Dear Friends, It's been awhile since I posted. Life has been good as I now adjust to my call at Emmanuel UCC located in Sebring, FL. Hopefully these messages will speak to you just as well as they did last month.
Rev. George Miller
Acts 9: 1-20
April 18, 2010
It’s a joy to finally be here today. I’ve been looking forward to our spiritual journey together, curious as to how God’s Spirit will move to transform me, to transform you and to transform the community.
Because if there is one thing we can glean from today’s reading is that when one has an encounter with the living Christ, transformation can not be too far away.
Last time we met we heard Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, a letter in which he encouraged everyone to mature as one into the Glorious Body of Christ.
Today, we go to the start of Paul’s ministry, to a time in which he went by the name of Saul and persecuted the church.
How did Saul make that transformation? How did he move from hate to love? And who else had a role in his transformation?
Before exploring these questions, let me share with you what’s been going on in my life. A lot has taken place since we last met.
I toured Sebring and the surrounding area. I stopped at my sister’s home in Tennessee and got caught in the Kentucky traffic.
In Michigan my friends kept me busy celebrating my Call, taking me out, saying their goodbyes.
Emotions have run the gamut. Excited. Scared. Confident. Reserved.
One night I met a federal agent who talked about Florida the way some folk talk about the south, warning me to watch out for racists and bigots. My pals reminded me that such people exist everywhere, even if northerners try to hide it.
Well, two weeks ago it was not so hidden. In MI a vacation resort’s fence was spray painted with derogatory terms and swastikas. It made the news and set the internet afire. People responded by calling the vandals red necks and toothless yokels.
As a pastor, I can not respond the same way as others, feeling the need to go below the surface for a possible reason for such vandalism.
I thought of the economy. Historically when the economy suffers people cope by acting out and finding scapegoats. Is that what happened?
I thought of who would vandalize a vacation destination. Perhaps folk who lived in the town year round or right across the street. Perhaps they were unemployed or struggling to get by.
What would that be like for them to see the coming and going of people who could afford a vacation or a summer home?
Would it be easy to grow angry and for that anger to result in desecrating a resort?
Should my friends be upset that the resort was vandalized? Yes.
Should they respond by name-calling and making assumptions? It’s human nature.
But is that what Christ would have us do?
Can we still show love to our enemies even if at first it seems they wish to do us harm?
Today we have such a scenario in which Ananias is called to visit a man who could have hurt him.
Today’s reading is from the book of Acts. The resurrected Christ has poured his Spirit upon the people, spurring a new religious movement. They are a peaceful bunch who share meals and preach about forgiveness. But they also face severe persecution.
One of the people responsible for their problems is a young man named Saul. He has a distinct understanding of God’s Word and attacks anyone he sees as God’s enemy.
He oversees the murder of the first Christian martyr, collecting the coats of people so they can throw stones. He drags Christian men and women from their homes so he can send them off to jail.
One particular day Saul’s anger is bubbling hot. With his breath full of murderous hate he makes his way to Damascus. But something happens.
A blinding light, a falling to the ground, a voice from heaven. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.” It is Christ who assigns Saul a special task.
But for Saul to do this task, someone else is called by Christ; someone else is called to be the vehicle through which grace will allow Saul to see, transforming him from murderer to missionary.
“Ananias,” says the Lord to a Christian man living nearby, “There is a man named Saul. I want you to go, lay hands on him. He is the means by which the world will know my name.”
“But Lord,” Ananias says, “He’s evil. He can arrest me and anyone else who worships you.”
This would be like God asking Martin Luther King to come to the aid of a Grand Wizard or Anne Frank to help a Nazi.
What would you do if you were called by God to help someone who could hurt you? Would you accept the challenge or would you brush it away?
What kind of proof or assurance from God would you need to make such a decision?
How often have we taught about Ananias and given him credit for what he did? After all, he could have said no. But he didn’t.
He goes to where Saul is at. He reaches out his hand to touch the man who could arrest him...
...and he calls him “Brother.”
Not redneck, not toothless yokel. But as one would address a blood relative.
“Brother Saul” Ananias speaks, his words sweet like honey.
“Brother Saul” Ananias states, welcoming Saul into his family.
“Brother Saul, the Lord has sent me here so you can see and so the Holy Spirit may fill you up.”
From fearfulness to fearlessness, from foe to family, Ananias is called by Christ to do the unimaginable.
And not only does he do it, but he goes beyond what he was asked to do by addressing Saul as a Brother.
Ananias’ words introduce a new season of shalom, his actions a sublime example of what Christian love looks like.
He assists Saul’s transformation, restoring sight, and sharing a family meal.
This is an example of the wonderful working ways of God. This is about the lion laying down with the lamb.
This is not about acting alone or acting in seclusion, but about how Christ enters into our lives, calls us to come together and brings us into his heavenly Father’s family.
Acts 9 reminds us that rarely are we called to act alone, rarely are we called to make the Christian journey alone, rarely are we transformed alone.
But like Ananias our ministry exists within a community in which we are called by Christ to empower, encourage, and to love one another.
And like Saul, we are introduced to folk who have been called to heal us, guide us, and help interpret our experience through faithful eyes.
The Christian life is strongest when it is not lived in isolation, but as part of a bigger community, in which we can engage in a mission beyond our own vision, in which we collaborate with the wisdom and gifts of others.
Like Ananias, God calls us to be open to people and places we never would have imagined.
Like Ananias we are inspired to move beyond fear and distress.
And like Ananias, Christ challenges us to healing actions that are for the benefit of God’s Kingdom.
In conclusion, we have all been on and continue to be on a spiritual journey. Who has been the Ananias in your life?
How will you respond when called to be an Ananias to someone else?
And how, as a pastor, as a congregation and as a community will we all be transformed together?
All thanks be to God who takes us down paths never imagined, to the Holy Spirit that fills us with strength and to Jesus Christ who calls us into being fearless instruments of transformation.
Amen and amen.