I love doing a sermon series each summer because it gives me a chance to immerse myself in something broader than just a couple of verses. Getting to preach a number of sermons on a single book, or a person, or even a theme offers deeper reflection and in turn a deeper relationship with God. On top of that, each new sermon series teaches me something new. This summer’s sermon series was no different and I really enjoyed getting to know Paul a little more deeply.
What I really enjoyed about this summer was tying in Paul’s own words (in his letters to various early Christian faith communities) with Luke’s account of Paul’s actions in Acts. What emerges in placing the two writings next to each other is that the readers gets two very different views of Paul.
In Paul’s letters, the theological concept of a Ministry of Reconciliation becomes quite clear. Paul often interprets the teachings of Christ as pointing his followers towards embracing radical reconciliation and forgiveness.
As a theological concept, the Ministry of Reconciliation is a strong one, it calls Christians into unity with the worlds around them, but it is the book of Acts that highlights how radical and awesome Paul’s movement towards this theological concept was.
At first, Paul, then known as Saul, was actually persecuting early followers of Christ because they didn’t conform to the norms of Judaism as Saul/Paul understood. In a miraculous vision on the side of the road Saul/Paul hears Christ, and nearly instantaneously becomes a devote promoter of Christ. As we read on, Paul then seeks to travel throughout the Near East to teach Jewish people about Christ. In the process he encounters conflict, is beaten, kicked out of towns, in large part because the Gentiles, or maybe more specifically non-jewish people or outsiders, began to listen to and like what Paul had to say. This was not his intention, but it became his experience. As a result he became a stalwart defender of the Gentiles, and embraced them fully.
This would have been no small internal conflict for Paul, but through experience and action, he was able to formulate the theological framework for his Ministry of Reconciliation, a frame work he in essence had to create because the existing Jewish Theological frameworks didn’t match up with the experiences he felt the Holy Spirit was leading him towards.
I believe its the same in all of our lives. Sometimes the theological frameworks, or maybe put another way, canonical laws, they don’t match up with experience. Yet the Holy Spirit is willing to show another way. I believe if one is to take Jesus seriously, then striving to ever expand the Love of God comes before all else. And although Paul certainly inspires some canonical laws himself, his greatest achievement was learning to listen to the Holy Spirit’s call for him to always further extend and expand the Good News of Christ, even when it meant going way outside his comfort zone and his established community.
So I conclude with this question is: How is the Holy Spirit calling you to expand the Love of Christ? Where is God calling you to that might be outside of your comfort zone? What experiences in your own life have led you to an expanded vision of the kingdom of God?
Paul’s letters, and his biography in Acts show us how he lived out those questions, so how are you doing the same?