By Sherry Black
Reading from Acts, 9:19b-31
19b For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” 22Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.
23 After some time had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night so that they might kill him; 25but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.
26 When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. 28So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him. 30When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
31 Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
Prior to today’s reading, we knew Saul to be a persecutor of Christians. We knew about his encounter with the risen Lord on the way to persecute more followers of The Way. We knew about Saul’s stay in Damascus, and about the reluctant Ananias, who prayed for Saul, restored his sight, and baptized him.
It must have been Ananias who told Paul of God’s plan for him to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Paul never wavered from his call, but now he knows he needs to be in good standing with the early Christian leaders. Now he goes to Jerusalem.
While there are some denominations who willingly accept a self-called preacher, Jean Calvin emphasized a two-fold call to ministry: God calls, but the church also calls. In Anglican tradition, we have the “3-legged stool” of scripture, tradition, and reason. When I was exploring a call to ministry, I had conversations with the bishop and with priests. I met with a local discernment committee as well as the Commission on Ministry and the Standing Committee. This is the tradition in the Episcopal Church, and in the wider Church over time, that a call must be validated. I have known people who are convinced that God has called them to ministry, but their congregation or the church leadership cannot verify it.
It absolutely makes sense that, no matter how convinced Paul is (and we, the readers, are) of his mission, he has to win the trust of the apostles. His experience has to be validated by the experience and tradition of the community. We may have wonderful experiences of God in our lives, but experiences alone are not enough. They are not sustainable. Ultimately, we are validated and transformed in community, in the Church.
The Very Rev. Sherry Black is a second-career Episcopal priest, and has been a full-time hospital chaplain for nine years. She also serves a small mission church as priest-in-charge, and is dean of her deanery.
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