So today was the big day. In front of a small group of worshipers who forgoe lunch to celebrate the Eucharist I gave a Homily about the conversion of St.Paul. The Reverend Lisa Saunders also had me assist with the Prayers of the People, read the Epistle lesson, select which Eucharistic prayer we used. (I chose C, which is about the glory of God’s creation.)
So without further ado, here it is:
The Conversion of Paul
Today we listened to part of the letter that Paul wrote to the Galatians. The part where he justifies his ministry by recounting what happened to somehow make him go from being a passionate persecutor of Christians to it’s most active missionary.
Why was Paul so defensive? There was a little bit of conflict going on back then in the church, a little bit of a difference of opinion. Why does that sound familiar?
Back then the early Jewish Christians, who were alive at the time Jesus was crucified, were planting churches and telling people that they had to follow the roughly 613 Jewish laws as well as being baptized to earn eternal life.
Paul didn’t believe Gentiles who became Christians were required to follow the Old Covenant laws. After his road to Damascus conversion, where he was blinded by a bright light and then saw and spoke with Jesus, he became convinced that the Gentiles were his special mission and that it made no sense that the old laws should apply.
But why should the Galatians listen to him? He wasn’t one of the original disciples, and the missionaries who were stopping by in Galatia telling them not to eat pork and to be circumcised knew the Apostle Peter or James, the brother of Jesus…they were a little closer to the original source. In other words, Paul had a bit of a credibility problem.
But Paul also had something else. He had experienced a profound change that day on the road, a life altering experience that gave him a certainty and drive that he could not ignore. If he had been a zealous persecutor of Christians before, now he was utterly and completely dedicated to spreading the Good News.
Paul wants the Galatians to understand that this powerful call from Jesus was meant to be delivered to them, Gentiles, not by Jewish Christians who would always see them as other, and not quite good enough, but by Paul, who has no ties to that community and no agenda other than sharing the news of Jesus as directed by Jesus himself in a vision.
Paul himself had been a devout Jew, persecuting those very Jewish Christians and a strict follower of all of the Jewish laws before his encounter with Jesus and he would follow them throughout his life whenever he was in the presence of other Jews. But he had no interest in promoting Judaism Light to Gentiles. He believed wholeheartedly and without reservation that Jesus’s coming had signified a completely new way of interacting with God, a new covenant and a new way to live a life of faith and that he Paul, had a special kind of authority, a special kind of vision because he had had his own foundational world view shaken on that dusty road to Damascus. So much so that he had given up every aspect of his old life.
All of us are here in church together at a time of day when most Americans are not. In our own way we are hearing something calling us to this time and place. It may not be a blaze of light that blinds us for three days or a voice from the heavens, but we feel something, hear something, sense something calling us closer to God.
I think about Paul and what he did after this experience he had. I try to imagine what I would do in his place. He had choices, he could have dismissed the experience as a hallucination brought on by wine and heat, or some kind of illness. He could have just refused to believe it and stuck his fingers in his ears and said na-na-na-na-na-na, but of course, he didn’t do those things.
What he did do was travel all over starting churches and write lots of letters exhorting everyone he could about this idea of a new covenant, a new relationship with God, based on faith and love and not on rigid observations of man made rules. He poured his whole life into this effort. The fact that we are sitting here in a church at all is a testament to his success. All because he decided to listen to that call. Just as we all have when we came here today. Whether we came to seek solace, or to find comfort or to ask for forgiveness or to pray for help, we came in answer to something inside us that aches for God. Perhaps we simply long for his presence or want to offer him our worship and devotion or we have questions about how best we can serve his will. We all felt something that drew us here. Today I ask that you will take some time to reflect on that feeling you had that brought you here. Ask yourself if this is your road to Damascus moment writ small. If Paul could build a church on one roadside intervention, what can you build on the knowledge that God is moving in you today?