Damariscotta Baptist Church
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

05/08/16 Sermon - A Perception Shift

“A Perception Shift”

Acts 9:1-20

 

Today’s Scripture is well known, many of us have heard it before, if not many times. However, I would like to begin by placing this text within the greater picture of the Book of Acts. We have already read about Philip, Peter and John sharing the gospel with the Samaritans, and last week we read about an Ethiopian receiving the Good News. As we continue in the Easter season of the church calendar, we continue to see how the message of the empty tomb pulsates outward and continues to spread to the very ends of the Earth.

Today’s story tells how the person, who would become God’s instrument, to project God’s saving grace, evolved.

Chapter 9 begins with Saul, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “breathing down the necks of the Master’s disciples, out for the kill.”

In chapter 8, you may recall Saul had been entering homes and dragging disciples off to prison, or even worse, watched with support, as Stephen who was stoned. Here we have Saul prepared with the legal papers he needs to arrest any man or woman he would find in Damascus who belonged to “The Way” and bring them back to Jerusalem, to put them in jail. Just as he approached the outskirts of the city we read a light from heaven flashed around him and he heard a voice.

Saul was an expert of the Old Testament scripture. I wonder if thoughts of Isaiah, or Moses sprung to his mind.

If they did, the question he heard would have quickly erased them.

The Lord confronted Saul with the question, “Why do you persecute me?”

Here we go with the questions again, because Saul does not respond by answering the question, but by asking a question of his own, “Who are you?”

Ironically, Saul was already spiritually blind.

Saul sincerely thought he was in the light, seeing clearly, by zealously persecuting those following Jesus.

Until, he met Jesus, face to face.

It was only after looking into the eyes of Jesus Saul realized the truth. Notice after Jesus answered Saul’s question, and told Saul what He expected him to do, there were no further questions from Saul.

In fact, Saul immediately got up to do as Jesus had instructed and discovered he was literally blind. So his companions had to take him by the hand and lead him into the city. We read that he remained blind for three days. The same number of days Lazarus and Jesus remained in the grave. It’s as though Saul was dead, not needing food or drink. We can only speculate on what could have been running through Saul’s head.

Would he be punished? That was what Saul would have done.

Would he be offered grace? Grace would not have even crossed Saul’s mind.

Luke leaves Saul for a moment, and turns his focus to Ananias. Where we read that Jesus spoke to him in a dream, by name, “Ananias.”

And his response was quite different from that of Saul, in that Ananias replied with, “Yes, Master?”

It was almost like this was not the first time Ananias had had a conversation with Jesus. Jesus then instructed Ananias to go to the house of Judas, and seek out Saul, from Tarsus and to lay hands on him so he would be able to see again.

Understandably, Ananias proceeded to express some hesitation. Paul’s reputation had preceeded his visit, and much like some Old Testament prophets, Ananias displayed some hesitation to do what God had requested. Ananias then proceeded to explain exactly who this Saul guy was, as if God needed to be told.

Of course, like always, God won the argument and Ananias trekked over to Judas’ house, placed his hands on Saul’s eyes and explained to him that the Master had sent him, the same Jesus Saul had met along his way coming to Damascus. Ananias shared that not only was Saul to be able to see again, he was to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

No sooner had the words been stated, then we read, things like scales dropped from Saul’s eyes and he was able to see again.

Irony again, the very way in which the first martyr, Stephen, prayed forgiveness for his executioners, Ananias baptized the executioner with the Holy Spirit.

The ending of today’s story is a beautiful image of how those who understand the extent of grace that has been given, are able to sit and eat, with one who was once their enemy.

Two characters in this story were required to make a paradigm shift in their perception of reality.

Let’s start with Saul.

After we get past the flashing light and the voice from heaven, which sounds like something out of a fairy tale or a Cecil B. DeMille movie, it was Saul’s response to this encounter that was interesting. Up to this point, Saul had been anything but compliant or quiet. In fact, later on Luke tells a funny story of how Paul talks so long into the night, that a boy falls asleep and falls out of a window.

Saul was zealous for God, out spoken and downright viscous in his crusade against anyone who did not follow God, the way he thought God should be followed.

before his encounter with Jesus...

Saul thought he was protecting God, protecting goodness. Was it the question Jesus asked that stopped Saul, in his tracks.

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Then there is Ananias.

Saul was the enemy.

He was about as devastating as one person could possibly be for anyone and everyone who followed Jesus.

He was clearly “not” part of the family of God.

Yet, in a conversation with the Master, Ananias was forced to change his perception and trust that God knew best. Even though it was clearly against every fiber of Ananias’ being to walk into a house where Saul resided, because God requested it, Ananias placed his faith in Jesus, before his intellectual understanding of what he knew to be true.

Extremely difficult, and requiring a paradigm shift, a perception shift.

What was seen, was not always real.

Had there been such a drastic shift in Saul’s heart?

It was more important for Ananias to trust what he had heard from God, more than what he thought he knew.

With both men, there was a perception shift – 

For Saul, he was freed from his judgement, his self-righteousness and an incessant compulsion to denigrate others in order to bolster himself.

Ananias was also freed from his judgement, and seeming self-righteousness and doubt of the transforming power of Jesus Christ.

Both men, sat and had dinner together, and realized they were to live and breathe and love, by the grace of God. It was never to be about, “us versus them”, it was to be about “oneness”.

It was at this dinner, where Saul’s perception of God was changed, but his zeal was re-directed towards preaching the gospel to the Gentiles.

Talk about a perception shift! (pause)

Which man do you relate to most?

Are you like Saul, who maintained a righteous violence? You will defend God until the end. Believing that your version of goodness is maintained by proper understanding of what is right and what is wrong, and making sure everyone around you knows where the line is between the two, and you are ready to tell them when they are not on the righteous side?

Or are you like Ananias, who may have had a closer walk with Jesus, but still needed to learn that mercy was more important than judgement and that it was more important to embrace, than to exclude.

Why does the voice of the church come across to those who are not a part of the church as being “us and them”?

When the God of the Bible is more concerned with love, mercy and embracing.

Does God really expect us to defend Him?

Or does He expect us to be like Him?

Both Saul and Ananias shifted.

Do we need to do some shifting too?

Let’s pray.

 

Ending Benediction

Loving God, as a mother gives life and nourishment to her children, so you watch over your Church. 
Bless the women here today, that they may be strengthened as Christian mothers. 
Let the example of their faith and love shine forth. 
Grant that we, their sons and daughters, may honor them always with a spirit of profound respect. 
Grant this through Christ our Lord. 
Amen.