4/18/2010 - The Rev. Emily J. Guthrie - The Third Sunday of Easter

posted May 21, 2010, 6:56 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:57 PM by Terry Brady ]
One of my dear young friends has a familiar signature at the bottom of her emails: “God uses damaged people.” She sends a LOT of emails. Though I don’t often forward to the 10 people required so that I will be blessed 10fold in the next hour…I do end up reading this tagline at least once daily. God uses damaged people. And as ubiquitous as that phrase is, I now find I love being reminded of it again and again. It’s comforting…

This morning in Acts, we hear the symbol-laden story of Saul’s life altering experience on the road to Damascus. Saul was a young tent maker and Pharisee, a highly educated religious man who believed with many of the Jewish authorities that those who “belonged to the Way,” as the early Christians called themselves, needed to be controlled. But Saul was a zealot and unlike others of the Pharisees, Acts reports he breathed threats and murder and went from house to house to root out the men and women followers so that he could torture them or send them to prison.

But on his way to Damascus to bring back any Jews who had become followers of Jesus, his life changes. He hears the voice of Jesus calling him out on the truth of his life, and calling him to take all that had been given him and use it to build up the people of God. For Saul, his conversion – literally his turning around, his transformation – was sudden, unexpected and altogether life altering. Saul sees with new eyes. He sees his life and the lives of those around him through the lens of a God who loves and heals. In the past, he used power to instill fear, commit violence and create dissention. In his new life as Paul, he struggles and mostly succeeds to use his power and authority to inspire, instruct, lead and nurture the followers of Jesus in the first century of the Common Era, and for generations since.

Paul begins a life that would take this message of a living God to Jews and non-Jews alike, to cities and towns, to wealthy and poor, in ways that he would never have imagined. God it seems certainly used this one very damaged person…for glorious purposes.

Take also the disciples; they are so blessedly imperfect. Still fishing on the wrong side of the boat. Still not sure what they should do or if they should speak, even though knowing in their hearts that they are seeing and eating breakfast with the Jesus who they knew died and yet lives. In so many of the stories, they just don’t seem to get what Jesus is saying half the time. And yet they lived lives of recognizable difference, of noticeable love, of radical inclusion. Indeed this small group of Palestinian Jewish fishermen and working women, struggling to feed their families and make sense out of their lives, gave us a way to envision being disciples in our own day. In no way were they perfect, in no way could they be construed as the obvious choice for God’s revelation, and yet they were each willing to follow and carry on the message of God’s extraordinary love and radical vision for the People of God.

It is fascinating to me that each are called precisely for all their gifts and all their imperfections. It makes sense that Paul’s knowledge of language, of philosophy, of Jewish theology, culture, and tradition prepared him to speak and live as a follower of Jesus in cities across the Greco-Roman world and beyond. Yet the fact that Paul was a zealot, not only as a Pharisee, but also as a follower of Jesus, made him even more suited in many ways to his ministry! Who else would have had the zeal to work and teach for years in the face of persecution, hunger, conflict? This imperfection, this place where he was damaged and damaged others, is oddly the very thing that made him so effective in shaping a conversation that would last for generations about what it means to live a faithful life, to create communities of faith, to follow the Risen Christ.

Some years ago, a woman named Felita came to one of our programs at Capitol Hill Group Ministry. That is her name because she loved us to tell her story because she was proud of her transformation. When I first met her, she said straight out – “I’m damaged goods.” She had fled an abusive relationship and found herself homeless and incapacitated from the trauma. Yet over the course of the year and a half that I knew her – she became one of the most powerful teachers and leaders that I have known.

She hated us at first, cursed us up one side and down the other. Lord that woman could use some language. Then one day she decided that we were for real. We weren’t going anywhere. And almost just like that, she turned around. She started working harder than all of us staff combined. In short order, Felita got her 6 children back, earned a training degree that enabled her to then get a job, found a place to live, and began teaching our younger women to love themselves, and teaching all of us to recognize and use our broken places as places where the light of Christ can break into our lives.

I miss her so much… walking with Felita was walking with the risen Christ. You could feel the power of her love, compassion, and righteous anger for just action. God and Felita, they took broken lives and stretched them, not into perfection – but into something whole and holy.

Yes, God uses damaged people. And it just may be that our broken places are or will be where the sacred seeps into our lives – and seeps out into the world.