1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. — Acts 9:1-9
When I was in 9th grade I was asked to be part of my churches Youth Sunday. However, it was not just any part I was to give part of the sermon. We had divided the sermon into four parts and had four different youth who would be giving part of the message. However, when I was asked I was very timid about doing it. I felt as though I had nothing to offer in terms of a message. I felt inadequate. While I had been a Christian my whole life I felt like I was good where I was just sitting in the congregation. After much convincing and conversations with my Associate Pastor and my Youth Leaders I reluctantly accepted the opportunity to preach. It was in relying that this was what God wanted that got me through it.
From this I began to surrender myself to God. I began to rely more on what God was calling me to do. However, I Would never admit what the end goal was. I would never admit that I was called to pastoral ministry. In fact I never fully accepted my call until I was done with my first year of seminary.
Today we talk about calling and conversion. We talk about what happens when God’s story, that story we have been talking about the past few weeks, meets our own story. When we are all born a story begins, but at some point in that story we acknowledge God’s story and align our story with God’s. We often term this as our conversion story, or sometimes a call story.
I grew up in the church, and would classify myself as a lifelong Christian. However, it has not been the easiest journey. I have had moments of struggle and complacency. Therefore, I see my calling to ministry as my conversion story. My calling to ministry is how I learned how to fully rely on God and aligned myself with God’s story.
These stories of conversion or calling come in all various shapes and sizes. Today in our scripture we view a conversion that many of us may have read before. We look at the conversion of a man who would go on to write more than half of the New Testament. We look at the conversion of Saul who becomes Paul.
So let’s look at Paul.
Paul originally known as Saul. Saul was a jew, but not just any Jew. Saul was a Pharisee. Saul was part of the jewish elite. He was a Roman citizen. Therefore, when the early church leaves Jerusalem after Pentecost Saul had high stakes in ensuring that they did not continue. Much as the Pharisees had seen Jesus as a threat to their faith so too did they consider his followers a similar threat. In fact our scripture today is not the first time we meet Saul. In Acts 7 as we read about the stoning of Stephen we read,
“Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:58)
Saul was seen as an enemy of the faith. In fact in our first verse today we read,
“Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1-2)
Now Saul is a good Jew…one of the best, but Saul is about to become a good Christian. For on the road to Damascus Saul becomes witness to the person of Jesus Christ.
“Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’” (Acts 9:3-5)
Saul on the road to Damascus is blinded and meets Christ in a vision. From this Paul enters the city and stays there for three days while blind and will then meet a man named Ananias. And as they say “the rest is history.” Saul will change his name to Paul. He will travel across the Roman Empire, planting churches, sharing the faith, and doing the work God calls him to do. He will write letters to communities he cares about helping to teach the how to be the church and those letters are now memorialized and used in our own faith within our holy scriptures.
Paul’s conversion and subsequent ministry gives us a good look at what happens when we align ourselves with God’s story. Now the first thing I want you to know is your call story or conversion does not have to look like Paul’s in order for your ministry to matter. We each have our own experience of God and that should be treasured and honored. The thing we learn and see from this story is not a template for conversion, but instead our eyes are opened to how God works.
God calls each and every one of us to be a part of God’s story.
The interesting thing about this story of Paul’s conversion is the place that it happens in the context of the rest of the scripture around it. Paul’s conversion occurs in the midst of many other conversion stories in this section of Acts. Following the martyrdom of Stephen in chapter 7 of Acts we have several stories of calling and conversion. We have Philip and the Samaritan in 8:4-8, the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in 8:26-40, Of course Paul’s at the beginning of chapter 9, the healing of Aeneas and Dorcas at the end of chapter 9, and lastly the story of Cornelius the centurion in chapter 10. This section of Acts in chapters 8-10 contains 5 different call/conversion stories.
These five stories are examples of people aligning their story with God’s story. This is the purpose of conversion and calling. It is answering God’s purpose in our lives, and it is booming part of the greater story that is God’s story. I could have used any of these stories as our scripture for today. Each one is a story of how lives are changed by becoming part of god’s story.
We also learn something else by looking at all of these stories. We learn something about who God calls to be a part of his story. Let’s look at these people. The Samaritan’s were a dislike sect of Israelites who were believed to be pagan worshippers by the Israelites. Not only was the Ethiopian Eunuch from outside the realm of God’s promised land, but he was also a sexual pariah as he was eunuch. A man who was shunned was brought into the fold of God to be used for God’s plans. Aeneas and Dorcas were social outcasts and in poor health. Cornelius was a Roman soldier (pretty self-explanatory). And of course Paul whom we have already explored.
Through this string of stories we are shown that God involves all persons in his story. No one is outside of God’s grace and all are welcome to become a part of God’s story.
This along with the recognition of the different ways we are called are the backbones of conversion stories.
The past couple of weeks we have been focused on God’s story. We have focus on how God begins new stories, how God continues old stories, and now we move into how our stories meet God’s stories.
Your call/conversion story is the beginning of you taking on your part of God’s story, and it is the continuing in a long line of saints. Grab onto your story and let it go. You have heard my call story and the conversion of Paul today, but don’t think for a second that because your story has looked different that it means anything different than it should.
In his commentary on the book of Acts Bishop Will Willimon says,
“Different people come to Jesus along different routes, a truth which is self-evident when we note that this conversion is set within the larger context of a number of other conversions, none of which is the norm for every Christian except as every conversion is the result of an encounter with a gracious and loving God who does not leave us to our own devices…” (Willimon, p.180)
Reflect on your story. Reflect on when God became a part of your story. Latch on to that and us it as encouragement for all that God has planned for you.