On January 25, the church celebrates the Feast of the Conversion of Paul. Paul, who was once a ferocious enemy of the Christian movement, experienced a dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus and became one of its most zealous missionaries. Paul was a persecutor of the Church; his persecutions of Christians were a result of his Jewish understanding of the Messiah. He was waiting for the Anointed One and could not tolerate the fragmentation of loyalties with the rise of the new sect that believed that Jesus was the awaited Messiah. Paul could not believe that the Jewish Messiah would allow himself to be put to death by crucifixion on a Roman Cross.
Just this past Sunday, we heard the story of the calling of the first disciples as described in the Gospel of Mark. In the sermon, I spoke about my call and asked other to try to remember their calls. Not a conversion story or a salvation story, but their story of how God was constantly calling them, those times that enabled them to see that they were most assuredly connected to God. In her book The Preaching Life, Barbara Taylor Brown states that she believes that God does not just call us once but many times throughout our lives.
I do not think that it is a coincident that our Gospel reading for Sunday talks about the calling of Jesus first disciples and just a few days later we are encouraged to think about the conversion of Paul as the church celebrates his feast day. For me, it is confirmation that God is still speaking to us today. St. Thomas Aquinas describes Paul’s conversion as a sudden reception of grace in contrast to the gradual transformation over time that many of us experience. He says that when “Paul was in the midst of sin, suddenly his heart was perfectly moved by God.” It is just a reminder of how much God loves each one of us. God will do whatever God must for us to understand how much we are loved. And once we understand, God will use us to help further God’s mission in this world.
Paul believed that his persecution of the followers of the Way was justified by his commitment to his Jewish faith. But God had other plans and through his experience of seeing Jesus Christ, Paul changed his life and repented asking for forgiveness for the pain that he caused to others. Once again, this week we are reminded through the celebration of the conversion of Paul that God calls each one of us. Sometimes we can trace those calls through looking for the ways that God constantly reaches out to us and sometimes we can trace those calls through dramatic moments in our lives. But one thing that is the same is that each time that we feel God’s presence in our lives in real and tangible ways, we are forever changed. We are reminded again today that God calls us and all we are asked to do in response is to answer.
– Pastor Melissa