Sermon for April 18, 2010

Acts 9:1-22 (3rd Sunday of Easter—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

April 18, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the First Reading from Acts 9:

Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house.

Perhaps you’ve heard the old joke about light bulbs and Lutherans.  How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?  “Change?  What do you mean change?  Lutherans don’t do change.”  For some reason, change comes difficultly for Lutherans.  Perhaps its stems for our stubborn German heritage, so that when even someone who is not of German descent becomes a Lutheran, they immediately become resistant to change.  Having a hard time with change really isn’t uniquely Lutheran at all.  People in general are not comfortable with changes, even when those changes are necessary and for the better.  “You,” said the doctor to the patient, “are in terrible shape.  You’ve got to do something about it.  First, tell your wife to cook more nutritious meals.  Stop working like a dog. Also, inform your wife you’re going to make a budget, and she has to stick to it.  And have her keep the kids off your back so you can relax.  Unless there are some changes like that in your life, you’ll probably be dead in a month.”  “Doc,” the patient said, “this would sound more official coming from you.  Could you please call my wife and give her those instructions?”  When the fellow got home, his wife rushed to him. “I talked to your doctor,” she wailed. “Poor man, you’ve only got thirty days to live.” 

Change is difficult.  It’s hard to get other people to change and it’s even more difficult to change ourselves.  But we learn from God’s Word today that our Risen Lord Jesus Christ can and does change us from sinners to disciples who witness the name of Jesus to the world. 

So we start with Saul, better known to us a Paul.  Saul was a Jewish Pharisee.  By his own admission Saul was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:5-6)  Saul was raging against other disciples of Jesus Christ, breathing threats and murder against them.  He set his target on the synagogues in the city of Damascus, Syria.  If he found any belonging to the Way, as the infant Church was then known, he would arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem to stand trial before the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. 

As Saul and the men traveling with him got close to Damascus, the Lord Jesus intervened with a change.  Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around Saul.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice.  He had heard his name called, “Saul, Saul.”  When you have a chance, go through your Bibles and note these name duplications spoken by Jesus: “Saul, Saul—Martha, Martha—Jerusalem, Jerusalem.”  In varying ways they express an emotion of deepest concern but never anger.  Saul was now face-to-face with the risen, glorified, and ascended Jesus.  In 1 Corinthians 15:8, Saul, then called Paul, would write, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, [Jesus] appeared also to me.”  But Jesus did not appear to Paul in anger and ask “Why are you persecuting me?”  No, Jesus appeared in love and mercy to change Saul’s heart. 

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.  “What is your name?”  “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting, but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”  Saul gets more than a mere name.  This was Jesus in glory, the one whom the Jews had rejected and crucified, the one whom God raised from the dead and exalted to the glory that now surrounded Saul.  The tremendous reality and truth of this fact must have swept over Saul’s soul like a flood.  “I’m the One you are persecuting!”  Here was the revelation, not only of Jesus, who with one stroke swept away all the lies Saul had believed about Him, but also the revelation of what Saul was engaged in: persecuting this glorified Jesus in His disciples.  “But enough of what you are doing,” Jesus states.  “Let’s move on to what you will now do.”  Jesus orders Saul into the city where he will be told what he must do. 

On the road to Damascus Jesus initiates a change in Saul’s soul.  Jesus preaches the Law to Sal.  He confronts Saul with his sin and his crime; he smites and crushes Saul’s heart with a consciousness of its awful guilt.  Then Jesus orders Saul to go to a place where the appointed minister of the Gospel will proclaim the Good News to him.  That’s Ananias. 

The Lord said to Ananias in a vision, “Ananias, rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen a vision of a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”  Now Ananias knew all about Saul’s plans regarding the Christians in Damascus.  Word of persecution travels fast.  Ananias knew about Saul’s authority to arrest all those who call on the Lord Jesus’ name.  We can imagine the fear in Ananias’ voice inquiring about this Saul.  But the Lord tells Ananias, “Just go to him—everything is all right!  I’m bringing about a change in Saul so that I will then send him before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel with My name.” 

So in faith in the Lord’s Word, Ananias goes to Saul.  Ananias was the chosen instrument to bring the Good News of Jesus’ forgiveness to this frightful sinner Saul.  Ananias addressed him, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road, this Jesus who crushed you with the revelation of your guilt, has sent me to announce Good News to you through the regaining of your sight.  In token of the forgiveness of your guilt, this same Lord Jesus is removing the blindness from your eyes and is filling you with the Holy Spirit so that the eyes of your soul are now open to the sight of faith.”  Saul instantly received his physical sight, got up, and was baptized.  Saul desired this Sacrament with the forgiving and re-creating grace is conveyed to him.  It was the divine seal of grace and of the Spirit that made him Christ’s own. 

Saul was a changed man.  Christ had changed him.  In response to the faith given him in his part, Saul right away proclaimed of Jesus in the synagogues, “He is the Son of God.”  He increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. 

Saul was changed by the grace of God in Christ Jesus from sinner to a disciple who boldly proclaimed the truth that Jesus Christ is God and Lord.  Through the waters of Baptism, we too have been claimed by Christ, washed of our sins, and given faith in Jesus Christ as the only Son of God, our Savior.  Christ has changed us in the washing of renewal and regeneration by the Holy Spirit who He has poured out on us generously.  We have been forgiven of our guilt and our sins.  Like Saul, you and I have received the sight of faith healing our spiritual blindness. 

What’s more, like Saul, Christ has changed us into disciples who are witnesses of the Risen Christ.  We’ve been changed from sinners, enemies of God, to the children of God who boldly speak the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  We who were once enemies of Christ and of His Church when we were lost in our sins have been changed into forgiven people who proclaim the goodness and mercy of God in Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose again guaranteeing our eternal life.  God the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith and life through the Gospel Word and the Sacraments in order that we grow in our faith, in our confidence, and in our ability to tell others that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  He has changed us so that, even like Ananias, we will be ready to assume the more challenging moments of sharing our faith with those whom we fear may be more hostile to us and to our confession of Jesus. 

Jesus changed and equipped Paul to be His chosen instrument to carry Jesus’ name to the nations.  Jesus changed and equipped Ananias to go to Saul and share the Gospel of Jesus with him.  And Jesus has changed and thoroughly equipped you and me through Baptism, through His Word, and Holy Spirit, to be His chosen instruments to take Jesus’ name into our world and community.  As His Word declares, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Maybe we really don’t care for the changes that happen in this world.  But today we can truly rejoice in the changes that Christ Jesus has brought about in our lives.  We give Him thanks for changing the heart of St. Paul so that he was able to be a faithful preacher and teacher of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life of the world.  We praise the Lord for changing our hearts through the waters of Baptism and the Gospel Word, for creating saving faith in our hearts to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, for washing away our sins, and for giving us His Holy Spirit so that we can be His faithful preachers and teachers to the people of our time with the joyous message that Jesus Christ is risen indeed and we are forgiven!  Amen.