May 18, 2014
Stephen looks at Saul
Stephen: Why it’s you!
Saul: I’m sorry – have we met?
Stephen: Don’t you remember me?
Saul: I’m afraid I don’t.
Stephen: Well I certainly couldn’t forget you! You’re Saul!
Saul: Wow! I haven’t answered to that name in a long time. Yes, Saul was my birth name – but that was ages ago. So much has changed since then – including my name! Now I’m Paul (not Saul) – and life has been so much better, so much fuller than I ever could imagine! (Saul laughs) I can laugh; I found that life has meaning and I have a purpose. I never want to go back to my old life of Saul again!
Stephen: What made the difference?
Saul: I saw Jesus .
Stephen: (laughs himself) You? You had an encounter with Jesus?! I can’t believe it! Now you must remember me…don’t you?
Saul: Can’t say that I do…was it in Corinth? Or Ephesus perhaps?
Stephen: We met long before that…in Jerusalem. I saw Jesus too – but at the time you didn’t want to hear about it at all! In fact when I met you you (how can I put this delicately?) – you ordered me to be killed because of my beliefs in Jesus.
Saul: (quietly) I’m ashamed to say that I had so many of Jesus’ followers killed that I cannot remember them all… Please don’t call me Saul any longer – that was my old name, for my old life. By the grace of God, I’ve changed. I’ve been transformed! I am Paul.
Stephen: Okay Paul…I heard that you became one of us! I could scarcely believe it! How did it happen?
Paul: Well I was on my way south to Damascus, to try and capture some of his followers who had left Jerusalem. You know there was a price on their heads and at that time the only thing I was thinking about was how I could make more money. I had developed a reputation – a reputation for being ruthless.
Stephen: That too is hard to believe. How did you do it?
Paul: I know I don’t look very ruthless – I mean I know I was short and not a very good speaker – sometimes I stuttered. As they said later, maybe I had a Napoleon complex (but of course I didn’t know who Napoleon was!)
Stephen: I think he was someone who became famous for a dessert of some kind.
Paul: Well, in any case, I built my reputation on fear. And the Roman and Jewish leaders loved me for it! I had paperwork directly from the hands of the high priest himself giving me permission to bring back to Jerusalem anyone – man or woman – who were followers of the Way. And I had every intention of bringing back everyone I could find!
Stephen: So how many did you find?
Paul: By the grace of God, he stopped me….just as I was reaching Damascus, suddenly there was a light flashing all around me! I fell to the ground as I heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Stephen: Did you know the voice?
Paul: I asked, “Who are you, Lord?” And the voice said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
Stephen: Wow! You heard Jesus himself!
Paul: Yes – and he said more to me. He told me to go into the city and I would be told what to do. The guys with me were speechless! They heard it too! I got off the ground and discovered I was blind – completely blind! For three whole days! All I could do was pray – I couldn’t even eat or drink.
Stephen: Did you get your instructions about what to do?
Paul: I didn’t…but The Lord appeared to a disciple named Ananias. Ananias was told to find me and lay hands on me and I would get my sight back.
Stephen: If I were Ananias, I’m not so sure I would’ve wanted to get that close to you!
Paul: You’re right – Ananias didn’t! He knew about my reputation and of course he didn’t know anything about my transformation! Ahhh…dear courageous Ananias. He did just as The Lord asked. Ananias came to me and placed his hands on me….and immediately it was as if scales fell from my eyes! I could see! The first thing I did was to be baptized – even before I had anything to eat!
Stephen: What do you think gave Ananias such courage?
Paul: Well, The Lord told Ananias that he had a plan for me – a plan to bring the Word of God to Gentiles and Jews, kings and rulers. And Ananias had enough faith to trust that plan I guess! It was pretty amazing!
Stephen: I’ll say!
Paul: Enough about me… I’m a bit hesitant to know, but I think I need to know…tell me about yourself.
Stephen: Well you know how it was in those early days…first there were just a handful of us, and then there were 3000 and then 5000! There were so many people asking for baptism and teaching that some things frankly were being neglected…important things.
Paul: Like what?
Stephen: Like caring for the widows – they weren’t getting their food allotments. Of course the disciples, they were so busy preaching and teaching and praying, that they couldn’t stop what they were doing, so they chose 7 of us to take over providing for the widows’ food. Ah yes…those were good days…Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolaus and myself…(wistfully) Who would have thought that being a waiter could be so dangerous?
Paul: Why? What happened? Some of the widows get food poisoning or something?
Stephen: Not exactly. You see, Jesus always said that to follow him, we would follow him with our whole lives…not just on the Sabbath, not just in the synagogue…but all the time and everywhere. And I took that seriously. I was part of the Way (that’s we called ourselves) – and that meant that Jesus changed our whole way of life! I couldn’t “just” wait on tables – I needed everyone to hear about Jesus! I needed to tell his story!
Paul: Let me guess..not everyone wanted you to tell his story?
Stephen: That’s right! I confess, I wasn’t very delicate in my sermonizing…
Paul: What did you say?
Stephen: Well, I kind of said…I mean I think they heard…well to be absolutely honest, I told them that by refusing to follow Jesus they were just like the Israelites wandering in the desert and were rejecting God.
Paul: You said what???!!!
Stephen: Yeah…I said the Jewish leaders were not really Jewish – they weren’t following God.
Paul: I’m guessing you didn’t make many friends there.
Stephen: Not at all…they were certainly angry! But just then, something miraculous happened…I saw the heavens open and Jesus was standing at the right hand of God.
Paul: (wonderingly) You saw him too? What did it feel like?
Stephen: It was like a peace settled over me. I knew then that no matter what happened next, everything would be okay.
Paul: And was it okay?
Stephen: Yes it was…but not in the way most people would think. They were even more angry when I said I saw him. They covered their ears and dragged me out of the city.
Paul: (ashamed, quiet) I think I remember now. They gave me their coats didn’t they?
Stephen: Yes they did. They put their coats at your feet and then they stoned me.
Paul: Words are so inadequate…but I am sorry. I was wrong – so wrong.
Stephen: I’ve forgiven you and the rest a long time ago. Even as I was dying I prayed that God would not hold this sin against you.
Paul: What different lives we’ve led…
Stephen: Yes…I wonder what these people might learn from us (gestures to congregation)?
Paul: I hope they learn that people can change. I was a murderer of the worst kind – and God changed me.
Stephen: I hope they learn that following Jesus means making a commitment with everything you’ve got.
Paul: I hope they understand the peace that comes from Jesus…over and over again I felt that same peace that you felt – even when I was beaten and jailed – I had that deep peace knowing that God had chosen me.
Stephen: I hope they learn that everyone has a purpose – that there’s meaning in life. I was called to wait on tables and served God there.
Paul: And God called me to share his story with the people I would meet – everyone from Jews and Gentiles, kings and rulers.
Stephen: And I hope they remember Ananias…that disciple who trusted God enough to reach out to you.
Paul: And I hope they remember you and your willingness to acknowledge Jesus even when it was difficult.
Stephen: I give thanks to God for you Paul.
Paul: I give thanks to God for you Stephen.