Based on Galatians 1:11-24

Today we have perfected the art of destroying people’s character, questioning their intentions, and planting seeds of doubt in the minds of inquiring minds. We see it every day. Someone rises to fame, the adoring crowds stand and applaud their latest accomplishment, and everyone wants to know every detail of their daily life. After we tire of the latest superstar we begin to notice that their star isn’t shining as bright as it once did.

The paparazzi and tabloid journalists with laptop in tow begin to dig and write about the fallings of the one-time reality tv star for the pages of a tabloid, magazines, or some television tell all show. The drive and passion of a sportsman begins to be talked about as a domineering and arrogant personality. The creativity and genius of an entrepreneur is spun so that he is talked about as a corporate Atilla the Hun who is bent on conquering the world.

This ripping at people’s lives doesn’t just happen to the superstar or corporate big shot, it takes place everyday in office buildings, communities, and schools all over the country.

Someone who is minding his own business finds themself on the list of the local hit man of reputations who wants to see him topple. A young woman enters the workforce with a strong work ethic, but those already on the payroll who amble in ten minutes late and shut everything down thirty minutes early see her as a threat.

What do they do? Work harder? Become more conscientious? Are you kidding? Instead, they spread rumors, float innuendos, and plan to sabotage her work.

A schoolgirl who is getting more attention than some of the other girls think she should get. They talk behind her back, give the cold shoulder, use cyber bullying to try and put her in her place. None of us are surprised when scenes like these are played out before our eyes because we’ve seen it happen far too many times.

Those who take such pride in cutting others down to size are distant cousins of those in the first century who were doing everything in their power to undermine the ministry and message of the Apostle Paul. They tried to destroy his credibility. They spread rumors about his background. They dismissed his message. In response to those who did everything in their power to bring him down — Paul stood strong.

Paul loved the people of Galatia, he had been called by God to share the Gospel with them, he had seen many of the people come to know Christ, and a vibrant church had been born. It had to have ripped at Paul’s heart for him to hear that the church was in disarray and the false teachers were spreading false reports about him to try and draw the people away. Paul wanted those who were being deceived to know the truth so he wrote his defence to try and explain that everything they had heard about him was false.

Paul had received the truth of God while he was on his way to arrest Christians for their faith. By the time Paul reached Damascus he had been given a lifelong mission! God taught Paul the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ – it could not have happened any other way.

The message that Paul had been so passionate about before he came to know Jesus was so different, in its approach to salvation, that Paul couldn’t have adapted it from the rabbi’s teachings. Paul had received his message, the message he shared with everyone who crossed his path, from God. Paul had heard the Christians speaking, he knew about Jesus because of the Christians, but it was God who made the message come alive to Paul.

In a very real way you and I have received the message through the revelation of Jesus Christ as well. I don’t mean to say that out of the blue Jesus revealed himself to us in the same way that he did Paul while he was on his way to Damascus. We may have had a friend who shared their faith with us and taught us about God’s will and God’s sacrifice of His Son. All of these opportunities that God has brought our way have been gifts of grace, but only God can make the Truth become real and personal for you and me. Charles Haddon Spurgeon writes,

We also have received the gospel in a way beyond the power of man to convey it to us: men brought it to our ear, but the Lord himself applied it to our heart. The best of the saints could not have brought it home to our hearts, so as to regenerate, convert, and sanctify us by it. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, April 25th, 1890)

Everyone knew about Paul’s previous way of life. They knew that he persecuted Christians. They knew that he was a devout Jew. They knew how he tried to destroy the Church. They knew about these things because Paul spoke about them freely, not with any pride, but because people needed to know that the change he had experienced in life had come about because the Lord had changed him.

Paul is talking about the essence of what it means to be called by God to God’s service; the essence of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit so completely that one can do nothing but proclaim the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What does it mean to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Certainly it means that we should speak his words and preach his Gospel to all those around us. But it also means that we need to live our lives in ways that—by example—spread Christ’s message of love and acceptance of all God’s children. I see both of these things happening here at St. Benedicts. But most importantly, we are all living examples of Christ’s love.

St. Benedicts is a fair sized congregation. It may never be a huge congregation. But does it need to be? We are not a hugely wealthy congregation. But does it need to be? I don’t believe God is calling us to be huge and wealthy. God is calling us to serve this community, to be a part of this community, to be a source of God’s message in this community—both in Word and by example. God will guide us; we don’t need to tell God what needs to be done; God will show us what needs to be done.

When Paul was called by God on that road to Damascus, he was blinded by the power of that call. But Paul didn’t panic. He didn’t worry about whether or not he would ever see again. He continued on his journey, holding in his heart the apocalyptic revelation that he had received in his call. He says that he didn’t confer with any human beings about his call. Why should he? He had faith that God would lead him and direct his words and his actions.

It is not a conceit nor is it presumptuous to say that we believe God is calling us to some task in this community. It is presumptuous to say that we know what God is calling us to do.

God has called us together in this congregation, in this parish, in this community, in this time for some reason that God is gradually revealing as it needs to be revealed.

Through God’s grace we have been brought together, and I consider myself to be incredibly blessed to be here as part of the St Benedicts church family. Sometimes, God’s plan for us as individuals and as a community can only seen clearly in hindsight, when we begin to notice how events develop and lead naturally from one to another. When we look back on events in our lives and in the life of our community and we see times when there were problems or where things went off track, be assured that it was during those times that we were telling God how we wanted things to go. When things were going well and everything was clicking into place, be assured that it was during those times that we stopped telling God how to be God.

By grace we have been called just as Paul was called by our Lord; be joyful and revel in that grace, knowing that God is in charge and that we have nothing to worry about here, God will take care of us. Our ministry together will be what God guides us to in his time and in his way. I believe that God has a wonderful and exciting ride in store for us as we continue together here in his Church, so buckle up, hold onto your hats, and enjoy this adventure in our faith.

Let us pray.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus as he guides us through the work of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Simon Woodmore