We’re making our way slowly through the Book of Acts. Last week, the reading was Acts 8-10 (it’s okay if you’re behind). We’re given lots of stories that show how Jesus is growing his family beyond the folks in Jerusalem. The persecution of the Church (Stephen’s death in Ch.7 being the beginning of it) and the scattering of the Community (8:1-3) is used by God to spread the Gospel further. The result is a larger church that is more diverse; which is exactly what Jesus wanted.
The storyline that is going to be a major theme in the Acts narrative is the one that includes Saul. He first comes on the scene as the guy who approves of Stephen’s execution. As we get into this week’s reading, we find out that he has an issue with the entire Jesus movement and wants to put it to a dramatic end. His ‘come to Jesus’ meeting on the road to Damascus (Ch. 9) is one of the most celebrated transformations in the Bible. There’s no greater storyline than the one where the antagonist comes to their senses and radically changes course. Saul starts out as the enemy of the Church, but soon he will be the Church’s best friend.
In many ways, Saul’s journey is similar to ours. While we might not have been enemies or hostile to the Church, we weren’t necessarily interested in seeing it grow. We didn’t know Jesus and therefore didn’t get the whole church thing. But one day, Jesus made sense – His love opened our eyes to a brand new world as it blinded us to the life we thought we knew. Like Saul, finding Jesus meant being in Community with other followers – with its varying degrees of comfort. And like Saul, many of us move from one faith community to another (and then another) in an effort to find the right fit; but we’re convinced that Jesus is real and worth our attention. Saul’s story is our story.
If you read between the lines of the text (especially Acts 9:19-31), you find that Saul doesn’t fit in anywhere. He keeps getting into fights and everyone wants to kill him. Maybe it’s just the general persecution of Jesus-followers in 1st Century Roman Empire. Or maybe Saul is that annoying guy who’s been here five minutes and I already knows more than everyone else. And maybe the reason for his behavior is that he’s simply trying too hard to fit in. All of that escaping Damascus, fleeing to Caesarea, and going to Tarsus seems to be as much about regaining peace in the community as it is about finding a safe space for Saul. I bring this up only to confirm that, once again, Saul’s story is our story.
We’re about 6-7 weeks into the semester and you may be one of the folks who is still struggling to find your place. This struggle is felt by introverts and extroverts alike. Sometimes it’s the feeling of being invisible and other times it’s the over-saturation of people. I’m not sure if Saul felt this way, but all of the factors are there for him to feel like the oddball at the Christian party. The good news is that Saul’s story doesn’t end at Acts 9. Eventually, he’ll be the guy people are calling on to come hang out. Pretty soon, Saul (then Paul) will have more friends than time to connect with them all. He’ll be misunderstood, but also embraced. Best of all he’s gonna find his confidence soon and it won’t be based on who accepts him. That’s not just Saul’s story, but I believe it’s your story too.
If you’re feeling isolated, lonely or just don’t feel like you belong, hear me when I say IT WON’T ALWAYS BE THIS WAY. Keep going on your journey. Pick your head up. Walk a little taller & feel free to smile at the future before you. If faith is anything, it is greeting a future filled with hope today. Jesus knows your need for community and acceptance. It matters to him; and if you’ll trust him, he will provide in due time.
Praying for all who, like Saul, are trying to find your place. Take heart my friends, it won’t always be this way.