Preached by the Rev’d Adam Yates
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Conversion of St. Paul’s (transferred) – January 23, 2011
When I was very young, I remember reflecting on what it would be like to be an adult. Adults after all were responsible, always knew the best thing to do, could solve any problem, and were strong even in the face of scary things. That is to say, adults were wholly different than me. Adults seemed so different than me that I began to imagine that when I became an adult I would become an entirely new person. I would speculate on how and when such a radical transformation would take place—would I simply wake up one day and find that I had transformed into an adult over night? Was there some ritual that would take place when I reached an appropriate age at which adulthood would be conferred? Whatever the details, I was absolutely certain that this transformation had to happen!
And then one day, while sitting in school, it was as though scales fell from my eyes and I saw that there was very little different between adults and myself. Now before you chalk this up to either my developing ego or my developing misanthropy, allow me to explain. I realized that there was no magic transformation that would create an adult where a child once stood. What’s more, I saw in adults the same impulses and desires that I could see within myself. And then there was the really scary realization that the adult me would be the same as the child me, only slightly taller and with a few more years of school under my belt—a fact proven many years later when I called my parents, panicked and from half a continent away, because my car had broken down by the side of the road.
In tonight’s reading from the Acts of the Apostle, we hear how Saul, a man who persecuted the early church and brought many of the early disciples to their death, was radically transformed into Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, the Proclaimer of the Faith, and arguably one of the most influential persons in shaping the Christian faith, coming in just behind Jesus himself. This transformation occurred literally as a flash of light in what is one of the most extraordinary calls you will ever hear. God struck Saul blind, and worked him for three days in the darkness, kneading, massaging, and transforming. On the third day, the scales fell off his eyes like a butterfly casting aside its chrysalis, and Paul opened his eyes for the first time.
Yet, when we look more closely, we see something odd. Saul was passionate, head strong, argumentative, self-righteous, was difficult to shut up, wrote prolifically, and I imagine it was difficult to be around him for too long–do you ever wonder why it was that the persecutors of the early church kept sending Saul away to persecute the early Christians elsewhere? By comparison, Paul was passionate, head strong, argumentative, self-righteous, was difficult to shut up, wrote prolifically, and I imagine it was difficult to be around him for too long–do you ever wonder why it was that the other apostles of the early church kept sending Paul away to spread the Gospel in far away places?
Saul did not become Paul, because they were always the same person. God did not magically transform Saul into a new and better person, for Saul was always the person that God created him to be. God simply chipped the scales away from Saul’s eyes and realigned Saul with God’s work.
Today, on our Patronal Feast Day, we gather to celebrate the life and work of the saint for whom our church is named. And being a Saint’s day, we also pause to reflect on all the Saints, those people who have been held up as exemplars of the Christian faith, the poster children of the Church. Perhaps when we consider the Saints, our own lives come into sharp relief. Perhaps we become aware of those times when our patience, kindness, responsibility, wisdom, integrity, or love fell short of the standard set before us by the Saints. Maybe we wonder how such people could exist; did God create them specially, or did God bless them at some point in their lives with saintly qualities?
The truth, my friends, the truth that St. Paul knew, and the truth that I suspect you already know and are perhaps thinking even now as I speak, is that God does not create Saints. Or, to put more specifically, God does not pick out people to imbue with special saintly qualities to set before us as examples. The truth, my sisters and my brothers, is that God has created us all as saints, gifting and calling each and every one of us to do God’s work in the world. You are the Saints of the Church, all we must do is wipe away the scales from our eyes and see what God has already created.