Saturday, December 8, 2018

We All Belong to Him

Acts 9:3-5 (NRSV)
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?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

Saul-later to be known as Paul, author of much of our New Testament-had been “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” in Jerusalem and was on his way to Damascus with “...letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” In other words, he had a fist full of arrest warrants and extradition papers and nobody in Damascus would be safe. At least that was his plan; our Lord had other ideas.    
How Saul of Tarsus became Paul of the New Testament is a beautiful story of God’s unconditional love and transforming grace but it is not what I want to talk about today. What I want us to see is Jesus’ complete identification with His people-“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me”. As far as Saul was concerned he was not persecuting God; he was doing God’s will, ridding the world of these evil Pharisee-defying heretics one believer at a time. Jesus’ teachings-his very memory-would be removed from the face of the earth forever and Saul was just the man to do it. Or so he thought. What Saul did not understand was Jesus Himself is the God Saul thought he was serving and, more than that (as if that wasn’t enough) Jesus so totally identifies Himself with His people that, whatever Saul did to them, he might as well be doing to Jesus Himself.
Now, hold on to that thought for a moment and imagine yourself as a large dot in the middle of a huge circle. Now imagine all the people you come in contact with as smaller dots orbiting you (not because you’re that important; it’s just a convenient illustration). Those closest to you would be your immediate family-husband, wife, children, parents. Next out would be, maybe, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws. Next close friends; or co-workers, then maybe church family, next the checkout clerk you see every other day or maybe the people you feed at a homeless shelter, maybe the group you see at your favorite coffee shop-are you getting the idea? All these people orbiting you, some close, some not so close, are those in your sphere of influence, which is what the circle represents. 
Now, in spite of what we may think, we really do not know the relationships any of these people have with God-their eternal destiny, whether or not they are saved, if they have accepted Jesus as their personal savior, if they are in a state of grace-however your tradition defines it. It’s all the same, just different words. In fact we don’t even know if some of them have any religion at all. However, we do know a couple things. First, we know “The Lord is not slow about his [coming] as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”-Peter tells us that. Second, we know Jesus totally, completely identifies Himself with those who believe in Him. Do you see where I’m going here? If we assume everyone in our sphere of influence will, at some point, find themselves belonging to Jesus, how should we then treat them? If we treat those whom we are pretty sure will never belong to Jesus differently from those who do, and we discover at some point that those very people do in fact belong to Jesus, how will we explain ourselves? Remember, from Jesus’ perspective, the question is how will we be found to have treated Jesus Himself. 
Let’s widen our sphere of influence a little bit. We have already included anyone with whom we have any type of person to person contact, however brief or insignificant. Now let’s consider anyone we may find ourselves thinking about, whether we know them personally or not. Without getting to deep into the metaphysical aspect of our thoughts as mental and emotional energy, can you see the difference simply thinking about people as belonging to Jesus might make in our overall countenance? Not to be too New-Age about it but I’m pretty sure we need all the positive emotional energy we can get right now. 
Now that you have the principle the possibilities for expanding you sphere of influence are infinite. We pray for people we don’t know and will never meet all the time. How would praying for those people as if they already belong to Jesus (and we all belong to Jesus, one way or another) change your way of thinking? Which leads me to my final point. Assuming everyone in our spheres of influence-regardless of their position in our orbit-belong to Jesus, what difference will that make, not only in the way we think about them but in the way we actually treat them?
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. 


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