Imagine you are a well-known and respected teacher in all of Christianity. . .
Actually, if you're being honest and being pressed on the issue, you're the most respected leader in all of Christianity. You studied at the best institutions under the best professors, reading everything of quality both on and off your required lists, with publishers bidding on the rights to every paper you turned in. . .
Your mind is uncannily quick to grasp truths and stack them in a logical, practical and accessible order. You are known for your ability to communicate complex concepts and the ways of the Lord; your zeal for Him is unmatched. Even your peers who look at you with barely restrained jealousy admit to your stellar spiritual integrity.
It makes perfect sense then when a threat appears to God, some upstart cult making trouble, that you are chosen to address the threat, to take care of it with passion, precision, and devotion. You know the value of God's ways, they are tried and true and you have walked, taught, and displayed them your whole life. This little insurrection is not from God--from everything you've heard they are rejecting the old paths, making a mockery of tradition, and elevating their leader as equal to the Almighty. . .
You check with the local and state authorities to see what kind of jurisdiction you have in stamping out the rebellion and find they've given you a lot of leeway, probably due to your reputation. There will be no joy if you have to use force, but you will use it if you must--the honor of the Creator is at stake. Checking to make sure you have the proper papers, you look at your assembled team, a response force of responsible God-fearing folks, and you head out for the place where the wayward folks have gathered. . .
It feels great to be out on the open road, doing the Lord's work. In fact, it feels incredible. You worked so hard for so long, never deviating from your goals, always being faithful to the bone with the gifts the Lord had given you. This task wouldn't have been given to a person with less zeal or less knowledge. . .this truth comforts you with each step of your mission. There is no satisfaction like knowing you are completely doing God's will.
As you approach your destination, your mind wanders to the various scenarios you may face, you begin to break them down one by one----
Your thoughts are interrupted by a blinding light--is it lightning? No, you saw no clouds--and this light is remaining, and growing brighter--it really is blinding! You cannot see! When did you fall to your hands and knees? You don't remember--but now you grope around in a light-caused darkness, overwhelmed, spiked with fear, trembling and sweaty--and from the light comes a supernaturally rich voice calling your name and it asks you a question:
"Why do you persecute me?"
You are doing the Lord's work, yet here is one like the Lord calling to you--it has been a long time since you have been this uncertain, this out of sorts. It's not just your reeling senses--it's the fact that here is something from the heavenly realms, your area of expertise, and you have no idea what is happening. . .so you ask the only question springing into your mind, the only question making sense to you in your senselessness. . .
"Who are you, Lord?"
This is a retelling of Saul on the road to Damascus from Acts 9, the beginning of where Saul becomes Paul. It is one of my favorite stories in all of the Scriptures, a story of perspective, arrogance, and humility.
We've been looking at the tension between the Familiar and the Unfamiliar in the church world (what I often call Churchianity) and our centering story has been that of Buddy the rigid Doberman and Caleb the exuberant puppy.
Saul thought he had everything figured out, serving the Lord fervently out on the road on a crucial mission. I don't think it can be overstated how committed to the Lord Saul was and how reputable amongst the leaders of Israel. It would seem unfathomable that he would miss God's ways.
Yet he did.
When the Lord showed up in the person of Jesus Saul did not recognize Him. The most religious person in all the land did not recognize the very God he represented. To be fair, the incarnated Word was not a form Saul would have expected but on the other hand. . .
He was doing the Lord's work but still asked "Who are you, Lord?"
What a sobering thought! What a humility-inducing concept if we'll let it sink in!
Is it still possible to be so consumed with Jesus and His work that we could not identify Him if He literally (or figuratively for that matter) showed up among us?
In the midst of our services, our songs, our programs, our small groups, our outreach events, our traditions, our liturgies, even our quiet times, if He really showed up. . .would we say "YES Lord!" or would we say "Who are you, Lord?"
And here is the scariest thought with this story, the one that should humble us all:
If we're the ones thinking something like "Not us, we'd know it was Him, we're doing it right" then we are the very ones who are in danger of not recognizing Him!
Don't believe me? Just ask Saul.
O Lord, in the midst of our busyness for you, our passion for your Name, our songs and our prayers for Your Glory---may we truly know Jesus and His voice. Humble us please. Amen.