By Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle
“Now as (Saul) was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” (Acts 9:3-4)
We know from the Book of Acts that Saul was a devout and powerful Jew who saw those who followed the Way of Jesus as perverting the Jewish faith.
Using the weight of the high priest, he vigorously sought to round up and bring to justice these disciples. He wanted to hold all who practiced this evolving faith accountable for the ways in which they differed from tradition.
God had a different plan for Saul. His conversion on the way to Damascus provides a profound reminder that God, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. For this conversion to be complete, however, Saul had to be open to the working of the Spirit challenging him to reflect deeply on his faith and life choices.
The fact that you are reading a Church-based periodical suggests that you are already converted. You don’t need to be knocked to the ground to believe in Jesus Christ. There are standards and practices to which we adhere that demonstrate our faith as Christians: Attendance in worship, generosity in giving of our gifts of time, talents, and treasures, an active prayer life. These mark us as people of faith. While all of these are wonderful things, what might we gain when we, like Saul, remain open to the working of the Spirit challenging us to reflect deeply on our faith and life choices?
There is a reason we say we ‘practice our faith’. It is a reminder that we have yet to perfect it. There are always things we can learn and ways in which we can improve on our efforts to embody what God has revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
How might a deep reflection on our faith and life help us to recognise the injustices to which we have been blinded? To what extent might we find ourselves called to transform our relationships with God and the world? Might self-exploration invite us to ‘yield to the life of the Holy Spirit’ in new and profound ways?
Throughout these pandemic times, a lot of time and energy has been expended on exploring what is needed to keep people safe and what we can do to engage in familiar experiences, like worship. Dig a little deeper, and we may also be aware of the reality that this pandemic is highlighting the ways in which priorities and privileges have enabled injustice and inequality.
We see this most profoundly in the realities of those who have been called ‘essential workers’ while all too often being treated as expendable. These are some of the poorest paid workers in society, often making minimum wage which is far below what is needed for survival. In fact, many churches provide food and clothing for these hard-working people through food banks and clothing cupboards.
These workers lack the privilege to work from home. Early in the pandemic, it was suggested that they be given a wage increase to compensate for the risk of coming to work so that we could continue to have access to essential goods. Even where this was given, it has long since been halted. Meanwhile CEOs, executives, and shareholders received significant bonuses last year.
Added to their reality is the fact that most have little power. In some cases, they have been exposed to COVID without their knowledge as infected workers continue to come to work to ensure they can put food on their tables.
How many of these individuals have we looked in the eye in our efforts to respond to human need with loving service? What might we gain when we, like Saul, remain open to the working of the Spirit challenging us to reflect deeply on our faith and life choices? Can we do more to embody the love revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as it particularly relates to these, our neighbours? ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’
There are people in our very midst who are persecuted by the injustices that are enabled by the ways in which we participate in this world. The pandemic has revealed some of these challenges. How might our choice to ‘yield to the life of the Holy Spirit’ be inviting us to engage differently? To what extent are we being invited to transform the unjust structures of society through a pandemic version of a journey to Damascus?
Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle is a tri-chair of SEJH and a tri-chair of Justice League of Huron.
(Illustration: Luca Giordano. Conversion of St. Paul)