“Finding Our Way”
Acts: 9: 1-20, May 5th, 2019
Sermon by pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these words from the New Testament reading, found in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter nine, verses one thru twenty.”
1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.
4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one.
8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.
9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.”
11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”
13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
“Having listened with our ears, let us now open our hearts to search out the lesson which applies to our lives today.”
“Finding Our Way”
It is easy to lose our way, especially, if we do not keep all our senses open. Take a walk in the everglades, or even an airboat ride, and you will surely need to pay attention to what you are doing, which way you are going; always checking in front of yourself, to your left and to your right. It is ‘really’ important to look where your feet are. You never know what might be lurking behind the next bush or rock. Look up, be sure nothing is hanging off the limb of a tree as the boat passes underneath. Yes, it is crucial to use your sight to see, your ears to hear, your nose to smell and your hands and feet to feel the boat, the ground, the net, the fishing pole or the camera, whatever it is within your reach. Do be carefully to look before you put your hand out, not all creatures want to be patted on the head! If you find that you have had something drop into your mouth… you may not want to swallow until your taste buds confirm it was something you intended to consume. Prayerfully, as we find our way, we shall sense the presence of God within our hearts, whether we are just walking on a trail or riding atop an airboat, or off on a multitude of other adventures. The best way for us to find our way is to connect with God’s presence first – before we start out on our daily activities and adventures.
But what happens when we get lost, perhaps because we stopped utilizing our basic senses? And what if we lost touch with the Spirit of God, lost touch with the purpose of our lives? Then what? First, you need to admit or acknowledge that you are lost. Many people are lost and either do not know they are, or they are unwilling to face the facts, which point toward their being lost! Some, perhaps, have no desire to be found. Sadly, many have been out of touch with God for awhile, others for a long, long time. If you have lost your way and are now found, you know of what I speak. If you are still lost and are seeking a new direction, just close your eyes for a moment, as you invite God to show you a new way!
Our scripture lesson today is a very powerful one. To fully appreciate it, let us first come to better understand whom this man Saul truly was at the time of the adventure our scripture speaks about. This short commentary will shed some light on this man for us. “Saul was a Roman citizen by virtue of his father being granted citizenship, yet, he was also a Jew by birth, born from the tribe of Benjamin and became a trained Pharisee, a religious leader of the Jews.” /paraphrased from B.W. Johnson’s writing/ We are being introduced to a man whom, was indeed an educated religious person, yet, he did not know the man Jesus and surely knew nothing about the Risen Christ! Quite the contrary, he was charged with going to Damascus to round up some followers of the man Jesus whom had been executed. His assignment was to go to Demarcus and flush out a few and bring them back to Jerusalem to be persecuted and almost certainly to be executed as well! No, Saul knew nothing about the resurrection… as we have discussed it these last two weeks.
What happens along the way to Damascus is a dramatic encounter with God, a ‘call’ a summons by God through the Spirit of Christ! In this case the Spirit has struck Saul blind. Kate Matthews points out the obvious. “Whether or not our faith experiences are accompanied by a dramatic sound-and-light show, we receive the same call which Saul did on that dusty road to Damascus.” /Kate Matthews/ Most of us have not and shall not receive such a dramatic call to follow the will of God. Either way, we each must remain awake, with all of our senses staying open to the possibility that the Hand of God, the Spirit, the Messenger may be waiting to connect with our senses at any moment of any day. Kate continues to contemplate: “It’s not so hard, to believe that God will find ways to enter quietly into our lives and our hearts, turning our attention away from old angers, prejudices, and loss, old convictions and conclusions written on the stone of our hearts and minds, and will open our hearts to God’s way of seeing things, open our hearts to God’s future of hope, a bright shining light of love and care for all of God’s children.” /Kate Matthews/
Saul’s journey though history was about to take a major turn. But God would first need to get him trained and educated for the journey ahead. To do this the Spirit reached out to Ananias, a current follower of Christ to do so. He was not excited about his assignment! Sometimes following the will of God is not what we are expecting and not something which will cause us to joyfully jump up and exclaim: “yes Lord, send me!” I remember one sermonette shared with me when I was just a lad. It was one I did not like. It went something like this. “When we are called to serve, we may not be called to be the leader or the center of attention where others will praise our good deeds. No, you may be called upon to do a lowly task which virtually no one shall even notice. Something like washing the dishes after the church dinner or cleaning the tables after the pot luck dinner.” I did not understand the message. It confused me. I was so naïve. To do the work of God, is to be humbled, trained and led by others along the way. No shinny lights and fireworks, just real life with its hard choices alongside numbing tasks to be done.
Saul was not expecting to have a conversion experience. He was perhaps, even, proud of how far he had come in his rising influence as a Pharisee. In earlier passages, he was the young Pharisee whom held the robes of the others as Steven (whom was one of Jesus’ disciples) was stoned to death. (Acts: 7:54-60) Yet, in our reading this morning, we hear how God called him to become a trained disciple, whom once baptized became the Apostle Paul who becomes the leader of the Christian movement to the Gentiles, before he was finally executed for his role as a Christian. No, Saul had not asked to be called by God, yet he answered that call!
We are all called by God, at one time or another for various roles within the kingdom of God. Some of us are called to serve the needs of a local church like our own. Others are called to serve in a variety of settings within our society. As we consider these things, we need to remind ourselves, we each are given free will and can accept our callings or reject them. It is up to each one of us to choose to follow the will of God or not. Saul and Ananias chose to accept their call from God. It is important to recognize, that not everyone will be formally recognized for their role within Christianity. Some of us who are, may not relish the limelight but are humbled into accepting it. Either way, we each are part of the whole which makes up the body of our Living God.
Finding our way along this journey is always a challenge, whether as individuals or as a community. As individuals we can review our lives every day, sometimes adjustments need to be made as we discover areas where improvements can be made. Now and then, along the way, we may need to redirect our lives, taking our journey in a very different direction. Being in relationship with the ‘Spirit of Christ’ will ensure these changes will keep us on the right pathway, in line with our values and those of God. Unlike Saul, we may only get a nudge along the way to get us back on track. Now and then, some may need to be shaken a bit before they will see the light. Prayerful, we have, and we will see the signs; making the correct changes as we continue our journeys.
We are also, currently in the process of reaffirming our faith journey as a church. In the process we are reviewing our strengths and our weaknesses as we review our goals, the missions and the tasks which are meant to get us there. This is something which institutions as-well-as individuals need to do periodically. It takes time and energy to make such an assessment and it takes still more time to formulate and then make any needed adjustments. It’s a process. We, like Saul are on a journey; the key is to listen to the signs along the way, being sure we are on the right pathways.