St. Paul had an experience of God – a dramatic one (Gal 1, Acts 9, 2 Cor 12) – where he was reminded that God loves him. Despite the hatred and violence that had driven his zeal for religion – God still loved him. "Why are you persecuting me?" That was the question he heard when he was dramatically struck down on the road to Damascus – why are you persecuting me? Up until that point in his life – his religion had been a religion of duty.
For Paul – everything about religion was outside of himself – it was what you did – where you went – what groups you were part of. God was something – out there (David – build a house, out there) – requiring homage and fidelity and adherence to strict rules. Like David – Paul was reminded God is not out there – God is right in here – there is where the house of God resides.
Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus was the start of a new life. Why are you persecuting me – Jesus said to him? And then Paul spends three days in blindness and one imagines in silence – wrestling with that question. He wasn’t persecuting Jesus – he was persecuting followers of Jesus. So did this mean that Christ was within all of us? Paul says he was made to wrestle with a mystery – surely it was a mystery how this duty-bound religion he zealously pursued – was wrong. That the mystery is acceptance of the truth that God loves me – and God loves you. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God
When we read these words of Ephesians – on one level - We can make clear parallels between actual walls in our world and the ways in which this passage speaks to that – how a follower of Christ cannot support building walls, but the disciple is called to bring peace to those who are far off and to those who are near. The disciple is called to be an ambassador of Christ – always an agent of reconciliation. The disciple is called to break down walls of hostility and usher in a new humanity – where all are members of the household of God.
But – as someone once said – The inward journey is the longest journey (Dag Hammarskjöld). The walls within our own selves are what God calls us to connect with first. Jesus says to us this morning – Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile. Jesus – his disciples – everyone needs time to rest in God. To acknowledge – to wrestle with – the places, the dividing walls within us that need healing. Paul names this throughout his letters – why do I know what to do yet still do the things I know I ought not to do? (Romans)
Because we all have our shadow sides – and Paul isn’t afraid to name his.
Paul – not Jesus – is the founder of Christianity. We follow the way of Christ – but the institutionalization of the Way – which is what he called it – came through Paul. Paul who didn’t know Jesus – probably born around the time Jesus died. Paul – who we don’t even know if he read the gospels. Paul who claimed his authority solely from his conversion experience – his being forced to wrestle with who he was – out of that comes an entirely new way of seeing – of being in the world.
See now is the acceptable time. See now is the day of salvation (1 Cor) – in all of Paul’s writings he stresses that in all times and in all places – we can chose to remember we are always “in Christ” – that’s the phrase he uses more than any other. I pray that you may see with the eyes of your heart enlightened. He knows there is a way of seeing that joins the head and the heart – therein lies the wisdom we prayed for in our opening collect.
And he isn’t afraid to name all the parts of himself and ourselves that keep us blind.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels but do not have love – I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. If I have all knowledge and faith to move mountains but do not have love – I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions so that I may boast – and do not have love – I gain nothing. Love is patient. Love is kind. It is not arrogant or envious or boastful or rude. Love does not insist on its own way or rejoice in wrongdoing – but rejoices in the truth.
You can replace the word – Love – with the word God – throughout that beautiful and famous chapter 13 of Corinthians. When we act in this way of Love – we are living in Christ. When we do things or act in ways that are propelled by envy or arrogance or our own self-congratulatory way – which all of us do – we are not acting in Love – we are not being who we were created to be. And if our gospel is to be believed – just by reaching in and touching the fringes of this Christ within ourselves when we know we are doing what we ought not to do – we can begin to be healed.
(Jung exercise - name a person who really bothers you, list the reasons why. Put it away. Come back and replace their name with yours - these are the shadow parts, what we don't like about ourselves...)
The inward journey is the longest journey because it’s a lifetime journey. We are always wrestling and reconciling (on our good days) – denying and repressing – on our not so good days – these parts of ourselves that we prefer not to see. Paul’s good news is that that work matters – this is how God is at work in us – bringing to light what we keep in the dark.
Ephesians is where Paul prays we may have the peace of God which surpasses understanding – a peace that guards our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of Christ. That is not a peace which means the absence of outside conflict – but a peace whereby we are integrated enough – are aware enough that Christ is literally within us – that is what allows us to put on the armor of light.
Sometimes an outside experience gets us there. God loves you. Sometimes it means doing what Jesus has his disciples do – Come away to a deserted place and rest awhile. The inward journey is the longest journey – and it is where the kingdom of God exists all the time. For the kingdom of God is love – and Love bears all things, endures all things, believes all things, hopes all things – Love never ends.
God knows our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking – God has compassion on our weakness and is the source of our strength for the journey – may we humbly and joyfully look to the fountain of all wisdom – to reconcile all the parts and pieces of ourselves – so that we may walk the way of Love – seeing with the eyes of our hearts enlightened. Amen.
(Grateful to have to a Depth Psychology and Theology course taught by Ann Ulanov at Union Seminary and this article: Ulanov, Ann Belford, "The Two Strangers," Union Seminary Quarterly Review, 1973 - And - Richard Rohr "Themes of Paul" via Audible.com)