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Thought for the weekend


Protestants in this part of the world tend not to pay a great deal of attention to the Lectionary, a biblical reading schedule agreed upon by many churches. The practice in my own denomination varies but in many, perhaps most congregations, is that of preaching through a biblical book or selected theme. I certainly acknowledge the theological rationale behind that strategy but want to also commend the value of a Lectionary approach. Based on a three-year cycle, it stipulates four scriptural readings each Sunday: a psalm, an Old Testament, a gospel, and a New Testament text. Following as it does the Christian calendar, it perennially covers the main features of the biblical revelation in a comprehensively balanced way so avoiding the temptations for any preacher or church to obsess over isolated doctrines or issues.

The Lectionary names today the conversion of Paul, remembering in its readings that iconic event when Saul the Pharisee was on his way to Damascus to continue his persecution of the nascent Christian communities. Suddenly he is blinded by the light and hears the voice of the risen Jesus who questions why Saul is persecuting him and his body of followers. Long story short: this is the catalyst for an extraordinary change in Saul's life thereafter transformed into an apostle of Christ, much to the initial disbelief of his former and potential victims. His change of name from Saul to Paul only serves to reinforce this radical change.

Much ink and not a little blood has been spilled over this change in Paul's life and mission. Next to Jesus himself, Paul has long since become the storm-centre for an enormous amount of passion, controversy and conflict often because people have read their own presuppositions into his writings to the detriment of an informed, reflective, open-minded interpretation of what he wrote and meant.

To give just one example, the Damascus road incident is commonly labelled his conversion, and in such a way that people thereafter have been pressurised by their church culture to name the time and date of a similar dramatic personal conversion. But such a narrowing to one dimension fails to recognise that this was as much Paul's calling and commissioning. The core of Paul's gospel was God's glory in Christ; the consequences are rich, costly and complex.

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