The Conversion of Paul - Parish of Cirencester

The Conversion of Paul
Acts 9.1-22
Cirencester Parish Church, Sunday25th January 2015
Reverend Gary Grady
May I speak in the name of the Father...
There are certain moments in life that are simply ‘unforgettable’. Things that have happened to us;
things that have happened to others; or things that have happened in our world. All of which are still
vivid in our memories.
What are your moments?
For me, it’s:
Meeting my wife for the first time [back in 1991]
Our wedding day
The birth of each of our children, although that was a little fraught.
My ordination
The first time I preached in this church [you were very kind]
I also remember watching [the TV] with horror as the planes crashed into the Two Towers in New
There are [many] events throughout our lives that we will never forget. The reason is that these events,
in some way, change us.
I also remember the first day I went to church. It was my best friend Tim’s fault. I was 8 years old and
one day [at primary school] he invited me to join the local church choir. “It’s great”, he said, “we play
football and get paid”. We did some singing as well... no mention of God though, he came later!
So, I joined and, unbeknown to me [until years later], Tim got £1 when I had stayed for 3 months and
was deemed to be able to sing!
Q. How did your Christian journey begin?
Q. Do you remember the moment?
Q. Can you take me to the place?
Unlike Paul, there were no flashes of light in the sky [for me], or burning bushes, or even visitations
from angels to tell you about...
I just wandered into church one day. But that was my moment; and I was encouraged by a friend.
Those early years were wonderful, and formative. I loved the music [I still do, deeply] and I loved
being in church 4 times a week...and I loved playing football before/after choir practice and getting
paid. It lead to Confirmation and an early sense of calling that God wanted me to ‘do’ something...I
had no idea what it was, but it was something.
And years later, after many twists and turns, and with the help of significant ‘others’ on that journey,
here I am!
I’m still in touch with Tim, but he doesn’t ‘do church’ anymore... but I know he has an ‘echo’ of
church, here in his [HEART] and that’s important too, because God calls each and every one of us [all
differently] and one day I know he’ll hear that echo again. Let’s get back to Paul though...
No person [apart from Jesus himself] shaped the history of Christianity like the Apostle Paul. Paul was
very religious! His training under Gamaliel, at the Temple in Jerusalem, was the finest available. He
was a ‘good’ Pharisee who knew the Bible and sincerely believed that the Christian movement was
dangerous to Judaism. So he felt his efforts and intentions to snuff it out were sincere.
Thus, Paul hated the Christian faith and persecuted Christians without mercy, and in our reading from
Acts we hear of him “breathing threats and murder against the disciples” (Acts 9.1).
The persecutions began with Stephen, who was proclaiming Jesus in Jerusalem. Paul, then Saul,
incited the crowd to stone him to death...and many Christians fled Jerusalem after this when the
persecution began.
They sought refuge in other cities and countries. But Paul tracked them down, and he was even willing
to travel the 150 [or so] miles to Damascus, in Syria, to bring Christians back in chains to Jerusalem!
But his personal encounter [with Jesus] on the road to Damascus changed him, and his life was never
the same again. He was confronted with the risen Christ and brought face to face with the Good News.
He never lost his fierce intensity, but from then on it was channelled for the Gospel.
Any brief glance at the stories in the bible will reveal for you that being close to God may make you
quite unpopular in the world, so a choice to follow God is a very meaningful and powerful one. It is
remarkable that this faith not only took hold and flourished but has changed the world in which we live
and continues to challenge and change the lives of billions of people in our world.
Sometimes God breaks into lives in a spectacular manner, and sometimes it’s a quiet experience. I
would say BEWARE of people who insist that you must have a particular type of conversion
experience. The right way to come to faith in Jesus is whatever way God brings YOU.
It’s personal.
And it may take some time to happen, and I dare say that many in our congregations are still
looking...maybe that’s true for some of you here today, and that’s ok, because we’re all on a life-long
Paul had to live with the knowledge of his previous sins and, having laid the foundations for the
mission of the church to expand, goes on to be martyred himself in Rome. We too may have things
which we’re not proud of. But we must take heart from Paul’s story that God [not only] forgives us
but also ‘calls’ us to join him in building his kingdom.
Wherever you are on your journey, continue to pray and ask yourself how God is calling ‘you’. What
do you think God wants YOU to do? Maybe you’re doing it already, and that’s great. Maybe he calling
you to do something new, and that’s great also.
Are you able to say “Here I am, Lord” like Ananias did, when Paul arrived in Damascus? (Acts 9.10).
Or maybe [you feel] you need to find out a little more... if that’s the case, do take a look at the new
School of Faith booklet and see if something nudges you! Don’t, however, let life overtake you – you
only get one chance at it [here on earth].
So, every blessing to each one of you on your own personal faith journey, and may that ‘echo’ [I spoke
about earlier] grow stronger as you travel with God.