Fearless like Paul
I grew up as a Korean Methodist. In theory, this meant a community with a generous orthodoxy and rich social practice, but in reality it was a church that looked and felt like a conservative evangelical community. We had the concept of saving grace that we talked about, but there was no practice of it. We had high expectations for ourselves and others. Instead of relying on the acceptance and embrace that grace brings, many of us strove for perfection through sheer willpower. At times, I had to put a mask on to save face. I had this deep-seated fear of not being good enough or not being accepted. The practical side of this high standard was ugly. We became judgmental about others and exclusionary to those who thought and believed differently. We lived like Paul, who was born and raised in a traditional Hebrew family, and whose Jewish religious tradition trained him well to follow the Laws and to criticize those who did not. We followed the Law, but there was no love.
Just like Paul, who encountered the resurrected Christ on his way to Damascus, I too met the resurrected Christ on my theological and spiritual journey. This resurrected Jesus asked me why I was so harsh on myself and others.
I don’t know exactly what happened to Paul when he had his vision. Although his eyes were open, he couldn’t see (Acts 9:8-9). His own ways of seeing the world, thinking, believing and following the Law were put to death for three days. When his sight finally returned it came with a new way of seeing the world. He had new eyes - the eyes of Jesus and His redeeming grace. Likewise, I don’t know what happened to my critical eyes. I had my eyes open but could not see faults in me or in others. Forgetting and forgiving grace found its way into my heart.
We may idealize this change as a conversion experience or spiritual transformation. However, this drastic change in Paul turned his world upside down. He lost the power and privilege which he had as a pious Jew. His former allies now threatened him and plotted to kill him. His new allies, followers of Jesus, did not take his changes seriously and were suspicious of him and his intentions. Likewise, my own church tradition began to reject me and condemn me when I stopped wearing their masks and stopped saving my face and theirs. Paul experienced a deep social alienation as did I.
But I did not fear, as Paul did not fear. He was alone and he used this time and solitude to tune himself in with God. Through this time alone, he began to follow this new Way revealed to him by the risen Christ in humility. He learned to embrace others, whether they were slave or free, Jew or Greek, men or women, as siblings in Christ. He moved on to live fully in the redeeming grace of Christ.
It was and continues to be a scary journey for me as I move from my own cultural and faith tradition to a culture of Christ and from my own effort of saving face to the saving grace of Christ. And as I walk humbly with God, I echo Paul’s confession, “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10).
Thank you God for embracing us as who we are and for the redeeming grace in Christ Jesus which you have poured into the world and into my life. Thank you, Jesus, for coming all the way here to live among us and journeying with us. Amen.
Rev. Hannah Ka