First Congregational Church
April 10, 2015
Third Sunday after Easter
“When It Goes Against the Grain”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There are limited hours in a day and in the life of a student, so we just can’t learn everything when we’re in school. To assist you in your continued learning, if you didn’t know before, a dime has 118 ridges around the edge. A cat has 32 muscles in each ear. A crocodile cannot stick out its tongue. A dragonfly has a life span of 24 hours. A goldfish has a memory span of three seconds. A "jiffy" is an actual unit of time for 1/100th of a second. A shark is the only fish that can blink with both eyes. A snail can sleep for three years. And a goldfish has a memory span of three seconds.
Back some 2,000 years ago, the realm of spirituality and religion was all over the map. Within what we consider Judaism at that time, there were Zealots, who were the terrorists against Roman Oppression. The Sadducees were the ones who didn’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection and thought peace was to compromise with the Romans. The Pharisees were the theologian legalists who thought that if they just lived according to the Old Testament laws, everything would be good. The lesser known Essenes were the ones most like our Pilgrims - just withdraw from the political hotspots and start over.
In an almost throw-away mention in our scripture passage this morning, we discover another religious group called “The Way.” It may have been a moniker for the group that followed the one who said, “I am the Way and the truth and the life.” It may have been a spin-off of John the Baptist’s preparation for “the way of the Lord.” Whatever the origins, it was the word used prior to the general acceptance of the term “Christian”.
In a bit of an aside, we don’t see it so often any more, but many of our forefathers and mothers referred to ours as the Congregational Way. You still see the term used in older publications, but this reference adds a bit of spice to this morning’s scriptural kettle.
Acts 9:1-20 (NIV) Chris Porter
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered.
11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.
Thank you, Chris. This is the great Paul, even though that name isn’t even used in this passage. Saul was used by his friends, while Paul was used out in the wider world. It’s the practice we use today with Bob and Robert.
Before we get too far down the sermon road, I find it an interesting “coincidence” that both Saul/Paul and Ananias, when they hear their call, respond, “Lord.” If they were using the term in a generic way, that’s cool. But what if they really knew it was God? How did they know that and not get freaked out? I suppose we will have to wait to ask them in the hereafter ourselves.
A lot of times the focus of this event is on Saul/Paul. Rarely do we hear Ananias’ involvement, nor do we perhaps think of his situation. God - asking Ananias - to go to Saul would be like asking an innocent Jewish person to go to Hitler, in his day, and ask him or her to lay hands on Hitler in order to heal him. Or asking a young girl to care for a member of Issis or other such group. In essence, it’s the imbalance of power and status that presents potential death.
In our passage though, it’s not just greater good that is behind Ananias’ summons, but God’s very self. And it’s not a suggestion on God’s part. God says, “Go.” I don’t think God ever used instructions in that “do as I say or else” tone of voice. If God is a God of love, then I think those times would be the “Go” that comes when the tornado is coming right down on you and you are told to get to the basement.
On first glance, this passage is rather removed from our regular everyday lives. Miraculous scales falling from eyes could be construed as cataract surgery, but that is a rather narrow field of application.
I don’t know about anyone else, but sometimes it is as if God is telling me to “go” do something that seems rather insane at the moment. In fact, I think God does that to us far more frequently than we realize. “I haven’t talked to so-and-so for a while. I really should call them.” Or “It’s been ages since I volunteered at church. I really should mention my willingness to do whatever.” (Oh, wait, did that really fall out of my mouth?)
But I don’t think these “Go” situations are really the whole point, either. I think it’s those times when we’d really rather not do what we know we could or should do, because, well, it’s likely to get messy and feathers may get ruffled and I’d just really love to take a nap instead. In those situations, I wonder if God limits the number of “Go” statements we receive. I would venture that we, like Ananias, get told “Go” enough to make us comfortable enough to act.
Like so many things, I think fear is a big resistance factor. What if what I “do” doesn’t go right? What if I don’t “say” the right things? What if the other person or persons turn their back to me - forever?
If God calls us to “Go,” then like Ananias, God will take care of the results and after effects. That is, in actuality, the way it is. Whatever it is we’ve been asked to do, God doesn’t send us alone. God goes with us to help us through it, in the preparation for the task, as well as in the end results. Those end results may not be within our timeframe, and our patience may need stretching more than once. But when God has need of us, God will take care of us in the process - even when it goes against our grain.
The temporary Sunday School teacher was struggling to open a combination lock on the supply cabinet. She had been told the combination, but couldn't quite remember it.
Finally she went to the pastor's study and asked for help. The pastor came into the room and began to turn the dial. After the first two numbers he paused and stared blankly for a moment. Then he looked serenely heavenward and his lips moved silently. He looked back at the lock, and quickly turned to the final number, and opened the lock.
The teacher was amazed. "I'm in awe at your faith, pastor," she said. "It's really nothing," he answered. "The number is on a piece of tape on the ceiling.”
So let us pray. Omnipotent and Omniscient God, we thank you for using us in this world in ways that are sometimes beyond our understandings. Thank you for the honor you bestow on us in being part of the maintaining and sustaining of your creation. Sometimes, when you call us to those harder moments, God, remind us that you have our backs, and that you are there with us, ready to take care of the results. Remind us to look to you for guidance, and it’s as easy as looking up. Make us bold - and humble - when you call us to this work - that we may be the balm so needed in this world. And all your people say, Amen
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.