First Congregational Church
June 26, 2016
6th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
After watching sales falling off for three straight months at Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Colonel calls up the Pope and asks for a favor. The Pope says, ''What can I do?’' The Colonel says, ''I need you to change the daily prayer from, 'Give us this day our daily bread' to 'Give us this day our daily chicken'. If you do it, I'll donate 10 Million Dollars to the Vatican.’' The Pope replies, ''I am sorry. That is the Lord's prayer and I can not change the words.''
So the Colonel hangs up. After another month of dismal sales, the Colonel panics, and calls again. ''Listen your Excellency. I really need your help. I'll give you $50 million dollars if you change the words of the daily prayer from 'Give us this day our daily bread' to 'Give us this day our daily chicken.'''
And the Pope responds, ''It is very tempting, Colonel Sanders. The church could do a lot of good with that much money. It would help us support many charities. But, again, I must decline. It is the Lord's prayer, and I can't change the words.''
So the Colonel gives up again. After two more months of terrible sales the Colonel gets desperate. ''This is my final offer, your Excellency. If you change the words of the daily prayer from, 'Give us this day our daily bread' to 'Give us this day our daily chicken' I will donate $100 million to the Vatican.’' The Pope replies, ''Let me get back to you.''
So the next day, the Pope calls together all of his bishops and he says, ''I have some good news and I have some bad news. The good news is that KFC is going to donate $100 million to the Vatican.’' The bishops rejoice at the news. Then one asks about the bad news. The Pope replies, ''The bad news is that we lost the Wonder Bread account.''
We continue our way through the book of Acts this week, in chapter 9. So much has taken place in the prior chapters: Pentecost, the first martyr, Stephen stoned to death, while waiting for Jesus’ return Philip and an Ethiopian eunuch had a life-changing afternoon, and the great Saul started persecuting Christians with a vengeance, which is where today’s passage begins.
There’s just one little explanation that will help our listening. Before they were called Christians, early followers of Jesus were called members of the Way.
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 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. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 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. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered.
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. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
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. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
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.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Thank you, Rob, Reagan, Jim and Paul. There is a little detail here that never caught my attention before, and that’s the name of the street. Straight Street. I’m guessing it’s a point that the writer of Acts used, whom most people think is Luke, as a validation of the event actually happening. When I thought about it, I don’t think any other local streets in the Bible have names. I also thought about cataract patients wishing the procedure could be just so simple.
Besides praying during those three days, I wonder what else Saul did. The passage says that he didn’t eat or drink during those days, but was that because no one brought anything to him, or because it was his choice? Sometimes people make choices that sound goofy to us, but as I keep relearning - people get to make their own mistakes - and decisions.
What happened to those travelers that were with him? Did they have other places to go, or did they hang around to see what was going to happen to Saul? Were their lives changed by this encounter with Saul’s experience?
Whatever else happened, I don’t think it was a mere coincident that Saul spent three days in darkness and then came back to the light - very much like what happened with Jesus.
Ananias only had to put his hands on Saul and his eyes were healed. But when Jesus healed a man of blindness, he spit on the man’s eyes and then put his hands on him. (Mark 8:23) What’s with the difference of spitting in a person’s eye or not - regardless of how gross that may seem to any of us?
As Saul, his job was to make sure that people kept the strict Jewish laws; that nobody dabbled in anything else, and that nothing changed. Those that were even suspect of intermingling with those outside the Jewish faith, or those who may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time even, were dragged from their homes and thrown into prison. And innocent Ananias, gets a commission from God - out of the blue - to heal the notorious zealot. It was a commission like a Jewish child being told to go up to Heinrich Himmler or Josef Mengele and informing them that the child was going to heal them of their blindness.
I don’t know how many close, personal friends Saul had before that day on that road, but he had to have at least one or two folks that would go to synagogue with him. When I read this morning’s scripture passage, the big question that came to my mind was, “How did those who loved Saul, counted him as a friend, deal with his encounter?” How did they treat Saul after those three days? Off the top of my head, I don’t recall the Bible speaking about those individuals. We hear about his new friends - friends in Christ - like all the disciples. But what about those who knew him “before,” and liked him that way?
I know it doesn’t sound like a really important question, but what if such a thing happened to you? What if one day, all that you held dear became that which you realized was not so dear any longer? How would you want to be treated? What if such a huge change came to one of your friends or family? How would you want to deal with it? In one sense, they are the same person, but in another, they are now someone completely different.
When you stand back from the passage a moment, I think it is a picture of what a maturing of faith looks like. We are going about our business, and then, sometimes in the blink of an eye, life changes, and sometimes we get stuck for a little bit, but we eventually remember that we are each on a path, and we get back to continuing on that path.
There are times when three days in the dark are a lot longer and a lot more difficult. There are times when we may feel completely alone, but we may be wrong about that feeling, too. There are times when we wish for a simplistic healing or change of direction. Or if things could just go back to the way they were, everything else would be just fine.
In one sense, we all know that “life happens.” But do we ever wonder about how we want to deal with those situations? Are our prayers more along the lines of “help now!,” or “help me do my best?” How we grow and blossom into our faith is an important deal, because it becomes an example for other people - for good or ill.
I hope that no one thinks that this message is “aimed” at them, because it’s not. For one thing, it’s “aimed” at all of us. But what has been underscoring this passage this week has been that reminder, food for thought, take a minute to think about - the big picture of our faith - how it was when we were a child, what it was like when we were teenagers, and what it was like when we were younger. (Note that not a word was mentioned about old or older!)
The older we get, the more that Change becomes a monster we desire to avoid. But sometimes, the change that comes to us is so much better than before, because it can ultimately follow God’s picture of our lives. We may need to wrestle with the changes that come in our lives, but Saul’s example shows us that not all changes need be bad or terrible. So for the changes that are ahead of each of us, whatever they are, let us pray.
Heavenly God, we thank you for Saul and all the apostles and disciples that have given us examples of grace and what it means to follow you. For those times when we dig in our heels, resisting that which is good for us, we ask your forgiveness. For those times that will come our way, when it may feel like we are in a dark place for too long, we ask for your light to lead us into the light again. For all the goodness and healing and leading you grant each of us, we are grateful. In gratitude for being our loving and caring God, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.