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Sunday, January 25, 2015
Conversion of Saint Paul - superseding the Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Sermon - Rev Jack Arnold
Church of the Faithful Centurion - Descanso, California
Today’s sermon ties together the propers, that is to say the prayer and readings for this week. Consider these words from the Collects and how they work together:
… 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…
… mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth thy right hand to help and defend us …
We will come back to Paul and how his conversion from Saul came about, but for now consider that God chose Saul of Tarsus, the primary persecutor of the very early church to spread His Gospel throughout the known world. Saul was one of the very finest scholars and defenders of “traditional” Judaism. He was totally dedicated to The Law and acted on his dedication. He was a good traditional Jew in every sense of the word. Yet, when God called him, loudly and brightly one might add, he acted on that call and gave his life to God. When we look at ourselves, we find that we, like Paul, fall very short of good, thus we need God’s protection and help. Not so much for the slings and arrows of this life, but for the subtle attacks by the Prince of this World on our souls.
Also like Paul, we find that we are called to do very important things for Him in this world. It may not be important in this world’s diluted viewpoint, but in His Holy and Great View, it is extremely important. It is a matter of losing souls or winning souls to Christ. We have to help people so that we can at least with His Help make sure that people know that they do have a choice, as we all do. That is the choice of death or Life. If we embrace Our Lord Jesus we embrace life.
When we first read in the Acts of the Apostles of Saul, “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” going to the local high priest to get a letter to allow him free hunting rights against the followers of Jesus, we wonder how could this possibly a story with a good ending? Yet, as he and his followers walked along the road to Damascus, the Lord called Saul! ZAP - “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”
Saul had no idea who it was that smote him blind, but he knew that whoever it was had the definite advantage, so he asked, “Who art thou, Lord?” When he called the voice Lord, it was not that he thought it was our Lord, but rather someone way above him on the food chain. Imagine his surprise, astonishment and indeed terror at the response, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”
Saul quickly decided he would do whatever he was told and asked, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” He was genuinely terrified to discover that the Person who was addressing him was the very Person that he had been persecuting through his acts of evil. The answer to his query came quickly, “Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.”
And he did indeed get up and was led blind into Damascus. When we think of faith, how oft do we remember Ananias? Here is a fellow who knew of Saul, the evil he had done and the evil that he intended. Yet, when told by the Lord to go to Saul and to tell him that the Lord had chosen him to deliver His Word to the Gentiles, he went. He acted! The Lord is the Lord of Action!
Three days Saul was blind and did not eat, on the third day, Ananias came to him with the Good News. When Ananias delivered the Good News to Saul, his vision was clear, he could see where he needed to go, what he needed to do and to what end he labored.
As soon as he saw the light so to speak, he was baptized and began to spread The Word. It is said there are no so dedicated as the converted and the newly baptized Paul was the first of the truly converted! Perhaps as interesting as anything is what God had planned for him, he was sent to bring The Word to the Gentiles of all people! He was to bring The Word to people he would not have otherwise even really talked to. Like you and I, Paul, once Saul, was called to action. And like Paul, once Saul, in our sins we are truly blind to our own faults and devices and can only see that which we wish to see. Our mind is clouded and we need other fellow believers and the Holy Ghost to unfog our mind and vision to see what He sees, and to act how He wants us to act.
This then brings us to Peter, always a Rock and always wanting to be first. He wanted to know what he would get for following Jesus. Actually, Jesus was very patient with him, telling him that he would be rewarded in heaven, the twelve judging or leading the twelve tribes. That was something Peter could understand. But, he went on to tell Peter and each of us that any sacrifice made on His behalf would be so very minor compared to the reward. Not only in heaven, but here on earth for so long as it lasts. The satisfaction of a job well done is beyond measure. But, he also reminded Peter that our “place” here on earth is not of any import compared to the result of our actions, for “many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.”
So, how does all this come together? First, Jesus Christ is a great savior. If He saved Saul, Chief Persecutor of Christians, killer of Stephen, and turned him into Paul, the man who brought The Word to the Gentiles and wrote half the New Testament, He can save you. But, like Saul / Paul, you have to accept that “Amazing Grace.” If you accept His saving grace, then you have to act accordingly.
There is but one way to heaven.
That easy to find, easy to follow, easy to hike path does not lead to the summit where eternal life in the real world awaits. Open your heart to the Holy Ghost, use His Power to follow our Lord to God who awaits in heaven.
Heaven is at the end of an uphill trail. The easy downhill trail does not lead to the summit.
The time is now, not tomorrow. The time has come, indeed. How will you ACT?
It is by our actions we are known.
Be of God - Live of God - Act of God
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