Here is today's message, based on the bible reading from Acts 9:1-20

From: Peter Hutchinson; Apr 10, 2016 7:15:12 AM. Can Bad People be Turned Around?
You know,….one of the best things that has changed from years ago is that much of the food we buy now has a ‘Best By’ date on it.
Whenever I go to the store, my wife always reminds me to “Be sure to check the dates!”
The ‘Best If Used By’ date helps you to determine what to purchase, but also helps you know when the food is no longer any good.
Years ago, you had to take a look at stuff or maybe smell it to see if it had turned bad.
Because once food has gone bad, you want nothing to do with it.
Once something starts to go, or becomes, bad….that’s it.
Sometimes at home I try to salvage things even though the date has passed, but I get warned “it’s not something I would eat!”.
For all our advances in science,…once food is bad, it can never become good again by any method known.

So I was wondering… you think people are like that too?
I guess some would say people are either inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in their make up, or personality, or actions.
I prefer to think that we all have the propensity to be a bit of both and that its often circumstances that make us more one or the other.
Even the ‘good people’ who we think are so nice, can have a bad side, or a bad day, or even a bad moment.
And the same holds true for the people who just seem mostly bad;…. that they can have a good side too.
But we can often think some people as what my father used to call,… “a bad egg”.
Implying that the likelihood of them turning good has as much chance as the rotten apple becoming sweet again.

So what about people being like rotten apples who it seems nothing on earth can change into something good? 
Is there ever any way that we can reverse the natural order of things that turns the ‘bad egg’ into a good one?

We have two great bible readings this morning.
One is about the resurrected Jesus appearing before his disciples once again;… this time as they fish.
He helps them find a good catch and then he ultimately gives them the task to be his ambassadors to the world and to ‘feed his people’.

But the other great reading is the famous story about how the hated persecutor of the church, Saul, was converted.
Saul (who changed his name to be the apostle we know by the Greek, name, Paul) had been on a crusade to quash the Christian movement.
As a learned expert in his religion, Paul was self-appointed to search for and arrest and bring to justice, the heretic followers of Jesus.
The bible says he was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of (Jesus)”.

He was a bounty hunter who had been authorized by the Sanhedrin to find, and capture, and extinguish those who believed in Jesus.
But then one day, while walking on the road to Damascus in his effort to round up more trouble makers,….something happened to him.
The Lord knocked him down and blinded him with a bright light and scared the living daylights out of him!
Jesus challenged Paul as to why he was attacking Him through his hostile actions towards His followers.
Then the Lord sends him into the city where Paul encounters a follower of Jesus who takes him in and brings him back to wellness. 
Eventually, he then becomes,…a worker for Jesus himself!
And, as such, Paul travels far and wide throughout the region to spread the message of “the good news of Jesus Christ”.
Paul helps to establish and support churches to teach and learn about, and worship, the new risen Lord.
And he ends up writing numerous letters that eventually become a large part of what we call today ‘the New Testament’ of our bible.
In fact, outside of St. Peter, the fisherman whom the Lord called earlier,….Paul is the most noteworthy and famous apostle.

So how did this notorious and recognized ‘bad guy’,…..end up becoming such a ‘good guy’ for the faith?
What turned this ‘bad’ hostile bounty hunter, into someone so ‘good’ that he even suffered for the faith he earlier tried to extinguish?
Two things happened with Paul that seem to have turned him around.

One is that he was brought down to his knees by the Lord. 
He was taken down more than just a notch, as he humbly knelt upon the road before Jesus in sudden blindness.
The big bad enforcer became one who had the force of the good Lord thrust upon him, accompanied with a direct question from God -
Saul, Saul,…why do you persecute me?”, God thundered at him.
It made Saul realize that the supposed traitor he was persecuting; the leader of this movement (Jesus),….was actually God himself!
So Saul realized that had been,… in effect…. inflicting pain upon God!
It took a moment of conviction from God for him to admit his flaws and the error of his ways, and to repent over what he’d done.

But the second act of Jesus that took place cinched the deal for the transformation that turned ‘bad Saul’….into ‘good St. Paul’.
Despite his bad behavior,…Jesus gave him love and forgiveness.
Love and forgiveness, when he was taken in by a stranger who showed him kindness and helped to get him back on his feet.

Love and forgiveness when his sight was restored and he was nurtured back to wellness.
Then,…seeing how Paul had begun to be turned around,…Jesus just like with the fisherman earlier,…gave Paul his task.
Being educated and fluent in the knowledge of the law of the religion, he was the perfect agent to help spread the Lord’s message.
A message that was exactly what Paul, himself, had received - forgiveness and unconditional love and a promise of paradise.

And so off went the best missionary that Jesus ever sent forth.
But its doubtful that Paul would have ever come close to quitting his job of venom and hate,…let alone have become a great apostle,…
without first being humbled about his mistakes…and then being loved and forgiven.

When Jesus commissioned his original disciples to be his emissaries in the world….he gave them one main tool to use - LOVE.
When someone is loved and knows that they are forgiven for their wrongs, the opening is there to turn from ‘bad’ to ‘good.’
From something that was rotten and negative,…..into something good for the benefit of the Lord as well as others.

That message of Jesus then still holds true today for all bad guys in the world….and for us as well.
That we only really become what he wants us to be…after we’ve been knocked down to where we admit our mistakes in life.
And yet, once we are there,…God in the resurrected Christ,…lifts us back up and turns is into something good.
He does that by unconditionally loving us and forgiving for any flaws and failings we’ve committed.
So that we have no ‘Best If Used By’ date on us, but only the cross of Christ marked upon us in our Baptism.
A mark that says we have no expiration date and that we’ll never be thrown away, because God in Christ has made us…’good’.
By that act of grace, God can salvage anyone turn them around, just as he did Paul.
So that no one is beyond the stretch of God’s ability to do that.
Love and forgiveness is the key ingredient to preserve us all.