2 Lives Converted

Acts 9:1-19     May 4, 2014               2 Lives Converted.

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We’ve got 2 important people in today’s story – an epic story of a man whose life is changed in a blinding light, and then sudden blindness and then, 3 days later, he was helped by a man who didn’t really want to be there in the first place. This story is usually referred to as the conversion of Saul.  I think 2 lives were converted in this story – not just Saul’s.  2 lives were changed forever. Saul and Ananias.

Let’s look at Saul first. Saul is a good Jew and he is feeling absolutely threatened by the people following Jesus and by Jesus himself.  So Saul’s full of threats and has murdered and is planning to kill more Jesus followers. And he’s got the green light from the religious elite when, on his way to round some folks up, Jesus encounters him on the road, he falls of his horse and is blinded by the blazing light. Saul believed he was doing God’s will, serving God through killing those who said they believed and followed this new Messiah, Jesus.  Saul’s life of hunting down Jesus followers was completely disrupted, thrown into utter darkness. All because Jesus encountered him.

Ananias is our second important person from today’s story.  He’s a disciple, a Jesus follower.  God speaks to him and he answers right tumblr_maw72p1ymR1r6cr4vo1_1280away, “Here I am, Lord.”  But it’s when God gets to the particulars of what God wants Ananias to do, that things start to change.  God even gets so particular and clear that he gives him a street address. 

 

 

wait-what-gifOnce it dawns on Ananias that God is talking about Saul, his “here I am Lord” turns quickly to “uh, are you sure you know what you’re doing?”  God basically says, “Hey, you know the guy who is killing all the people following Jesus, you know, people just like you?  Well, I want you to go and lay your hands on him and pray for him and heal him. Give him back his sight in the name of the Holy Spirit. Go waaaay out of your comfort zone, ok?”

 

Remember what Ananias says? “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and Wow+I+honestly+didn+t+know+that+when+I+posted+it+_10940d3a6d388d14a0051d4855786c52he’s got authority from the chief priests to round us up.”  Basically, Ananias says, “you’re calling me to go and help someone who would rather kill me?  No thanks.”

And God responds, “Yeah, well I choose Saul. He’s going to tell all kinds of people about me. Now go.”

Two lives totally disrupted.  One in killing Jesus followers; the other a Jesus follower healing his would-be killer. Two lives that experienced the embrace of God and the discomfort and risk of following this God through Jesus Christ.  Two lives so seemingly separate, now intersect.

Do you notice that God didn’t say to Ananias, “Go and make him clean” or “Go and be sure he believes before you help him.”  That’s the work God is doing in Saul’s life. And God will use Ananias – but it’s God’s powerful work on Saul’s murderous and hateful heart.  Ananias can’t see it, but God can.  Because God isn’t on the lookout for people who have it all together.  God isn’t on the lookout for perfection.  God uses broken people.

God knew what Saul was up to. Yet God chose him.  It is God who chooses and who works the miracle of change in Saul’s life.

At the same time, God worked through Ananias to bring healing to Saul.  And it is most certain that God changed Ananias’ life, too. God chose this Jesus-follower to go out.  It’s like God calling you or me.  Hey, go help the one who would do you harm. Hey, go help the one who thinks your church is bunk. Hey, go talk to someone you’ve always ignored or who has a bad reputation. Hey, stick out your hand and tell a stranger your name.

That’s why our purpose statement, the reason we exist as a church, is to go out.  And if you’ve been here before, you might notice we say it together every week at the end of worship. We remind ourselves why we gather together for worship.  We remind ourselves what then we are called to do the rest of the week. This purpose asks God to shape our lives.  And it sends us out into the community.  It sends us out to look for the Sauls of this world. And even Ananias, part of the first followers of Jesus, was ready to question God about going out.

We say it every week because it’s hard to do.  It’s hard to exist for other people. It’s hard to be sent out of this community to love others who we think might not deserve it. It’s hard to love the ones we’re supposed to love, much less complete strangers or, God forbid, someone who would wish us harm.

Hello Ananias. We can get our lips around his response right quick, can’t we?  “Here I am Lord, send me.”  Wait.  You want me to do what?

It would be easier if we could just insulate ourselves and create a club with clear definitions of who is in and who is out.

It would be easier if we could be the ones to choose who God calls us to reach out to.

It would be easier if we weren’t called out of our comfort zone, into unknown territory.

It would be easier if we weren’t changed by the whole thing too.

And I’ve watched God use us as we risk being out in this community. I’ve watched you show love in very ordinary ways – ordinary ways that show God’s love and change people.  It’s changed us!

This is the life of faith, folks.  It’s taking a step or even a leap without seeing evidence that it’s all going to work out. It’s a terrible thing, this faith.

God called me to be the pastor and mission developer for River of Hope.  It has been and continues to be the clearest and best call of my life.  It has been and continues to be one step of faith after another. And I wouldn’t be able to do it without each of you. And I wouldn’t be able to do it without God’s clear call in my life.

Holding-Hands-GCC4Yet that clear call doesn’t come in the form of flashes of light or God giving me an address and a name of someone to go and visit. There are many situations I am called into in the life of our River of Hope community and in the lives of people outside of this place where I step with faith and not certainty. God intervenes and converts my life through strangers at MSSB who thank River of Hope and bless us in God’s name for simply being there and listening.  God intervenes and converts my life through texts that tell me God is working through our River of Hope community into actual lives outside of this church. God intervenes and converts my life through hospital visits and news that cancer has been chased out of a body. And God converts my life at the grave side and in the grief of loss. God converts my life even in silence.

God calls Ananias to be completely vulnerable in God’s name.  To follow where God leads is to be called into the world’s brokenness and our own brokenness, because that’s where God meets us. And God uses all of our broken parts. God doesn’t just choose the shiny, happy parts of us but all of us.  God uses our weaknesses right along with our strengths.

As we talked about at the beginning of worship today, finances continue to be a struggle for our community.  I stand vulnerable before you as your pastor, each week, and today I ask for your help in a new way so that we can continue to meet here and then go out, following God’s call on our lives. I trust that God is using this struggle not only for us but for those we are being called to serve in the future. I must believe that God will not let us turn in on ourselves in fear but will continue to call us out.  I trust in God’s power of transformation, that we will continue to be a community that is needed in Hutchinson.   

For God is always calling out to the most unlikely people to do the hardest and most unlikely things.  It is a hard and necessary thing to ask you to seriously consider your financial giving for the sake of the Good News to be shared through River of Hope. Yet, I believe that it is God who converts each of us, each and every day, along with Saul and Ananias, to follow that call.  God never gives up on us. God is always transforming us, to love when we didn’t think it was possible.  To follow where we do not want to go.  To do the thing we fear the most.  It is every day life that God works through to change us, to transform us, to convert us.  It is hard.  It is incredible. And it is a life of faith God has called us into… together.  And for that and for all of you and all of this we say thanks be to God.

Amen.

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