God s Intervention Acts 9:1-9, A Sermon Preached by Ernie Thompson. Westminster Presbyterian Church Greensboro NC.

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1 God s Intervention Acts 9:1-9, A Sermon Preached by Ernie Thompson Westminster Presbyterian Church Greensboro NC June 5, 2016 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? 5 He asked, Who are you, Lord? The reply came, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do. 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 17 Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

2 Sometimes we all need an intervention - we need somebody to get our attention and give us a warning that we are heading for trouble. 2 So if I m driving and looking at houses and don t notice a stop sign coming, my wife will intervene and shout out stop sign! And I m usually glad for that intervention. Sometimes the intervention is more complicated. If we are wrestling with an addiction we need an intervention. We may not know it. And we may not want it. But we need family and friends to sit and down and say, here is what you are doing and here is how it is hurting people you love and hurting yourself. Here s why you need to stop and start over in a new direction. These interventions can save our lives. Our Scripture lesson this morning is about an intervention. God says to Saul, Stop. And then offers him a new direction and a new calling. And so I d like to think about how God intervenes in Saul s life and how God intervenes in your life and in my life. 1. Now Saul clearly needed an intervention. Saul was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. Brian McLaren writes about world religions in his book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? He says that this tendency towards violence is not inherent in any of the world s great religions, but rather comes from what he calls an oppositional religious identity which derives strength from hostility. (p.57) This oppositional religious identity can be a part of all religions, and it comes in both more conservative and in more liberal forms. McLaren writes, When we increasingly understand who we are in relation to an enemy we develop an increasingly hostile identity. Such an identity teaches us to see sameness as safety and otherness as danger. It is characterized by duality: us and them, right and wrong, good and evil, light and darkness.

3 3 McLaren says that this oppositional religious identity produces a mentality of us versus them, us apart from them, us over them, us oppressed by them, but never us for them or us with them. In our Scripture lesson, Saul has developed an oppositional religious identity. He believes that he is a righteous true believer and the Christians are the dangerous other, the them, the enemies, the ones who must be destroyed. And so Saul is breathing threats and murder. This oppositional identity is not just bad for the Christians Saul is persecuting. His identity and his actions are also bad for Saul. His hostility and anger and violence are killing him too. He s heading down the wrong road, but he can t see it, and so Saul needs an intervention. But it s not just Saul, and it s not just the problem of violence. There are many ways that we can get on the wrong path. One commentator says, Not many of us are breathing threats and murder against our opponents. But we have all been on wrong paths that have been injurious to us and others. We have all been headstrong, stubborn, blinded to our own ambition, selfish to meet our own need, caught in addictive behaviors, and oblivious of the true cost to others or ourselves. Saul is heading down the wrong path, but he is not alone. All of us sometimes get heading in the wrong direction, and we cannot see it, or we won t admit it, and so we need an intervention. 2. For Saul God intervenes directly and dramatically. Saul is blinded by a light that knocks him to the ground. He hears a voice asking, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? Saul knows that he has encountered some power greater than himself, and so he asks, Who are you Lord? And then comes the shocking answer, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Have you ever had one of those moments of insight when you suddenly realize that you have really messed up? I was at the church the other morning working away and feeling good that I was making some progress. And then I looked at my calendar and realized that I was supposed to have met the pastor at First Baptist 20 minutes ago for breakfast.

4 4 It was not a good moment. Sometimes it s much worse. We realize we have hurt someone without meaning to. Or the we shouldn t have sent has now been forwarded to everyone at work. Or someone has trusted us and we have broken that trust. First Saul is blinded a flash of light, and then he is blinded by a flash of insight. He has made a terrible mistake. He has misunderstood and he has been hurting other people and hurting himself and persecuting Jesus. Paul gets this insight, and then he s told to go into the city and wait. The waiting is often the worst part. I think I was only sent to the principal's office twice. But I can still remember sitting outside the principal's office on a bench waiting and waiting to see what my punishment would be. The waiting is often the worst part. So Saul goes and he waits and he does not eat and he does not drink, for three days. Three days without eating will make you weak, but three days without drinking can kill you. And that s what is happening to Saul. He is dying physically and dying spiritually. His world has been turned upside down. He doesn t know what the future holds. But Paul has to die to his old self before he can be reborn to his new self. Flannery O Connor says, God must have known that the only way to make Saul a Christian was to knock him off his horse. Sometimes God needs to be dramatic, but most of us are not breathing threats and murder, and so most of us don t get such a dramatic intervention as God did. But God does intervene, sometimes in dramatic ways and sometimes in subtle ways. Sometimes the insight comes in a flash and sometimes it s a slow and growing awareness. We ve all been on the wrong path, heading in the wrong direction. We need a new start and we need new life, and so God intervenes.

5 5 3. And then God s grace comes. For Saul, grace comes in the form of Ananias, a follower of Jesus from Damascus. Ananias does not want to go to Saul. He knows that Saul is the enemy and that he has wreaked havoc in Jerusalem. He knows Saul is an evil, violent man. But God says go, and so Ananias goes. Ananias greets this enemy of the church by saying, Brother Saul. Not, Well I see you finally got what you deserve. Or, How does it feel to be on the other side. Or even, Repent and maybe you will be forgiven for all the evil you have done. Ananias simply says, Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. He lays his hands on Saul and his vision is restored he has a whole new way of seeing the world and seeing himself. Saul is baptized. To be a follower of Christ always means joining the Christian community. And Saul eats and regains his strength. Some wonder if this was just a meal or if it was Saul s first communion. It may have been both. Saul will need that strength because his conversion immediately leads to a calling. Conversion always leads to a calling. Saul is sent to share the good news of Jesus love and presence and power with the Gentiles. In Saul s previous world, the Gentiles were as bad as the Christians. They were the pagans, the unbelievers. But now Saul will spend his life sharing the good news with the Gentiles and welcoming them into the church. When God intervenes it is often through an Ananias, through some faithful follower who becomes for us a means of grace Someone who opens our eyes, Or someone who welcomes us into the community gives us strength, Or someone who helps us hear God s calling on our life. I m grateful for the Ananias s of my life, and I m guessing God has sent you an Ananias as well.

6 I ve never been blinded by the light. I ve never been knocked to the ground or spent three days feeling like I was dying. Some of you may have experienced all those things. 6 But I have been on the wrong path. I ve been confused and I ve been too stubborn to admit it. And so God has come, and shown me the light, and filled me with his Spirit, and offered me new life. This is not a once in a lifetime experience. Most of us need lots of interventions. And so we are always looking for God s light. We are always listening for God s voice. We are always waiting and praying for God s intervention and for God s blessing, and the new life it brings.

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