Rev. Earl M. Gould
Sunday, May 05, 2019 Text: Acts 9:1-20
Luke likes this account of Paul’s dramatic experience on the road to Damascus so much he tells it three times in the Book of Acts. Luke is credited for being organized – so it must have been very important to him.
And it can be very important to you and to me this many years later. We won’t bother putting the three renditions side by side – so as to compare similarities and differences. The main take away – as far as I am concerned – is that the risen from the dead Jesus is still involved with goings on here on earth: keenly involved.
Yes, the primary aspect of this account; why it is so significant is surely: God, through Jesus, has not abandoned us to our own devices.
There are always a few concerns. One certainly is: don’t let this story give us an inferiority complex. For sure – this Damascus Road experience is pretty dramatic. But God doesn’t always knock us off our horse to get our attention! God has as many ways of getting our attention as there are we humans.
And more often than not – it is some time later we say – “Hey, I wonder if that wasn’t God trying to get my attention.”
In the light of this reading from Acts today, I have mused about my own life. Two particular times have come into focus for me.
The first: I am a Bachelor of Science – Agriculture – Soils major student – assistant to a Senior Fellow. We are a team in the Lac Du Bonnet part of the province – doing Reconnaissance Soil Mapping. My job: walk 10 paces, stop and dig: my mapper associate – identifies what soil profile he is seeing – any change from our last stop, record it: we move on.
Years later Joyce would say to me as we would be walking along: “slow down.” By default – I would be doing the soil survey walk!
My soil survey mapper boss and I were assigned a beautiful new government jeep – equipped with a winch on the front. The purpose of the cable and motor out front: if you ever get stuck – no problem – pull yourself out.
Well, one evening – I couldn’t resist – I did a solo flight – intentionally drove into the ditch – got stuck. Hours later – as the sun set, I was still stuck. I had pulled all the tress out of the ground that my cable could reach; but I was still stuck!
The lesson – don’t go looking for trouble in this life – enough of it will come to you!
The second: I am an ordained minister – 25 years – doing OK – the congregation I am serving is financially in good shape, youth group, etc. But I have an aching, gnawing feeling: there has to be more. There has to be more!
I started searching in earnest. Over the next few years I learned spiritual disciplines I never even knew existed: they were never taught, introduced to me during my seminary years.
A whole new much deeper spiritually unfolded for me. The takeaway: God surely wills to walk with us, companion us on our Damascus Road. So often we don’t have to be going it alone, God is not willing us to go it alone.
In this reading from the Book of Acts – you surely picked up that Paul was absolutely, totally sure he was doing God’s will. But he wasn’t. It wasn’t in the scheme of things for the first generation of followers of Jesus to be persecuted.
Actually, Christianity got its start in the synagogues. There is a sense Christianity was never intended to be apart from Judaism. Sometimes we forget Jesus, our leader, was a Jew. Maybe over the next two thousand years we will get back under one roof again.
We might tend to be dismissive of this reading from Acts that is our lectionary reading for today.
Too farfetched, too remote, too ….
But it is actually not so far removed from realty as we might think. Not so far removed from how God operates.
Not many of us go around breathing threats, but most of us have been on wrong paths that have been injurious to ourselves and/or to others.
- Blind to our own ambition
- Looking out for our own interests at the expense of others
- Thinking we know best.
Have you ever been on a road to Hell, and something happen to dramatically change the direction you were headed; maybe not too much of an exaggeration to say it changed your life, even saved your life?
What was your Damascus Road blinding light?
What changed your mind?
What caused you to see reality anew?
What got through to you?
Sometimes it is a risk taking friend, the partner who finally tells us the truth, the 7 year old child who heroically tells it like it is.
Sometimes it is just the empty feeling in our souls, the middle of the night syndrome that calls out of the darkness.
Our disenchantment with life often comes not from failure but from success. It is success that can disappoint us because we had so expected whatever to bring us so much joy. We get what we want, and we find it lacking.
Most of us can relate to taking the wrong path, experiencing a turnaround, and finally discovering the gate that lends to life.
What happened to Paul on the road to Damascus can happen to all of us. Admittedly – not as dramatic, but the point is; God can and does get our attention.
What I am here suggesting: it is not the honest friend, or heroic child or vacuum in our soul that actually turns us around.
It is a light that turns on within us, and it is our willingness to take the risk of seeing anew that makes the turnaround possible.
An expression I find meaningful: “God keeps coming to us disguised as our life.” I shared with you an account of a youth out in the Lac du Bonnet Reconnaissance Soil Survey Country in the early 1960’s learning a lesson for life from an evening misadventure; and later, an ordained minister knowing in the depths of his being he must be missing out on what Christianity truly has to give, and something like scales falling from his eyes as mentors kind enough to lead him by the hand share their wisdom and experience with him.
A good lifestyle choice is to spend intentional time with God on a regular basis; slow down, take stock of how we are allocating this precious gift we call life to notice how God might be affirming our action here, how God might be suggesting we do something different over there.
I now see more clearly that everything has a “spiritual” component to it. We have made a false dichotomy of secular and spiritual.
God is involved in our lives. Therefore everything – no matter how insignificant it seems – is of interest to God. And no matter how insignificant we might think our life is – it is special to God. Through the eyes of God we can access our daily living. God gives us freedom to do whatever – but God is always helping us evaluate our day.
Where is God in your life these days? God is always in the business of changing lives. The bumper sticker is trite but true – “God isn’t finished with me yet. God isn’t finished with you yet.”
Jesus turned Paul’s life around because he had a mission for him. Where would we be today without copies of Paul’s letters to the churches we find in our New Testament?
Where is God in your life these days?
The risen from the dead Jesus is alive and well – coming to you, coming to me, sometimes gently, sometimes not so gently.
And each time we gather at the Lord’s Table we believe we are given nourishment to continue our walk “on the way.” Amen. Amen.