The Jubilee Year of
Saint Paul the Apostle 


This year the Universal Church commemorates the second millennium of the birth of St. Paul.  Through reading the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ and the letters of St. Paul in the New Testament we see that St. Paul was a man totally gripped by the love of God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. St. Paul’s whole life and message after his conversion, was Christ-entred.  Like St. Paul, may we find the grace to put Jesus Christ first in our lives today.

Fr Neil preached on this theme - and the call to mission in our churches - on the Feast of the Conversion of S. Paul, January 25th, 2009.



On Boxing Day, or more correctly, St. Stephen’s Day, we remember the first Christian Martyr. We recall how Stephen was stoned to death. It is recorded in the scriptures that Saul entirely approved of the killing (Acts 6:59). Saul, a persecutor and blasphemer, who to put it mildly, cared not one jot for the Church, is the person we commemorate today. Well he is, and he isn’t! Saul, after his conversion on the road to Damascus became Paul. So really today’s feast ought to be called the Conversion of Saul! He is important for many reasons.

Caravaggio’s painting of the Conversion of Saint Paul may well be the first artistic account of that encounter on the road to Damascus. The painting records the moment when Saul of Tarsus, on his way to Damascus to annihilate the Christian community there, is struck blind by a brilliant light and hears the voice of Christ saying, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?...”

A few weeks ago I was privileged to attend a lunch party at which the guest of honour was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Damascus. He spoke about the modern say ‘Sauls’, and the difficulty of being a Christian in Damascus today. He spoke so warmly to me that I felt I ought to make sure he knew I was Anglican! It clearly didn’t feature… “there are those who love the church”, he said, “and those who are the modern day enemies of Christ”. I suppose we could claim that the problems there today are the fault of apostolic succession!

But it is important today to remember those two people – Saul and Paul – for there is a little of both, I’m sure, in each one of us. In Saul and Paul we see the capacity within human beings to love or to hate, to build up or put down. To work for the Kingdom of God, or work against it.

We might not consider ourselves enemies of the church in that we go round persecuting the church. That said, there are sadly too many examples of Christians who rather enjoy persecuting others - and in the Lord’s name - but we won’t dwell on that this morning. So often the greatest damage is done, in so many areas of life, not by what we say, but by a failure to speak.

It was Edmund Burke who said that “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” We might not persecute the church like Saul, but do we speak up as often as we ought to so that our faith is shared and commended to others? “Woe to me”, says Paul in his first letter to the Church in Corinth,” if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). Woe to us, too, if we do not preach the Gospel.

During this Lent our United Benefice is engaging in the Mission Shaped Introduction course as you will know from the diary of events, the magazine and the Sunday sheets. We are joining many thousands of people, not just in this land but in many places, who are recognising that nothing can be taken for granted any more… the Christian Faith isn’t just going to miraculously drop from the sky and hit people in the face bringing them flooding through the doors of the Church. Indeed if the faith is to be “proclaimed afresh to each generation” (a quote not from the Guardian Newspaper but the 1662 BCP), then we need to discover new ways of doing that in the 21st century.

The Mission Shaped Introduction course was on the agenda of the PCC the other evening but before I spoke about it we, that is to say the 12 men and women present (a good number), did an exercise where I invited people to be honest with some questions. Multiple choice. Lots of fun!

Questions such as…

1. How bothered am I about the spiritual poverty and spiritual hunger in this community?
2. How often do I talk about my faith to others?
3. When did I last invite someone (non church member) to come with me to church?
4. Whose job is it to spread the Good News of Jesus?
5. How often, outside service times, do I set time aside for personal prayer?
6. Am I prepared, with others on the PCC, to give a lead in the parish’s mission and outreach?
7. Am I prepared to get more involved in issues concerning the community we serve
8. Do I feel confident explaining the Christian faith to non-believers?
9. Would you appreciate some help in learning to share your faith?

I might be forgiven, judging by the answers given, for thinking that all 12 people would immediately sign up to the course. But someone afterwards said, quite honestly, I know I ought to but it’s not my sort of thing.

Whilst I realise what was being said, and perhaps what that person really meant was “it’s not my style”, if wanting the church to grow and wanting other people to know about God’s love isn’t our sort of thing, what on earth are we doing here?

If faith is something we keep to ourselves, a sort of ‘spiritual massage’ for an hour on a Sunday morning, then we only have ourselves to blame if people want to believe what is said on the side of a London bus about God probably not existing!

Just out of interest, I looked through the PCC agendas for 2008 to see what the balance was: what was the balance of discussion regarding things taking place ‘inside’ the church building, and ‘outside’ in the community or wider world?

Of the 56 items tabled during the year, how many do you think focused ‘outside’ rather than ‘inside’? (people were invited to shout out their answers!) The answer is 2.

2 out of 56 items discussed during the year focused inwardly rather than outwardly.

I am very keen that the MSI course is well supported for two reasons:

1. Despite all our talking and the endless reports, committees, ideas and groups that have emerged over the last few years, I don’t believe we haven’t made as much progress as we could. I’m certainly not undermining the good work being done by individuals in the community and for the church overseas. What I am saying is “do we have the balance right?” Mission might not be our thing. Tough. It’s God’s thing! “Go out to the whole world – proclaim the Good News” (Psalm 117 and picked up in today’s Gospel reading (Mark 16 : 15 – 18)

2. I am very keen that in a diocese like ours, which is (often perceived to be) broadly evangelical or low church, Anglicans who are in the catholic tradition are not seen only as the ‘gin and lace brigade’ (much as I enjoy both on a Sunday!) but are every bit as serious about spreading the Gospel as those who might worship with guitars, tambourines and OHP’s!

I have just finished reading a book called “The Republic of Heaven” – a Catholic Anglican Future. In it the author, Jonathan Clark, reminds us, his readers, of the very beginnings of Anglo Catholicism. There was a clear and definite social edge to it all. People didn’t talk mission, they did mission. “The mass is ended – the service begins!”

He writes:

It is profoundly un-Catholic for the Church to be concerned only for itself. Those who are called into Christ’s family are not called into a closed shop of the elect, but into a company of disciples whose calling is to serve the world around them. Catholics should, if we were to live out our own vocation, have a vision of mission which did not exclude, but included and surpassed, the conversion of individuals, and went on to work for the transformation of the world. We are now being put to shame by those we have criticised for their individualism, because many evangelicals are now more Catholic than we are in the practical commitment to social action…..”

…and so he goes on, in his chapter entitled “Where did it all go wrong?” we might well ask that same question!

Paul was renowned for his preaching. In 1 Peter 3:15, Paul’s “oppo”, writes: always be ready to give an account of the hope that is within you. Can you do that? Have you the confidence to share you faith with those around you? The second lesson today (Acts 22: 3 – 16) is Paul’s testimony. What is your testimony? Could you write it down or share it with others?

Consider signing up to MSI so that together we can learn how to “give an account of the hope that is within us”. Woe to you, and to me, if we fail to do that, if we fail to engage with God’s mission. Today’s collect speaks of the need to equip ourselves for the ministry of making known God’s salvation.

St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century said that “the glory of God is a human being fully alive”. Was there ever a more urgent task entrusted to us, than to bring alive the very people Christ died for in this time of anxiety, recession and fear?

"There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." So says that London bus!

If we take Saul’s wonderful conversion to heart today, and indeed make it our conversion as we kneel at the Altar, we might want to say with Paul the Apostle, there is most definitely a God. We can bring him our worries, and because of His love to us in Jesus, we can enjoy our life and seek to be human beings, fully alive.

God of all wisdom,
who chose Saint Paul as an apostle
to proclaim the mystery of Christ and to nurture your people in faith,
fill your Church with the same Spirit that empowered his words,
and equip us for the ministry of making known your salvation.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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