This post was first published on January 23, 2019 for Church of the Apostles Anglican, Kansas City. 

On January 25th, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The readings for the day are Psalm 67, Acts 26:9-21, Galatians 1:11-24, and Matthew 10:16-22. Below is a blog post written by The Rev. Porter Taylor about the feast day.

The Collect: O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

In the list of prominent New Testament figures, Paul surely occupies one of the top spots after Jesus and Mary, the mother God. He is known for his conversion on the road to Damascus, for his missionary travels, for his time spent in prison, and for his prolific writing. He is referred to as “the Apostle Paul,” “St. Paul,” or “Paul, Apostle of the Crucified Lord,” but what does this all really mean?

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. The lessons understandably center on Saul’s conversion while traveling to Damascus as part of his ongoing efforts to persecute Christians but they do so from the perspective of Paul at the end of his ministry. Saul, as you’ll recall, was a Pharisee, a Pharisee of Pharisees (Acts 23) and a Jew of Jews. We first encounter him in Acts 7 as he stands watch over the stoning of Stephen. Next, we hear of Saul’s persecution of the church: he was ruthless and intense, even to the point of going to the High Priest and requesting letters (i.e. authority) stating that he could imprison all members of The Way and bring them to Jerusalem.

And so it happened, one day, as Saul was traveling to Damascus…

Saul meets Jesus on the road. In a blinding light—but truly an eye-opening encounter—Saul hears the voice of the Crucified and Risen Lord asking him, “Why do you persecute me?” This is the moment that changes Saul’s life forever. Years later, before King Agrippa, Paul recounts this event and outlines how everything he has done since that encounter with Jesus was in obedience to the Gospel. He preached in Damascus, Jerusalem, Judea, and then to all Gentiles. The Gospel spread like wildfire because the Holy Spirit anointed and empowered men and women like Paul to take their stories public and draw others to Jesus.

Conversion is always a two-part movement: you must be converted from something and you must be converted to something. Saul is converted from his persecution of Jesus and his followers, and Saul is converted to the Gospel of Jesus, the Good News of YHWH in Christ. Saul is blind for three days but is healed, anointed, baptized, and then begins preaching to the ends of the earth.

Paul begins his letter to the Galatians by establishing his authority to preach: this authority is grounded first and foremost in a revelation of Jesus (read: road to Damascus) and second in his time spent in Jerusalem with Peter and the other apostles. Paul is telling the Galatians, “You can trust me and what I say!” Remember, Paul was formerly Saul, and his reputation was well-known and well-earned. Many in the early centuries of the church were preaching their own gospel rather than Christ crucified; Paul points to his encounter with Jesus and his time with the apostles to help the Galatians know that he was preaching the true gospel. Perhaps we should point to Jesus rather than ourselves in our own lives…

Paul is tangible proof that God’s faithfulness to this covenant promises with Israel extends fully to the Gentiles as well. Put another way, in Paul we see that through Israel the whole world will be blessed just as YHWH promised Abraham way back in Genesis. God’s faithfulness has always been to a specific people but also through a specific people unto all of creation. This is what Psalm 67 is trying to show us: all the peoples of the world will know of God’s goodness because that has always been the plan. The people of God are a people of blessing through whom the world is blessed and brought into the family.

We are sent out ones as well, friends. Our own stories of conversion may not be recorded in Scripture with such specificity and wonder as Saul-now-Paul, but I promise you that your story can be found within The Story. We have been called from our old lives and called to Jesus. Our faith is grounded in our encounter with God, our reception of apostolic faith from those who have gone before us, and it is worked out most concretely in service to and on behalf of the world. Giving our faith away to others is at the same time both an act of pure generosity and a profound way of strengthening what we believe.

The celebration of Paul’s conversion today is an invitation to remember our personal conversion to God and His kingdom and an urgent call to do as Paul did: remain obedient to the Gospel and proclaim it to the ends of the earth. Freely have we been given, and so freely should we give to the world God created and for whom He is in the business of restoration, reconciliation, and redemption.

This post was first published on January 16, 2019 for Church of the Apostles Anglican, Kansas City.

On January 18th, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter. The readings for the day are Psalm 23, Acts 4: 8-13, 1 Peter 5:1-4, and Matthew 16:13-19. Below is a blog post written by The Rev. Porter Taylor about the feast day.

The Collect: Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

“But who do you say that I am?”

Jesus and his followers had traveled across the Sea of Galilee (again) and travelled some 30 miles north to a city that was home to both Roman and Greek places of worship. The first question Jesus asks regards who the people think He is. The answers are flattering, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets,” but they are wholly incomplete. This list represents significant figures in Israel’s history, but they are only those who pointed to YHWH and His coming kingdom.

Jesus presses in a little further by making it personal. Who do you say that I am? This question comes on the heels of miracles (feeding the 5,000 and the 4,000), divine healings, and the Sermon on the Mount. The disciples have witnessed firsthand that what Jesus is doing something significant, and Peter’s answer is proof that Jesus is far more than a prophet or forerunner. Jesus is the one who has been prophesied, He is the Kingdom come, He is the Messiah for whom Israel has long been waiting.

Within the context of Matthew’s Gospel then, this story represents a significant shift in the narrative: Jesus’ Galilean ministry seems to draw to a close and His movement toward Jerusalem—and ultimately the Cross—begins to move forward without pause. In fact, it is just a few verses later in the chapter that Jesus tells the disciples that He will be killed and raised again only to be rebuked by Peter! Matthew is giving us a hint, I believe, that Jesus’ identity as “Christ, Son of the Living God,” is directly and irrevocably tied to His crucifixion.

The poetic beauty, if we may call it that, in this whole story is that the revelation of Jesus as Christ, and His statement that the “Gates of Hades shall not prevail” against His Church, takes place in the city where the Romans and Greeks believed the gates of hell to be located. The Cave of Pan was situated in Caesarea Philippi, and within the cave was a bottomless water source believed to be the gates of Hades. Jesus’ statements take on whole new meaning when read in this light: outside of a temple of worship dedicated to a god of the underworld, outside of the cave believed to be the gates of hell, Jesus announces that the church built upon the rock of Peter’s confession shall never be prevailed against. This is not some vague or random spiritual abstraction by Jesus but is a pointed, intentional, and bold claim against all Roman and Greek theological beliefs.

Peter’s ministry is forever shaped by this interaction, as is the course of Church history. The lessons from Acts and 1 Peter assigned for the day demonstrate that Peter continued to boldly proclaim the Gospel of God in Christ and to build up the church. Peter’s example to us is certainly one of bold faith and Gospel proclamation, but even more than that, he shows us Jesus is the source and content of our faith and gospel. It may seem too simple an idea for such a significant day in the church, but the Confession of Saint Peter should point us first and foremost to Jesus. Before we can talk about unity or caring for the flock, we must first see Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Cornerstone, and the source of salvation for all.

The rock of our faith is not the Cave of Pan or the mountain at whose feet Caesarea Philippi is settled, nor is the person of Peter. The rock of our faith is the confession of Jesus as Messiah…everything else in our faith is built upon this one foundation. Peter’s exhortation to the church in the epistle makes sense as the outflow of this truth: tend the flock. Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter after his triplet of denials is full of sheep and shepherd imagery: feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep. Peter’s role within the church, his faith as lived out amongst Jews and Gentiles, flows from his understanding of Jesus as Messiah and shepherd. Our faith must do the same!

Peter urged the church to shepherd the flock, just as he was shepherding the flock, until the day when the True Shepherd of Israel returns. When Jesus is the Christ, we are but stewards of His people, caretakers of His church, and Gospel-messengers in His world. Our unity as Church of the Apostles and as part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church is nothing more or less than Jesus.

Who do you say that Jesus is? The question is posed to each of us, both individually and corporately, just as Jesus turned and asked His disciples while walking through Caesarea Philippi centuries ago.

How is your faith informed and energized by your answer to that question? These are things we are invited to ponder on this Feast Day as we strive to answer with the same boldness as Peter…