Conversion by hcj


                          April 18, 2010 Acts 9: 1-20
                            Rev. Catherine Purves

   Conversion is a mysterious thing. I especially like John Calvin’s
description of Paul’s conversion that is presented in Acts chapter 9, and
again (perhaps because it was so monumental an event in the history of the
early church) again in Acts, chapter 22, and then again in Acts, chapter 26.
This is a story that Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, really wanted us to
hear and remember. Anyway, Calvin begins by describing Paul (who was
then still called Saul), and he describes Paul as a wild animal, a wild animal.
But by his conversion, Calvin tells us, Paul was tamed. He summarizes this
mysterious transformation in this way, “God’s wonderful hand was clearly
seen in that the cruel wolf was not only turned into a sheep but also
assumed the character of a shepherd.” In terms of a life changed, you don’t
get much more miraculous or complete than that.

   Conversion is a BIG change. And because it is so total, so complete, it is
something that we are both attracted to and something that scares us to
death. Christians often feel inadequate or like second class citizens of the
Kingdom if they can’t point to a personal experience of immediate
conversion like Paul’s.

    When I was young, I felt like that. I remember going to a youth rally
when I was a young teenager. The speaker was whipping up the crowd.
Emotions were flying. There was a lot of noise and confusion. People were
going forward to commit their lives to Christ. I was not immune to that
enthusiasm, but my best friend had unfortunately dropped her temporary
dental plate in the middle of this rally. It was somewhere on the floor, and
she feared her father’s judgment, more than any later judgment that might
come from a lack of conversion at that moment. In solidarity with my
friend, I was on my hands and knees with her groping around under the seats
and trying to keep that precious piece of dental apparatus from getting
crushed as our friends rushed forward to affirm their faith and to mark their
moment of conversion. We eventually found the dental plate, but could not
then go forward with the others. As a result, I missed my chance at

    That actually bothered me for quite a while, but much later I was
comforted by the wise council of another youth leader. A middle aged
couple led our Youth Group then, and the husband was explaining how he
saw the whole question of conversion. Some people have a big conversion
experience that is immediately life changing, he told us. But others, he
insisted, who grow up in the church as I had, have a slower, more gradual
transformation in which the faith that they seem to have always had works
its miracle of conversion almost without us noticing. That was me. And I
realized then that I wasn’t a second class citizen in the Kingdom of God
because I had helped my friend retrieve her lost dental plate. I was just as
much a Christian as my friends who had walked forward that night, marked
the momentous day in their diaries, and remembered it as the beginning of a
new life for them. The conversion that I experienced was more slow and
subtle, but – and this is important – it was no less complete and no less life

   Now let’s get back to that wolf who was transformed into a shepherd.
What can Paul’s experience teach us, even those of us who were never
stopped dead in our tracks by a blinding light and the voice of Jesus
claiming and changing us? That light and the voice and the blindness and
the scales falling from his eyes – that is all good stuff. But the actual
conversion, the change that is necessary is understood better, I think, if we
look at the difference between the first response of Paul to Jesus’ call and the
immediate response of Ananias to Jesus’ call. These were two significantly
different responses to Jesus. Do you remember Paul’s first words? They
were, “Who are you, Lord?” Do you remember Ananias’ first words? They
were, “Here I am, Lord.”

    This is what conversion is all about, whether it is a one-time experience
that knocks you off your feet or whether it is a slow and gradual process of
growing in faith. Either way, you need to make that move from asking,
“Who are you, Lord?” to responding, “Here I am, Lord.” As long as you’re
still asking, “Who are you, Lord?” you are not yet converted. But as soon as
you say, “Here I am, Lord” you are in a different place and you are in the
process of conversion.

   Now notice that I said the process of conversion, because even if you are
one of those who were blessed by a major conversion moment, the change
must continue. I’m heartened in this by the example of Ananias. Of all the
people God could have used to help Paul continue in his conversion, God

chose Ananias, so he must have been a pretty special individual. But even
he was a work in progress, a Christian in the making.

   Did you notice that Ananias didn’t exactly leap at the opportunity to
serve Christ in this way? Jesus gave him clear instructions and the assurance
that Paul would be ready to receive him because of the vision he had been
given, but Ananias responded, “Lord, I have heard from many about this
man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has
authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” In other
words, Ananias was saying to Jesus, “Are you sure you have the right guy?
And are you sure you want me to risk my life by getting anywhere near

    Ananias was dragging his feet. He was afraid of Paul, that wild animal
who had both the power to imprison and a wicked attitude toward those who
were followers of Jesus. Ananias was certainly a Christian then, but he was
still learning how to trust Jesus with his whole life; he was just realizing that
he would have to take risks for the Gospel; and he was yet to discover just
how much power God had to change people completely and how determined
Jesus was to accomplish his will. In a real sense, this is both the story of
Paul’s conversion and the story of Ananias’ continuing conversion – that
quiet but relentless transformation that is on-going in our lives that is the
work of the Holy Spirit. “Go!” Jesus said to Ananias, and Ananias went.

   In the summary of Paul’s conversion given later in chapter 22 of Acts,
Ananias has quite a prominent and assertive role. Paul recalls that Ananias
bravely confronted him, proclaiming that God had chosen Paul and would
use him to be Christ’s witness to all the world. Then, the once fearful
Ananias said to Paul, in so many words, “What are you waiting for? Get up
and be baptized and claim the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your
sins!” Then Paul was baptized and began his preaching ministry. So, the
conversion of Paul and Ananias continued. Both would have to learn again
and again throughout their lives what that response, “Here I am, Lord”
would mean for them, how it would change them, how it would continue to
convert them.

   The question this raises for us, then, is not, “Have you been converted?”
but “Are you being converted?” Are you being converted? Do you say
each and every day, “Here I am, Lord” and then wait to see what will be
asked of you and what will be offered to you that will both change you and

use you? Whether you can pinpoint a day and a moment of conversion in
your life or whether God in Christ has just always been there and you can’t
even remember a time without faith, the question remains. Are you being
converted? Or are you simply treading water in the faith, thinking either that
your conversion is something that happened in the dim and distant past, or
that you are just one of those second class citizens in the Kingdom of God
who never quite managed a conversion experience?

   Are you being converted? This is a serious question. You are not done
yet. God is not finished with you until the wild animal, the cruel wolf in
you, is not only turned into a sheep, but assumes the character of a shepherd.
Both Paul and Ananias had to go through this total transformation, and so
must we. This kind of conversion will take your entire life. I will leave you
this morning, then, to think about this one important question.

                        Are you being converted?


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