Sunday, May 5, 2019


Acts 9.1-6, 7-20, John 21.1-19

I know how hard change can be. I think we all do in one way or another. Trying out new things can cause a lot of anxiety. Or even doing what we have always done but without the same people or in the same place can leave us feeling confused like the Apostles after Jesus’ death, they are doing what they know best, sitting in their boat fishing. They were fishermen many of them, they knew how to fish, but in the wake of Christ’s death, suddenly alone, they were disoriented. They were now living with their shock, having had brief encounters with the Risen Christ, their thoughts were scattered and work aimless, catching fish should have been easy for them, but it just wasn’t working for them.

It’s at times like this that we need people to call us out of our funks and say, like Jesus does, “Hey! You! Yes you! What’s up? Peter needed to be shaken out of his funk and reminded that Christ’s sheep needed to be fed and led.

Jesus asks us: do you love me? If our answer is yes, then the call is clear: than do it, by loving one another as we have been loved us. But this call isn’t easy is it?

Acts Unpacked

And we see this difficulty play out in our scripture from Acts. It is another story of Jesus calling the least expected to build the kingdom of God.

A couple chapters earlier we were introduced to the Jewish Pharisee Saul, and murderer of Stephen, a follower of the Way, and he is on a mission to hunt down and persecute Jews who follow Jesus. On his way to Damascus a bright light appears and a voice from the heavens speaks “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” This moment appears many places in art and stories about the early church.

Many will tell you that it is at this moment that Saul turns into Paul, as though the former life is completely ended and he is created entirely new. Perhaps many of us want change to be like this, a radical transformation, a new start, we want to leave our past behind. Others of us may fear change of this sort. We love something about the past and worry change means a kind of loss. I don’t think change is ever that easy and I don’t think it’s too simple either for Saul, soon to be called Paul.

Jesus confronts Saul in this harrowing moment, “Why do you persecute me?” Saul has been emboldened by folx with power and authority to carry out acts of terror against a marginalized religious community. But the word the translators use, persecute, means more than that. “To follow after” is certainly what Saul is doing. Saul has been following the Apostles. Saul appears in Luke-Acts after Christ has risen and after the Apostles have started their ministry. And because he follows after the Apostles, he is peculiarly placed to learn from them. The man who had been following the Way of the Apostles of Christ suddenly realizes he needs guidance to understand how to follow on different terms.

But Saul is a proud man. He is not the type to freely admit to it when he finds himself traveling and suddenly lost. So God has to force the matter. After being knocked to the ground by the light, Saul gets up. When he rises Saul realizes he cannot see. Many of us might think it strange that God would blind someone. After all, Christ healed the blind didn’t he? Well the decision to blind Saul may be just as strange as God’s decision to make Saul and apostle to begin with. Some might try to explain this by saying that Saul is blind because he is confused. He cannot see the truth of Christ. But we need not reduce blindness, especially given by God, to simply a condition of lack. Rather, it is by this blindness that God begins to help Saul see the world in new ways.

The first thing Saul needs to learn is that he cannot continue down the road alone anymore. Suddenly, in this moment of vulnerability, he begins to be open to the fact that he needs help, maybe even help from the people he persecutes, who he will soon begin to see in a new way through his blindness. This is what happens next, Saul literally is lead by his traveling companions, by the hand to Damascus. The voice from heaven is Jesus, and he gives Saul instructions to go to Damascus where Ananias will come for him. He had his mission. He knew where to go. He had the power of mobility to get there. But he is not able to do it all alone. He needed companions on the way.

Anyone who has even been lead somewhere by the hand, depending on the power dynamics at play and the personality of those involved, the one being led may feel a certain lack of power. We can imagine how insufferable this may have been for Saul, who was so used to being in charge, who perhaps walked through the world with little care for the impact his actions had on marginalized folx.

But without this lesson in interdependency, without the gift of his blindness, Saul may have arrived in Damascus but in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. This way Saul arrives, open to the help and guidance of others.

As Saul is being brought into Damascus to a place where he can rest from his travels, God is speaking to another person, Ananias. Ananias was deep in prayer at the time, and he is called on by God to go seek out, to follow after Saul. Ananias’ first instinct might have been to persecute Saul when he found him, or perhaps to run away entirely. Flight or Flight. It’s important to keep in mind, Ananias is exactly the kind of guy the Saul was hunting down. He is fearful for his life, knowing Saul’s reputation. Perhaps God was doing some divine matchmaking here.

God calls Ananias to show up for Saul, to heal and not hurt, to guide and not to expel Saul. He is to embrace Saul, lay his hands on him like someone for whom he cares. He is to show compassion on an enemy to turn him into a friend. Despite the pride of Saul and the fear of Ananias, God brings the two together on this night. And though they are both scared, they both learn important lessons.

Scripture says that Ananias found Saul and lays his hands on Saul. We can imagine how uncomfortable this might have been for strangers and potential enemies, people who hold different spiritual and political views. But it is through their willingness to come together that change happens. By Ananias laying hands on him, through God, Saul’s blindness is lifted. Yet we might not say that Saul’s sight is totally restored. It returns but with a difference. In a sense, these are new eyes. At this moment, Saul is not only open to change but sees the Apostles in a new way. He sees God in a new way. As the history of his life and letter bear out, he sees the world in a new way. He will continue to follow the Apostles but now as a brother.

This is the way life seems to have always been. Life is change. And as we see among ourselves and the disciples how hard life can be. In this season of Easter, we are called to consider how the Church moves on after great changes and losses. Whether it is the loss of a leader like Rachel Held Evans or the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are being called to reflect on our own grief and the need to find new ways to move forward on different terms. Whether it is the first Easter season with a new Pastor or the Disciples receiving Paul among them as a new Apostle, once an enemy now a sibling. Change can be difficult and again we will need to find new ways to move forward on different terms.

We began Easter with the sound of golden trumpets and horns, celebrating resurrection and we walked out into the rebirth of Spring. Yet for all this fanfare, the new life we are given is not the exact same as the old life we had. In ways, change calls on us to grieve and let go in order to grow and evolve on different terms. And there is great things awaiting us, beloved church, things we can’t yet imagine. I do believe that the spirit of the resurrection promises us a world transformed and a life glorified. The new life will contain things the old life could not. The new world will show us wonders that the old world could not create. That may be hard to believe, it may be hard to imagine how the new life could be good when we know what we have lost. But we have seen this before. The tree must leave the acorn if it is going to grow flowers and fruit. The caterpillar must leave the chrysalis if it is going to rise a butterfly. The change is real and the grief is real but again and again, each Spring and each Easter we are reminded to turn our eyes towards the way goodness continues to meet us in our lives, on different terms. May God we with us as we navigate these transitions, these transformations and learn to translate and understand our world on different terms. 

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