Think of the chain linking Paul to Jesus. Think of the apostles and followers of Jesus who told the story, one to another, until, finally Paul heard it.
This passage is about the Good News coming to Paul on a kind of telephone line through time. Paul got a letter to his soul: the message he received, and that he also passed on to the church in Corinth. Despite time and distance. Despite, in Paul’s case, an inclination to disbelieve, or even revile. Despite all these things… the message arrived. The message on which he stood, and through which he was saved.
There are lots of ways your life can be saved. Here’s how it happened for Paul.
When his name was still Saul, and he was breathing threats and murder against Christians because… well, he thought they were wrong…he set out for Damascus with letters to all the synagogues there, expressing his intention to round the Christians up and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. That never happened. “Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’” (Acts 9:3-5). Saul, who was Paul, was blind. His traveling companions led him by the hand to Damascus, where he ate and drank nothing for three days. Then God nudged a Christian named Ananias to visit Saul. “He laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength” (Acts 9:17-19). The rest, as they say, is church history.
How did it happen for you? Who saved your life? Who gave you the marvelous, wonderful words of life? First, here’s the story of her faith as told by our minister, Pat Raube.
“When I think of the faith that planted itself in me, and blossomed in adulthood, I admit the first person I think of is my youth group leader in high school. It was with him that I remember opening the scriptures for the first time, in a serious, inquiring way. But if I am to think more deeply, and ask myself, who is the one who really introduced me to my faith, it has to be my mother.
“The thing about my mom is, she wasn’t sure about it. About any of it. Faith didn’t come easily to her. She was a child of the Great Depression, she lost her father at a very young age, and she and her mother never really connected, either. She was alienated by her parochial school education, and was viewed as such a skeptic, and asked so many questions, that one of the nun’s at Saint Gabriel’s in South Philly finally asked, ‘Are you a convert, dear?’
“But then my brother and I came along. We were each adopted at birth, and each of us from families who made it clear that they wanted us brought up in the Christian faith. So, as far as my mom was concerned, she had her instructions, and whether it was easy for her, or no, she was going to do everything in her power to raise us the way she knew she should.
“My brother and I attended parochial school, Saint James in Ventnor, NJ. And my mother gave us each little books detailing the “Lives of the Saints”—men and boys for my brother, and women and girl saints for me. Now, many of these stories were kind of disturbing. A lot of them involved being willing to undergo terrible physical tortures rather than stray from their faith. Saint Agatha. Saint Agnes. Saint Rose of Lima. You do NOT want to know the things they went through! On the other hand, there were women whose lives really did capture my imagination in ways that have persisted. Claire of Assisi is one. She gave up a life of luxury because she chose instead to become a bride of Christ, and embrace holy Sister Poverty for his sake. The power of that story stayed with me.
“And, in the end, the thing that caught me, the hook, was the fact that they all did all these things—endured, or renounced, or followed—they did it all for this person, Jesus. And that caused me to wonder, who IS this Jesus? And what does it mean that people are willing to give their very lives for him? We Protestants have historically been very critical of the veneration of saints, but I think they worked on me the way they were supposed to: they pointed me to Jesus. That is where my faith took root.
“Here’s the other thing about my mother’s faith: she believed that it was weak, but what I saw looked strong. I would go to my mother’s room and find her praying. I would know that she wasn’t feeling well, and come upon her holding a rosary. Whatever she thought, however she judged herself, what I witnessed was someone who, despite her questions and doubts, continued to turn to God in prayer anyway.
“Whether she knew it or not, my mother gave me that, as well.”
What about you? Who gave you the notion that Jesus was someone who maybe merited looking into? Who saved your life, by letting you know that you were good just as God created you, that you were valued, that God loved you? Who told you the amazing story of God’s perfect victory over death in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? Was it a friend in school? Was it your spouse? Was it a wonderful, faithful Sunday School teacher, or maybe a coach? Or was it, maybe, a voice singing on a recording… coming to you, on a telephone line through time?
Think of the chain linking Jesus to Paul, and then to you. Think of the apostles and followers of Jesus who told the story, one to another, until, finally Paul heard it. And then think how all those followers kept telling the story, through the years and generations. Someone told it to someone else during the Roman Empire, and again during the Dark Ages, and again during the Renaissance. Someone told someone the story during time of the Protestant Reformation, and then into the age of Shakespeare. Someone told someone the story while Darwin was sailing the H. M. S. Beagle to the Galapagos Islands, and again, after Archduke Ferdinand was shot and war descended like a dark curtain over Europe. Someone told someone, who told someone… generation upon generation of faithful people… until, as to one untimely born, the story of Jesus’ resurrection, fresh, vital, and new, came to you.
Let me once again remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Thanks be to God. Amen.