Summary: A monologue (with characterization ideas borrowed from F. Beuchner).
Style: Dramatic. Duration: 10min
I was born this way. Not much I could do about it. Too short for my liking, a bit hot-headed, my nose too big. That’s the way God made me. That’s me on the outside. Those are the kinds of things you wish you could change. But there are things inside a person that need to change. And I am here to tell you, God can change you. From the inside out.
I know what I’m talking about. God changed me, all right. Changed my life. Changed my job. Changed my attitudes. Changed my spirit. Even changed my name.
You think it was easy for me? Letting God change me like that? It wasn’t easy at all. God put me in for a tough time…
Five times I got the lash for preaching the gospel - 39 strokes each time.
Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned.
Three times shipwrecked.
In danger from rivers, robbers - my own people.
I was sick most of my life. I came to call it my “thorn in the flesh. The doctors never did figure out what it was. And whatever was my affliction, I can only say this - God used it as God used so many other things in my life to mold me. I think God needed to make me humble, slow me down a bit. Give me a bit of humility.
I was cocky. Pugnacious. Passionate about the things I believed in. Maybe you know people like that. Like a dog with a bone. We get an idea, or a cause, in our minds and hearts and then nothing will stop us. People like us don’t listen very well. We have pre-conceived ideas.
But we make great workers. We work at our cause for no reward save the cause itself
and we make great missionaries.
I was a missionary both for and against the same cause. It was the cause that changed my life - the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It was more than the cause, actually. It was Jesus himself who changed me. I once despised the man. I hated his people. They were upsetting everything we Pharisees were trying to do. We were suspicious of their message and their methods.
I was a Pharisee with a lot of power. I had the authority to put down this rebel group. And by God I was good at my job. I had spies everywhere. We would infiltrate their meetings. Find out who were the leaders and the preachers. Anyone who bore the name of Jesus on their lips was sure to be found out.
We hunted these people down like rats. Sending out the goon squads. Harassing them. Forcing them to move on. Trying to shut them down. I was there at the stoning of Steven, one of their leaders. Standing in the background. Handing out the rocks. Urging the crowd on to kill the man.
I am here to admit to that. And I do so with shame. But I stand here a different man than the one I was then. The man who persecuted the Christians had the name of Saul. The man who stands before you now is named Paul. I did not change my name. God changed my name. At the same time as God changed my heart.
I was on my way to Damascus with my goons. We were to round up some trouble-making Christians and bring them to justice. And then it happened.
It was about noon. I don’t know what happened, but suddenly I was knocked flat on my back by a blaze of light. And out of the light came a voice. It called me by name. “Saul Saul, why are you out to get me?” I couldn’t see, but I could hear. And I cried out to the voice, “Who are you?” And the voice came back to me again, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, the one you are persecuting. I want you on my side.” No! How could this be? How could Jesus talk to me? He was dead. And I was trying to kill off his followers. What in God’s name was going on?
My friends heard the voice, too, but they could see no one. They took me by the hand and we finished the trip to Damascus.
For three days I was blind as a bat. Finally, a man named Ananias came for me. He was one of the leaders of the Christians in Damascus. A man I was out to get. He told me later that Jesus had called him in a vision to go and get me. Ananias was none too pleased with this prospect. I was the last person he would want to associate with. But he listened to Christ, and as he entered the house where I was staying, he laid his hands on me and I could see.
Ananias took me to his place, baptized me there, gave me food, and welcomed me as one of his friends. He did one of the bravest and most foolish things he could have done. An act of pure faith. Because of him - no - because of Christ working through him, I am a new person.
From that time on I was never the same. My personality, however, did not change. I was as driven as ever. Obsessive. Compulsive. Organized. Passionate. Everything I did or said from that time on was an attempt to win the world over as I had been won over by Christ.
It was not easy, as I said. I had to earn and sometimes fight my way into the hearts of the other Christians. They didn’t trust me as far as they could throw me. But eventually we divided things up, they gave me my mission areas and away I went. Sometimes on my own. Usually with Barnabas or Timothy.
We travelled by boat and donkey and foot and carriage all over the empire. Preaching on the street corners of Philippi, and Corinth and Ephesus and Thessalonica and Jerusalem and Colossae.
Preaching to kids and old women and half-drunk sailors.
Preaching to the people who wanted to know that there was more to their lives than they had known.
Preaching to people who never knew God, much less the love of Christ.
Preaching in synagogues until they ran us out of town on a rail.
We set up churches all over the place. Small groups. Groups of believers. And then I kept in touch. Writing and writing. Preaching through my pen. Writing until the candles and the stamps ran out. Writing until I ran out of words and ideas and images and poems to describe how Christ mattered and how he calls us to live.
I knew that if God could save a wretch like me then anything was possible. I knew that God could reach anyone who would listen. And give them a new life.
By grace I was saved. I wrote that in a letter to the Ephesians. Grace. Salvation was free.
All my life I had been trying to kick down this door that had stood wide open the whole time. All my life I had been running from a God who was trying to run towards me. Jesus had been calling me but I could not hear his voice above my own.
It was not easy for me - or for the others I worked with. Nobody ever said following Christ would be easy. The tough times do not always go away.
If you feel like the world has worn you down, I know how you feel. Believe me. I have been there. I have been depressed to the point where I did not know if I could get up in the morning. I have seen church fights like you have never imagined, and wondered if these people could ever find a peaceable way of being the Body of Christ again.
But let me tell you one thing that I told the Romans 2000 years ago. They were not having an easy time. And so I put the story of my life in a couple of sentences for them. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword?”
That’s the groundwork for a lot of our lives. And if that was all there was to say, then we have nothing worth holding onto. Is that all there is?
But No. I wrote that word so hard the tip broke off my pencil. “No, In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,, nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation shall be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Now that is a new life.
(C) Jim Hatherly.