The Conversion of St Paul

Author: 
Fr Alec
Date: 
Sunday, January 25, 2015 - 9:30am

Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord went to the High Priest

 

The old joke is perhaps a little over-familiar.

‘How many Anglicans does it take to change a lightbulb?’

‘What! Change!’

 

Fairly or unfairly, churches in general have a reputation for being fairly conservative places. And this is to some extent understandable. In a world where everything is in flux, and the reassuring constants of life are constantly challenged, and cherished traditions are ever under threat, it is a comfort to come to church and repose upon the eternal changelessness of God. And this is reflected in our attitude not just to God himself, but to our worship of Him and the fabric of the place in which that worship takes place.

 

However, in another way, and taking into account the central message of the Church, our instinctive conservatism, our desire to keep things always the same, should strike us as rather unexpected. After all, Jesus came with a message firmly rooted in the command to change. ‘Repent!’ he cried, ‘and believe the good news.’

To repent is to change. Change our mind, our perception, our being, our direction in life.

By definition, the Church is a body committed to change, not just in ourselves, but in the whole of creation.

‘Behold!’ says the risen and ascended Christ ‘I make all things new!’ Our faith commits us to a vision of a New Heaven and a New Earth. A creation transformed to reflect more fully the Glory of its creator.

After all, we are a Body. We are baptised into the Body of Christ, and we exist as interdependent members of that body. We rely on one another to sustain and support our life in faith. It is in the nature of a body to change. To grow, develop and mature. Continually to renew and heal itself. A body is dynamic and active. A body that has ceased moving is a dead body.

 

Now, do not fear. My words do not betoken some revolution in the life of St Mary’s. (At least not in the sense that I am about to pebbledash the church or begin taking services in a pink onesie.) However, if the Conversion of St Paul which we celebrate today reminds us of anything it is that Christ calls us to a new and transformed life. A life at odds with much that the world holds to be sensible, acceptable or respectable. A vulnerable life in community with one another.

 

Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord went to the High Priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any that belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

 

Nobody was more zealous than Saul: See how this persecution did not come from the High Priest, but was his own initiative. Nor did anyone have more impeccable credentials as part of the Jewish establishment. In his letter to the Philippians he lists how he was

 

circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

 

He was a firm part of the status quo, and when he cast his eyes over this heretical little sect of Christians, upsetting and overturning everything that he held dear, he was horrified by what he saw. He watched with approval as Stephen was stoned to death, and was unmoved.

 

Who could have been a less likely disciple than Saul? Who could have been a less welcome sight in a Christian household? Yet this is to underestimate the power of contact with Jesus. The Jesus who called the fishermen away from their boats and families and Matthew from his tax-collecting. Who calls us to leave everything for the sake of the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price.

 

In a moment, on the road to Damascus, Saul’s life turns on its axis. He turns from persecutor to faithful apostle. He is a man transformed. He writes himself,

 

‘…whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.’

 

Now, not all of us came to faith in Jesus Christ in such a dramatic way. For most of us, our faith in God has been something we were born into, or that developed slowly as we came to know and love Jesus Christ. It can be hard, sometimes, when there is no blinding flash, no sudden voice, to feel the call of Jesus in the same radical and pungent way that Paul did.

 

Perhaps it helps to remember that, like us, the young Saul was born into a community of faith. That what changed at his conversion was not the strength of his piety, or his zeal to serve God, but the focus of that piety and that zeal. God revealed something new to him, and it made him reassess everything else. He was faced with the decision either to stay with what he knew and forsake God, or to stay with God and leave behind his old life.

Notice also, that he was not alone through this process. Ananias was there to comfort and guide him. To lay his hands upon him and restore his sight.  As Christians we have a family around us to nurse us through the pain and disorientation of change, until we can open our eyes to a transfigured reality.

 

And God challenges us in this way daily. Whenever we encounter the scriptures; whenever we hear the call of the gospel, we are being dared to hold up our current life against the example of Christ. To compare the present age with the Kingdom of God. With Paul, God calls us to change, to repent, to believe the good news that with Jesus another life and a better world are within our reach.