Isaiah 40:27-31; Acts 9:1-25
Setting: Children’s Sabbath where the kids are all in worship and have led every other part of the service.
Many of the stories we love to listen to have both heroes and villains. Think of your favorite— Peter Pan and Captain Hook; Harry Potter and Voldemort; Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader; even the new Avengers movie has the Avengers and Ultron.
In our story this morning, we have Saul and Ananias. Saul, of course is only a villain if you’re on the side of the followers of Jesus. He’s about as self- righteous as they come— which really just means he thinks he knows it all. He’s a bully and he’s willing to bully those new followers of Jesus because he knows he’s right. He knows that his way of thinking about God is the best way. It has to be, to tell you the truth, because he’s named after the first King of Israel. So there you go— he has to be right. But truth be told, Saul is not happy. He’s furious all of the time. He’s stressed out because he’s afraid of these people who keep talking about Jesus as a living being rather than a dead man. In Acts it says he’s breathing threats. Kinda burns your throat just hearing about it, doesn’t it?
So here goes Saul on the road to Damascus with his sidekicks (and of course in Scripture if you’re on a road you know something is going to happen!) when all of a sudden there’s a bright light; and a voice; and he goes blind. And all he can think to ask is, “Who are you?” because he’s so sure this cannot be the voice of God. And the voice says, “I am Jesus the one you’ve been persecuting.”
In that moment, Saul’s life flips upside down. Everything he has built his life upon is questioned in that moment. We don’t know how long Saul lay there in the dust or how much he argued with himself in that moment trying to erase the voice he was hearing. All we know is that three days later— the same amount of time Jesus needed to be resurrected— Saul is praying in his room.
And how do we know that? Aaah— here comes Ananias. Oh Ananias, how we all empathize with you. Have you ever been praying and scared to death about how God might answer your prayer?
Well Ananias hears Christ’s voice as well. Only he recognizes Jesus’ voice— it’s just that he doesn’t really comprehend what he’s telling him. “Go to Saul?” he says. “You’ve heard about that guy, right? The one who’s killing people who follow you?” But Jesus says, he’s praying right now. Go to him. I’ve just told him you’re coming.
And what can you say to that? Ananias has a choice to make. He can run in the opposite direction of where God is calling him (which Biblically happens all the time!) and become the villain to God’s plan, or he can follow God’s call and be a hero.
So Ananias goes— scared to death and shaking in his boots, he goes. Ananias shows up at Saul’s doorstep, goes inside to see this man who was once bigger than life— the biggest bully on the block— now having to be led around by those sidekicks of his— and somehow in that interaction Saul begins to physically see, and Ananias baptizes Saul so that now he can also spiritually see.
Think about what these two men would’ve been praying for up to this point. Saul has most likely been praying for a miracle, wouldn’t you think? Praying that God thwart the path of this new movement of Jesus- followers. Praying for his sight back. Praying for some kind of way forward so that his way can be proven right.
And Ananias— what do you think he’s been praying for? Probably that Saul be erased from the face of the earth so that they can go about following Jesus’ way in peace. Probably for an end to Saul’s persecution. And maybe even for a new leader to help this movement of Jesus’ followers get organized and be able to do what they need to do.
Saul and Ananias probably seem to be praying against each other. And instead, God brings them together.
It’s easy to see Saul’s conversion— from enemy of Jesus to follower of Jesus.
But there’s also Ananias’ conversion— from enemy of Saul to friend of Saul.
That’s what prayer does.
That’s what Jesus does.
When we get ourselves all worked up thinking that there is no answer— we’ve come to a dead end— God makes a way for us to keep rising up.
When we get ourselves in a frenzy thinking that we are the answer— that everyone has to see it our way— God makes a new way and we keep rising up.
When we find ourselves in horrible times of suffering and pain— wondering why God has abandoned us— praying desperately for something to happen— God makes a way where there was no way before— and we keep rising up.
Jesus doesn’t invite us to follow and promise us an easy life. But Jesus does promise us new life and a love that will never go away. Saul is the same person who will change his name to Paul and write things like, “Love is patient; love is kind; love endures all things, believes all things, and hopes all things.“ A miracle happens, and it’s not the miracle we would expect or even know to want— this isn’t the ending where the bad guys disappear or are defeated or go away until the next movie. This is God’s kind of miracle— the kind where lives are transformed and love is the winner!
Jesus invites us to follow because when we are open to what God can do in our lives, anything is possible. God will raise us up on eagle’s wings; bear us on the breath of God; God will give our elders visions and our young people dreams. We will run and not grow weary; we will walk and not fall down. God loves each and every one of us— not just this person or that person— but for every last person on this earth.
God’s love is that big!