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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon

25th January 2004

Fr David Shepherd

Conversion of St. Paul

Today marks the end of the Week of prayer for Christian Unity. As usual St. Matthew's has been well represented at the various services in the district. It's been good meeting old friends and making new and discovering the Church Army Chapel in Bushey Heath. The journeys to the different churches seem to represent the Christian pilgrimage through life and the willingness to embrace the new wine of the Kingdom in Jesus Christ.

After our recent vary encouraging joint service with the local Methodists it feels as if we are making some progress. After all it can be rather disheartening praying for unity for so many years when nothing seems to be happening. If we feel our prayers remain unanswered them I suspect the truth is that we are often unwilling to listen to what God is saying to us and to follow his calling.

At the back of my mind I knew there was a reason why the week of prayer is kept in the somewhat unsuitable month of January, it's just that I couldn't remember what it was. Some areas have adopted the practice of the Southern hemisphere in keeping the week at Pentecost. However once we discover the origins of the week it does make sense to keep it when we do.

The week, CTBI leaflet tells began with the proposal in 1907 by Father Paul Wattson that the Octave from the feast of the Chair of St. Peter to that of the Conversion of St. Paul should be kept as time of prayer for the reunion of Christendom, under Papal rule. In 1936 realising the rather one sided nature of this Abbe Courtier of Lyon relaunched the week as one of prayer by all Christians for Christian unity seeking the will of Christ.

As we noted on their joint feast day, Peter and Paul would not have found it particularly easy to agree on the basics of the Christian faith. They had strong but very different personalities. For both their Christianity required considerable changes of heart. After his vision at Joppa, the Jewish Christian Peter had to accept that the Gospel was for the gentiles too. Saul the Pharisee after his conversion on the Damascus road became Paul the apostle to the gentiles. Through him the Christian faith spread from being a Jewish sect to a universal faith, spreading through out the world. If we are serious in our desire for Christian unity then I suspect our own thinking will need to be challenged. What can we learn from the story of the Conversion of St. Paul?

So four things we can learn from the story of St. Paul's conversion, the importance of our past, the need to be open to being surprised by the unexpected, the value of humble trust and the necessity of a nurturing sharing of our faith. All this we can embrace in our ecumenical pilgrimage.

O God, Holy & Eternal Trinity, we pray for your Church in all the world. Sanctify its life, renew its worship; empower its witness; heal our divisions; make visible its unity.

Lead us, with our brothers and sisters, towards communion in faith, life and witness so that, united in one body by the one Spirit, we may together witness to the perfect unity of your love.


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Last updated 25/01/04 09:00:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd