(watch here: https://youtu.be/M-Lbi_CDuvI)
1Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and 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. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ 5He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ 7The men who were travelling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul 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. 9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ He answered, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ 11The Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12and 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.’ 13But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.’ 15But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ 17So 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.’ 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Perhaps you’ve heard the one about a priest, a minister, and a rabbi who wanted to see who’s best at his job. So each one goes into the woods, finds a bear, and attempts to convert it. Later, they all get together. The priest begins: “When I found the bear, I read to him from the catechism and sprinkled him with holy water. Next week is his first Communion.” “I found a bear by the stream,” says the minister, “and preached God’s holy Word. The bear was so mesmerized that he let me baptize him.” They both look down at the rabbi, who is lying on a gurney in a body cast. “Looking back,” he says, “maybe I shouldn’t have started with the circumcision.”
We all have our conversion stories…some more painful than others. At some point in our lives we made the decision to entrust our lives with Jesus. Maybe it was a conscious decision but more than likely it was a subconscious decision. We are Lutherans after all! Many of us were baptized as infants so we didn’t really choose to be named and claimed as one of God’s beloved children. Our parents made that decision for us. We went through the Sunday school and confirmation programs, again decisions likely made by our parents. At the end of the schooling, the pastor signed off on us as adequately prepared to lead a Christian life. We know the basics of the Bible and the elements of church life so we’re good to go, right? Well, not necessarily. No, we need a conversion if we’re to fully live a Christian life. We need apply what we learned in Sunday school and confirmation to our daily living to fully realize who we are as Christians. All the stories and wisdom of the Bible are meant to encourage us to live as God wants us to live. We are to live as Jesus lived, not just lift his life up as the ideal way to live. Remember his final commandment? We are to love each other just as he loves us. We aren’t supposed to simply talk about his great love but actually share it with others. We are the body of Christ now! We are his hands and feet in the world today. The world knows him through us and through our love. It isn’t enough to simply share about who Jesus was and what he did for us. He is risen and alive in US! We learned the stories of the Bible, we learned how to worship properly, but did we learn how to love our neighbor? Did we learn how to have faith…how to rely on our faith in good times and bad?
I’ll let you answer those questions in your heart but I’ve found one of the best ways to learn such things is by having a personal encounter with the risen Christ, much the same way that Saul had on the road to Damascus. As I mentioned in my Friday reflection, recall that Saul was a man committed to persecuting the early followers of Christ and he felt justified in his persecution. The early Christians appeared to have fallen away from the Jewish traditions and Saul felt it was his duty to bring them before the Jewish leaders for judgment and condemnation. He was so dedicated to his persecution that he was willing to travel 150 miles to Damascus to retrieve Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem for their deserved judgment. Along the way, Saul was blinded by a great light from heaven with voice of Jesus asking, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Without a good answer, he was left to wallow in his blindness for three days until his friends could get him to a faithful disciple of Christ named Ananias in Damascus. Jesus used Ananias to show mercy on Saul and give him back his sight. Saul was forever changed by this encounter with Christ, so much so that his name was changed from Saul to Paul. Paul went on to become one of the greatest apostle and evangelist as is witnessed by all his letters in the New Testament.
Saul was a converted man. Saul could no longer persecute followers of Christ. Indeed, Saul couldn’t stop talking about Christ from that day on! He was a changed man! How? He no longer despised those who knew the love of Christ. He himself had come to know Christ’s deep love and mercy and felt compelled to share it with others all the remaining days of his life. As Paul wrote in his second letter to the church in Corinth, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (5:17) When we come to know the love and mercy of Christ, our whole world is turned upside down. We don’t see the darkness and injustice of the world. We don’t see the darkness and injustice within ourselves! All we see is the goodness and kindness and mercy of Christ in those around us. We can’t help but serve our neighbor, for we are serving Christ in neighbor. Oh yes, Christ is alive and well in you and me! Sometimes we need Christ’s help to remove the scales from our eyes so that we might see. It’s easy to become blind to Christ as Saul had become. But Christ, in his unending love for us, is always eager to help us regain our sight. I love what James advises: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”(4:8) We must simply draw near.
Saul didn’t believe in Christ and he despised those who did. Lucky for him, Christ didn’t give up on him. Christ pursued Saul and shared his love with him. Saul, now Paul, was determined to share Christ’s love with everyone around him from then on. As we continue through these 40 days of Easter, let us seek out our own encounters with our risen Lord. If Christ comes to committed disbelievers like Saul, be assured he’ll come to his faithful believers. Christ is risen, he is risen indeed! Let us go forth in the joy and hope of that proclamation. As Paul blessed the Romans, so he blesses us: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (15:13)
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.