January 25th is the day set aside in the church year to commemorate the “Conversion of Paul”.
Someone who was strong and focused and zealous and hard-working had his life turned upside down. His eyes were blinded that he might see. His profound and faithful works came into a better perspective as grace came to the fore. Church tradition holds that he was beheaded (a “privilege” of his Roman citizenship) during the persecutions of the church. May the testimony, life and martyrdom of Paul speak to us this day.
For our devotional text we will use the appointed gospel text for the “Conversion of Paul”.
[Jesus speaking to some who were speaking about the Temple, context courtesy of verse 5]
10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12 "But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
This is a rich a vivid text. I invite you to read it a few times:
• Read it and see which phrase or word or image comes to the fore. What captures your imagination or your attention?
• Read it again being open to a prayer petition that you might be able to lift up over the next several days. You are invited to write that petition down and post it somewhere you will see it during the course of your daily activities.
• Read it one more time looking for where you find yourself in this story today as you read it. What might God say to you this day in this living and breathing and active word? You are invited to write that down and keep it with your prayer petition.
This text was chosen for the “Conversion of Paul” certainly for the resonances with his life: arrests and persecutions, being handed over to prisons and authorities, facing kings and governors, wisdom that seems insurmountable and a martyr’s death. And in spite of it all endurance through faith unto life beyond death.
But this text wasn’t spoken to Paul when first voiced. Jesus was making remarks to those chatting about the Temple. Perhaps they were looking at this massive structure that testified so profoundly to the magnificence and glory of God. Jesus took the conversation to a much more palpable and incarnate experience of the faith. (see John 2:13-22 for an even more palpable and incarnate conversation about the Temple that Jesus brings to bear). Jesus seems to be saying that struggles and troubles are coming. That you can’t bring a message like Jesus is bringing into the world without profoundly provoking the powers that be. There will be severe and violent pushback. Yet in spite of the attacks and the hatred and the violence life is to be had here more than any other place. I wonder how the hearers of these words straight off the lips of Jesus responded to them. Scripture only indicates that the people listened to Jesus. I want to know so much more.
And this text doesn’t stop speaking once it is attached to the “Conversion of Paul”. God’s word is living and active and has things to say to us to this day. Where do you find yourself in this text? As a preacher I have many opportunities to testify. I have been known on occasion to struggle with what to say and how to say it. This text—as well as Luke 12:11-12—assures me that God will be faithful to give words and speak through me. God will never leave me nor forsake me—even when I’m preaching and teaching. What is your take away from this text? I would love to hear back from you if something strikes you. It would be a blessing to catch a glimpse of what God is saying to you this day through this Luke text.
God, we give you thanks for the life, testimony and martyrdom of Saint Paul. Thank you that he was able to rest deeply in your grace and salvation no matter what came his way. Shape us to be more like him in that regard. Speak to us this day with your living and active word. Knock us away from complacency. Bring your grace and salvation to a more palpable and incarnate place in our lives and through our lives—all to your glory. Amen.