February 7, 2019, 11:47 AM

Conversion of Saint Paul

Conversion of Saint Paul – Year C – 2019

Conversion Conversation


Bless the words that are spoke and the silence that is shared in the name of the one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.


I am just young enough to have started to learn typing on a word processor.  Word processors were these sort of intermediate machines, somewhere between typewriters and personal computers.  Unfortunately, I never quite mastered the method of typing the teachers insisted that I learn.  I developed my own method, thank you very much, and it came to work well – at least for the most part.


Of course, I still make lots of mistakes when typing, even though I spend quite a bit of time on the computer.  In fact, there are still some words I absolutely refuse to type correctly on the first try.  For example, the word “definitely” usually comes out “defiantly” on the first try.  And forget about the word “disciple.”  I can’t even pronounce the word that comes out on the first try; I’m pretty sure it’s not a word naturally found in English.


I found myself making an interesting typo when typing this week’s sermon.  Today our church celebrates the feast of our patron saint’s conversion.  However, almost every time I tried to type the word “conversion,” I ended up typing the word “conversation.”  Mistyping the same word over and over again became truly frustrating.


But then I began to think about why I might be misspelling – or at least mistyping – the word “conversion” as “conversation.”  Could this be a meaningful slip of the fingers?  Was my brain making an unexpected connection between conversion and conversation?  Was there something about conversion being related to conversation that I could learn from? 


Many of us are probably familiar with the story of Saint Paul’s conversion.  Even if we have not celebrated it with our parish family before, some of us may have had a poster in our Sunday School room of a man being knocked off his donkey and being temporarily blinded by the light of Christ’s presence.  Although I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church and did not attend a traditional Sunday School, I still remember a picture in my religion textbook of a man temporarily blinded by the light of Christ’s presence. 


But, if we look closely at the story, it is not the light of Christ’s presence that converts Paul.  The light of Christ is what causes Paul to pause – to put it politely.  In less polite terms, the light of Christ is what knocks Paul to the ground.  To be more specific, the light of Christ knocks Paul and his fellow travelers to the ground.  It is not just Paul who is sees this light that he describes as “brighter than the sun.”  Paul and those traveling with him fall to the ground, surprised to say the least, by this blinding light.


Here is where the conversion conversation begins.  (As an aside, imagine how many times it took me to type that – the conversion conversation!)  “Saul!  Saul!”  A voice cries from heaven and asks the man knocked to the ground, “why do you persecute me?”  A voice cries from heaven again and reminds Paul that “it hurts you to kick against the goads.”  In other words, “you are only hurting yourself to resist me.” 


The conversion conversation continues when Paul asks, “Who are you, Lord?”  I suppose Paul could stay there in silence, cowering on the ground.  Instead, Paul takes every bit of courage he can muster and asks, “Who are you, Lord?”  Whether Paul asks out of pure curiosity or absolute terror, I don’t know.  But Paul’s question marks the continuation of the conversion conversation.


The voice from heaven identifies itself as “Jesus whom (Paul) is persecuting.”  Jesus does not scold Paul for his past behavior.  Jesus does not punish Paul for the persecution.  Jesus does not even knock Paul over again for asking a question.


Instead, Jesus gives Paul a mission.  Jesus tells Paul, “rise and stand upon your feet.”  It is at this point in the conversion conversation that Paul receives his new purpose in life.  Instead of persecuting Jesus and his followers, Paul is told to turn his life around.  Paul is ordered by Jesus to share the great Good News of God’s love. 


In this conversation with Jesus, Paul is converted.  Paul turns his life around – one of the true meanings of conversion – because of the conversation he has with Jesus.


As a result of this conversion conversation, Paul’s life changes.  And it’s not just his internal life that changes.  It’s not just how Paul feels about Jesus that changes.  It’s not just how Paul thinks about Jesus’ followers that changes.  Paul’s whole life changes because of his conversion conversation. 


How do we know that Paul’s whole life changes because of his conversion conversation with Jesus?  We can tell by something as silly as a punctuation mark.  With just a simple set of quotation marks, we can tell that Paul’s life changes because he tells his story to King Agrippa, the powerful ruler of Judea.   Paul’s life changes and, not only does he stop persecuting followers of Jesus, but Paul also declares his own belief in Jesus, “first in Damascus, then at Jerusalem, and throughout all the country of Judea, and also to the Gentiles.”  The strength of Paul’s conversion strengthens him to speak of his faith to the powerful Gentile ruler of Judea – someone who could have had Paul imprisoned.


The strength of Paul’s belief is born by the conversion conversation he shares with Jesus.  Because of the conversion conversation Paul shares with Jesus, Paul is given the courage to share his beliefs.  Paul then engages in other conversion conversations, proclaiming his belief that Jesus is the Savior of the world. 


Although I don’t know if any of us have been knocked to the ground by the light of Christ and although I don’t know if any of us have heard the voice of Jesus speaking to us directly, I do know that each of us is meant to follow in Paul’s footsteps.  After his conversion conversation with Jesus, Paul is strengthened to have conversion conversations with others.


Each of us is here this morning – however indirectly – because Paul had conversion conversations with others about Christ.  Paul spread the great Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ with the Gentiles – our ancestors. 


Each of us is here this morning – however indirectly – because someone in our life history had a conversion conversation with Christ.  Maybe it was a parent or grandparent or godparent or friend or spouse, but someone played an important role in bringing us to faith in Christ.


Each of us is here today to be strengthened to have conversion conversations about Jesus with others.  Like Paul, Jesus wants us to bring others to faith in Christ. 


On this day when we celebrate the conversion of our patron saint, let us be strengthened by Saint Paul’s example and inspired by Saint Paul’s success to go forth from this place and engage in conversion conversations with others.  Amen.

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