Sermon 1st May

Sermon (Readings were John 21, 1-19 and Acts 9 1-20)

Often, in the Bible, it seems God uses  the most unlikely person in the most powerful ways.  Of course, there’s Mary, a young teenage woman and who is perhaps the most obvious. Then the disciples, a misfit bunch of fisherman , workers and a tax collector, who went on to found the church are others. And of course amongst them, Peter, impetuous, often getting it wrong, a simple fisherman who had previously denied Jesus three times, in our passage today is asked  three times to commit himself to his risen master and then went  on to lead the early church as Jesus asked

But in our reading from Acts, God chose very carefully the people he wanted, but again he chose unlikely people. Like Paul. He knew Paul was a dedicated, intelligent well-read Pharisee, who would have received extensive training in the Scriptures, who knew Jewish law inside out, who knew Jewish history inside out- and we know how deep his faith in all that was through the misplaced zealousness in persecuting those seen to be acting against that faith, in the Pharisees eyes- those early Christians

But, despite the persecution of Christians Paul was so involved with, God knew all about Paul, he knew this Greek Roman. He needed him

For it is precisely Paul’s Greek way of thinking, of rationalisation, of being prepared to intellectualise, to explore, to present reasoned argument- it is precisely these qualities that were to be so important in Paul’s teaching.

That were to be so important in Paul’s own development of his Christology, his understanding of Salvation, which have inspired and encouraged so many Christians since.

The only minor issue about Paul, was that he was on the wrong side. He was killing Christians, not encouraging them.

So what did God do about it?

He showed him Jesus. The very person he was persecuting.

On the Damascus road. I often think of the blinding of Paul not only being physical, but metaphoric also. After several days of blindness- “something like scales fell from his eyes”. Almost as if Paul suddenly sees the light- when he is faced with the Jesus he will not believe in , the sudden clash with all that he had previously believed in must have been intense, overwhelming, blinded him to any sort of ability to think rationally, to compute the impossible, to “see” anything at all. But after days of prayer, gradually the realisation, the revelation of the risen Christ to him, was that, actually it all made perfect sense- the scales fell from his spiritual eyes, and he was able to physically see again. His physical blinding was necessary in the light of his spiritual blindness so that he would turn to the only thing possible- prayer- and then there was time for God to reveal the truth to him.

Of course, Paul’s conversion is the subject of our reading, but there is another key player in this Damascus road Drama. Another devout man of faith, Ananias, who has a vision to do something quite terrifying.

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a Ukranian Christian woman  helping at a refugee border post-perhaps a nurse or doctor- amongst all the despair, the loss of life, the horrific stories of persecution and rape and killings by Russian soldiers, the denial of simple human rights, the fear of an army which seems to possess no humanity no compassion.

And you have a vision from God.

A vision that says you must leave the border post and go into Russian held territory  to treat a blind man. Who just happens to be one of the main army generals who has such an evil reputation in that area. And not just to treat him, but to bring him  back to your own hotel room by the border post  and look after him.

It’s unthinkable isn’t it? In the face of what we know of the war in Ukraine, you know you’d risk almost certain persecution, danger and death.

That was Ananias’s vision, translated into modern terms. As a new disciple of Christ, to go out and meet the main persecutor of the faith, who was zealously persecuting and having put to death all followers of Jesus, all Christians. Like himself.

What faith, what trust Ananias had- even if, in his vision, in his prayers he protested to God, as we heard in our reading?

But, again, God had chosen carefully. He knew just how devout, how devoted Ananias was- he knew that Ananias might protest, but he also knew that, ultimately he would go.

And Ananias had a key role- he was to be the one who would tell Paul that he had been chosen by God to do his work, he was the one to tell Paul to go and be baptised first, in that symbolic washing away of the old life to be born in the new, as part of the body of Christ.

People like Paul and Ananias are inspiring to us in our faith, by their actions, and in Paul’s case not just by his life and example, but by his teaching and also his willingness to argue his faith, to use the Scriptures as a basis, and yet to let the Holy Spirit interpret God’s word in the light of the revelation of Christ.

But this Damascus story has something else to say to us, as we’ve heard. Pauls and Ananias were pretty unlikely candidates for the roles God had for them, and the situations they found themselves in didn’t much look to be the ideal occasion to witness either. But God knew better.

And sometimes, as devout in our faith as we might be, as good church going Christians as we might be, God may have a role for us that either we’re completely blind to, or one that seems so scary and unlikely that we think those roles aren’t possible for us.

Sometimes, like Paul, we’re going to need a Damascus road experience, a blinding revelation to shake us out of our old ways, out of our tradition and the way we think we should be living out our Christian lives, we need blinding revelation before the scales fall from our eyes and we see God’s new way, the way he wants us, or our Church to go next.

But also, Sometimes, like for Ananias, the job can be so scary, so daunting, so fraught with danger and uncertainties that we protest to God .“Surely not that way”, or in Peter’s case even deny Jesus, yet if we have sufficient faith, if we are sufficiently devout, if we trust God and the Holy Spirit enough, then what seems an impossible, even dangerous task will turn out to be something entirely different. Ananias action, his devotion, could, arguably be said to have had as much influence on our Christian faith today as all of Paul’s teaching. Without Ananias, Pauls’ conversion would not have been complete.

Maybe it’s time we re-assessed our own faith, our own actions, our own devotion. Are we so set in our ways that we fail to recognise the truth of God’s mission, or even unwittingly persecute those trying to be faithful as Paul was? Or are we too timid, too scared perhaps, too worried about consequences to truly do what God asks of us as Ananias initially was.

We might think others are better suited for God to do his work- but God knows each of us intimately, he knows all about you, he knows your qualities and your situation better than you know them yourselves, and just like Paul and Ananias, he has a role for each of you, as he has for me,  a job for us all in bringing his kingdom about. And, if you listen to God, if you are faithful to God, he will stand alongside you, his Holy Spirit will guide and empower you- and you will be, for him, as important as Paul and Ananias in your own time- you will be his true servants. Amen