Today we celebrate the conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. Paul’s story is fresh in many of our minds. Having read through Acts this fall, we heard his conversion story hundreds of times. Saul, a brutal persecutor of Christians, has a profound experience with Jesus, and he changes his entire life. This man who watched Christians be martyred eventually himself becomes martyred for Christ. His change is dramatic; he totally devotes his life to Christ, especially advocating for the conversion of Gentiles. That conversion experience for Paul becomes a rock – a story not only that he shares over and over, but that he uses as fuel for his journey.
Now as modern Episcopalians, Paul’s conversion story is intriguing, but not exactly relatable. Few of us have a story of being converted. In fact, few of us even have a story of being “saved,” as our Baptist brothers and sisters might call it. And if we are truly honest, few of us even like to tell our faith story at all, at least not to anyone outside these walls. Yet this is what Jesus calls us to do in the Gospel lesson today. Jesus says we will be sent out like sheep among wolves, flogged and dragged before governors because of Jesus. When we are to speak we are not to worry, because the Holy Spirit will give us the words. For a people who feel uncomfortable even talking about our faith to others, these are not exactly emboldening words. And Paul’s talk is not much encouragement!
So where can we find encouragement? I find encouragement with Paul. If you remember, Paul had a lot of support. His Jewish and Roman identity opened a lot of doors and saved him many times. Also, God gave Paul a story; he did not have to make up a new story every time. He just told his story – the story he knew best – over and over again. What Paul did was indeed scary, and we know the many scary moments he faces, but he did those things with some real support from the Holy Spirit.
This is why we can trust Jesus when he says, “Do not worry.” Our story today is a lot less scary; we may face discomfort talking to others, but not flogging and death. And we know our story; we have lived a great journey with Jesus. Maybe we are still figuring it all out, but sometimes honestly sharing that ambiguity will open more people to Christ than certainty will. So Jesus and Paul encourage us today. They encourage us to let go of fear and to just start telling our story. “For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Amen.