“Prayfaithfully” is the prayer ministry website of the Northern Great Lakes Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I wrote the Daily Devotions for this week.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
Text: Acts 9:26-30
“When [Saul] 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. But 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. So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him. When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.”
It might seem strange to include Saul in a set of devotions dedicated to stories of outcasts and those on the margins experiencing the power of the risen Christ. Saul is the poster-child for the not-outcasts. By his own words in his letter to the Philippians, “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” He’s the cream of the crop, so it were! And as a Roman citizen, he’s granted an extra layer of enormous privilege, which he’s not afraid to leverage.
After his experience on the road to Damascus, Saul is in a different position though. Trying to leave his former life behind, he goes to meet the disciples in Jerusalem, and is met by fear. And rightfully so! He was a zealous persecutor of the church, and they have no reason to trust him. All of a sudden, Saul finds himself on the outside looking in.
Giving up privilege is a difficult process. It’s a humbling process. How wonderful if would have been for Saul if, when he went to Jerusalem, the disciples had said, “Saul, you’ve changed! Welcome to the club!” But that’s not how it works. Saul is treated with contempt, mistrust, and suspicion, and has to earn their trust. Threats are made on his life by multiple groups and people because of his preaching. Only then, leaving the privilege of his old life behind, is he able to fully know what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
We Christians enjoy an enormous amount of privilege in our country. This is especially true for those who are white, male, heterosexual, and cisgender. That privilege can be a powerful tool—Saul used his privilege whenever he could to advance the good news of the risen Christ—but it is also a barrier that separates the privileged from the outcast.
We don’t have to have a Damascus Road experience to recognize our privilege. But will we use it to further God’s mission and the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ, taking us into uncomfortable places? Or will we use it to shield ourselves from the difficulties of life experienced by those God loves?
Let us pray: God of reversals, you took Saul, a persecutor, and flipped him into one of the most important and compelling missionaries in the history of Christianity. Give us the courage to lay down our privilege and experience life “in the trenches” alongside those who need your grace the most. In the name of your Son we pray. Amen.