Last week I spoke about our God who moves in mysterious ways, using a hymn and story from the poet William Cowper. One who would have understood that saying was St. Paul.
Before he was St. Paul, his name was Saul. And he thought he knew what he was supposed to do…
He was not one of the first 12 disciples, in fact, he was a persecutor of some of them, but in a flash of light, his life changed. Saul came so close to God and God came so close to him in that event that he would come to a new understanding of what God wanted him to do. His life and his name changed in the encounter with mystery!
Saul would become Paul, and he would become a saint in the church because of his witness to the world. But we must remember how this all began…
1. Paul’s (or should I say Saul’s) life began in Tarsus, in south central Turkey, (the place of the first meeting between Mark Antony and Cleopatra). He was named Saul after the first King of Israel. He and his family were both Jewish and Roman Citizens. He loved learning, he knew the Greek language well but he loved Hebrew and his faith.
2. This led him to leave Tarsus and to make his first journey as he went to study at the temple in Jerusalem. Scripture tells us that he was as a student of Gamaliel the Elder, or at least within his school of the Sanhedrin. He worked hard to keep all the laws of the Torah. But Saul was troubled by the Christians who claimed Jesus was the Messiah. Saul persecuted Christians.
3. And then as he traveled to Damascus because he heard there were Christians there, He experienced God on that road to Damascus. A blinding light knocked him down – the voice of Jesus asked why he was persecuting him. And his companions took him to Damascus because he could not see. Taken from Acts 9:1-9.
4. He stayed with Ananias in Damascus, a Christian who was reluctant to minister to Saul because he knew he was a persecutor of Christians. But God told him to take care of him and Ananias did. Saul was healed from his blindness and no longer persecuted others, instead his name changed to Paul and he proclaimed the Good News of Jesus. When others wanted to arrest him for this change of heart, he escaped from Damascus, being lowered over the wall and he spent time in the desert.
5. He taught about Jesus. He took many journeys along the Mediterranean to tell others his experience. A story from Acts 17, tells of Paul before the Athenians on Mars Hill, helping the Athenians learn that this unknown God that they worshiped was the God Paul knew. For Paul listened to the longing in their hearts for faith and hope and love, he saw their intellectual curiosity and their restless creative spirit, and spoke boldly of God who is near each one of us, “in whom we live and move and have our being.”
5. He wrote letters to new churches. We remember their names from the people he wrote to… Corinthians, Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, Romans…and nearly every Sunday its one of his epistles (letters) that we hear that help us how to live as Christians in our world today, just as he had written to the Christians so long ago guiding them on how to live in that love that he found in Christ, that they can share in their places (churches). Some of those letters may also have been written by students of Paul.
6. Then finally, he went to Jerusalem for the last time, in a ministry that probably lasted around 30 years, he went to preach the Good News and while there he was arrested by the Romans. And being a Roman citizen from Tarsus, they sent him to Rome to await his punishment.
7. Even in house arrest in Rome, he continued to write and support the Churches. And then it came time for Paul to face his punishment, and he was martyred by the Romans; years later the Roman Emperor Constantine who converted to Christianity would build a church on the spot where tradition said he died.
8. The church of St. Paul Outside the Walls was built there in 324.
and the early church who Paul helped develop, though of him as a saint and St. Paul still lives, because his letters are still read in churches today. We hear the accounts of his life from the Acts of the Apostles and we continue to try to live as Christ would have us live. Much of his work was to try to say how his hate had turned into love and how everyone (jew or greek, male or female, slave or free – galatians) has a place with Jesus. He begin to settle churches where people could show how this was to be done, to love one another. And he preached to everyone whom he met.
God moves in mysterious ways and Paul found that out on a road to Damascus long ago.
Paul came so close to God and God came so close to him that he would understood what God wanted him to do, to share the love of God & not hate others in God’s name and now it’s up to you & I, to go share that love with others and live into God’s mysterious ways. Amen.