Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder , Senior Minister



Sermon Series: Is it I, Lord? Stories of following God's lead

“Paul: A Stunning Call ”

Sunday, May 16, 2010




Rev. Dean Snyder

We have been looking at call stories from the Bible. Today is the last Sunday of this series and we are looking at the story of the Apostle Paul’s call. It is a humdinger of a call story.

Paul is a religious zealot. He is theologically trained, having studied under one of the leading rabbis of his time.  He knows what is theologically correct and what isn’t and he has determined to eradicate a new sect that he believes is both misguided and dangerous.

He was responsible for one of the sect members Stephen being stoned to death. He was on his way to Damascus to arrest and imprison the members of this sect there when he was stunned by a brilliant light, knocked off his feet, spoken to by Jesus, leaving him blind and unable to eat or drink for three days. Jesus arranged someone, who didn’t want to do it, to pray for Paul and explain to him what he was to do with his life.  It is a very dramatic and extraordinary call experience.

When a group of us were studying this story earlier this week, someone said that it is a hard story to relate with because it is so extraordinary – so beyond our own experience.

This is what I’d like us to wrestle with this morning. The extraordinariness of this story.

My bias is that I believe God prefers and enjoys the ordinary. I got an email this week from one of our members who is helping to plan a memorial service for the men who died on the oil rig that caught fire in the gulf. He asked for some ideas about hymns they might use.

The first hymn that came to mind was “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” We see God’s faithfulness in the dependability of the sun rising every morning, the dependability of the seasons, the sun, moon and stars in their courses, the daily blessings of life. Ordinary things.

I was thinking about our choir this week and the really remarkable special Sundays they do throughout the year – requiems in German, cantatas, amazing music, and the special music is great, but what I love the most is their Sunday by Sunday music, and what I love of that the most is actually their leadership of us singing the ordinary hymns of the church. Our choir is extraordinary but what I love the most is the ordinary music they help us sing. I think I experience God most present in the ordinary things of life.
I hope this doesn’t sound self-serving. We’ve got a great month of preaching planned for this coming July. I enjoy having outstanding preachers come from around the country and asking them to preach their best sermons. I’ve actually gotten to do that myself.

But I am convinced the most important preaching that happens is ordinary preachers living with their congregations and knowing the questions and struggles of their people and communities and preaching ordinary sermons week by week that wrestle with Scripture and experience.

So before we talk about Paul’s extraordinary experience, I want to confess that I have a bias for the ordinary experiences of life – the daily experience of meaningful work, dinner with a loved one,  growing a little garden, baseball, reading a good book, sharing a joke – these ordinary things speak definitively to me of the goodness and grace of God.  I think we see God most powerfully in the ordinary things of life.

I think most experiences of God guiding our lives or calling us are pretty ordinary as well. I think God usually uses pretty ordinary methods and means to call us. Spenses says he heard a call when he started to get more quiet in his life. He volunteered at a hospice.  He listened to his own heart and heard there the quiet voice of Jesus.

I think that when we read the stories of what is happening to people in Haiti, what we may think of as normal human feelings of compassion and concern can be God’s call. We have a group here planning our Foundry ministry to Haiti. I think the inner awareness that, when people are suffering, we need to do something is God’s call.

I think all sorts of things that we consider ordinary human dynamics and impulses, even biological drives, can be expressions of God’s call.  In talking about call stories from the Bible I do not want to overly emphasize of elevate dramatic extraordinary experiences as though that were normal. In fact, I think sometimes biblical stories are dramatic ways of expressing what were more ordinary experiences.

But, given this, Paul’s call story is especially extraordinary with strobe lights and the voice of Jesus, and miracles, and physical manifestations. These sorts of things happen sometime. Too many people have told me about having other extraordinary experiences themselves for me to discount this.

So what do we make of Paul’s experience?

Well, it was Paul.

I’ve come up with an axiom this week about the extraordinariness of call experiences based on thinking about Paul’s experience. Here’s my axiom – The extraordinariness of your experience of a call is directly related to the thickness of your skull.

Paul needed to have a very extraordinary call experience because he was a big knucklehead.  If you’ve had an intense extraordinary religious experience, it is not necessarily a complement. It may not be because God wants especially to communicate with you, it may be because you are particularly dense and it takes extraordinary methods for you to get it.

Paul needed extraordinary interventions because he was extraordinarily stubborn.

If you have not had extraordinary religious experiences consider it a complement. If you experience a spiritual presence in the beauty of nature, if you feel blessed to be alive, if eating bread and drinking wine reassures you that the Creator is good, if something sustains you and helps you endure during times of difficulty and trouble, consider yourself fortunate. God’s system is working for you.

If you’ve needed God to go out of God’s way to bounce you around a bit, you may be a knucklehead.

The other reason, I think, for Paul’s extraordinary call was that he would need it. I suspect we each get the kind of call we need. Paul’s ministry was not an easy ministry. He didn’t get along well with the apostles. He did not get along well with his own generation of preachers. Even those he taught and mentored mostly turned on him. He had no family and he did not die surrounded by colleagues who loved him. He may well have died thinking his life and ministry may have been a failure. 

He may have needed an extraordinary call to sustain him in his work.

Methodist ministers don’t really need extraordinary calls. We have degrees and ordinations. Walk into our offices and we will have our degrees and ordination certificates on the walls. Yes, we may believe we are called by God but we’ve got a piece of paper that says the bishop ordained us. 

Paul was going to break totally new ground. He was going to claim to be an apostle when he had never even known Jesus when Jesus walked the earth.  He needed a memory to sustain him when he must have had great self-doubts about his own leadership.