4 Pentecost 2019

Grace and peace…

I can’t help but wonder what was going through Paul’s mind when he wrote the compelling and humbling words of our text, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” How many writers, how many authors, how many self-styled poets would love to be able to say, after years of writing and trying, that they had written something so deeply compelling? “Crucified with Christ.” Words that are clear, concise, and compelling. Not only that, but these words also bear the embodiment of the Holy Spirit. These are spiritual words that ‘do’ what they ‘say.”

If this statement, “I have been crucified with Christ,” was a concept that developed over time for Paul, how did Paul finally put it all together? We of course, will never know the answer to that question. At best, we can speculate along with Rev. Mark Rouland, Zion Lutheran Church, St. Charles, Missouri. He believes that Paul formulated his compelling statement “I have been crucified with Christ” very early in his Christian career. Perhaps even as early as the Damascus Road event, during that time when he stumbled around in the dark, before Ananias came and restored his sight.

Luke records that for us in Acts chapter 9. Jesus had been known for giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. But with Paul, He gave blindness to the seeing, so that there, in the dark, Paul might see things a little more clearly. And see he did. He saw the futility of the life he had lived up to that moment. Paul saw the error of his ways, living as if the religious laws were all that mattered. He saw for the very first time, just how empty life is when it is lived without the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, the Son of Almighty God. Paul ended-up seeing very well in the darkness.

Paul also went without food and drink during his time of blindness, though both were readily available to him. But Paul was traumatized and in shock. Having been struck down and rendered helpless by a voice and a light, Paul’s entire world had just been turned upside-down. He was in physical, emotional, and spiritual shock – its no wonder his stomach was ‘unsettled’ to say the least. I’m sure you know that feeling – when things are so uncertain you have no idea what’s going to happen or what to expect.

Paul was on his way to Damascus with little expectation that this day would be much different from any other day, and the many days that came before that. Paul was likely planning to dine with the most influential` Pharisees there in Damascus upon his arrival. They would enjoy a fine meal, good wine, and then be about his business of hunting down the Christians first thing in the morning. It was all set-up, and it was all quite routine and normal. 

But suddenly everything changed. Luke tells it this way, “Saul was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the High Priest and asked for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to ‘The Way,’ men and women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? “Who are you, Lord? Saul asked. I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, He replied. “Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what to do.”

You know the story from here. Ananias comes to Paul, restores his sight, spends time teaching Paul about the faith, and then baptizes Paul in the name of Jesus. Paul then disappears into the Arabian wilderness for several years, leaving us with no record of exactly where he was and/or who he was with. We believe it was during this time that Paul was given the revelations that God chose to give him. During this time Paul saw things and learned things directly from Jesus, knowledge and revelations not given to any other man. This is how Paul was able to be an Apostle with the same credibility as the disciples who had been with Jesus for the entire 3 years of His public ministry.

Now, after all of this, Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me.” This statement was embedded deeply into Paul’s psyche. It may have been a brief catechetical lesson taught by Ananias before Paul was baptized. Certainly inside the house of Judas on Straight Street, Ananias met a man hungry for all he could learn and know about this Jesus who had just knocked him off his horse. Maybe, just as the light began to shine in Paul’s eyes once again, Ananias taught him just how closely both life and death are in Jesus. Then, Ananias called for some water, pouring it over Paul’s head and running down his beard, Paul was baptized in the name of the Jesus. Now he was crucified with Christ. The old sinful nature that was Saul, was drowned. A new man came forth from that water, Paul the Apostle to the gentiles.

When Paul left that house, he began to learn each day what Jesus meant when He told Ananias that Paul would see just how much he must suffer for the sake of Jesus. And he did. Paul kept a list of his sufferings and rejoiced in them because he had learned that God takes brokenness and weakness and reshaped and refashions it into something special. He shapes and forms our sufferings into strength and blessings for those in need. 

Somewhere in the sanctuary there sits grandparents. They planned a wonderful retirement together. They worked hard to get their child through school and into adulthood. Now, time is theirs to enjoy. Until they learned that their daughter’s marriage had fallen apart. Now the daughter would have to work 2 jobs to make ends meet. She would need grandma to help take care of her child. 

Grandma hadn’t brought Cheerios and toy cars to church for 20 years. She enjoys listening to pastor read the Scripture lessons and preach his sermon. But now she has her hands full every minute with her grandson. He doesn’t act badly in church, he’s just like any other 5 year old – he’s full of energy and in constant motion. By the time mom picks him up Sunday evening, grandma is exhausted. Though this is not how they pictured their life would be, they’re grateful for the opportunity to pass the faith on to this young child. “It is no longer they who live, but Christ Who lives in them.”  

Somewhere in the back of the sanctuary sits a woman who was once proud to be his wife, but is now his ‘primary care provider.” On the difficult days she could easily say, “This isn’t what I signed-up for,” but she doesn’t. She quietly and compassionately meets his needs and cares for him as no other can. People wonder what her secret is, how she is able to keep doing what she does, day and night, day after day. Should anyone ever ask, her secret is this, “She has been crucified with Christ. She died with Christ in Baptism, and emerged a new person, in Christ. It is no longer she who lives, but Christ who lives in her.” 

We learned this week that lives can change in the blink of an eye. One phone call, one medical test and diagnosis, one interrupted journey. Our best laid plans can go so unpredictably wrong. And when they do, when things we don’t want to happen, the only place we can find the proper perspective on life and death is at the foot of the cross. Christ was crucified for you for a reason. We are a clay vessel or pot, shaped and formed by the hands of God. We are born into this world filled with sin, and unless God intervenes, we will die filled with sin, and be lost forever. But because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can be baptized. Baptism washes-out the sin we’re born with, and replaces it with the Spirit of God Himself, creating a new person, pleasing to God and loved by God. That’s what Paul is describing when he says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” 

An encounter with the risen Christ changed Paul in a miraculous way. Encounters with the risen Christ change us, as well. Jesus reshapes things like strength and love, forming them to fit our particular needs. At times Jesus also reshapes our best-laid plans, freeing us for a life serving someone other than ourselves. Jesus provides rest for the weary and eternal life to those who trust in Him and live in Him. 

Your life may not turn-out the way you would have written it, but it isn’t really our story anyway, its all about Christ – His life – His death – His resurrection. And no matter how the story goes, the ending is guaranteed to blow your socks off. It will be amazing! Amen.