3 Easter Yr C May 5 2019
Audio 3 Easter Yr C May 5 2019
Acts 9:1-20, Revelation 5:11-14, John 21:1-19, Psalm 30
What if this story that we have heard in Acts so many times, this story that we’ve always heard called “The Conversion of Paul”, this story of change, this story about seeing new, is really a story about how God continues to surprise and disrupt us as we adopt new outlooks on what’s possible?
I have heard it said the only constant in life is change. Change is really hard for me. I really like routine, I really like knowing what to expect. Surprises are fun, but not too often. And I’m a planner, any of you who saw my Holy Week Grid can attest to that. And I am an Episcopalian, that in and of itself shows that I like things in good order. There’s a bit of a stereotype of Episcopalians that suggests it’s hard for us to step out of our comfort zone, we are often accused of doing things the way they’ve always been done. I’m not sure that’s completely true. I think we here at Trinity are much more brave and courageous than we give ourselves credit for. God continues to surprise and disrupt us as we adopt new outlooks on what’s possible when we follow the way of Love.
But what about Paul, in this story we heard today. Luke, who we believe is the author of the Acts of the Apostles, and Paul, knew each other, and did some traveling together. Luke tells this story about some of the people who followed Jesus. And this story we read today about Paul and Ananias, is at the very least a story about change, maybe even a story about how God continues to surprise and disrupt the followers of Jesus.
Let’s remember a little about Paul, who in this story was still Saul. Saul was an aggressive young fanatic; today we would describe him as an extremist. He would be wearing a red MAGA hat, but instead of make America great again, it would be make Yahweh great again. Saul was all about defending the purity of the ancient faith. As we encounter Saul, he is still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. This encounter occurs not too long after Stephen is killed by stoning, and Saul approved of the people killing him.
Saul is going about his business. Taking care of the mundane tasks of his day. Making sure he is keeping the law. Much of his day would have been spent studying the Torah, either at Gamaliel’s feet or with others in a Yeshiva, a school. A flash of lightening comes directly at him out of the sky. And he hears the voice, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you?” Saul asks. And Saul could no longer see. This is Saul’s story, probably reported to Luke as they traveled together. Luke remembers it this way to tell it to those who will hear. What a story, what an event. What a surprise, what a disruption.
And then in a vision Ananias hears a voice, “here I am,” he says. “Go and find Saul, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.” Ananias, probably minding his own business, a disciple, a follower, who is surprised by this voice and whose life is disrupted by this ask to go and find Saul, the one who has done much evil to the followers of Jesus.
It is Ananias who listened and responded. It is Ananias who goes to Saul, and laid his hands on him. It is because of Ananias that something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes. It is because of Ananias that Saul, after three days, could see again. Ananias was surprised by God. Ananias’ life was disrupted. And a whole new world was made possible. Had Ananias not listened and responded, would Saul have ever been healed, followed Jesus, and spread the good news throughout the Mediterranean. Maybe it is Ananias who is the hero here.
And maybe it is you and I who are surprised by God, maybe it is you and I whose ordered, predicable lives are disrupted by the one who creates the possibilities, the one who calls us to follow on the way of Love. Just imagine it, being the ones who in our ordered, busy lives, respond “here we are,” being the ones who carry the light, being the ones who point the way. Just imagine us, the ones who, like Ananias, are there when God needs us to love those who would hate. Just imagine us, the ones who, like Ananias, are there when God needs us to be compassionate when we are fearful of the one who is not like us. Just imagine us, the ones who, like Ananias, are there when God needs us to be merciful and kind.
Just what does that look like? How do we show up for God and love people in the places we find ourselves? This amazing story about Saul seeing the light from heaven flashing around him, and hearing Jesus’ voice, and Ananias’ vision and response may lead us to believe that we are not included in the story. Not many of us hear Jesus’ voice, see the light from heaven flashing around us, or have visions, at least no one has told me about this kind of excitement.
But we are surprised and disrupted by experiences that cause us to say, that was the Holy Spirit. And it is in these ways we tell the story of God’s call to us, of God’s activity in our lives, and of our response to God’s love. When we show up in our lives bearing God’s love, when we show up in our lives bearing God’s light, when we show up in our lives bearing God’s words, we participate in transformation like Ananias did. And we, like Ananias, carry the story forward.
These are the things I hear about.
A few weeks back, after the awful shooting at Christchurch New Zealand, in our community a number of us showed up and prayed and walked with our Muslim and Christian brothers and sisters. We had the opportunity to learn about prayer in ways that are very different from our own, we had the opportunity to pray with people not so very different from ourselves, we had the opportunity to be a part of spreading compassion and love with our neighbors. It seems to me that we showed up in the way we know how, offering love, and compassion, and presence. We listened to God’s voice and responded in ways that may cause healing, that may cause blindness to be replaced by sight.
I heard a story from three of you, all separately, about finding yourself in the same store at the same time. Each of you coming to that place carrying some sort of a burden, and each of you leaving that store having been lifted up, encouraged, by one another. Now that may seem like a small thing, and a serendipitous coincidence, but I believe what happened is that you showed up in your life, you responded to the healing that you have been offered in your relationship with Jesus, and you let that light shine.
You see, it is because each one of us has been broken and healed, it is because each one of us has been loved back into life, it is because Jesus stands in our place, and the fragments of our lives put back together again, that we can say “here I am Lord, I will carry your love, I will show up and show forth the truth of your love.” This is what changes the world. Love is what changes the world.