Drew’s sermon from April 14th. The text is Acts 9:1-10. Have a wonderful day today.
Open Your Eyes
I’ve got a friend in Houston. His name is Fred. Fred’s pretty active in the Presbyterian Church, serving on committees and things like that, though Fred feels about committees about the same as most of y’all do. And so one evening, when his kids were young, he got a call from the fellow on the Nominating Committee asking if he’d be willing to serve on such and such committee. After the phone call he’s explaining to his wife what they’re asking him to do, when one of his daughters overhears, and she says, “Daddy, is God mad at you again?”
That’s the question Ananias had on his mind as he paced around his living room. He did not wake up that morning thinking that he was going to meet his persecutor face to face. The whole thing didn’t seem like a good idea. But that’s what God had asked him to do.
Word had spread from followers of the Way who had fled from Jerusalem of Saul’s tactics. He was going door to door in Jerusalem, arresting men and women who followed the Way. And now it was reported that Saul had the approval of the high priests to come and do the same in Damascus. Ananias had feared for his life when he heard that Saul was coming to Damascus, and now he was just supposed to walk up and knock on the door of the lion’s den?
But God had been insistent, however, that Ananias be the one to deliver him his sight back. That’s one of those things about God’s calling you. You can fight it for a while, but you know who’s going to win. “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen…” Ananias thought he could have thrown a rock in any direction and hit two or three better choices for God’s instrument than Saul of Tarsus. But then he remembered what Jesus had said: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”
Ananias was afraid. But he thought about how Jesus sent his disciples out with out money or even extra clothing, armed only with love, and how they came back with incredible stories about the miracles God worked for them. He thought about his own life, and how learning about Jesus’ radical love worked changes in him. And soon enough his feet had taken him to Straight street, Judas’ house. And there he stood, standing at the door. Trying to work up the courage to knock
On the other side of that door, Saul of Tarsus lay in bed. It was dark in the room (why light a lamp for a man who can’t see?), but it would be just as dark if he left, which he hadn’t done since his eyes stopped working on the way from Damascus. He kept going over that moment on the road to Damascus in his mind. A light had burst forth, so bright that it made the sun look like a tea candle. And then the voice, calling his name, and the question: Why do you persecute me?
Saul had never thought of himself as a persecutor. He thought he was as far from persecuting as you could be. Saul was a defender of the faith. His whole identity came from this zeal, his passion to fight and defend his faith from people who destroy it with their blasphemy. And then the voice of a man he thought was dead, said “Why do you persecute me?” and everything came crashing down and the world went dark.
That was three days ago. But that question haunted him still. Persecute him? How could Saul persecute a man he had never met, one who until quite recently he had been confident was long dead? Could it be the work he was doing in Jerusalem and now Damascus? This question was slowly unraveling Saul’s life. Could it be that Saul’s defense of his faith was no defense at all, but persecution? Who was this man, who had died, but now spoke? And even more strangely still, what did he want from Saul? Could it really be that this man, whose followers Saul had arrested, beaten, and tormented, wanted him? Could he really love a man who had spent so much time hurting him? If that was true, what would it mean for Saul? In the darkness, he was beginning to see his life in a new light.
When Ananias finally had the courage to knock on the door and step inside, he didn’t go too far into the room. Best to just say what you have to say and get out. “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me. I came, not because I wanted to, but because he sent me, so that you may regain your sight.”
There was silence for a moment. Saul sat up in his bead. “Who are you?”
“I am Ananias, a child of God. I come because Christ sent me so that you might see again.”
“You know who I am, and what I came here to do, and yet you still came to see me?”
Ananias took a couple of steps forward. “I was afraid. I am afraid. But I think of what my Lord did for me. If Jesus gave up his throne and came down to earth to lay down his life for me, then surely I can find the courage to walk down to Judas’ house. ”
“You called me brother, even though you know what I came to do?
“Jesus died that any who believe in him might have eternal life. Including you. I had a vision as well. God has sent me to tell you that God has chosen you as God’s instrument, and he has sent me to lay hands on you that you might regain your sight. If God has called you we are brothers indeed.”
“Why me? After what I’ve done, why would he choose me?”
“God doesn’t choose God’s instruments because of who you are. God chooses us because of who God is.”
In our story from Acts two stories are being told, about two different people. One is the story of one who is willing to take the risk of loving, even though he is afraid of being hurt. The other is the story of a man in need of redemption, who finds light in the darkness. Both are our story. For one, the question is, “Do you think I can find the strength to love for him? For the other, “Do you think he can find a place to love me?”
And the answer to both questions is what Ananias said next. “Open your eyes.” Both Ananias and Saul of Tarsus see visions. And both visions call them into new lives. They involve being called and commissioned into the life-giving ministry of Jesus Christ. It is the same ministry that we are called into. It is a ministry that stretches us and comforts us, that promises forgiveness but demands a deeper engagement than we could ever imagine. It’s a call that says, “You, yes you, especially you, are the one I want. And it’s a call that says, “Go, love where there is no love to be found, as the Father is merciful, go and be merciful even to those who curse you.” This is the heart of Christian life. It is to let ourselves be loved, and to go out and love those who do not love themselves. It will lead us to incredible places and wonderful people and deep connection with our selves and with our Lord. We just have to open our eyes.
Ananias said “Open your eyes,” and Saul saw, for the first time, what it meant, that Jesus could die and yet still call to him, that Saul could persecute his followers and Jesus would still say “Come, follow me.” Saul saw, and he understood, and he spent the rest of his life saying it and sharing it and living it that all might experience it as he had, going to the synagogues proclaiming Jesus and saying, “He is the Son of God.”