Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Whoosh! Storying through Acts Week 6: Chosen

by Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems, Volume One
Sweet Jesus, talking
    his melancholy madness,
      stood up in the boat
        and the sea lay down,
silky and sorry.
    So everybody was saved
      that night.
        But you know how it is
when something
    different crosses
      the threshold — the uncles
        mutter together,
the women walk away,
    the young brother begins
      to sharpen his knife.
        Nobody knows what the soul is.
It comes and goes
    like the wind over the water —
      sometimes, for days,
        you don't think of it.
Maybe, after the sermon,
    after the multitude was fed,
      one or two of them felt
        the soul slip forth
like a tremor of pure sunlight
    before exhaustion,
      that wants to swallow everything,
        gripped their bones and left them
miserable and sleepy,
    as they are now, forgetting
      how the wind tore at the sails
        before he rose and talked to it —
tender and luminous and demanding
    as he always was —
      a thousand times more frightening
        than the killer storm

I recently discovered this poem by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver.  Most people, including me, like Mary Oliver for her beautiful way of capturing the natural world in words.  But I also like Mary Oliver because of the way she thinks about Jesus.  The last stanza of this poem is chilling and probably very accurate: tender, luminous, demanding, a thousand times more frightening than the killer storm.  
Yes.  We imagine that to see Jesus in person would be all sweetness and harps.  But that is hardly what it is like in the Bible stories we are learning!  This week's story is about Paul's encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.

As they neared Damascus, 
they were suddenly struck by a blinding flash of light, 
and Paul fell to the ground.  
And a voice said, “Paul, Paul, why are you out to get me?”

“Who are you?” Paul asked.
“I am Jesus, the one you are opposing.  
Get up and go into the city.  
And you’ll find out what you need to do.”
-Acts 9:3-6

Paul is not the only one in this story who has a personal encounter with Jesus.

There was a believer in Damascus named Ananias.  
And Jesus came to him in a vision.


“Yes, Lord?”
“Get up and go to a certain house nearby.  
Ask for a man named Paul.  He’s there praying.  
And I’ve given him a vision 
that you will come lay hands on him, and he will be healed.”
-Acts 9:10-12

Every week in Wednesday Bible study, after I tell the story, we ask these questions:
  • What did you like about this story?
  • What bothered or troubled you in this story?
  • What does this story tell you about God (or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit)?
  • What does this story tell you about people?
  • What does this story tell you about how life with God works?
  • If this story is true, how should you respond?
  • Who will you tell this story to?
One thing I like about this story:  Jesus appears personally to both men.  

One thing that bothers me in this story:  When Jesus appears, he shakes up your assumptions—how you think the world works, what you think about God and about people.  Paul says, in talking about this encounter later, that he was on his way to Damascus hunting down Jesus' followers because he thought that was the way to serve God.  He honestly thought he was doing God's business.

Ananias is rocked by the idea that Jesus would ask him to go pray for that man.  

Both men are chosen.  And both discover that God works in ways they could never imagine. 

Whenever we assume we know that if God is doing something, it will look exactly like "this," we are probably about to get our assumptions rocked.  Here is what I am learning about life with God:  Never assume.  If you are comfortable with how things are, you might not be keeping up with God.  I can't say for sure.  I can say that, as Mary Oliver hints, Jesus is probably more frightening than you or I are comfortable with.  

Click here to listen to this week's story and download the homework.

Who will you tell this story to?

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