2015-05-10 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
Echo the Story #35 of 36: Paul
“A Better Call, Saul”
Saul, the Christian killer and all-round worst guy ever in persecuting the early church.
Have you ever known someone like this?
Let’s pause…and try to get in touch with the character of Saul – –
– Think of the person who most aggressively torments you because of what you believe…
– Or think of the nastiest bully in your life….presently or in the past (ie. Reggie Mcneil)
– Or think globally…Paul was a religious zealot…a religious fundamentalist…who with all earnestness and devotion, believed he was doing the right thing…for his god…roving from town to town, dragging people from their houses, claiming that God was on his side, and telling people to make a choice between his God and their God…and if you didn’t change your mind, at best, he would get papers and court orders set up to put you in jail and at the worst, he would get you killed…right in broad daylight!
Saul had just finished his morning prayers and was making his way to the synagogue priests to pick up the letters he had requested. Furious rage made his blood boil as he thought of the ruckus that these “disciples of the Lord” were making in the city and the outlying regions of Jerusalem.
Word had it that these people of “the way” were even making an impact in Damascus, proclaiming a “good news” about a risen Christ who has supposedly brought the kingdom of heaven to earth.
It’s pure blasphemy! Thought Saul…
They talk against the holy temple…the speak against the law…
Saying that Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed to us.
This must stop!
And proud of the work he had done in the city, he was preparing to go north to Damascus. The priest’s letters would give him authority to arrest and put in chains these “petty people of the way” and his growing network of soldiers and strong men would get these people tried and imprisoned in Jerusalem.
The system’s working…he thought to himself…but the outer regions need to be tow the line as well…and who is better, stronger, and more devoted to the cause of YHWH, than the mighty, steadfast, Saul of Tarsus?!
He gathers his strongest soldiers and begins the 7-day journey to Damascus.
On the 6th day, as Saul finishes his noon day prayers, he is knocked to his knees by what feels like an earthquake…and light from the heavens flash around him.
A voice cries out: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Disoriented, and floundering in the dirt and a whirlwind of dust, Saul questions:
“Who…who are you…Lord?”
The voice replies: “I AM…Jesus…whom you are persecuting. GET UP! Enter the city, you will be told what to do.”
Saul stays crumpled on the ground. He weeps. He’s overwhelmed. The brash, Christian-killing thug has been reduced to a blubbering blind man whose eyes are full of tears instead of vengeance.
The soldiers are speechless as they lead Saul to Damascus. Their host Judas is ready for them but is counfounded by what he sees…Saul has become like a child…led by the hand – – and cared for by others…weak, helpless and unable to eat or drink.
Meanwhile, across the city, the angel of the Lord is doing a surprising work in the home of a recent convert to the “followers of the way.” Ananias was a devout god-fearing Jew who had been swept up in the fervor of the “Jesus’ disciples” who were moving through Damascus proclaiming the good news of the risen Christ and performing healings and spiritual cleansings in the name of Jesus.
Sitting at his table with a piece of bread in his hand…peering outside his window he sees a bright dazzling white being standing before him…
“Ananias!” the angel of the Lord’s voice is clear and powerful.
And feeling like he’s in a dream-like trance, he echoes the words of his great ancestor Isaiah…
“Here I am, Lord.”
The Lord commands:
“GET UP and GO to Straight Street…and at the house of Judas, look for Saul of Tarsus…he’s praying & he’s seen in a vision that YOU will come in and lay hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”
Ananias’ initial firm response suddenly becomes flimsy and faltering…
“Lord?? I’ve heard from many about this man, how much evil he’s done to YOUR saints in Jerusalem and I know he has authority from the chief priests to bind ALL here who invoke your name!”
[And the Lord sayeth…. “Talk to the hand…cuz the face ain’t listening!?!]
BUT THE LORD said…
“GO! [o ye of little faith!] Go…for Saul is an instrument who I HAVE CHOSEN…to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel;
I MYSELF WILL SHOW him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
So Ananias travelled across town and found Judas’ house on Straight Street.
Breathing deeply and doing his best to shore up his shaky and wobbly knees, he enters the dimly lit house and sees Saul laying limp in a corner bed…he’s smaller than he thought he would be…and in the wake of not eating or drinking, he looks pale and withdrawn…
Judas stands near as Paul lumbers his body to the edge of the bed…Ananias lays both this palms on Saul’s eyes and forehead…
With a quivering voice Ananias prays…
“Brother Saul – – the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the way here, has sent me…
I pray…in the name of the Risen Messiah, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Saul’s eyes rumble beneath Ananias’ sweaty palms…Ananias’ stumbles back a few steps and sees Sauls’ eye lids creak open…something like silver, glimmering fish scales fall to the floor…
Weeping…and filled with a joy like he has never known…Saul cries out: I can see! I believe!
His weak body clings to Ananias’s frame and he asks:
What is to prevent ME from being baptized!!
I believe that Jesus is the son of God!
Saul began to eat and drink again…he regained his strength, was baptized (and dusted off the latin version of his name, and called himself Paul) and he began to confound the crowds as he frequented the local synagogues to proclaim that “Jesus is the Son of God.”
And all who heard him were amazed.
* * * * * *
These ACTS OF THE APOSTLES stories that we have been hearing over the past few weeks have been fantastic have they not? They are OUR Christian stories of how we are supposed to join God’s work in the world!
And thus I’m baffled sometimes as to why we have such a bad reputation in the world as Christians?
Why are we known for our intolerance, our phobia’s, our rule-keeping, cake-with-holding ways…instead of being known as generous people who risk our lives for the other because we trust that God is preparing the way…God is storying his way through culture…God is enough…God has provided…and most importantly…God is Love.
Well, we can’t fix the world and the reputation of thousands of other Christians…but we can do our faithful, fervent, and little work right here can’t we?
So let’s do it! [Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord…]
I don’t want to set you up (for disappointment!) to have a “Damascus Road” experience this week cuz realistically, I think those are far and few between… but there’s another path that seems to get a lot more foot traffic in the life of an everyday Christian…and I’m gonna say that it’s the Straight Street journey …everyday opportunities for you and I to go out on a limb and be generous to “the others” in our lives…
That was the crazy, outlandish work that the Spirit was doing and continues to do in the world…
Are you willing to receive?
And the crazier, tougher move…might be this – –
Are you willing to be received by the other? Maybe the biggest challenge in our straight street NORTH AMERICAN encounters as the New People of God is not so much that we receive others, but that the others – – the outsiders, the outcasts, the inexperienced Ananias’es, are willing to be with us privileged, pretty well-off, got-our-life-in-control-thank-u-very-much Christians.
[imagine the gap…Saul-Ananias; Philip-Ethiopian; people in the pews]
We meet Jesus in others…and we pray, that others would meet Jesus in us.
And as we do this “straight street” everyday Christian work, we live the life that Saul/Paul & Ananias would lay their lives down for…with the Spirit working so powerfully WITHIN them and the community of saints…
The Presbyterian writer/theologian Frederick Buechner, when reflecting on what Paul and the early church were about, puts it this way:
What was God up to? This tattered bunch, beating their gums and working themselves into an early grave – –
God was making a body for Christ, Paul said.
Christ didn’t have a regular body anymore, so God was making him one out of anybody he could find who looked as if he or she might just possibly do. He was using other people’s hands to be Christ’s hands and other people’s feet to be Christ’s feet, and when there was someplace where Christ was needed in a hurry and needed bad, he put the finger on some maybe-not-all-that innocent bystander and got that person to go and be Christ in that place for lack of anybody better.
Go and be Christ’s Body…not because of our privilege and our proficiency…but because God will use anybody and “nobodies” to get his body-work done in the world!
10 years after his straight street encounter, Paul would be in a prison cell, suffering for the sake of Jesus, but encouraging the saints to stay the course…Be the Body.
[Unity in the Body of Christ]
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4)