Bob: So…it’s after Easter, so today we have another story of one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Always good stuff that shows up in the lectionary the first few Sundays after Easter.
Ann: It is good stuff. It’s always interesting to hear about the experiences various people had of the risen Christ. The apostles minus Thomas. The apostles plus Thomas. The two on the road to Emmaus. And so on.
B: Today is Jesus speaking to Saul, who becomes Paul. It’s the only story where someone gets blinded.
A: That is a good one. Isn’t it the only time the risen Jesus appears to someone who’s not already a believer?
B: I guess it is. And boy was Paul not a believer!
A: Not in the least. He was in the business of persecuting Christians, not becoming one of them.
B: Yeah. Luke, who writes the book of Acts, says he was there when Stephen was stoned to death, apparently approving of it.
A: And today’s story begins by saying that after that, Paul was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” He was a Pharisee, one of the ones who really did not like Jesus and his followers.
B: Jesus certainly upset the Pharisees apple cart, as well as the tables of the temple money changers. The Pharisees have a sort of uneasy peace with the Roman government, and they see Jesus as a threat.
A: The Pharisees are worried Jesus might be trying to get the people to rebel against the Romans.
B: Right. And as long as the Pharisees can keep doing their thing in the temple, they don’t want anybody to upset the Romans.
A: And I wonder if some of the Pharisees were jealous of Jesus’ popularity with the people. He was drawing big crowds wherever he went, and he didn’t always speak well of the Pharisees.
B: No he did not. What were some of those things he said about them?
A: Let’s see. One time he says, “do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues.”
B: He calls them hypocrites.
A: He says they “have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” He says they “clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” He calls them snakes and a “brood of vipers.”
B: I’m beginning to see how Paul might not have been crazy about Jesus and his followers.
A: You think?
B: So in today’s story, Paul is on his way to Damascus, because he suspects there might be Jesus people there. He even has official permission to arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem. He’s serious about getting rid of Jesus’ followers!
A: He really is. But he’s in for a really big surprise before he gets there.
B: No kidding. Blinding light. A voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Big surprise.
A: Who would have thought that he would encounter Jesus on his way to arrest Jesus’ followers?
B: Not Saul/Paul.
A: No way.
B: But Jesus doesn’t just ask him why he’s doing what he’s doing.
A: That’s right. Jesus has a new idea for him. He tells Paul to go into the city and he’ll be told what to do.
B: I wonder what he thought about that instruction. “Enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do”? That’s about as vague as it gets.
A: And today’s reading ends with him going into Damascus, and not being able to see for three days. And not eating or drinking. But we know what comes next.
B: Yeah. For some reason I decided on the shorter version of the scripture reading. But we know that Paul meets up with a disciple of Jesus named Ananias, is baptized, gets his sight back, and becomes the chief apostle to the Gentiles.
A: That’s a quick turn around! One minute he’s trying to get rid of Jesus’ followers, three days later he’s one of them!
B: That’s why to this day church retreats are always Friday through Sunday. We always hope someone will be converted.
A: You just made that up.
B: Well, yeah, but it makes a good story, doesn’t it?
A: Anyway, have you ever had a blinding light, heard Jesus speaking to you experience?
B: No, I haven’t.
A: Me neither. And I don’t think many people have.
B: I don’t think so. Here and there you have your stories like Emperor Constantine, who say a sign in the sky before a battle and converted to Christianity.
A: Joan of Arc said she had visions of an angel and a couple of saints.
B: Right. And there have been others who’ve had visions or heard voices, but considering the millions of believers in Jesus over the centuries, it really has been just a few folks here and there.
A: And we know that some people who claim to have had visions and special revelations have been…not on the right track.
B: For sure. Jim Jones and David Koresh thought they had a special connection to God, but they were certainly mistaken.
A: They were. I’m sure some people do get a message from God one way or another, but as best I can tell, not many people have a vision or hear a voice or get blinded.
B: I don’t think so.
A: So if you didn’t have a vision or hear a voice, how did you end up becoming a Christian and then a minister?
B: It really is an exciting story.
A: Let’s hear it!
B: My mother made me go to church. Dad was gone most Sundays. He was what we now call a regional minister. So usually it was just me and mom.
B: Well that’s pretty much it when it comes to me making my confession of faith and being baptized. She did tell me later on that I probably would have been happier about going to church if she hadn’t made me wear a tie when I was little.
A: No voice from above, no blinding light?
B: Well, the pulpit at Vine Street Christian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, where we went when I was young, had a really elevated pulpit, so I guess I heard Wayne Bell’s voice from above.
A: Wayne Bell was the minister?
B: Right. And incidentally he later became President of Lexington Theological Seminary, so he baptized me and handed me my Master of Divinity diploma. But we moved from Nashville to North Carolina when I was eleven, so I don’t really remember any of his sermons. Come to think of it, I don’t remember many of my own sermons, but I suppose I digress.
A: I think you do. So why did you decide to go into ministry?
B: Again, no blinding light, no voice from above. As I got older I really began to like church, especially youth group and senior high conference in the summer. I started feeling like church was where I could contribute something, where I could do some good. I didn’t finally decide until I was in college. And I suppose part of it was process of elimination. I knew right off I wasn’t cut out for anything related to science or math, and ministry just kept feeling like where I was being led, somehow or other.
A: So you were always in the Christian Church?
B: Pretty much. I did go to the Presbyterian Church on campus during my college years, but I never had any notion of switching denominations. Besides, I heard that Presbyterian seminaries required Greek and Hebrew, and even though I ended up dabbling in both, I’m glad I didn’t have to do more than I did with them. Hebrew is tough.
A: So in the – how many years since you were ordained?
B: Next month will be forty.
A: You are old. Have you thought about retiring?
B: A little.
A: So in those forty years, still no voice, no vision, no light from above?
B: Well, Richard Jones and I were hiking one time, chatting as we went, and from out of nowhere this voice said, “Bob Mooty!”.
A: It was God?
B: No, it was Mike Hamilton. He’s a friend from North Carolina who was close by on the trail and recognized my voice.
A: I don’t think Mike Hamilton counts as a divine intervention.
B: I guess not. So no, no heavenly intervention. But what about you? Didn’t you start life as a – can I say it out loud? Baptist?
A: I did.
B: Yet here you are, with your Mater of Divinity diploma from Lexington Theological Seminary. You must have heard God say, leave the Baptists and join the Disciples!
A: Not exactly.
B: Really? I would have thought God would have…anyway, so what’s your church and faith story?
B: So if it wasn’t God talking to you directly, how did you migrate to the Disciples?
B: Fascinating. Then we Disciples of Christ recruited you into ordained ministry? Drafted you in the first round?
B: I see. So all that and no blinding light or conversation with Jesus?
A: Nope. Neither.
B: Well you know, I don’t discount people who have had one of those special experiences – unless they set out to build a commune in some out to the way place and convince their followers they are the chosen ones and the rest of us aren’t. But I do believe God leads us to faith in all sorts of ways, sometimes sudden, sometimes not.
A: I agree. Paul’s story is really special, maybe because God needed someone really special to do what he ends up doing. But for most of us, I think you’re right, that our life of faith lives and grows in more subtle ways.
B: Sometimes it’s sudden, but not always.