Bible Text: Acts 9:20-31 | Preacher: Rev. Dennis Howard | When we read scripture, especially scriptures like the book of Acts, it’s really easy to read it just for the facts it contains.
Facts like: who went where, why did they go there, what did they do when they got there?
The verses of Acts that we read last week tell us that Saul is in Damascus, after having been blinded by a vision of Jesus as he was travelling there from Jerusalem.
We were told Saul was travelling to Damascus to imprison any Jesus worshippers he found in the synagogues there.
Then we are told of another man.
A man named Ananias who also had a vision of Jesus.
The Lord told this man to go and pray for Saul.
Ananias obeyed the Lord, went to the very specific address the Lord gave him.
Prayed for Saul, laid hands on him and suddenly Saul could see again.
Ananias baptized Saul and the former persecutor of the church received the Holy Spirit.
So, he got up and ate.
All-in-all we have here a pretty straight forward statement of facts: who, what, where, why…
That was last week.
And then again, this week we have a few verses of scripture we could easily read as a list of facts, as a travel log even.
Saul preaches in Damascus.
Gets in big trouble with the Jews there for convicting them of their role in Jesus’ crucifixion.
Is smuggled out of Damascus and flees to Jerusalem.
Where the same thing happens again.
So, the brothers take him to Caesarea before shipping him off to Tarsus, which I believe is where Saul was originally from.
You can trace Saul’s travels on any good map of the Bible.
This is all very interesting.
But what does it really matter?
What do the facts of this travel log matter in the scheme of things?
Do they matter?
I suppose that they do in that they place God’s work of redeeming creation in a fixed context within that very creation.
But rather than reading scripture focusing on the facts of who went where, when and why thousands of years ago.
I believe we are meant to read God’s word for what it tells us about the way we live today.
We are meant to read scripture, preserved in our Bible, for instruction in living in the here and now.
This being the case what does this ancient story of Saul’s perilous early life as a new follower of the Way have to say to us about the way we live today in our comfortable western society where for the most part Christianity is tolerated if not broadly embraced and practiced?
Let’s reflect on this question for a bit.
Saul got in trouble with his neighbours, his fellow Jews, for telling them what they had done wrong.
Saul convinced his neighbours that they had played a role in killing the Son of God.
No wonder his neighbours got bent out of shape to the point that they wanted to kill him.
Can you imagine telling your neighbour, living in comfortable Langley, that unless they repented of the way they are living, then they too are guilty of playing a part in the crucifixion of the Son of God?
Can you imagine their reaction?
Being civilized and law abiding your neighbour would not likely try to physically kill you.
But I bet your reputation in the neighbourhood would die a million deaths every time they shared the story of your conversation with the other folks in your neighbourhood.
I am not encouraging anyone to go about testifying to their neighbour that they are part of the reason Jesus had to die; that their personal and specific sin drove Jesus to the cross; even though it actually did.
That is the sort of information which you would share with your neighbour once they began to have a vision of who God actually is and so were looking for teaching about who Jesus the Son of God really is.
In other words, the fact that your personal sin drove Jesus to his death on the cross is the sort of information you would share with someone who is seeking to know God better.
You would share this kind of information with someone wanting to add some understanding to the faith in Jesus that they received when they first had the vision of Jesus as the Christ of God.
Paul was speaking to folks in the synagogues, both in Damascus and in Jerusalem.
These people were deeply immersed, and well versed, in the story of God’s work of redeeming their nation and through them the whole of creation.
The folks Saul was speaking to were a nation of people waiting in anticipation of a saviour, a messiah.
They were waiting for a man to come along and affirm their world view that Israel would take ultimate power over the nations of the world.
The folks Saul angered believed that because they were in charge of Israel’s spiritual life, they were the ones that would rule this new world order that the coming messiah would bring.
What Saul had to say to them completely turned this world view on its ear.
Saul’s interpretation of scripture and of the events around the death of Jesus of Nazareth baffled them, convicted them, and finally, drove them into a murderous fury.
It baffled them because it did not fit into their vision of what God was doing in the world.
It infuriated them because Saul’s vision of who God in Christ was a threat to the religious rules and traditions by which they maintained power over their neighbours.
The Jews of the day, the leadership of the Jews, did not want to hear that Jesus was the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah.
The Jewish leaders of the day wanted to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was just another pretender, just another messiah-wanna-be, just another trouble maker from the back woods come to town to stir up the ignorant locals and upset the carefully-balanced apple cart of the relationship between their temple rules and the rules of their Roman overseers.
Saul was there to tell them different, to set them straight about who God really was, about who Jesus of Nazareth really was, about where God wanted to take them and how God planned to get them there.
To do that Saul had to ruffle a few feathers.
He had to shock them out of their self-righteousness, to convince them of their sin.
When we speak today of the fact that our sin drove Jesus to the cross.
We are telling our neighbour, we are telling our culture, that the way we live as a nation, the objects of our worship; like our economy, our security, our place of rank and privilege in the world; are all wrong.
Our values are all back-to-front.
When the way we live our lives show our neighbour that we follow a different God than that of our secular culture we, like Saul, should be prepared to face some resistance.
Not likely resistance unto death, not in Canada anyway.
But resistance in the form of loss of status and respect in the eyes of those who come to know that our value system is in direct opposition to the ones by which they live.
I guess the question for us today is this.
Are we ready to share with our neighbour our vision of who Jesus is?
Are we willing to risk our good name in the neighbourhood by becoming clearly identified with those who speak and live in ways that tell the world that their secular value system is all wrong?
Are we willing to risk our comfortable, non-confrontational lives by telling the people we live among that the whole reason that they are unhappy, unfulfilled, living meaningless lives chasing the god of wealth, comfort and security is because of the vision they have of who God is?
Are we willing to risk everything by loving your neighbour by sharing them your vision of Jesus?
If you are, do it.
And see what happens.
See what happens when you don’t read scripture as a list of facts.
But as our God given, Holy Spirit inspired, guide to abundant life.