BY: FATHER SEAN TEMPLETON
Today the Church remembers and celebrates the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle. Paul authored much of the New Testament ardently encouraging instructing and correcting the early church. While he was a "late-comer to the game" he too saw and spoke to Jesus. He tells us of his encounter with Jesus in the Book of Acts. He is being questioned by King Agrippa before his court. It is a fascinating account.
9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:9-17)
One thing can surely be said about Paul, he was always "all in." There was no halfway-measured response to to God. There was no "private religion" for him. He believed and was commissioned by God to spread the light of Jesus everywhere he went. He even tried to convert King Agrippa. I love the following interchange.
King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” 28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” 29 And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” (Acts 26:27b-29)
The King did not, but marveled at Paul's faith. Paul often paid dearly for his faith. He was beaten, driven out of cities, imprisoned and eventually executed by the sword in Rome. He willingly gave up everything to serve God.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:8)
Our modern world asks, "How could it possibly be worth it?" The answer Paul gives is that he is certain of Jesus Christ. He has seen him and the world to come. This is a gift to you and I.
The testimony of Paul and his conversion is light to us. We may not be able to hold with first-hand evidential certainty the world to come, but we too can encounter Jesus and be changed by him.
And if you're wondering "How can I possibly leave ______ and obediently follow Jesus after all these years?" Consider what Paul left behind: prestige, wealth, comfort, health. You see our conversion is ultimately a choice between two realities.
The "reality" of the here and now which lasts perhaps 80 years and the reality of perpetual existence. But we must choose - and choose daily - which reality. It is never too late. When our certainty or courage lacks, as Anglicans we cling to those who have gone before and ask the Holy Spirit for grace for our doubts. He will grant it so we can be light in this dark world. Today we thank God for St. Paul.
O God, who, through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Saint Paul, hast caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world; Grant, we beseech thee, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may shew forth our thankfulness unto thee for the same, by following the holy doctrine which he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.