Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sermon for Year C Easter 3

Ananias, I need you…

Saul, still breathing threats and murder…
That is the way our scripture reading
from the Acts of the Apostles begins today..
Saul, still breathing threats and murder…
Not just THINKING threats and murder…
but BREATHING threats and murder.

Our breath
comes from the deepest part of our being.
Saul is a man who is so filled with hate, so consumed by anger--
his mind, his body, his very soul
have one goal:
kill anyone and everyone who dares to follow Jesus.

Saul, still breathing threats and murder…
sets out for Damascus.
And everything changes.
There’s a blinding light—
literally a BLINDING light—
and Saul falls to the ground—

If you travel to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Wilkesboro
you can see a magnificent fresco of this event,
painted by artist Ben Long in the nathex of the church.
Saul is knocked off his horse onto the ground
and everyone is engulfed in an almost nuclear flash of light.

And just in case Saul doesn’t get the message of who is in charge
Jesus speaks to him.
Yes, directly to him.
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you?” asks Saul.

“Jesus. It’s me—Jesus. And I’m talking to you!”

And Saul is left helpless.
Being helpless is not a comfortable place or position
for someone who likes to control everyone.
Suddenly Saul, the big bad bossman, is left helpless.

And Jesus calls to another man.
Jesus says,
“Ananias, I want you to get up
and go find a man who is named Saul.”

Now Ananias wants to be a good and obedient disciple,
but being asked to go and purposefully seek out this man,
the infamous Saul?!??
Jesus might as well have told Ananias
I want you to put your head in an angry lion’s mouth.

“Uh, Lord, I’ve heard about this man. This Saul.
He’s a bad man, Jesus.
Saul is evil and he has done evil things,” says Ananias.

But Jesus is insistent.
“Ananias, I need you to go to Saul.”

And Ananias goes and lays his hands on Saul—
not to harm Saul, but to heal him.
And Saul’s sight is restored.
He gets up, he is baptized, he has something to eat
and he is changed forever.

No longer would Saul breathe threats and murder—
instead Saul will breathe invitation
to share the amazing grace of God.

Saul becomes Paul.
A follower of Jesus.
Now as terrifying as that experience on the Damascus Road
must have been for Saul,
there are definitely some of us
who wish that Jesus would be so clear, so direct,
with us.

Those dramatic, shattering, everything-changes-immediately conversions
still happen—to some people.
But for many,
the conversion, the transformation
of our hearts and minds into believers and followers
is slow, gradual
inch by inch, minute by minute, day by day.
One baby step at a time.

For many of us there is no blinding light
or being dramatically knocked off our “high horse.”

There are just ordinary days, ordinary people and ordinary experiences.
Very often our transformation
happens through people much like Ananias.

Faithful people who love God and trust God.
Faithful people who show up.
People who answer the call to follow Jesus
by reaching out to those around them each day,
by offering kindness and compassion,
by practicing patience,
by loving others as God loves us.
Faithful people who show up and keep on loving us,
without judgment, without conditions, without reservation.

Ananias went to Saul and laid his hands upon him.
He laid his hands upon this man
who had taken part in the stoning to death of Stephen.
He laid his hands upon this man
who arrested, and most likely murdered, men and women,
simply because they were followers of Jesus.

God needs ordinary Christians like Ananias,
ordinatry people
who demonstrate the extraordinary power of forgiveness and love.

This season of Easter is a time to give thanks
for those who have been Ananias to us.

Those who have come and laid their hands upon us
when we needed it the most but could ask for it the least.

Those who have loved us when we knew we did not in any way
deserve to be loved.

Those who do not remind us of all our past mistakes
but instead,
reach out and turn our faces toward the future.

Ananias is the face God wears in this world.
Every ordinary day.

Our true conversion happens
when we move beyond waiting
for miracles on the Damascus road,
when we move even beyond receiving those
who act as Ananias to us.

Our true conversion happens
when we ourselves get up, go out,
love and serve—
when we ourselves
become the Ananias to others.

When we stop breathing fear and hatred,
discontent and skepticism
and we begin to breathe in and breathe out
the love and peace of God,
a love and peace
which passes all understanding
a love and peace
that changes us,
and changes the world around us.

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