrible would happen. From that God would create something new that is more perfect than the world that has been. It wouldn’t be the end of the world but it would be a decisive moment where everything would change. In the same way, death is not the end but a moment where God’s action can change everything.

There continue to be many different beliefs about death within the Christian faith. Some Christians believe that the dead are sleeping and waiting for the moment when they will wake and be resurrected. Some believe that when we die we are judged and go either to heaven or hell depending on our relationship with Christ at that moment. Some Christians believe that God is a God of compassion and we are all welcomed into heaven. Some Christians believe that our spirit becomes part of the larger cosmos—no longer a distinct entity but one with God and all other spirits. For myself, I don’t know exactly what happens after we die. My faith tells me that there is a spirit within each of us that continues to exists separately from our bodies. I believe that God is present after death and that in some way my spirit will be united with God. Beyond that, I can say nothing with certainty but I trust that the loving and compassionate God will be present beyond death.

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Earlier in Corinthians Paul reminds us that love is at the core of our relationships with each other and our faith in God. In the conversation about death it seems important to hold love as central to our beliefs to alleviate some of our fear or discomfort. If God is love and we are united with God after death then there can be nothing painful, hurtful or evil—only love. The scriptures that we heard today remind us that death doesn’t have the last word but that God’s love overcomes even death. The New Creed ends with these words:

In life, in death, in life beyond death, we are not alone. Thanks be to God.

In my mind this is all we can know for certain.

Who Can Be Part of the Faith?

A few years after Jesus’s death, a man named Jewish man named Saul was travelling around the Roman Empire trying to stamp out the Jewish Christians. At this time most of Jesus followers were Jews who saw Jesus as fulfilling the role of the Messiah who would save the people from oppression and, specifically, from the Roman Empire. The Jewish Christians were trying to reform Judaism and Saul—along with others—was trying to maintain the Jewish faith as it was. The early Christians were afraid of Saul. They had all heard the stories of this man who was trying to capture or kill all the Christians.

As Saul was travelling, there was a moment when he saw a bright light. He fell to the ground and a voice said, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul was blinded and the people travelling with him took him into the city of Damascus. A disciple named Ananias came to him after three days and healed his eyesight. This experience was one that changed Saul’s life.

Saul became the missionary we now know as Paul and spent the rest of his life travelling around the Mediterranean. He started many churches and as Christianity split from Judaism he was an advocate for the non-Jewish Christians. One of Paul’s strengths was his vision of communities of faith where people were welcome regardless of their differences.

Paul started the church in the Greek city of Corith. Because Paul was a Jewish Christian he would go into the Jewish Synagogue to try and convince the Jews who were worshiping there that Jesus fulfilled the scriptures. Some people were convinced and joined the Jesus movement. Some were not convinced.

After a time, Paul left Corinth and continued travelling—still setting up churches. While he was travelling Paul would write letters back to places he had already been. Corinthians is one of the letters that he wrote to the church in Corinth. He writes to the church there and tells them to get along. Some of the Christians in Corinth were claiming to follow Paul. Some claimed to follow Apollos or Peter. Paul points out that it isn’t about the individual leaders but about how those leaders help people recognize the Risen Christ and in experiencing the Risen Christ they experience God in their lives.

And Paul should know. Part of what made Paul’s ministry so powerful was that he spent the first part if his life trying to get rid of the Jesus followers. It wasn’t that he just didn’t like them. He tried to kill them. He was filled with hatred and violence towards followers of Jesus. Why should the Christians accept him as one of them? Why should he become someone that others looked to as a great leader? Why should he become someone recognized as wise? By our standards Paul should always have remained as an outsider in the faith. How can you trust someone who was out to kill your group of people?

And yet, there was something about Paul’s experience of the Risen Christ on the way to Damascus that changed his life. He had a mystical experience which opened him to God and then he went and learned from other Christians and from people who actually knew Jesus when he was alive.

We don’t have the benefit of being able to learn from people who actually knew Jesus. What we have are imperfect stories and letters recorded in scripture. What we have are the stories of many generations of faithful people seeking to follow Jesus in their lives. What we have are the stories of our own lives. All of these stories help us to recognize God in our own lives and the lives of people around us.

Paul has an unlikely missionary and yet the world was changed because of his ministry. Paul was imperfect. He didn’t get the first part of his life right but his life was more than his mistakes and more than it could have been on his own. We come to our own faith as we are in any given moment. We come with all the mistakes and imperfections of our lives but we trust that God can transform our lives and work through us. We come with all of who we are.

Part of what was happening in the Corinthian church was that people were wanting to create a unified group. They wanted a group of people who looked the same, acted the same and believed the same. But that wasn’t the reality of Christ’s body then. It isn’t the reality of Christ’s body now.

 

The Christians in the early church were squabbling over who followed the correct leader. They were squabbling over whether you could be Christian without being Jewish. They were squabbling over correct doctrine and practice. As people of faith, we continue to squabble over doctrine and faith. We continue to squabble about who is welcome and who is not. The details of who we are or how we come to the faith are ours and they are unique to us. Paul shouldn’t have been welcomed. He shouldn’t have led the early Christians because of his background—because of what he was before his experience of Jesus. In his letter he was reminding the church that we will always have difference among us and that God can work through imperfect (and all of us are imperfect) people. What holds us together in spite of our imperfections and our difference is the centrally of the Risen Christ in our lives.