The conversion of Saul is perhaps one of the more entertaining and moving pieces of scripture in the Bible. It shows not only a conversion but the power of God, the forgiveness of Jesus, and the new way of life offered to all peoples. I have always read this account with awe and a little bit of jealousy, I must admit. I have always wanted to have that moment of clarity, that moment of conversion, that moment of calling that would open my eyes and change my life forever. A moment that was so intense in its presence that there was no doubt as to God’s work. Paul got that burning bush experience like Moses. He got a conversion experience that left him a bit dumbfounded for a while. Jesus touched his life in a way that left a very physical impact upon his person.
Saul, who would later become known as Paul, was struck down by lighting, spoken to, and given a vision of Christ, and then blinded. This week I was struck not so much by his being struck down but rather by his temporary blindness. He had to be lead around by the hand learning to trust in the good will of others, something that I am sure was not easy for the proud Pharisee who once attempted to torture and kill all Christians in the Middle East. Paul had to give up his control of the situation into the hands of God and come to an acceptance that his blindness might indeed be a permanent experience for him.
But what is even more awe inspiring is the symbolism of the blindness. He was blinded because spiritually he had been blind to the hope, love, compassion, and joy of the risen Christ as Lord and Savior. Although I have never been physically blinded by the Lord, I have had my times of spiritual blindness. We all have our times when we are blind to the work of God around us, blind to the call of God upon our hearts, blind to the Holy alive all around us.
Paul was blinded so he might understand the gravity of the life he had been living, so he might have the time to come to terms with the new way of life Christ would ask him to live. His life was to be starkly different than the privileged life of a previously wealthy Pharisee with Roman citizenship. Jesus needed him to learn the lesson of Thomas the Twin from last week’s scriptures. He needed to learn to have faith without sight, to have faith even in the midst of some of the more challenging aspects of life. Then when Paul got his sight back, his eyes would be opened to the reality of Christ Resurrected all around him and in his every experience.
A conversion experience is any experience we might have that changes the way we live our lives, any experience that brings us into relationship with Christ. Conversion experiences are God’s way of teaching us how to live life in a new way. Paul had a very dramatic one that opened his eyes to the realities of God. But people still have them today. We all have them at some point in life. For some people they are more dramatic than others. Some people’s experiences are so quiet that it can easily be missed by those around us. But God is still calling out and inspiring people to come to faith and to work for Christ’s message in the world.
As I said earlier, I wanted to be someone who had an experience like Paul’s of the glory of God, a very obvious call to Christ’s work. I didn’t have that. My call into faith, my conversion moment was pretty ordinary and mundane. I was a child and I understood that God was speaking to me and it certainly didn’t frighten me. It seemed natural to me. But my oldest brother, his conversion experience was more dramatic. He found God in one of those burning bush type of experiences. So I will share his conversion story. Erick was not a religious person. He attended Sunday school until the fourth grade just long enough to get his Bible before quitting. He never attended youth group, church events, or confirmation. When he left for the military at the age of 19, he wasn’t even certain of the existence of God. If God existed he believed that God had little to do with humanity.
He was shipped off to basic training where they broke him down and rebuilt him then they sent him to Saudi Arabia. While there, he began to realize the presence of God. He began to be open to the possibilities of the work Christ. He lived and worked for 6 months in a village of air conditioned tents in the middle of a country that was not friendly to Americans transporting bombs between bases in an armored vehicle. In-between shifts, there was nothing but the sand, sun, and long hours of boredom. He filled the time as best as he could with letter writing, working out, unsuccessfully tanning, and scorpion fighting. But somewhere in the midst of the loneliness he realized how empty life was without the presence of Christ.
God had spoken to his heart and ignited in him a passion and curiosity for God, for the work of Christ in the world. Since then, he has joined a church and has not stopped his quest to understand more. Our callings are unique to our lives, to our needs, to the openness of our hearts at different junctures in our lives. When the time is right God speaks to all of us, not just once but throughout our experiences to open our eyes, to heal our blindness, to bring us home to Christ. We are being challenged to remember our moments that brought us to faith whether we were adults, teenagers, or children, when God first spoke to us doesn’t matter, we are to remember those moments and the passion for Christ that it sparked in our hearts. We are challenged to take that passion, to rediscover it, and to live into it as if it were the first time. Allow for the scales that have blinded us to fall away so we might once more be filled with the Holy Spirit. Remember what our scriptures said, “And immediately something like scales fell for his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength”.
Spiritual blindness hits all of us, when the concerns of this world gain precedence over the work of God. We all need to be reminded from time to time of that moment when we first came to Christ. Paul’s conversion is our reminder to awaken our hearts to the power and glory of the resurrected Christ once more. Like Paul, we need to let it inspire us and strengthen us in our work in this world, in our care for others, allowing it be an inspiration for us to walk in a new way.
 Acts 9: 18-19, NRSV.
(Based on Acts 9: 1-20)