Category: Jamie McCallum

Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)

This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on April 10, 2016.

Conversion of Saul - Michelangelo
Conversion of Saul – Michelangelo

The story of Paul’s conversion joins a litany of dramatic conversion stories that unfold in Acts 8-10.  Beginning with Acts 8:4 we read about the conversion of the Samaritans, then an Ethiopian, and now the conversion of Saul.  The conversions climax with a Roman centurion believing and being baptized.  Each of these stories takes us farther from the original community in Jerusalem than the one before.  They each tell a story of a God who touches the lives of unlikely people from diverse backgrounds, so the good news will spread to the ends of the earth.

On this second Sunday after Easter, it is fitting for the preacher to focus on this central theme of conversion.  He or she will emphasize Christ’s primary and active role in the conversion experience.  It is Christ who approaches and interrupts Paul on his journey, and it is Christ who changes Paul’s course.  Others are unable to see or hear Christ, revealing the intensely personal nature of conversion.  Even still, as the voice engaging Saul moves from accusation to invitation, Christ indicates that this story is not only about conversion but also about vocation and calling.  In a moment, Saul becomes both a believer and a person with a role to play for God. Conversion is not only an experience shared between a new believer and God.  It is also an experience shared between the believer and the world, as he or she is transformed both by their personal relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior, and by their new calling to be witnesses to the ends of the earth.

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Acts 5:27-32

This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on April 3, 2016.

Gustave Dore
Apostles Preaching the Gospel – G. Dore

Acts 5:27-32 is part of a larger story that unfolds in Acts 5:12-42.  The narrative summarizes the apostles’ work in Jerusalem which leads to their arrest.  During the night, an angel of the Lord releases the apostles, sending them back to the temple to continue proclaiming the gospel message.  Ever faithful, they return at daybreak, jump right back into preaching, and are arrested once again.  This time the apostles are brought before the high priest and Sanhedrin.  Today’s passage comprises the accusations of the high priest against them and the apostles’ bold response to the charges.  The context alone sets up a possible focus for preaching.  The apostles preach the gospel, encounter imprisonment, are miraculously released, and immediately get back to preaching the gospel – in the exact same place their message seemed to fail the first time!

How often are we eager to shake the dust off our feet when opposition to our faithfulness arises?  There is a time for counting our losses and moving on, but the preacher might want to consider encouraging the call to return to hard places, to keep at the work of faithfulness, and to proclaim the good news again regardless of the results we see.  Twice the apostles preached in the temple.  Twice they were arrested. Once they were flogged. And yet, Acts 5 concludes with the apostles rejoicing in their sufferings and preaching in the temple every single day.  Too often, discouragement and indifference creep in, and we cease to proclaim the gospel.  There is a great witness that comes from those who keep at it.  This may be a week of picking up the apostles’ torch and keeping at it!

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Acts 10:34-43

This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on March 27, 2016.

St. Peter in the House of Cornelius - G. Dore
St. Peter in the House of Cornelius – G. Dore

Most preachers will choose one of the gospel passages for this Sunday, but if you are looking for a slightly different spin on the usual Easter texts, Acts 10 is a good way to go.  This passage occurs within the larger context of Cornelius’ conversion story which serves as the climax of the first half of Acts.  Throughout Acts, the gospel has been gradually moving forth unhindered from Jerusalem, into Samaria, and now into Joppa.  Along the way, Samaritans and an Ethiopian have believed the good news.  And if that wasn’t enough to stir things up, Luke now presents a Roman solider! It is no wonder the circumcised believers at Cornelius’ conversion with Peter were just a bit overwhelmed. “Is there anyone this God won’t save?”  This is the question that had to be racing through their hearts and minds.

Just moments before, Peter had that transforming vision on the rooftop. The sheet was lowered, and he was instructed to eat the animals in it, many of which were unclean.  Three times Peter hears the voice, along with the command, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (vs. 15).  The ambiguous vision  becomes clear in verse 34 when Peter finally gets it!  God shows no partiality.  The vision was not simply about unclean food but about “unclean people,” and who is fit to sit at God’s table… and at our table. In this moment of revelation, the invitation to convert shifts from Cornelius to Peter, and then to the reader. Are we willing to let the gospel of Jesus Christ engage and overturn some of our long held preferences and beliefs?  Are we especially willing to be converted in our understanding of who we view as “worthy” recipients of the gospel?  Even more, are we willing to be challenged with a new vision of who we invite to sit at our table?

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Isaiah 50:4-9a

This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on March 20, 2016.

Isaiah - Marc Chagall
Isaiah – Marc Chagall

This is not your typical Palm Sunday text.  We prefer the celebration. Children waving branches as Jesus, mounted on a donkey, rides into the holy city.  We join the parade singing “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” The congregation knows Good Friday will happen before we meet again.  But on this day, we prefer to celebrate, sing, and dance.

Perhaps, breaking tradition is healthy every so often.  The unwritten question resonating in the background of the Triumphal Entry asks, “Will these same people worship the Jesus on the donkey, when he is hanging on cross?”  “Will they identify with the suffering one, just as they celebrate the one who comes as a king?” “Will we?”  These questions are where Isaiah 50 and the Triumphal Entry find common ground this Palm Sunday.

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