Something that has fascinated me since my introduction to psychology is, for lack of a better term, double pictures. They are those drawings where at first glance you see a picture of one thing and then with a second glance you see another. The classic drawings are those of the young woman/old woman and the vase/two people kissing. I have to say, I am not the only one who is fascinated by these drawings. Lately, on Facebook, my friends keep sharing newer versions of this. The one currently floating through cyber space is that of a tree and you are asked to comment on the number of faces you find in the tree. I think I am up to thirteen, but it seems every time I see the picture, I find a new face or two more.
I bring this simple pleasure of mine up, because our reading from the Book of Acts is in many ways an account of there being more than meets the eye.
Yes, this morning’s passage from Acts is about the conversion of Saul to Paul. And, yes, our passage contains many amazing details of this event, not the least of which is Saul being blinded by a great light and hearing the booming voice of Jesus speak to him from heaven. But when we take a minute and think about who Saul really was and what God called Saul to do we begin to realize two pictures of Saul are beginning to emerge.
Let’s be honest, when Saul left Jerusalem for Damascus, he was no friend of Christianity. Before leaving, he had approached the Temple authority and gained permission to identify and imprison anyone he believed to be the followers of the Way, as Christianity was known in its earliest form. An earlier account in Acts tells us, it was Saul who took the lead in having St. Steven stoned to death. So it does not come as a surprise when Annanias questions God about sending Saul, the Christian killer, to him as a new convert.
Saul, however, was not the average convert in God’s eyes. God had a big plan for Saul, in fact, you could say it was a, REALLY BIG PLAN. Saul was destined to become Paul whose mission it was to bring the Good News of Christ to the Gentile world.
Saul would never have been my first pick to lead Christianity beyond the boundaries of Judaism. After all, Saul could be described as stubborn, pig headed and a general know it all, which probably meant he didn’t have the best people skills. He was also zealous or one could say fanatical about Judaism and there was of course his penchant or desire to eradicate Christians from the earth. I suspect, if Saul were applying to become the rector of St. Luke’s today, the search committee probably would not make him their first choice.
In Saul’s case, however, God saw a different image of this person. Instead, God saw Paul, a stubborn, pig headed, zealous individual who had the right strengths and personality to take Christianity from a small sector of Judaism to the world encompassing faith it became over the next few centuries.
It’s uncanny how God has the ability to pick the wrong person for the right job. Right from the beginning, God has demonstrated the ability to pick who we may feel was the worst possible candidate and use that person to advance salvation history.
In the beginning, God choose the crafty and conniving Jacob over his more stable and hard working brother Esau to father the twelve tribes of Israel. But then again, it may have been Jacob’s craftiness that allowed the nascent tribe to survive the hard nomadic life they were called to live.
And then God chose Moses, a Jewish Child, raised as a grandchild of Pharaoh, whose temper got the best of him when he hauled off and killed an Egyptian slave master. He then avoids persecution by fleeing Egypt. And then, forty years later, he is called by God to return to the land he left behind to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into the wilderness for forty more years.
It’s true, God does not see us the same way we do. It seems, God sees our strengths and understands our potential when we called out of the darkness and into light of Christ. How different from us! We, who when crossing paths with a young black or hispanic male who is heavily inked with angry looking tattoos and dressed in stereo typical style, often assume the person before us is a gang member. Or, we choose to fear the person in Middle Eastern garb, because we have been forewarned of their potential as terrorists. When we jump to these conclusions, as we all are conditionally prone to do, we fail to see the whole person who God sees. Because of this, we often miss seeing the child with great artistic ability or the great mind that understands the subtleties of creation unlike any other or the one who can articulate and resolve the crux of a misunderstanding.
God , doesn’t see us a limited, but as limitless, and God does not focus on what we cannot do but on what we can do. While working in Boston, one of our older parishioners referred to his then fifty years old cerebral palsied son as a “mangled mess of humanity who refused to die as he was expected to at birth.” I realize these words sound and are harsh, but in defense of the parent, they did come from an individual who today would be well over 100 years old and to some degree his words reflect the context of the American culture in which he grew up.
What was sad to me is that I knew his son when he was in his early twenties. Peter had been institutionalized at the nursing home in the town where I grew up. He was an active member of the church I attended. The young person I knew then was bright, and despite slight limitations with speech, he was quite articulate. I got to know him during an Advent event at which we made Advent wreaths. I remember Peter sharing his artistic eye as we made a wreath together and I remember his sincere desire to connect with and be part of our congregation.
When I met Peter again some thirty years later, the vibrant young man was gone, he was never encouraged to develop his talents or seek full independence. Most around him only focused on what he could not do instead of encouraging the complete and wonderful child of God to break forth. Sadly, Peter’s was a life not allowed the chance to live fully into the dream God had intended.
Today, we have the honor of witnessing and participating in the Baptism of Brennen Daniel Taylor. Brennen is a special child, like all of us, he is a beloved child of God. Brennen is fortunate, thanks to the hard work of past parishioners and many others, the world he has been born into has made great strides in making room for those with physical and mental limitations. And, we, as his community of faith, are charged with helping him realize the dream God has for him. But we cannot do this if all we see is a child with limitations or use terms like disabled or handicapped to describe him. We are called to see and to describe Brennen as God does . . as whole, complete, and like you and me, created in God’s image. We are also asked to accept his baptism as being like all others, as a thanksgiving and the committing of a life into God’s service.
We never know what God’s dreams are for the children we baptize at St. Luke’s. What I do know, is with every child we baptize, God has created them with gifts and talents and a great amount of hope. Hope that they will use these gifts to move forward the Kingdom by doing amazing acts of compassion with their lives. While we do not know what God’s dream is for Brennen, what we do know is two things. First, by having Brennen in our midst, Brennen like each of us, enhances and expands our understanding of what the Kingdom of God is like. And second, in the same way God was able to use a conniving thief to father the tribes of Israel, a murderous coward to lead the Children of Israel out of bondage and into freedom and a fanatical and zealous Jew to take Christianity outside the boundaries of Judaism, we know how God can and will use Brennen, for something spectacular as well.