Blinded by the Light – May 5, 2019 – Pastor Donna Doutt – Acts 9:1-20

Our scripture today tells a miraculous story. If you knew nothing else about Saul, you would of course realize this was the hand of God at work in the conversion of Saul to the man we know as the apostle Paul.

Yes, we call him an apostle, although he wasn’t present at the crucifixion or resurrection, but his late resurrection encounter and conversion made him one of the most important figures of the apostolic era.

Many believe that Saul's name was changed when he became a follower of Jesus Christ, but that isn’t true. His Jewish name was "Saul, perhaps after the biblical King Saul, a fellow Benjamite, and the first king of Israel. All of us Front Porch study people remember him from our study of 1 and 2 Samuel. According to the Book of Acts, he was a Roman citizen. As a Roman citizen, he also bore the Latin name of "Paul"(essentially a Latin Transliteration of Saul). It was typical for the Jews of that time to have two names, one Hebrew, the other Latin or Greek. He took advantage of his status as both a Jew and a Roman citizen to minister to both Jewish and Roman audiences after his conversion.

He went on to teach and preach, and his letters constitute thirteen of the twenty-seven book in the New Testament. Approximately half of the book of Acts deals with Paul's life and works.

But let’s roll back a little bit to earlier scripture references in Chapter 7 and talk about why his conversion was so remarkable. We first meet Saul at the stoning of Stephen.

 

Stephen’s first mention is in Acts of the Apostles as one of seven deacons appointed by the Apostles to distribute food and charitable aid to poorer members of the community in the early church. Scripture tells us Stephen was doing a great job as one of the seven men of “good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4 while we (the apostles), for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” Stephen was known to be a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. But he was a victim of false charges and  brought before tribunal.

In Acts 7:54 we see Stephen making Biblical history by becoming the first martyr. Scripture tells us as he spoke to the tribunal he continually extolled Jesus. “When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.[j]55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. And here’s where we learn who Saul is. With this line: “1 And Saul approved of their killing him.”

Chapter 8 verse 1 continues: “That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.”

Saul is an ugly person. He’s vicious. He’s the Biblical gestapo to anyone who follows the “Way” as the ministry of Jesus was becoming known. Despite the fact that he was himself a Jew.

So here we are to the meat of this scripture:
9 1-2 All this time Saul was breathing down the necks of the Master’s disciples, out for the kill. He went to the Chief Priest and got arrest warrants to take to the meeting places in Damascus so that if he found anyone there belonging to the Way, whether men or women, he could arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem.

3-4 He set off. When he got to the outskirts of Damascus, he was suddenly dazed by a blinding flash of light. As he fell to the ground, he heard a voice: “Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me?”

5-6 He said, “Who are you, Master?”

“I am Jesus, the One you’re hunting down. I want you to get up and enter the city. In the city you’ll be told what to do next.”

7-9 His companions stood there dumbstruck—they could hear the sound, but couldn’t see anyone—while Saul, picking himself up off the ground, found himself stone-blind. They had to take him by the hand and lead him into Damascus. He continued blind for three days. He ate nothing, drank nothing.

10 There was a disciple in Damascus by the name of Ananias. The Master spoke to him in a vision: “Ananias.”

“Yes, Master?” he answered.

11-12 “Get up and go over to Straight Avenue. Ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus. His name is Saul. He’s there praying. He has just had a dream in which he saw a man named Ananias enter the house and lay hands on him so he could see again.”

13-14 Ananias protested, “Master, you can’t be serious. Everybody’s talking about this man and the terrible things he’s been doing, his reign of terror against your people in Jerusalem! And now he’s shown up here with papers from the Chief Priest that give him license to do the same to us.”

15-16 But the Master said, “Don’t argue. Go! I have picked him as my personal representative to non-Jews and kings and Jews. And now I’m about to show him what he’s in for—the hard suffering that goes with this job.”

17-19 So Ananias went and found the house, placed his hands on blind Saul, and said, “Brother Saul, the Master sent me, the same Jesus you saw on your way here. He sent me so you could see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” No sooner were the words out of his mouth than something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes—he could see again! He got to his feet, was baptized, and sat down with them to a hearty meal.

19-21 Saul spent a few days getting acquainted with the Damascus disciples, but then went right to work, wasting no time, preaching in the meeting places that this Jesus was the Son of God. 

Whew! What a dramatic experience. A person who was so hate-filled became such a devoted disciple of Jesus in 72 hours!

How about you? Have you ever had a “Saul experience” or a “Saul-like conversion? What is your faith story?

 

As clergy, we are often called to provide our faith story to committees and review boards. Even though my own faith story affected me deeply, I don’t feel like I ever had a “Saul” experience. I didn’t need to convert, for I felt I was already a Christian. But sometimes, when I hear my colleagues describing their faith story, I almost yearn that I might have had a dramatic experience too.

[1]One of the Biblical scholars I read, writing on this Saul conversion experience calls this a “faith inferiority complex.” I certainly have my own statement of faith story, but it certainly doesn’t compare with Saul.

It’s important to remember that what happened to Saul was noteworthy precisely because it was not typical of the way most people become converts.

[2]“In his book Why Preach, Why Listen? Writer, William Muehl suggests that on any given Sunday when you look out at congregation, you can imagine that many of those sitting in the pews almost did not come that day. They considered staying home because in their minds their faith doesn’t measure up to the faith of others in the congregation.”

How about you? Were you one of those who thought about maybe not coming today? Have you ever sat in this church, or during a Bible study, and thought to yourself, “I’m not worthy” or “I don’t know enough to be here” or “I feel like an imposter because everyone seems to know more, or have a better faith story than me?” How about this: “If these people only knew what I do when I’m not here.”

 

Well, let me assure you, you are not alone. Christian inferiority is common. For some, even walking through those doors into a house of worship generates feelings of inferiority.

Are you holding back on your relationship with God because you feel inferior or undeserving? Are you one of those who silently asks yourself before every Communion service, “Am I worthy?”

No one was more undeserving than Paul. But let’s not forget that God moves in mysterious ways. You may be more deserving than Paul, a man blinded by bitterness, anger, and vengeance, until God made him truly blind. But when his eyes opened again, he literally “SAW” the light, and was not blinded anymore.

God sees the potential in every one of us. Remember in our scripture we learn, “19-21 Saul spent a few days getting acquainted with the Damascus disciples, but then went right to work, wasting no time, preaching in the meeting places that this Jesus was the Son of God.”  This was a man who hated and now he loved. And just like so many other followers of the Lord from Moses, Jeremiah and other prophets, Paul and Timothy, God put the words in their mouths to enable them to make disciples for Christ.

Last week, at our Saturday night service, “Turning Point,” a man named Kenny, who spent part of his life as an alcoholic, hurting his family and friends for the sake of his own weakness, found the words to share his conversion story. It wasn’t as dramatic as Paul’s, but it was life changing for Kenny and those who love him.

 

 

Up until his conversion Paul had spent his life Jesus bashing. How did he know what to say when, as the scripture tells us, “went right to work, preaching the meeting places that this Jesus was the Son of God.” God put the words in Paul’s mouth. God put the words in Kenny’s mouth to give witness to the forgiving, loving nature of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Just as Ananias couldn’t believe that this hateful man Saul could be saved, I’ll bet Kenny’s family was skeptical too that he could change. But God worked in his life to make him a follower.

I was at an event last week when a man got up to speak. Ironically, his name was Ken as well. He was tall and thin, looked a little sickly almost. Then he began to speak in a difficult, stop and start, jerky, guttural manner that makes it difficult to speak eloquently. At first I sort of felt sorry for him because of his difficulty speaking. However, he started talking about his love of Christ, and how his life is changed through Jesus. His face became alive with confidence and joy. He shared how he was once afraid to speak out or speak up in front of people because of his disability, but God gave him what he needed to “not be chicken” as he would say. The irony was not lost on me when I learned he is an evangelist. It was clearly evident that evangelism was God’s gift to Ken.

In God’s eyes, it doesn’t matter where you’ve been, or where you’re going. There is always saving grace for you. Saul’s mission in life was redirected when he let God into his life. Kenny’s life was redirected when he let God into his life. Ken’s life was changed when he let God move with confidence in him to share the Good News. My life was redirected when I turned it over to God.

 

Don’t be blinded to what is here, right here, for you each and every day. Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz who was searching for something, your “something” is right here in your own back yard.

This church, this congregation, who are your brothers and sisters in faith and Christ are here for you. You are worthy, but are you ready?

Do you need to be blinded first to see the true light of God? Open your eyes to the new vision that God has ready and waiting for you to build up your own faith, spread the Good News and build up this church to be a beacon of light God’s light to others.

Amen.

 

 

 

[1] Joseph S. Harvard. Feasting on the Word, Year C. vol. 2. P. 402

[2] William Muehl, Why Preach? Why Listen? (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 11.

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