First, I want to express my deep appreciation for the renewal leave I was able to experience this summer. Sometimes things do not go as we plan, but they end up being what we need. As most of you know by now, Susan’s mother died at the beginning of the summer and about the same time my brother Mike was diagnosed with a very serious illness for which he is receiving very difficult treatments. My leave allowed Susan and me to be with her father in Arkansas to help with cleaning out, packing, preparing the house to sell, helping with the move to an independent living facility, and all the other important family duties. It allowed me to spend much more time with my brother than I would have otherwise been able to do. For that and for all your cards, emails, and prayers, Susan and I are grateful.
Second, I am grateful for the clergy and staff of the church who have worked hard in my absence and have blessed this congregation in their preaching, their programming, their leadership, their administration, and their pastoral care.
Finally, I am grateful to be back with you and look forward to this fall. Sunday I begin a series that will take us through some of the life and the major passages of the Apostle Paul. Paul stands tall among the figures who have had a great impact on the beliefs and practices of Christianity. Paul was a controversial figure in his time — and he remains a controversial figure for many people today. At first a zealous persecutor of the early Christians — then called “People Belonging to the Way” — he had a dramatic experience of the Risen Christ and turned his zeal to proclaiming the Good News in all the places he could. Just scan some of the titles of books written during the past decade or so about this tireless “Apostle to the Gentiles” and you can get a sense of how controversial he still is and how varied are the notions of who he was and what his message was:
From Persecutor to Apostle: A Biography of Paul
What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?
Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity
The Apostle Paul: Understanding the Many Misunderstandings of the Apostle Paul’s Stance on the Law and Gospel
Paul Apostle of the Heart Set Free
The Paul Debate: Critical Questions for Understanding the Apostle
Four Views on the Apostle Paul
St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate
Paul: A Radical Apostle?
Apostle Paul: Antichrist
Paul, The Apostle of Grace: The Man to Whom Christ Gave the Final Gospel
The Apostle Paul and Women in the Church
Who Made Early Christianity?: The Jewish Lives of the Apostle Paul
In Search of Paul
Paul: The Odd Apostle
Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle
And, there’s even this: The Journeys of Paul Board Game
During the fall we’ll spend some time with this intriguing leader and let him speak to us today. We begin with the account in Acts 9:1-20 of Paul’s dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus and the life-changing experience that followed.
I look forward to this journey with you in our sanctuary worship.
Grace and Peace,