Amy Jones,
Agape Coordinator
Dear God, we come to worship you today. 
We come to pray, and listen.
You always hear us. 
Help us to hear you. Amen
Scripture
Acts 9:19b-31

19bFor several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God." 21All who heard him were amazed and said, "Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?" 22Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.

23After some time had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night so that they might kill him; 25but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.

26When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. 28So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him. 30When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

31Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
Devotional
Tom was a cop and Jason was a teenage runaway in a gang. One night in 1997, when Tom and his partner approached Jason sleeping in his vehicle, things quickly became violent when Tom’s partner found a gun in Jason’s pocket. Jason ran toward a nearby home and Tom chased him and pepper-sprayed him. In the course of the altercation, Jason shot Tom in the neck. 

Tom was rushed to the hospital. Jason was apprehended. Tom almost miraculously lived. Tom’s wife, Christy, says the following ten years were very dark. She was deeply depressed, angry, and wanted Jason dead.

Jason was sentenced to 19 years to life. Nine years into his sentence Jason went before the parole board and Tom was there. Tom was ready to testify to all the damage Jason had done to his life and his career, but what he didn’t expect was to hear the parole board rehearse the events of Jason’s life up until that fateful night. 

Jason’s mother was a drug addict. His father was a drug dealer when he wasn’t in prison. Jason cared for his siblings as much as he could as a young boy. He would mow lawns in his neighborhood, $5 for the front and $5 for the back, just so he could buy bread and bologna for his siblings to eat. He joined a gang as a teenager as much for the affirmation and sense of belonging as he did for the protection. 

On hearing this, Tom realized that he and Jason were like “rocket ships” on a collision course. Everything about the environment Jason was raised in led him to distrust police officers, to seek violence to solve problems, and to run when there is trouble. Every part of Tom’s training was about identifying and pursuing people like Jason. Tom and Jason were each provoked to violence based on how they were trained to respond to stressful situations.

After the parole hearing, Tom sought to speak to Jason with a mediator. This is a program that allows victims to meet their perpetrators and seek some kind of resolution. It was an emotional meeting for Tom and Jason that ultimately led to Tom and Christy forgiving Jason. Jason was released on parole sometime after that meeting and still has a relationship with Tom and Christy.

People change and evolve. There was more to Jason than just a “cop shooter.” Tom describes how he changed, too. There was a time in his career when he would be dispatched and tell people, “If the solution to your problem isn’t on my holster belt, you called the wrong person.” He doesn’t think about his job that way anymore.

Saul changed. Jason changed. Tom changed. You changed. None of us are static people in static environments. We all grow and change in ways that deserve to be recognized and acknowledged. We don’t throw people away. Tom didn’t throw Jason away. God didn’t throw Saul away, and ultimately neither did Saul’s community. Without Saul, the good news about Jesus Christ wouldn’t have spread. It is possible that without Saul’s change of heart and without a second chance, that we would not have the church community we have today. 

We worship a God of second chances, a God who not only honors change and repentance but invented it. Who deserves a second chance from you?
Prayer
God of second chances, you took a chance on us. Give us the patience to hear each other’s stories. Free us to give a second chance to others. Amen.

(You can hear Tom and Jason’s story on Ear Hustle, in the episode titled “Tell Christy I Love Her.”)
Amy Jones
Amy Jones, Agape Coordinator
Amy Jones our Agape Coordinator is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. In this tradition, deacons are ordained clergy who bridge the ministry of the church with the needs of the world, and vice versa. In more than 15 years of ministry, she has worked in churches, in children and family ministry, higher education, and nonprofits. In each setting, her focus has been on matching the resources of the church with the needs of the world. Agape Community Kitchen is exactly the type of work she was called to do. 

Amy can be reached by email at: agape@westfieldpc.org.
The Presbyterian Church in Westfield continues to burn as a light in the darkness as our community weathers this fearsome storm of illness. Our reach of care continues to extend far beyond our immediate borders. You can help us make a real impact in the lives of others by joining in our work through your time, your talents, and also in the fruits of your labors.
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