The Power of Transformation - Midweek Musing for 3-1-2022
There is an old story that I recall one of my professors sharing in class as an example of the power of transformation and the impact of one life being changed.
As the wise old professor told it there was once a young man who grew up in a rural community, which had only one town as its center. It was the sort of community where everyone pretty much knew everyone else. This young man grew up always getting into some sort of trouble, be it at school or in the community. And as he got older his misbehavior only increased. By the time he was living on his own, he was living wildly and was unable to keep a job. As a result of his behavior, he was often in trouble with the law. Most of the time they were for minor infractions – public drunkenness or fighting or vandalism or other misdemeanors.
However, he took his mischief to a different level of criminal behavior when once, as part of a get-rich-quick plan he had concocted, he got caught stealing sheep.
The townspeople were infuriated but instead of putting him in jail, which meant they had to pay for his lodging and meals, they instead punished him by branding him with the letters “ST” on his forehead for “Sheep Thief.”
This greatly shamed the young man whose penalty of being branded ostracized him from the community. In fact, the only person who would take him in was the local priest, who then worked to convince this young man to stay in his hometown and change his ways.
After some time in the company of the priest and observing how he cared for people—especially those in in need, the young man decided to change—to transform—his life.
As the years went by, he spent time serving others. He eventually moved to a cabin and had a small farm. Most of the proceeds of this farm went to the church or to directly support those in need. More than once, he directly cared for others by opening his door to strangers, providing lodging to one without shelter, or giving a warm meal or a cold cup of water.
Over the years he gained a reputation for his deep compassion for others and his unwavering integrity.
Years later, the man died peacefully in his sleep. He was placed in a coffin in the front of the church where most of the townsfolks came by to pay their respects. As this was happening one of the newer town residents asked one of the long-time citizens of the town as they walked past the open casket what the now somewhat faded but still visible “ST” on the former thief’s forehead meant.
The longtime resident said, “I have forgotten the particulars, but I think they are for ‘Saint’.”
Friends, this story may sound a bit preposterous, and I have no way of knowing if it is actually true or not. BUT I do know stories like this are totally possible and have actually occurred.
In fact, I know an even crazier transformation story that by the grace of God once occurred.
This story is found in 1st Timothy 1:12-17 where the Apostle Paul tells his own story of transformation. He writes to Timothy, his student, disciple, and friend in ministry.
“I (Paul) am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Friends, such a story gives me hope because it reminds me that if God can turn the life of Paul around – a man who called himself a blasphemer, a man of violence, and foremost among all sinners, then there is hope for me and my many, many transgressions. And there is hope for you as well. We simply need to open ourselves up and allow the transforming power of God’s love to enter our life and remember when we do fall short of what God would have us be that grace abounds to all who but ask.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Alleluia, Amen.