Friday, April 3, 2015

"Why Are You Persecuting Me?"

6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand [2] the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. (Acts 22:6-11 (ESV)
“Why are you persecuting me?” Jesus doesn’t say, “why are you persecuting my followers, my disciples?” He says, “why are you persecuting me?” It reveals the nature of being Christian. To be Christian is in a very real sense being Christ. We are incorporated into his body. We become one with him, one flesh, united with him. Paul elsewhere will then talk about this using the analogy of a stubbed toe, it’s the toe that is stubbed, the whole body hurts. So it is that when we are persecuted Christ is persecuted. When you are sinned against, Christ is sinned against. When we forgive those who trespass against us we forgive those who trespass against Christ, even as Christ has forgiven our trespasses against him. Paul gets his first hint of the doctrine of the “communion of saints” right here in his call to repentance as he is gifted with faith. It is perhaps why he also is the one to explain it so well in all his letters as an integral part of the gospel.
Being Christ, this is often used today as a club of the law. “You need to be more Christ like.” I’m not ever sure what Christ like means. This varies quite a bit between Republicans and Democrats, and everyone else. Always remember, when someone tells you to be like Christ, flipping over tables is an option. This however is normally not what the person has in mind. Neither is calling everyone within earshot a white washed tomb, or otherwise upsetting their day by not baptizing your hands before dinner. And by the time a boy turns ten he has had about enough of that sort of be a good little boy like Jesus to last him a lifetime, and the next time you see him in church could possibly be when he is being laid down for the dirt nap.
Oh sure, there are admonishments to be imitators of Christ throughout the New Testament. Context is good there, and also the understanding that this is law that cannot be fulfilled by anyone. Paul himself failed at imitating Christ. And yet, he did imitate Christ to the best of his ability, especially when it came to forgiving others as Christ forgave him. Paul was well aware of his own failures in life. Paul knew that others had to forgive him as much as he had to forgive them if not more. Yet he still warns Timothy to beware of Alexander the coppersmith. Whatever sin Alexander had committed against Paul, it seems as though Paul had not forgotten it. It isn’t pious drivel when he calls himself chief of sinners. Yet Christ  forgave him, Christ died  for him, even death on a cross.

Being Christ, though, isn’t a matter of law, nor is it an admonishment to be more Christ like. Being Christ is a reality brought about in your death and resurrection through baptism. You now are Christ and Christ is you, you are one flesh with him, his face here on earth. It is through you that Christ works in this  world, and he does this as long as you abide in him, because when you abide in him through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the word and the sacraments, then he abides in you. Now it is the simple things that you do through which Christ accomplishes his will, the simple things like baptizing your children, and teaching Sunday School, even simpler things like  just going to work and being kind to others. It may not stand out much, it may not seem like a whole lot. You may not  be giving millions to a charity,  or spending all your time off at church or other volunteer work. You may just be struggling to get by and working three jobs to put dinner on the table because you can’t seem to catch a break. Yet, you are Christ, and what you do is done to the glory of God. It is Christ working through you, because you are united to him, one flesh, washed  and sanctified as the bride of Christ. And when you hurt, Christ knows it, and you no longer suffer alone, but even your suffering is blessed by Christ, is a suffering for Christ, a suffering in Christ that is felt by the whole body of Christ. 

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