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Good News from the Story of Paul – By Norman Knowles

February 2, 2012

The extraordinary thing that we learn about God, in Jesus, through the story of Paul is that forgiveness is possible at all. Acts portrays Paul as the greatest enemy of the earliest followers of “The Way.” But rather than smite him, or demonize him, Jesus instead takes his gifts of zeal and persuasion, and puts them to work for the Gospel.

An encounter with the risen Lord can do that for a person. There have been countless stories over the years that proclaim this basic principle.  The good news in this story is that God doesn’t give up on Paul, nor does God give up on us. Even when we are at enmity with God, God loves us and claims us. And since God does not separate us into “good” people and “evil” people, we no longer have to do that with each other. We need not justify our actions by pointing at others and proclaiming how bad they are, quite simply because God does not.

As the story is told in Acts, we may be led to believe that this was a sudden, once and for all event.  But as Paul himself tells the story in his letters, this insight and response was more prolonged and gradual.  Nor did Paul suddenly have an absolute grasp of the God’s truth or the pure teaching of the Gospel—Paul’s life and letters demonstrate that he struggled and wrestled with the implications of his radical understanding of the faith.  I would suggest that … most of us experience God’s revelation and call to us gradually; most of us, like Paul, continue to wrestle with our faith and yet God finds a use for us, just as God found a use for Paul.

The good news of the conversion of Paul is simply that the risen Jesus continues to seek out and encounter a lost and hostile humanity in surprising and startling ways. Our “Damascus Road” experiences happen as we too are grasped by the risen Lord through Word and Sacrament, the events of everyday life and perhaps even by occasional extraordinary encounter. We may be blinded and confused momentarily, but in the end, we too are called by God to share the wonderful news Christ lived, and died, and rose for all so that they might know wide embrace of God’s love.

(The above message is excerpted from the sermon preached by our Assistant, the Rev’d Dr. Norman Knowles, at our January 29 Services, at which we celebrated the Feast of our Patron, St. Paul. Thank you, Norman, for sharing these wonderful words about our God’s grace with us on Sunday, and for allowing your words to be reproduced here. The image at the top of this posting is Caravaggio’s 1601 painting, “Conversion of St. Paul.”)

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