Here is a copy of what Karen Turner, our curate, preached at yesterday's amazing gifts and skills service. The whole day was deeply, deeply moving and very very exciting!
Sermon for the Gifts and Skills service, (conversion of Paul)
at HT 2009
In today’s readings we hear of the conversion of Paul. It is easy to skip read these passages that we know well but I would like us to go over them again with a little more consideration.
Travelling along the road to Damascus, Paul was converted from someone who harried and slaughtered the followers of Jesus into a faithful disciple who ended up travelling and converting thousands of gentiles to the ‘New way’.
Paul was changed from a well respected and zealous Pharisee, with great knowledge and authority within the Jewish structures into a follower of a lowly carpenter who had little earthly power but whose teaching and way of life was growing exponentially. God didn’t merely reform Paul – he transformed him completely, Christ came alive within him and changed him completely
Paul had struggled to gain knowledge and work hard for his position in Jewish society, but all God wanted him to do was to give himself completely to the Lord – it wasn’t an academic question it was a question of love.
The book of Galatians tells us a great deal about the Christian life – Martin Luther believed that it was one of the most important books for teaching us what we should do and how we should live – as Christ would want us to live. Paul had struggled for years on his own to gain academic qualifications but in Galatians it is pointed out the futility of working on our own – it is within this book that we discover the freedom of being renewed from within and enabled by God to become people who are right with themselves, right with their neighbours and right with their God through good and loving acts that allow us to express that Christ is alive within us. Galatians tells us repeatedly that we must look to God as the source of power and not to try to build up our own sense of importance. (its worth reading – its only 6 chapters long!)
Today we are looking at what skills, gifts and talents we can all offer to the church here at Holy Trinity. A couple of weeks ago I spoke half jokingly of cleaning the loos at St. John’s. More recently I have done some academic work to allow me to wear this stole and become a deacon. What I am discovering as I begin this new lifestyle is that some academic work is of course necessary; but even more important is that offering to God of the whole of me – warts and all – the bits that are easy to give away and those bits that I would dearly love to control all by myself – that’s what it’s really about, offering myself daily in prayer. It isn’t just about what I do and say here in church that’s important – it’s about what I do every minute of every day – and we cannot manage that level of commitment on our own – but we can if we ask for God’s help.
Paul eventually learned this lesson – he was blinded and had to be led by the hand – his power and authority completely taken away – but think about what he was given in its place. He met with our Lord and was transformed from a hated murdered into a wonderful Christian leader. In this story Paul’s previous gifts of academic study, his worldly powers and authority became of absolutely no consequence – they were achievements that no longer counted. God transformed Paul into a preacher and teacher – he sent him to Annanias for some teaching about Jesus – how humbling that must have been for this great Pharisee.
There is a second Century document that tells us that Paul was
‘a man of small stature, with bald head and crooked legs, eyebrows that met and a nose somewhat hooked.’
Not exactly Paul Newman was he?
Despite the lack of attractive physical attributes something within Paul spoke to those he met – he gained their love and respect – not only for himself but for the Christ that they saw within him. God gave Paul the words and the understanding to gain many followers for Christ.
Today let’s reflect about where we are and what we are doing. Are we only thinking about what we can do or give from our own strengths? Are we like Paul so intent on our own chosen paths that we need to be challenged as Paul was challenged? Often it is at times of great trauma’s that people do turn to God and find a new way of life. Or can we begin to consider how we can offer ourselves to God – not just a little bit now and again: but all of ourselves, day by day; allowing God to use us – to do His work wherever and however He chooses.
I’ll end with a quote from a little book I have with letters from children to God – Jeff writes - Dear God, It is great that you always get the stars in the right places. We too can be like those stars --- if we let God put us in the right places. Amen