Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle, 2017.
Today we remember and in some sense experience ourselves the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle. And while everything we do in our liturgical life is always in solidarity with our fellow Christians in the Catholic and Anglican traditions, and of course those whose life is ordered by the Episcopal Church, today we have particular bonds of affection with those churches whose patron is Saint Paul. He is the patron of this Holy House, this church in Pekin, Illinois. Within our diocese we celebrate with the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Springfield, Saint Paul’s Church in Carlinville, and Saint Paul’s Church in Alton. And of course we feel an affection with churches outside of the Anglican tradition also named for this apostle, such as Saint Paul United Church of Christ in Pekin, and Saint Paul Lutheran and Saint Paul Baptist in Peoria. Thousands of churches around the planet owe their patronage to Saint Paul the Apostle. And indeed we pray that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to God Almighty by following his holy teaching.
It is quite fitting to reflect on Paul’s conversion in this season after Christmas and Epiphany. It is fitting because in Paul’s conversion we have strong echoes of the mystical experiences of Blessed Mary, Saint Joseph, the shepherds in Bethlehem, the Magi from the East, and Saint John the Baptist. In these instances were profound experiences of revelation. In these experiences was glory unspeakable, glory beyond words. In these experiences God’s revelation provided new direction, provided guidance, provided a deeper level of truth about God and a deeper level of truth about the purpose of the lives of each of these people—truth, direction and purpose revealed to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds watching their fields by night, to the Magi and to Saint John. An encounter with God always changes the direction of our life, and always shows to us something about our self either unknown or denied, and continues to lead us to the very purpose for our creation. Continue reading →
In our Collect today we pray “Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” Yet the question can be asked: Do we know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves? God surely knows, but do we? Do we know this in our lives, in our experiences, in our relationships? This is the hard question.
All of us said Amen to this Collect. So we have at least accepted it as a statement of truth in our community. It is no criticism whatsoever to suspect that despite our basic accepting of the statement—and I think we can say that it was basically accepted, as none of us upon hearing it stood up and said, “wrong!” and walked out of Mass—despite accepting it, we might not be able to articulate the full depths of its meaning. For after all, who can articulate the full depths of the meaning of God? Only Jesus Christ, himself. Who can know the depths of our wretchedess an disorder? Only Jesus Christ, himself. Who can fathom the deepest dimensions of forgiving love? Only Jesus Christ, himself. So it is okay that we might not fully understand the doctrine that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. By saying “Amen” we are allowing the possibility of being taught and shown what it means when the time is right.
When we say Amen we declare that we want to choose God. When we say Amen we put ourselves at his mercy and in his loving arms and under the shadow of his wings. Just as Blessed Mary Our Lady said to Gabriel, “Let it be to me according to your word,” our Amen submits ourselves to a Holy God that overpasses the knowing of all creatures, to a Holy God that sweetly and tenderly loves us. Our Amen asks that God fight for us against the Devil. He fought for us in the wilderness. He chose to willingly confront the evil one, to seek him out—through prayer and fasting.
He continued, as Saint John tells us today, in the temple. He made a whip of cords, and he drove out the merchants, their animals and the money-changers—not because they were evil itself but because their presence interfered with the true purpose of the temple. He drove them out in a fury: “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” Those words “you shall not” ring of the Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai. “You shall not” worship other Gods; you shall not take the name of the Lord in vain; you shall not forget the Sabbath; you shall not dishonor your father and mother; you shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, servants, or possessions. And again today, “You shall not make the temple a house of trade.” This temple was destroyed, yet in three days it was raised up. Saint John tells us that the disciples understood Jesus to refer to the temple of his body.
And we must understand that we, the body of Christ, are his temple. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians. We are his temple through Baptism, which orients us to the journey of Faith ahead; we are his temple through the Sacraments, which feed and nourish us, refresh us, with Hope; we are his temple through the prayer life or Regula taught to us by Jesus, which challenges us to embody Charity in all moments, in the face of our enemies and amid all creatures.
And as his temple, we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. It all comes from God. As Saint Paul says, we can will what is right, but we cannot do it. We can recognize our disorder, our sin, our wretchedness, but we depend on Jesus to deliver us. It is Jesus who saves us; who absolves us. It is Jesus who acts in the sacraments. It is Jesus who gives himself to us on the Cross and at the Altar. It is Jesus who teaches us to pray. And it is Jesus who drives the merchants and the money-changers out of our mind, our thoughts, out of the temple of our body. Our body, as God’s temple, is and must be a temple of prayer. When we say “Amen” we too remember that he had said these things; we too believe the scripture; we too believe the Word which Jesus had spoken.
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.