Sun, May 01, 2022

"Who are you, Lord?"

Duration:12 mins 31 secs

One day…

when our Irish wolfhound, Aedan, was young…

he swallowed about a dozen anti-inflammatory capsules that had accidentally been left on the table…

while we were out.

When we returned home…

and discovered what he’d done…

we immediately took him to the vet.

Fortunately, he hadn’t consumed a lethal dose.

But the vet suggested giving him something to make him throw up…

and some activated charcoal to try to absorb some of the drug.

So we left him for a couple of hours.

Now, Aedan is a very sensitive soul…

and he didn’t take kindly to their efforts to shove strange things down his throat.

The charcoal, apparently, went everywhere.

It was obviously very traumatic for the young fellow.

Ever since then, he won’t let us do anything to his head.

He won’t let us put drops in his ears.

It’s a job, sometimes, giving him his monthly heartworm prevention tablets…

or even brushing his head.

That past experience has shaped his expectations and interpretations.



What we see and understand…

is fundamentally shaped by our enculturation.

To make sense of our world––

and all that we experience––

our brains construct mental patterns or frameworks.

We make connections between our experiences.

We overlay them with assumptions and values––

drawn from past experience…

and cultural conditioning––

and these patterns or models then shape how we experience reality thereafter.

So, when we encounter something new…

we filter it through this worldview.

We try to make sense of it…

by reference to these mental patterns or frameworks that we have constructed.

But this worldview doesn’t just help us make sense of our experiences…

it also shapes and controls what we experience.

It shapes what we see and hear, and how we make sense of it.

In effect, our worldview acts both as a lens and as a set of blinkers.

It can prevent us from seeing, hearing, or experiencing things… 

which don’t fit with how we have constructed our world.

And when we do encounter an experience that doesn’t fit––

one that can’t be explained by our existing worldview––

then, we’re forced to rethink.

We have to throw out old constructs and build new ones…

rearrange our patterns and images…

re-draw our whole worldview.

And nowhere is that probably more the case––

or more difficult it seems––

than in terms of our religious worldview.

We all have a certain mental-construct of God––

one that has been shaped by our culture, upbringing, and experience.

But this image of God also controls and shapes how we experience God.

And how we experience God––

and the sort of God that we experience––

will be determined by the image of God that we have constructed.


All of which brings us to this morning’s reading from the Book of Acts––

the so-called “conversion” of Paul.

Now, we know that, at some point, there was a dramatic change in Paul’s life.

Paul, himself, alludes to it in his own letters…

although he never describes it in detail.

This author’s account of it is a wonderful piece of imaginative and symbolic storytelling.

He’s trying to paint a picture of what he thinks might have happened.

He’s trying to explain what might have brought about a profound change in Paul’s thinking…

and in his worldview.

But, to understand that change we need to understand the worldview out of which Paul––

as a first-century Israelite––

would have operated. 

Paul would have been brought up to understand that God was gracious and loving;

that God had chosen the people of Israel to be God’s special people;

and that God had entered into a unique relationship with them…

such that they, and only they, were the recipients of God’s love.

And, in response to God’s love and mercy, they were to be faithful and holy.

Keeping the Hebrew Law––

with all of its commandments, prohibitions, and regulations––

was their response to God’s love and mercy.

It was a way of saying that they belonged;

that they were members of God’s family.

And the author suggests that Paul’s devotion to the Law was quite zealous…

and that he was angered by those who didn’t take it seriously––

those Israelites who didn’t respect the Law and who weren’t faithful or holy.

He wanted them thrown out, excluded, and punished.

After all, that’s why the Hebrew leadership had Jesus executed––

because he continually flouted the Law and taught others to do the same.

He didn’t take seriously what they thought it meant to be part of God’s community.

He associated with people who weren’t pure or holy––

people who were unrepentant ‘sinners’––

and he had the gall to claim that he was doing so in God’s name.


So, however it happened in reality, when Paul came to believe that Jesus had been raised…

and, thus, that God had vindicated him––

that God was, in fact, speaking through what Jesus had taught… 

and the way that he had lived… 

and that God was working through his followers as they continued his teaching—

it must have fundamentally shattered Paul’s religious worldview. 

It wasn’t a “conversion experience”––

at least, not how that’s normally understood.

Rather, Paul was forced to confront the fact that what he had been taught about God––

what he had taken for granted about what God was like…

and how God related to humankind––

was wrong.

For Paul––

and for the author of Acts––

that meant coming to terms with the idea that God is, in fact, impartial;

that God doesn’t play favourites;

and that God accepts those who have thought… 

and who have been told… 

that they’re unacceptable to God.

For the author of Acts… 

the resurrection ought to fundamentally challenge our image or model of God…

and our whole religious worldview.


And yet… 

so many people today still live with a very simple and simplistic God-construct––

one that was formed when they were small children;

one that they have never grown beyond;

and one that they never expect to grow beyond.

Indeed, rather than allow that image to change, they adapt their experience of reality to it––

rejecting vast swathes of human knowledge:

centuries of scientific…


and historical learning.

Rather, that ought to shape our understanding of the world…

and our understanding of God.

We need to begin to let go of the old dogmas…


God as the answer to that which we cannot explain––

the so-called “God of the gaps”;

or, God as the one who created the universe out of nothing;

or, God as the one who controls events––

for good or for bad––

and who seemingly breaks the fundamental laws of physics at whim and without consequence;

or, God as distant, aloof, unchanging, and impassive;

or, God as the strict guardian of a millennia-old moral code…

who will condemn millions to eternal punishment for not believing certain things.

Seriously, how can we continue to cling to those sorts of God-constructs today?



through this story, the author of Acts suggests that–– 

like Paul––

we need to be continually and radically open:

open to new insights…

open to new perceptions and possibilities…

open to having our image of God blown apart.

Believing in ‘the resurrection’–– 

even in a metaphorical sense––

demands nothing less.


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