Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Conversion of Paul - Cold Calling

Acts 9.1-22
Matthew 19.27-end
Psalm 67

It’s 9 O’clock at night; you’re settled down comfortably in your favourite chair ready to watch the news and the phone rings. Good news doesn’t come at this time of night, that’s what my mum always taught me, so you answer the phone with nerves and apprehension. With your heart pumping you get to the phone only to have that click of a switchboard which signals only one thing – it’s a cold call.

Someone is trying to sell you something, at 9 at night!! What are they thinking? This is totally beyond the pail, but let’s faces it you’re too tired to get into a debate about the appropriateness of calling so late. So you just listen…..

“Hi, it’s Jesus; I have a job for you.”

With some artistic license this is the modern day equivalent of Saul’s conversion.  We heard it today in Acts chapter 9; it’s also in chapter 22 as well as discussed in many of Paul’s letters.

Saul was a Jew, a highly trained and knowledgeable Jew, a teacher of the Law.  He was completely opposed to these new rebels who called themselves Christians. In fact he was so zealous in his opposition that he sought them out and persecuted them whenever he could.

One day he was on his way to Damascus, walking along the road, minding his own business, when a bright light blinds him and his companions causing Saul to fall to the ground. From this light comes a voice saying

“Saul, why do you persecute me?”
It’s Jesus; Jesus is talking to Saul and asking him why he doesn’t believe in him.  It’s pretty hard to keep on not believing in someone who is talking to you, no matter how stubborn or opposed you might be, this is life changing.

Saul immediately turns to Christ and says he will follow where Jesus leads him. Saul does as told and allows his companions to take him to Damascus and await further instructions.

When he gets there he meets one of the disciples who heals his blindness, both physically and spiritually, removes his prejudices and doubts and baptises Saul in the spirit. Just like that Saul is converted to Christianity and says “Christ lives in me”.

Our gospel reading today, on the festival of the conversion of St Paul is clearly important. Matthew chapter 19 tells us Jesus’ words that “The first will be last and the last will be first”

Jesus was telling his disciples that those exalted by the world are not necessarily those whom God’s holds in high esteem. God has a different measure of goodness and it is related to the work of his grace rather than the seeking of power and success. Jesus is telling his disciples that they will be blessed in Heaven for all they have given up and suffered; their work on earth will be rewarded.

So what is this telling us in relation to Paul’s conversion?
Saul was not interested in being popular or successful, not once he turned to Christ. He left behind the worldly pleasures and power, instead working purely for God in the people of the world. Paul gave up everything and followed where he was led. And he did this at his conversion, he immediately handed himself over to God’s will.

There is so much for us to take away from today.
Most of us are not called to be Saul; leaving all we have been behind and handing ourselves entirely to a completely new servant life in Christ. But we are called none the less.  You might yourself have had one great moment of conversion.  Or perhaps, like me, you came gradually to faith; learning and growing through the years and coming to know Christ’s call on your life.

Whichever it might be there is one thing which we need to remember; the call does not stop at the conversion and the turning to Christ. God keeps on calling. He calls us to love Him, to love our neighbour, to share the gospel and to follow where He leads us. When we do this we will be changed; we will become the people God wishes us to be, in service for Him. And when this happens, we are blessed.

As we are reminded in the Psalm today; when we turn to Christ and follow his calling then “God is gracious to us and shines on us”. How can we possibly refuse such a call with a promise on our lives.

Let’s now hold some quiet and let God speak about where he calls us next.

We praise and thank you Lord for the men and women you have called to be saints; from your first frightened friends, through Paul and into the centuries of discovery of you and growth of your church. We praise you Lord for calling us to serve you now, for baptising us to represent you in your world. Help us to be Christ’s body, to heal and reconcile the world. Help us to share Christ’s life with everyoneAmen.

This sermon was preached at the 11am communion service at St Nicolas Earley on Wednesday 25th January 2012

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