I want to talk to you today about the fact that what we believe to be true sometimes changes when you are impacted by the risen Word of God. In my last note to you, I talked about how Peter grew up believing that what his faith had taught him was true, unchangeable. Then he encountered the risen One. His understanding of faith began to stretch and change. It stretched so much that it not only changed Peter but all who thought those who followed Jesus had to adapt and be like the Jews. Peter’s experience revealed that this new Way was indeed to be a place where all people were welcome, Gentiles and Jews alike.
We see a similar stretching in Saul – a Pharisee – a Jewish man. Saul held so tightly to what he had been taught that when people followed Jesus, he felt it was his duty to see that they were killed, and the movement that taught about love for all individuals – even gentiles and sinners – had to be stopped.
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to worship at The Fountains. Rev. David Felten was preaching from Philippians that day. He gave this preamble to the reading of the scripture.
It’s good to remember when you’re reading the real Paul that he was not the most popular person around. There were people actively working to discredit him. So, in our passage today, Paul is in the midst of some CYA with the Philippians. He wanted to make clear that he was a member of God’s chosen people (Yes! Paul was a Jew!) and that he had served God with a clear conscience by his strict observance of the law.
Paul’s gilds his résumé right before our passage today by justifying his claim: “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more” (v. 4b). But Paul was making a case for the advantages of re-adjusting his identity with a priority on this idea of “Christ-in-me” and felt himself being changed. But here’s the deal: from experience, Paul knew that this transformation always remained a work in progress. He hadn’t already reached the goal (which in this passage he interprets as a metaphorical resurrection to new life).
It’s amazing to me that this man who held so strongly to what he rightly believed to be true found himself stretched, changed after he encountered the risen One the day he was knocked off his horse. It was a change no one ever expected to see in Saul. His change is so dramatic that even his name is changed.
Paul’s life and teaching extended the love of Christ to many who would have been deemed unacceptable if he, with all of his credentials, had not demonstrated that Christ has a way of opening a person’s heart and mind and allow them to see what they could not see before.
Both Peter and Paul reveal to us that when God stretches us, it usually starts at the level of stretching our understanding of what our faith has taught us. It’s never easy. And as difficult as it is when God stretches our faith and understanding it usually involves becoming friends with the very people we could not tolerate because of what they believe. It often calls us to do what we would never have dreamt of doing.
As the church gets ready for Pentecost Sunday, as you prepare your heart to hear the message about the birth of the church and read not only from Acts 1 but also Matthew 28, let me ask, “How has an encounter with the risen One stretched your beliefs, your actions? Do you think it is ok to let God change you in ways you never expected?”
Will you join me in daily prayer as we together ask God for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit? If you join your heart with mine in praying this prayer, please know it is a dangerous prayer to pray. God may just do the unexpected.