Conversion of St. Paul, Transferred from the 25th of January A.D.2021

  Third Sunday after Epiphany transferred  The Conversion of St. Paul    24 January A.D. 2021

Psalms 66           First lesson. Isaiah 45:18-25        Second lesson. 2 Corinthians 12:1-9

                                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 show forth our thankfulness                                                  unto thee for the same, by following the holy doctrine which he                                                 taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord.     Amen.
    Biographies are sometimes one of the best ways to tell a story.  When you begin to read of an individual, and how he or she began in certain circumstances and over time, with positive and negative experiences, became the person most remembered by history, try to remember this. Amazing lessons can be had.  In a short sense the experiences and influences around them shaped them to become the final person we remember them for today. We can benefit greatly from good biographies.
    Let us look at a brief biography of the man from Tarsus, a certain Saul, who would over time go from one of the most feared men in the early church to one of the most respected.  What happened to this fellow to cause such a change ?
    Saul would be born into the most advantageous social situations in the Roman Empire.  His father was Roman, which automatically gave Saul the rights and privileges of a Roman citizen. He was at the top of the social order of the time.  His mother was Jewish, which by that tradition made him a Jew.  He was raised in Jewish society, given the best education and was a rising star in the segment of the Jewish religious community.  He was a Pharisee, not just a Pharisee, but one who had studied under one of the most respected rabbi of the time, a fellow named Gamaiel
       Now after the establishment of the early church in Jerusalem, Saul began to attack the new converts.  They presented a danger to the order of the system in place. They were close, in belief with the Jews, one god, etc., but they believed that the Messiah had come, a fellow named Jesus.
    This was dangerous and heretical stuff to those who did not understand who Jesus was.   Saul began to systematically try to destroy this off-shoot of Judaism.   He was witness at the first public death (martyrdom) of this new sect.  A young man named Stephen, who had been set aside by the Disciples as a deacon, to minister to the orphan and widows, was arrested ,tried and convicted of heresy.  He was sentenced to be stoned to death.   Saul was present at this execution.  He watched as the crowd killed this young believer, in a manner that was proscribed by Mosaic law for heresy or unbelief.  
       Apparently this emboldened Saul and he began a campaign to eradicate the Faith where ever he could find it.    He was doing a good job in Jerusalem and now set his sights on Damascus, where a sizeable population of Jewish/Christian converts lived.  
      Acts 9:1-20 .  This is most of the account of Saul’s conversion.    Later Saul now known as Paul would write letters to various groups and churches around the eastern Mediterranean area giving more detail to his conversion and subsequent work for the Kingdom.

          Something that must give a non-believer pause is the 180 degree shift in Saul/Paul’s life.
Here is an individual who has everything, social privilege, social stature, wealth and a name known all over as someone to respect.    And yet in spite of all of this, Saul/Paul will give this all up, walk away from it, and begin a life of uncertainty as a follower of an obscure carpenter from the back country.   Why ?
        This very change should get a non-believer thinking, why would Paul do this ?  He gave up all for a belief.    That testimony in itself should get one to question and study why this happened.   There was no material gain for Paul, he certainly wasn’t received by the believers 100%.   He will in fact spend a number of years establishing his authority to do what he was doing, with the open opposition from other believers most of his ministry. 
         The obvious reason, to a believer, for this 180 degree change in direction is that Saul/Paul was converted.   He was called out by Christ Jesus to be his outreach to the Gentile, he was selected by Christ to reach the educated and more privileged society of the time.   And yet he did not ignore the poor, the day to day labor, merchants and regular folk.   Paul’s ministry would reach across all spectrums of society at the time.  “rich or poor, slave or free, male or female..”   
       In 2 Corinthians chapter 12 verses 1-9 Paul gives us an account of what must have happened after he was struck from his horse on the road to Damascus.   All the pharisaical education he had from the time he was 12 until he was considered an elder at 30 would pale in comparison to what he learned those days, weeks and months in Damascus and in the wilderness beyond.   He would learn an eternity of faith during that time and yet with all this education at the ‘feet’ of the Holy Spirit, he would still have the day to day issues of faith to deal with the rest of his life.  This gives us an example of how we should always study and seek the Lord daily.
         If we are to learn anything from Paul’s life after his conversion maybe it is this.   No matter how prepared, smart, intelligent we are, we still must rely upon Jesus for our day to day walk in faith.   In the many letters that Paul wrote to the churches during his ministry you will find instruction, inspiration, correction and many other aspects of a daily walking in faith; all of which is set forth as an edifying of the faithful.  And most especially, maybe to the chagrin of those who don’t believe, Paul did this all for no gain of his own.  He did not enrich himself, he did not seek fame, he did not seek undue influence.  Now let us read what Paul wrote about this very idea. 
5 Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.
6 For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
         Reading biographies, especially carefully researched and as true can be written, are one of the best teaching methods still in place.  In the modern concept of education most biographies, unless they push a fringe agenda or extremist view, are ignored.   Young and old alike can learn a lot from the lives of those who have gone before.  In some cases biographies may teach what you should not do with your life choices. In other cases, choices that may be explored for the betterment of an individual can be found in the pages of a good biography.
       The biographies of the Holy Bible give us a glimpse at what should be or in some cases shouldn’t be the life of a believer.  Think of Samuel, Moses, Saul the king, David, Solomon, Samson, Gideon, and all the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament, all leaving us  life lessons to learn from whether good or bad.
      On this day we commemorate the life of the first great missionary of the early church.  Let us read about those heros and heroines of the Old and New Testament, seeking to emulate the good and avoiding the mistakes of the bad examples found in the Scripture. 

 Let us pray:
O God of all sanctification, Almighty Sovereign, whose goodness is felt to be infinite; who art present throughout all things at once, in heaven and earth, keeping Thy mercy for Thy people who walk before the presence of Thy glory; Hear the prayers of Thy servants, that Thine eyes may be open upon this house clay and night; graciously accept this church, set apart by holy rites in honor of St. Paul, mercifully illumine and brighten it with Thine own glory. Favorably accept every one who comes to worship in this place; graciously be pleased to look down, and for the sake of Thy great Name, and high arm, readily protect, hear, and everlastingly keep and defend, those who make their prayer in this habitation; that they being always happy, and always rejoicing in, Thy true religion, may constantly persevere in the Universal Faith of the Holy Trinity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O God, who hast prepared for those who love Thee such good things as pass man’s understanding; Pour into our hearts such love toward Thee, that we, loving Thee above all things, may obtain Thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O God, who hast made all those that are born again in Christ to be a royal and priestly race; Grant us both the will and the power to do what Thou commandest; that all Thy people may have the same faith in their hearts, and the same piety in their actions; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Almighty and everlasting God, the Comfort of the sad, the Strength of sufferers, let the prayers of those that cry out of any tribulation come unto Thee; that all may rejoice to find that Thy mercy is present with them in their afflictions; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Lord bless us, and keep us. The Lord make His face to shine upon us, and be gracious unto us.
 The Lord lift up His countenance upon us, and give us peace, both now and evermore. Amen.