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A Man for all Seasons

An address by Fr John Slater at St Paul’s Cathedral on St Paul’s Day 2003

25 January 2003 11:00 | Fr John Slater

It was only as I walked up Ludgate Hill and heard the bells pealing that it struck me what a special privilege it is to preach on this Feast of the Conversion of St Paul in St Paul’s Cathedral on a site where churches have stood, dedicated to St Paul, since the early seventh century. Half of the New Testament is attributed to this dynamic figure whose thought and energy contributed so much to the establishment of Christianity as a world religion.

There are so many dimensions to St Paul. There is Saul the persecutor of Christians and Paul the enthusiastic convert. There is Paul the missionary to the Gentiles, and Paul concerned for the conversion of his own Jewish people. There is Paul the mystic who tells us he was ‘caught up into the seventh heaven’ and Paul the practical man who insisted on earning his living as a tent-maker. There is Paul the theologian employing the language and imagery of Greek philosophy and Paul the prisoner patiently awaiting martyrdom in Rome.

You will be glad to know that I am not about to offer you my insights on each of these aspects of this cathedral’s patron saint! So I ask myself what St Paul means for me and I realise that I depend on him practically every day of my life because he gives us the vocabulary and the imagery through which we articulate the Christian faith. As a pastor, I find myself depending on Paul for the explanation of the meaning of baptism. How could I speak of baptism without Paul’s images of the Body of Christ, or phrases such as being incorporated into Christ and the new creation. Most weddings include Paul’s famous hymn to divine love - Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. This enables me to speak to two young people passionately and romantically in love of a different kind of love - sacrificial love like God’s love for all men and women.

And at funerals, what would I say without Paul’s amazing imagery:
What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.
And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body
that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or
of some other grain. But God gives it a body as
he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own

body. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.

While Paul was not one of the original disciples of Jesus who witnessed his death and resurrection, he saw their significance more clearly than any other New Testament writer. He understood that for the resurrection of Jesus to be truly world-changing it must be the catalyst enabling the resurrection of all men and women. If the dead are not raised, he writes, then Christ is not raised and our faith is vain.

In one of his most memorable flights of rhetoric in the Letter to the Romans, Paul writes that the entire creation is caught up in the transforming power of the Lord’s resurrection.

The universe itself is to be freed from the

Shackles of mortality and is to enter upon

the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Paul’s writings are ‘biblical bedrock’ - the foundation upon which so much of Christian theology is built.

Paul’s life was completely turned around by his encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He brought to his preaching both his Jewish scholarship and his familiarity with the Greek culture of the Roman Empire of which he was a citizen. He proved to be the chief apologist for Christianity in his day, and his writings remain bedrock for Christian theology today.
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