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Brother Saul - Sermon, 5/5/19
May 7, 2019, 1:26 PM

Having grown up in the Roman Catholic Church, I was one of those weird kids who didn’t go to Sunday School. Instead, my religious education took place in CCD during the week. But even as a CCD kid, I knew today’s story from Acts very well.

 

Many of us who happened to grow up as part of the Christian tradition and attended some form of religious education are probably familiar with today’s story from the Acts of the Apostles. I don’t remember the story from a particular lesson plan or discussion. Instead, I am familiar with the story from a poster. Many religious education classrooms featured an image from today’s story on a poster with a picture of Saul being knocked off his horse, blinded by a vision from God.

 

The excitement of a vision from God is even more remarkable when we consider who received the vision. In today’s reading from Acts, we hear about Saul before his conversion experience. Saul is “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples” of Jesus. Saul has developed quite a reputation for persecuting followers of the Way – as early Christians were called.

 

Saul’s reputation continues to grow, so much so that he boldly approaches the high priest for permission to go to Damascus to persecute any followers of the Way there and “bring (the early Christians he found) bound to Jerusalem.” Saul, to say the least, is not a nice guy at this point in his story and in the story of the early church.

 

Saul is on his way to Damascus, ready to persecute the early Christians and have them punished in Jerusalem, when he is literally knocked to the ground by a vision from God. Saul hears a voice from heaven – that no one else hears – a voice asking for an explanation: Why do you persecute me? As the voice identifies itself as Jesus, the one “whom (Saul is) persecuting,” I wonder how Saul felt? Sad? Angry? Busted?

 

Although Saul’s traveling companions don’t hear the voice from heaven, they guide the newly-blinded Saul to Damascus. For three days, Saul “(is) without sight, and neither (eats) nor (drinks).”

 

As Saul sits in Damascus, blinded and busted, God reaches out to one of those early followers of the Way, Ananias, with a job. God tells Ananias to seek out Saul in Damascus. Ananias is not too happy with God’s request. In fact, Ananias reminds God about just who Saul is. Ananias tells God – as if God doesn’t know already – Ananias tells God, “I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.”

 

Saul’s reputation precedes him and it is not because Saul is known as a kind and generous man. Instead, Saul is becoming famous for his awful persecution of Jesus’ disciples. Ananias’ objection is understandable.

 

But God doesn’t just want Ananias to find Saul; God wants Ananias to find Saul AND heal him. God tells Ananias, “at this moment, (Saul) 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.” Ananias, I imagine, isn’t quite convinced by God’s directions. After all, Saul is only in Damascus to persecute people like Ananias and to bring early Christians bound to Jerusalem for trial.

 

Knowing all of this and knowing Saul’s evil intent and knowing Saul’s history doesn’t stop God from giving Ananias a mission. God explains that Saul “is an instrument whom (God) has chosen to bring (Jesus’) name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.”

 

Like a faithful disciple of Jesus and friend of God, Ananias follows God’s directions and enters the house where Saul is resting and praying. I wonder what Ananias thinks as he travels to the place where Saul is? In my mind, I imagine Ananias questioning God’s wisdom in choosing Saul – Saul of all people – choosing Saul for a mission to the Gentiles.

 

Whatever Ananias wonders as he walks to Saul’s resting place, he seems at least somewhat convinced of God’s plan as he greets Saul. Saul, the persecutor of Christians, receives a special greeting from Ananias. In addition to laying his hands on Saul, Ananias greets Saul as his brother. “Brother Saul,” Ananias says to the persecutor of Christians.

 

Brother Saul,” Ananias says, “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.” “Whatever your history,” Ananias claims, “whatever you have done in the past, has been washed away by Jesus.”

 

Brother Saul, because your sins are forgiven by Jesus,” Ananias says, “I can greet you as my brother.” “Whatever you are known for,” Ananias claims, “although you have been a persecutor of Christians, I now greet you as my brother in Christ.”

 

Saul’s healing from blindness is only part of the healing Saul experiences. Until this point in the story, Saul has been known only for “breathing threats and murder” against the Christians. Being called “Brother,” Saul is now healed from blindness and isolation. Being called “Brother,” Saul is now healed from blindness and hatred. Being called “Brother,” Saul is called into relationship, into community, with the Christians he had been persecuting.

 

Being called “Brother” and being called into relationship, “something like scales” fall from Saul’s eyes and his sight is restored. I wonder if it is just Saul’s physical sight that is restored. Yes, Saul’s eyes can see again, but I wonder if his heart can see again, too. The eyes of Saul’s heart are open in a new way when he is called “Brother.” We hear that Saul gets up, is baptized, and immediately begins to “proclaim Jesus in the synagogues” as the “Son of God.”

 

What a powerful lesson this is for us! Maybe we’re like Ananias, who is called by God to bring someone into relationship with Christ. Maybe we’re like Ananias, who overlooks what he thinks he knows to see a situation from God’s perspective.

 

Or, maybe we’re like Saul, who needs to be called “Brother.” Maybe we’re like Saul, who feels far away from Christ. Maybe we’re like Saul, who needs to be reminded of God’s plan.

 

Whether we feel like Ananias or Saul, today’s reading is for us and for our community. Let us be reminded that God calls all of us into relationship with Jesus and with each other by calling each of us “Brother” or “Sister.” Amen.

 
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