The Message, May 1, 2022, "Where Do We Go From Here?"

The Message, May 1, 2022, "Where Do We Go From Here?"

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
May 03, 2022

 

“Where Do We Go From Here?”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Acts 9:1-20

            I know that some of you lived and worked in Massachusetts. We have a number of transplants who made their way to the great state of Maine. Let me know if this scenario sounds familiar …

            You get out of work at the end of a long day and join the mass exodus trying to leave the city of Boston to head home for the evening. You make your way onto the Massachusetts Turnpike and are moving right along at a brisk thirty to forty miles an hour … if you are lucky. Then you come around a sweeping bend, perhaps in Allston-Brighton or Needham, and you encounter a burning ball of fire on the skyline right above the roadway. You are immediately blinded … you shield your eyes … hit the brakes … and traffic grinds to a halt.

            Of course, this phenomenon is not limited to Metro Boston. It happens any place where roads run east and west. At some time or other, we have all been blinded by the sun as we made our way to or from work, or school, or the supermarket, or the soccer field. It has happened to all of us at some point. It is a regular, naturally occurring event.

            What happened to Saul on the road to Damascus was anything but natural or regularly occurring. It was powerful. It was life-altering. It was Divine.

            So, what did happen to Saul upon that road?

            As is often the case, skeptics have tried to explain the event away. They postulate ordinary, human events to try to rationalize something that is clearly extraordinary. They suggest that perhaps Paul was feeling guilty about his persecution of the followers of Christ, he had a crisis of conscience. Some suggest that perhaps he had a crisis of faith.

            First of all, Saul was not an ordinary individual. He was educated, brought up steeped in the faith of Israel. He was extremely faithful, well-versed in scripture, followed the Law. He was a Pharisee. But not your average Pharisee.

            He was passionate about his work. He loved his faith and believed that it was being corrupted by the followers of Jesus, those who followed his Way. He was on a mission to purify and save the faith from destruction. He did not have the authority on his own to pursue his mission, so he went to the chief priests for their blessing.

            Some of the followers of the Way had made their way to Damascus. Jesus had instructed the disciples to spread the Gospel message to Jerusalem, and then to Judea, and then to the ends of the earth. The Gospel had made its way to Damascus and Saul was on his way there to round them up!

            In our Children’s Lesson this morning, Carly told the children that Saul did things that were “not nice” to the followers of Jesus. That is a very gentle understatement. He pursued them, arrested them, jailed them, and was even present when they were executed. Readers of the Acts of the Apostles know that Saul was there when Stephen was executed. Luke was not exaggerating when he said that Saul was still “breathing murderous threats against Jesus’ disciples.” (Acts 9:1)

            The trip from Jerusalem to Damascus is about one hundred and forty miles. We can assume that Saul practiced the disciplines of his faith … prayer and meditation … as he walked the long, dusty road.

            Many faithful Jews of the day would meditate and repeat the words of Ezekiel as they prayed. They hoped to receive a vision, they hoped to see the fiery wheels of the chariot, they hoped to experience something like the Presence of God.

            Was that what Saul was doing as he walked? Was that what he was hoping for as he carried out his mission to rescue the faith? Was he hoping to see a vision, to receive a message … affirmation … from God?

            Did his passion fuel his prayers? Did his hatred …? Had he ever experienced the vision before?

            And then it happened! He was stopped in his tracks … blinded by a brilliant light!! Filled with ecstasy he found himself standing in the glory of God!!

            However, as he soon would realize, the experience was not what he expected … or what he desired!

            He was not experiencing something LIKE the Presence of God. It WAS the very Presence of the SON of GOD in all his glory!

            And then Saul’s world turned upside down and inside out. Everything that he had learned, everything that he knew, everything that he believed … his entire purpose and mission … were overturned.

            The God that he had known since his childhood …
                        The God about whom he had studied faithfully …
                                    The God to whom he had prayed night and day …
                                                The God that he had served faithfully and passionately …
            Fulfilled the promise that had been foretold by the prophets!!

            God came into the world to set the people free from their captivity … BUT … in a completely shocking and earth-shattering way!! God fulfilled the promise in a way that was completely contrary to everything that Saul thought he knew!

            God came to earth in person … in the person of Jesus Christ!!!

            And Saul’s life changed from that moment on. Everything that he did was redirected. Everything that he said, did, and wrote came forth from that encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus.

            Let us consider what those three days of blindness must have been like for Saul. His world came crashing down upon him. Everything that he had been doing – chasing down the followers of the Way, arresting them, persecuting them, executing them was brought into crystal clear focus in his blindness.

            Everything that he believed that he was doing in faithful service to God … was actually subverting the mission of God!! In his dogged determination, in his passionate pursuit of his mission, Saul had been working to tear down the Kingdom of God.

            In those three days of blindness, Saul must have felt the weight of his shame and guilt. Perhaps he saw the faces of those he had tormented. Perhaps the words of Stephen came to him, the words that Stephen offered just before he died: “Lord Jesus, please welcome me!” He knelt down and shouted, “Lord, do not blame them for what they have done.” (Acts 7:59-60)

            Lord … do not blame them. “Lord … do not blame me for what I have done!”

            And after three days, a man named Ananias came to Saul. A man who was likely on Saul’s list of followers to be rounded up and arrested came into the room where Saul was imprisoned in his blindness. Ananias placed his hands upon him and called him “Brother. Brother Saul.”

            In that simple act, Saul knew the full power of God’s love. With the touch of those hands and the words of welcome, Saul felt the fullness of God’s grace. In that amazing moment, Saul knew that Jesus did not blame him for what he had done. He knew that he was forgiven.

            This is one of the most powerful passages in all of scripture. This may be the purest expression of God’s amazing grace that we have the opportunity to experience as we read Saul’s story. This passage comes to mind every time that we sing, “I was blind, but now I see.”

            As powerful as it is, the conversion of Saul should not be considered to be normative. We should not think to ourselves, “Well, I have never had anything like that happen to me.” We should not think any less of ourselves or the strength of our faith because we have never had a dramatic experience like Saul’s blinding moment on the road to Damascus. Every encounter with Christ is unique and personal.

            God is made manifest in a wide variety of wonderful ways, with different voices and expressions. The majesty and magnificence of God’s glory cannot be captured or confined to any one experience.

            As we consider this passage this morning, we may contemplate where we see ourselves in the story.

            Do we see ourselves in Saul? Do we see a painful past? Do we see how we may have sinned against God, or God’s beloved children? Do we hold on to guilt or shame, do we fail to offer ourselves forgiveness?
            Have we had the experience of life-giving, life-changing grace?
            Have we had the scales fall away from our eyes so that we can see the beauty and power of God’s glory?
            Have we been made into something completely new as we work in God’s Kingdom?

            Or do we see ourselves in Ananias? Do we see ourselves stepping out in faith, pushing through our fear into the unknown?
            Do we see ourselves extending hospitality and welcome to those whom most would consider the “other” or the “enemy”?

            One never knows who may be called to be an instrument of God. It might very well be the most unlikely among us. God has the power to change the world by allowing us to see and interact with the world in a whole new way.

            Where do we go from here? Let us see where God is calling us. Amen.


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