Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
9:1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest
9:2 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.
9:3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.
9:4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
9:5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
9:6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
9:7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one.
9:8 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.
9:9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
9:10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.”
9:11 The 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,
9:12 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.”
9:13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem;
9:14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.”
9:15 But 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;
9:16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
9:17 So 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.”
9:18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized,
9:19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus,
9:20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
David and I are not big TV-watchers most of the time, but a few years back when our son, Patrick, was still in high school, we got hooked on a show he and his friends and teachers were all watching because we wanted to know what they were talking about. So I think in Season 3, we started watching Season 1 of “Breaking Bad.” Any fellow fans? Getting such a late start meant we had to binge watch to catch up, which we did with great enjoyment, and then we finished out Seasons 4-5 of the series in “real time.” Without going into detail, it is a story in which the protagonist becomes the antagonist – a high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer turns to making meth to secure his family’s finances. He’s phenomenally successful at it – but it comes with a huge price that leaves nobody in its wake unscathed. One of the recurring characters in the show was a crooked lawyer who generally “knew someone who knew someone” and could get “things” done, taken care of. His name? Saul Goodman, and after Breaking Bad ended, rumors surfaced that there would be a spin-off called “Better Call Saul” – one of his trademark lines. That show began last year, filling in the backstory of how little Jimmy McGill became first Slippin’ Jimmy and then Jimmy, or James McGill, and finally evolves (or devolves) into Saul Goodman – as in “It’S all good, man” and the season finale cliff-hanger of Season 2 is tomorrow night.
“Breaking Bad” wasn’t a “Christian” TV show or story, but it is a story of colossal transformation. “Better Call Saul” the TV show is not a “Christian” story, but it is a tale of transformation of a different sort. Today’s scripture passage about another Saul story is another kind of transformation – a conversion experience that has everything to do with being Christian. But these stories have more in common than you might think at first glance.
In today’s setting for Saul of Tarsus, heading toward Damasacus, he has just left the stoning of Stephen, which he essentially authorized, and is fully engaged in his role as Public Enemy No.1 as far as Christians and Christianity are concerned.
Saul was already a high profile person. Born in Tarsus, in modern day Eastern Turkey, he was a tent maker by trade, was an avid student under the top Jewish teacher in Jerusalem and was also a Roman citizen. Here is a man who worked with his hands but wrote with the grace of a Greek philosopher; a passionate Jewish zealot who nevertheless enjoyed the rights of citizenship in the world’s greatest empire.
When God wants to get your attention, though…He can certainly do so in whatever fashion he deems fitting, and nobody is off limits.
A literally blinding light from heaven, a voice, that only Saul could understand claiming to be Jesus, and some life-changing, game-changing instructions to HIM to go to Damascus and await further instruction, and then instructions via vision to the disciple Ananias, already in Damasacus, that Saul has already had a vision of Ananias coming to Saul right there in the house he’s about to be in, and restore his sight so that Saul can be filled by the Holy Spirit. When Ananias responds with “Um, are you sure he’s the one you want?” God tells 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.”
How very like God to call Saul, THIS Saul, to be such a kingpin in the spread of Christianity.
God is forever calling the least likely to carry out God’s plans.
Maybe there’s some correlation between the magnitude of how good or bad you are and the degree of the conversion experience you have — sort of like the bigger they are the harder they fall….I don’t know, but Saul’s experience was probably about a 8.9 on the Richter scale.
Saul wasn’t LOOKING to make a change. He was just fine, thriving, actually — passionately, fervently wiping out Christians – he was going places. He didn’t have a change of heart because he was looking for something else. God intervened and said, HEY- STOP THAT. Do this instead.
Have YOU had a conversion experience like that? Maybe you have – I’m not here to discount anyone’s experience of God. I would expect that if we took a poll of the congregation this morning, most of us would relay experiences with God that were less dramatic, and that we sort of drift into or along with faith, by comparison. Doesn’t mean what we experience matters less or is less meaningful. But I’d bet that most of us WERE looking to make a change, somehow, someway. I’ve felt at times that I’m like a teabag – I’ve always been steeped in church stuff. Doesn’t mean I haven’t dropped the ball and had to come BACK to it from time to time, but I wasn’t ever very far away. Not like Paul.
But it’s not about comparisons, is it ? Blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet still believe. Regardless of how personal or private that experience was for you, what matters is what you do with it afterwards, how you live your life for God. That’s not private at all. How you live is how you let your Christ-light shine.
There are tons of things to quibble over in this passage; details in the different records of the story vary – did anyone else hear a voice? Did they hear but not understand? Were they really on the road to Damascus? How this word and that word were translated from the Greek one way in this version and differently in another version….
But all of those things are beside the point of what I think is significant about this story, which is that God makes a habit of calling the least likely, the least fit, the most sinful, the most despicable to carry out his work. Over and over again.
We worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God chose Abraham to be the father of Israel and of Isaac when he was way too old to become a father; Jacob was a shrewd liar, trickster, and thief. Moses stuttered. Noah drank too much. David was little kid who slew a giant warrior, then grew up to be an adulterer king and a murderer. Rahab was a prostitute—Saul hunted down and imprisoned Christians all over the place, executing them when he could.
Why God calls each of us to different things in different ways, I don’t know, but thank God he does. Has to do with grace, I guess. With God, it’s never too late. There’s nothing you can have done that God can’t somehow reconcile and make new. And there’s nothing God ever calls you to that you and God can’t do together.
The least of us. The most broken of us. The least deserving of us. The most flawed and screwed up of us. We are the people Christ died for. So when God calls us to live for him, may our answer be a resounding YES, Lord.
That’s the element that’s missing from the popular TV shows I was talking about. They’re great stories that accurately portray how regular people with regular, ordinary lives can make choices with the intention of helping others that instead cause the very fibers of their lives to unravel. Why do they get so off-track? Why do things fall apart for them SO colossally? ………
In these TV shows at least, they are doing it all on their own. The characters are all on their own. They have no hope. No Hope with a capital H. There’s nobody saying, hey, there’s a better way, a different way – or Way with a capital W. The TV characters that reflect our day to day realities so well are godless people. So of course they get lost along the way.
We all do; we are fallible, imperfect human beings, prone to wander, prone to make mistakes. Our lives can implode and fall apart, too. But the difference is, with God, if you DO hit bottom, it is solid. And even if it doesn’t feel like it all the time, God is good, all the time, and God has each one of us right here in the palm of his hand.
It’s our job, as Christians, to offer hope, to help show people they don’t have to go it alone. That’s being fishermen. That’s feeding the sheep. That’s what we’re called to do.