St Peter's Church, Manchester
Compassion — Acceptance — Welcome
Conversion is a word that because of the stridency with which it is trumpeted by some Christians, has become offensive to many in society, Christians and non- Christians alike. It has unfortunately become associated with a kind of exclusivism and indeed intolerance that makes people unfortunately wary of the term and the concept behind it. This is a very odd and late in history development, especially odd considering the basic character of what conversion is, a character seen most keenly here in the story of the conversion of St. Paul.
The basic character of this story is not of miracle, nor of a drama, it comes down a simple revelation not of God but of a basic human truth; Paul is wrong.
Whatever Paul has believed about God, whatever has driven him to be what
one commentator has called 'an enterprising and determined bigot', is wrong. But
it is more than this Paul is not only wrong on the definition of a faith,
rather he is wrong in believing that he can be the holder and proclaimer
of a single truth about God.
Paul is a human being and he can be, and is, wrong.
In this moment of realisation that he is wrong, Paul is converted. He is converted from his hubris, his assuming God's will. He is converted to the possibility of self doubt; there is no longer certainty about God, or Christ. Rather God in Christ is the certainty, for Paul all that is left is his wrongness and self doubt.
Now Paul is confronted with the true mystery of God, Paul knows now nothing. Christ is the arbiter of truth Paul is released from the chains of being correct and released into a new freedom, the loving gift of God's grace.
Here is the true conversion; not to bigotry but from it. The realisation that you, I, we do not possess the whole truth. This is the Damascus Road experience.
If Christian people, if churches, are to be united to be in any way a community living together we must be converted. We must begin with the Damascus Road experience and find out as individuals and churches that we are wrong. This must be the conversion that is the first step on the road to the union of all God's people, to put aside our ‘enterprising and determined bigotry’, to repent of this and be willing to doubt ourselves because we have our assurance in the person of Christ.
And once we have taken this step ourselves we must not fall into the trap, as Ananias did, of fearing those who enter into the Christian act of doubt with us. We must be released from the fear of takeover, or merger, or the ‘lowest common denominator’. We must welcome those released into the human doubt we share, and the Christ that unites us.
Our conversion to doubt means that we are required to live with an ongoing awareness that we are wrong, that we need to change, to develop, to learn. We can no longer maintain that we know everything. We can learn from each other, as individuals, from our cultures and variety of church traditions, new truths about humanity, and God in Christ.
This is the beginning of our new journey as Christians together, we have not arrived but we travel this Damascus Road together. Picking up others as we travel, not believing that they must conform to us, but only asking them to consider that they too may be as wrong as we are, as together we engage with the mystery that is God.
This is ‘the way’ as the church first called themselves, a road into mystery: a journey of exploration and learning together, a journey to all peoples and all creation, a journey into the mystery of God.
This is the ecumenical path.
We boldly go together where none of us have been before.