Sermon: Turning points in our lives - Galatians 1.13-24

IntroPoint 1 - Turning points in History

If you were to pick a turning point in history, which would you choose?

Agriculture – 10,000 BC – dear to our heart in Hampshire. Beginning in the Middle east with crops, farms.  

Writing – 3,500 BC – allows communication between people, records of events, made with clay tablets and pressing sticks to make shapes.

Science – Penicillin – Alexander Fleming in 1928 – agar plates with Staphylococcus and mould growing after his time away from the lab. Although lots of bacteria were growing on his plates, there was a clear ring in the jelly around some of the spots of mould.No bacteria growing. Something had killed the bacteria that was covering the jelly. He named penicillin.

Science – DNA – 1953 – Watson and Crick, with Rosaline Franklin and Maurice Wilkins –proposing the double Helix structure of DNA. 

Wars – 100 years ago – World War 1 – 1914-1918 – grim turning point in human understanding, realisation of human nature, types of warfare - technology used, USA world power, precipitated WW II

In Whitewater we remember individuals WWI with the Bell ringing this year 2016 – one hundred years later – thanks to the team here.

Point 2 - Saul – turning point in his life – Starting point is Zeal

Saul was brought up in Tarsus, in modern day Turkey. He was a Jew, who studied and taught the Jewish Torah, or Law. He was a Pharisee - that is a teacher of the law, probably of the strictest type, a Shammaite. (cf. Hillel, the lenient type of Pharisee; NB  he says he was a student of Gamaliel, Hillel). Paul would have grown up in a world of fierce debate and party loyalty.  He was hard-line, Tom Wright says, ‘a right-winger’ (“What Paul really said” © 1997:26-27). It was about aims and agendas for Israel, for the people, land and the Temple.

Zealous for God – for Saul meant

To seek freedom for Israel from the Gentile rule, free to serve God in peace, YAHWEH the only true God, to be the master. They would have fought to achieve the long-awaited kingdom of God. Things would have come close to a holy war, which is what we read in Paul’s letter of Galatians; against Christians

Galatians 1:13-14. Paul writes:

You have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism. How intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age, and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

The story we know is from Acts of the Apostles

What did Saul the Pharisee do? He persecuted the people of “the Way” that is the Way of Jesus Christ. He stood beside the people as they stoned to death the first Christian martyr, Stephen.

Acts 5:57-58.

At this preaching of Stephen and his own defence in front of the Sanhedrin, the Sanhedrin covered their ears, and yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. But Saul changed, and became St Paul. Let us read the words written about him

Galatians 1:23

“the man who formerly persecuted us is not preaching the faith he once tried to destroy”

Saul had been persecuting those who were followers of Jesus, he pursued them until they were captured, put them in prison, men and women.

Acts 9:1-2

Meanwhile Paul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the Jewish high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

Acts 22:4-5

Paul’s words are recorded: “I was zealous for God... I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison… I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.”

Acts 26.

Paul’s words recorded: “I too was convinced that I should do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. Ion the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them. Saul – full of zeal – violence – knowledge of the law of Torah – brought up in Jewish faith, a Roman Citizen we know too, from Tarsus to Jerusalem…Big story – scary man.


Point 3 – Saul became Paul – because Jesus intervened

Note here that we so often think that situations are hopeless, that nothing can be done, that individuals are stuck in their ways, and we have strong emotions. Some of that emotion may be fear, or anger. If we learn from this story, we can be encouraged. Here are words about the intervention into Saul’s life, he is on the journey to arrest Christians

Acts 26:12-16

On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground.

I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic (Hebrew dialect)

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads”

Then I asked: “Who are you, Lord?” the Lord replied: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting …Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.” Paul writes the same story elsewhere, that he was stopped in his mission by Jesus himself, who he heard speaking to him, and he heard that his zeal against the followers of Jesus was as if against Jesus himself.

Do you believe it?

The Bible is remarkably honest, isn’t it? We are so used to the fact that it is possible to airbrush ugly bits from our bodies in photos? We can edit our documents with word processing – it checks our grammar and spelling! We can have exams re-marked.

Paul became a major leader in the early church. We have his letters in the NT, of which this one is only one. It would have been rather nice to keep these accounts of his activity to a minimum, but the Bible tells the real life stories of real people. The bad bits as well as the good bits.

What a relief!

We may not have hunted down Christians to their death, but I imagine we have all said things we regret, and not done things we promised. Paul never ever forgot his problematic past. Paul never forgot his gratitude to God for kindness. In one of the last letters we have from him, written to his best friend Timothy, these are his words

1 Timothy 1:13

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.

1 Timothy 1:16

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

So my final point is this

Point 4 – there is always hope of transformation

Turning point – is possible

Even being here today – might be a turning point for some of us

What happened to Saul is that he met Jesus – Jesus met him.

He woke up – and realised that Jesus is alive and real!

The followers of Jesus are not just following a religious system that is like all others

We are following a living God – and Jesus sees what is going on – and knows what is happening to us.

We can always begin again.

Rev’d Dr Marion de Quidt, St Michael, Heckfield. 5th June 2016