Signs and Wonders! — Week Two
How can anyone not be completely mesmerized by Saul's story of conversion on the road to Damascus? And yet not everyone has a conversion story that is as dramatic and clear-cut as Paul's. For many, if not most, followers of Christ, conversion has come about more gradually and over a period of time. We need to be careful if we preach on this story to acknowledge that God reaches into people's lives and calls them to be disciples in a variety of ways. Take this opportunity to remind worshipers that the story of Christ's call on our hearts does not have to be as dramatic as Paul's. The important thing is not so much the story itself as the invitation to name and claim our own stories of conversion, be they a dramatic moment that we can point to or a gradual awakening and continuing unfolding over the course of a lifetime. I remember when I first started seminary I was in a class called "Introduction to Christian Ministry." For the first semester each week when we met, one of the members of the class was invited to tell his or her story of the call to ministry. I remember that as I listened to my classmates tell their amazing call stories week after week, I felt increasingly uncomfortable. I didn't think my own story really measured up; I didn't have a dramatic conversion. There was no phone call from God, no flash of light, no voice from heaven telling me that I was being called into ministry. There was only a lifelong history of involvement in the church, and a feeling that the church had given me a voice and a place to express my concerns and fears about the world. As a child of the late 1960's and early '70's, my faith experience consisted of marching in peace rallies and listening to poets in coffee houses and speaking against nuclear proliferation. I really believed that, with my brothers and sisters in faith by my side, we could change the world. My realization and acceptance of God's call upon my life to ordained ministry happened over a long period of time and probably began in my childhood. It was influenced and shaped by many people. What I realized as I began to try to name, claim, and share my own story was that part of the process of growing in our Christian faith and discipleship comes through the naming, claiming, and especially the sharing of our unique story with others. I came to realize that what I was doing with my classmates in seminary was what I needed to invite others to do. And, of course, once I got past my own insecurities and quit comparing my story to the stories of others, I began to understand that as a teacher and preacher it was my job to make sure that the people I served also had opportunities to name, claim, and share their stories of faith.
It is important that as preachers we share our own stories of conversion, be they sudden and dramatic like Paul's (and others whose stories are recorded in Acts), or they are slow to develop and come over a period of many years. But equally important to our own sharing is to invite others to tell their stories and be affirmed as they share. Perhaps the sign and wonder at work here is the opportunity to invite the people in our own congregations to share their own stories of faith and to affirm all the unique ways that Christ comes to us and calls us to follow him.