Monday, January 26, 2015

Sermon for the Conversion of St. Paul: "The Apostle Formerly Known as Saul"

+ Conversion of St. Paul – January 25th, 2015 +

Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Acts 9:1-22; Galatians 1:11-24; Matthew 19:27-30

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In countless movies and books, death and resurrection is the key to the story: Mr. Spock in Star Trek III and IV. Emmet in The Lego Movie. Harry Potter’s defeat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named…twice. Gandalf’s return in Fangorn Forest after battling the Balrog. Aslan died and rose to save Narnia from the White Witch’s curse. Or remember the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and even Baloo in the Jungle Book.

These death and resurrection stories gives us a glimpse of the greatest death and resurrection story: Jesus Crucified for you and your salvation. Jesus’ death and resurrection is greater because it is both meaningful and true. It is history:  Jesus was crucified, died, buried, and rose again for you. This was the sum and substance of St. Paul’s preaching after his conversion.

I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him Crucified.
Today’s festival – The Conversion of St. Paul – is also a death and resurrection story. After all, every time the Holy Spirit creates faith there’s a death and resurrection. Your Baptism is a death and resurrection in Jesus, just as Saul’s was. Christ crucified is the sum and substance of our faith as well.

So we celebrate St. Paul’s conversion, not because he accomplished so many great things, but because Jesus brought death and resurrection to one who was such an enemy as Saul. He was made dead to sin, but alive by the Word…and made alive for the preaching of this gracious Word to the world…and to you.

Today we join St. Paul in rejoicing in and proclaiming Christ crucified and risen for us. For Jesus has also brought us back from the dead.

That’s precisely where Paul’s story begins. No doubt he felt alive, heading down that Damascus road breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. The high priest gave him a license to persecute. Then suddenly a blinding light. Heaven flashed before his eyes. Saul fell to the ground as a dead man. And the voice of Jesus rang out in his ears.
 “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

Saul probably thought he was going to die. But there’s the irony. Saul was already dead — dead in trespasses and sin as he would later write in Ephesians 2. His mouth was an open grave that spewed forth curses, bitterness, and deceit (Romans 3) against Christ and Christians.

He was blind – spiritually – and for three days physically as well, to show all the more clearly the blindness of sin, and more clearly still that faith is a gift, not of works so that no man may boast. On the Damascus road Jesus took all of Saul’s boasting in the Law, confidence in the flesh, and zealotry, and revealed it for the rubbish it truly was.

Saul, who had so violently warred against Jesus and the Way, became utterly and completely dependent, like a newborn infant. Rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do, Jesus said. Saul couldn’t even do that on his own. The men traveling with Saul led him, blind and helpless into Jerusalem, to Ananias.

Saul’ conversion is a marvelous picture of how our Lord converts all of us. Like Saul, we were enemies of God. The wages of our sin is death. We breathe threats and murder against our neighbors. No, probably not with physical violence. But Jesus makes it clear that whenever we hate or despise our brother, we have already murdered them in our hearts.

And though probably haven’t participated in any stonings lately, like Saul at the death of Stephen. No doubt, we’ve tossed more than our fair share of rocks in judgment at our family, friends, even our brothers and sisters in Christ. There’s a little Saul in each of us who delights in doing whatever we think is right, and doing it with great zeal.

Like Saul, though our sin offends and harms others, including ourselves, we chiefly offend and persecute God with our sin. We’re right there onthe road with Saul. Enemies of God. Blind. Helpless. Uutterly dependent. Dead…and in need of resurrection.
And that’s precisely where your story begins.
You were dead  in trespasses and sin (notice the past tense)But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.

The wages of our sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You were blind, but now through Baptism the scales of doubt and unbelief have fallen from your eyes and you see Christ your Savior with the clear eyes of faith.

By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 

Rejoice with Paul for “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost" (1 Timothy 1:15).

In Saul’s conversion, we see our own. We are utterly dependent upon God’s mercy, completely helpless on our own. Perhaps we haven’t all had a dramatic experience like Saul, but Christ gives us faith in Him the same way: death and resurrection. 

Saul was saved - saved by Jesus who, though he was first, became the Last One for you. Jesus put all of us before Himself and died for us all.  After he was taken to Ananias, Saul was given new birth in baptism, and a new name too - Paul.  Jesus converted Him - changed his direction. “He who used to persecute Christ is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”

Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

By the Lord’s Word and Baptism, Saul was raised from the dead. And if Jesus could be such a Savior, to save one who approved of Stephen’s murder and persecuted His church - how much more can He save you. If Jesus saved Paul, who says that he was the chief of sinners, then how much more will Jesus be the chief of Saviors for you. Today we rejoice and give thanks, not because it’s all about Paul, or you, or me. But because the same Jesus raises you from the dead.
What happened on the road to Damascus was nothing short of a miracle. Jesus turned Saul into St. Paul — an enemy of the Gospel into a bold preacher of the Gospel. Jesus performs the same miracle upon you in Baptism. We are all “Sauls” according to our sinful nature. Dead in sin and unbelief, and rebels against God. But Jesus’ death and resurrection was poured out upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism. The font is your Damascus road. You were dead and now you’re resurrected.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
In Baptism you receive new birth, and a new name too. Holy. Saint. You are called and chosen by God. First as His holy child. And then called to serve others: in the home, church, workplace, community.  Christ takes us, with all the baggage of our past, anoints us in Baptism, and sends us into the world to declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9-10). He sends you to declare to family, friends and neighbors that Jesus, the Son of God, was crucified for chiefs sinners like us.
For there is no sin or wickedness so great that it unpaid by the blood of Jesus. Jesus’ death is greater than Saul’s sin, yours and mine.

So rejoice this day. For the salvation and eternal life won for you by Christ, are delivered to you the same way they were delivered to St. Paul. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). In Baptism, God saves us through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Jesus feeds us His own body and blood. And as often as we eat the bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Like Saul, you are baptized into Christ. You are dead to sin and alive in Jesus. So, come to the Supper. Eat the holy food of Christ’s body and blood and take strength in the forgiveness of sins.
A Blessed Conversion of St. Paul to each of you…
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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