Acts 9: 1-6. Conversions don’t come any more dramatic or unexpected than this. Saul (Paul) was a fierce opponent of Christianity and in fact oversaw the stoning of Stephen – the first Christian martyr. Spare a thought for Ananais also, who was aware of Saul’s fierce anti-Christian stance and yet was told to seek him out and lay his hands on him to restore his sight.
Revelation 5:11-14. “Apocalyptic” is a genre of writing that is most prominent in Revelation in the New Testament and draws on Old Testament imagery in books like Daniel and Ezekiel. They speak in complicated (and sometimes indecipherable) symbols and codes to convey spiritual truths often at times of great temporal/historical trauma. What they want to convey is that no matter how bad things look from our perspective, God is in control and in the end all will be well. John’s vision came to him in exile during the persecutions of Emperor Dormitian and exalts the slain lamb Jesus to the highest heaven whom the whole creation worships.
John 21: 1-19. This passage has tremendous personal resonance for me, because when I was considering my options whether or not to go into ordained ministry, my wife Alexandra, who wasn’t given to fanciful talk or experiences, exclaimed that she had heard God’s voice speaking to her after praying about the situation and clearly heard the words “Go feed my sheep”. I have been trying to do that to the best of my ability ever since.
The conversion experience of Saul on the road to Damascus is not an experience that many 21st century Christians certainly within the church of England can readily identify.
Many, perhaps most are cradle Christians. Some will have conversion experiences certainly that were not perhaps as dramatic as Paul’s but were for us equally important and life changing.
I think I speak for most of us when I say that our conversion to Christianity is an ongoing process which started for some of us with a specific event but not for others.
You could say that Saul’s conversion needed to be as dramatic as that because He was such an appalling actively aggressive opponent of what is still known at this point as “the way” – the way of life and light modelled and lived by Jesus.
It is suggested that he presided over the stoning to death of the first Christian Martyr, Stephen and was en-route to Damascus to round up Christians who were attending the Synagogues there and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.
There are two points in Luke’s story of his conversion that Paul would have taken issue with.
Luke implies that Paul’s experience of the risen Lord was qualitatively different to that of the 11 disciples, thus excluding him from being a bona fide Apostle, but Paul always maintained that his experience was exactly the same as all the other encounters.
I think this is important for what that says about all our encounters with Christ that have happened ever since. Whatever form it takes, the important thing surely is not the specifics of any encounter itself but what that encounter means to us and how it changes our lives.
The spiritual health of our community, the body of Christ here this morning, is gauged by the quality of our response to God, which is the ongoing process of worship, prayer, meeting and ministry that we engage with.
It seems that the bigger the opponent of Christ, the bigger the experience needed to effect any change. What was most important was the change in Paul’s life, his missionary zeal, and his keen theological understanding, that provided the seeds of new growth across the Eastern Mediterranean and nurtures the church to this day with his written word.
The disciple’s encounter with the risen Jesus reaches its climax with the rehabilitation of Peter on the beach. Of course, we all remember that Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed on Good Friday.
Here on the beach we have the three fold question, “Do you love me?” When each time Peter says yes, Jesus says in reply;
“Feed my Lambs”
“Tend my sheep” and
“Feed my sheep”.
As I explained on my email this has tremendous resonance for me. We are talking about encounters with the divine, and my wife Alexandra a very down to earth person if ever there was one, not prone to flights of fancy was praying on our front door step. We were wondering whether I should go into ordained ministry.
She told me that she had heard a voice speak to her and it said “Feed my sheep”
As I wrote, I have been trying to do that to the best of my ability ever since.
Encounters with the divine come in all shapes and sizes. But what is much more important is how we react to that encounter and how we try to follow Jesus in the way that leads to light and life.
Every church service is an attempt to frame an encounter with the Divine. The true success or failure of any service is gauged by how it affects someone who engaged with it.
A wise old Bishop once said of the charismatic centred churches and their exuberant spirit filled worship. “I don’t care if they fall down. It’s what they do when they get up that concerns me”
And a healthy spiritually mature church is a solvent church, fully enabled to fulfil its mission in the place it is set. How we respond as a community to make sure that we are have a secure base to work from is a spiritual matter.
To paraphrase a theologian, I quoted recently.
It isn’t how or when you heard the music of the Kingdom of God. It is how you dance to it today that counts.