Monday, April 26, 2010

A Blind Man’s Vision – Acts 9:1-20

Title: A Blind Man’s Vision

When we say “Damascus Road Experience” everyone has a pretty clear idea of what we are talking about. Sometime after Jesus’ resurrection, probably several years after, Saul is on his way to Damascus with letters authorizing him to arrest anyone who was a Christian. The name Saul is the Hebrew form for the Greek name Paul. He is usually called Saul before his conversion and Paul afterwards, so I will call him Saul. Saul is a learned and devout Jew but also an angry, violent man. He takes it on himself to stop the Christian movement because he wants to protect the Jewish faith that he loves so dearly, but he does it with a vehemence that is disturbing. He takes the lead. He doesn’t just attack those who publicly express their faith but goes after everyone in what we might call a witch hunt. On the road to Damascus, however, something happens, something that is totally unexpected and totally unprepared for. Like a bolt from the blue a light from heaven shone on him and he heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” and he is told “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what to do.” Saul was struck blind and his companions led him by hand to Damascus where he was blind for three days and neither ate nor drank.

Our understanding of the Damascus road experience usually ends there. Something dramatic happens. God strikes Saul down. There is a change from black to white, from going against god to being devoted to him. This has been the pattern for becoming a Christian for many people. When someone asks “Have you been saved?” this is what they mean. They mean can you point to a time and place where you encountered Christ and accepted him as your Lord and Savior. Some go so far as to say that unless you have had such an experience you are not really a Christian. Of course the Bible doesn’t say that. In fact, nobody but Saul has a Damascus Road experience. In fact, Saul himself doesn’t have a Damascus Road experience if by that we mean that his salvation was settled at that moment. He left that road blind and confused. It took time for the conversion to work itself out. I think that all conversions take time. It is an illusion that the typical one is dramatic and clear cut. In fact, the typical conversion takes place over a lifetime. So this is just the beginning for Saul. He can’t even see what he is dealing with yet. It will take help before that can happen, and even more time before he will learn what it really means to be a Christian.

The hero of the story is Ananias. He is the human instrument of Saul’s conversion. The story is told:  Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 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, 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.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 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; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 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.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored.

Think about the courage of Ananias. In the story we read about God talking to him, but he might have asked himself “How do I know it was really god?”  Might not the whole experience be a figment of his imagination? He might have at least used those doubts to give himself a convenient excuse for not doing what God  told him to do.  No, it took great courage for Ananias to go to Saul, speech from God or not. And it also took great love. Why the bother? Why care about someone who has been working against the cause that gives your life meaning. Why risk your life or even waste an afternoon on someone like that? Because Ananias has experienced the love of God and that love has to be shared.  You have to pass it on. When he got his marching orders he questioned them at first, like anyone might have done. . But he did exactly what God told him to do because he loved God and he loved God’s people.

So we read about Ananias going to visit a blind man named Saul. He is not only physically blind. He is morally blind and spiritually blind. The scales on his eyes represent his inability to see but also his unwillingness to see. He had stood in the crowd when Stephen was being executed by stoning, Stephen who saw a vision of God and followed his savior in saying, “Father forgive them,” Stephen whose face shown like the light that blinded Saul. Saul had seen enough that he should have known better, or at least he would had he been willing to see.

But the scales fell from his eyes when this loving brave man Ananias comes to the house where Saul was staying, lays his hands on him as if to bless him or even ordain him, and then says those amazing words, “Brother Saul.” Brother Saul! Can you belive it? Only a miracle could get those words out of a Christian’s mouth. But Saul was accepted as a part of the family, as a full member and full child of god. “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 Spriit.” And that my friends is when the scales fell of his eyes and he could finally see. What did he see? He saw the face of Ananias and he saw in that face the face of Christ. He saw a god who loved him in spite of his horrible sins. He saw the power of love to accept the unacceptable. He saw a miracle and he was the object of the miracle.

We should talk not of the Damascus Road experience but rather of the Straight Street experience, for that is where the conversion really began. So if we are going to try to imitate anyone in this story let it be Ananias. Paul had no control over what happened to him. If we want to imitate Paul we would try our best to sin as much as we can, which is not generally a good formula for being a Christian. No, Paul’s life is all grace and we cannot control grace. The thing we can control, however, is whether or not we are willing to live a gracious life as Ananias did. Are we willing to call our enemies “Brother”? Are we willing to face our own fears and doubts out of love for Christ?  Are we willing and able to give a blessing?

I puzzled over blessing for years. I think I’m finally coming to understand it a bit. If you want to give a blessing, do what  Ananias did. Speak directly to the one who you are blessing and call them brother or sister. You may not use those words but you make it so clear that you love them and so clear that you value them that when they leave your company they will know without any question that they have been blessed. A blessing is something you didn’t really expect. It is a gracious surprise that lets you see the whole world in a different light. When you are blessed, the scales fall from your eyes and you see things you never knew existed.

Dr. Elton Hendricks is retiring as President of Methodist College. I remember when he first came 27 years ago. He was such a likeable man. It was hard to believe he was both a divinity school graduate and a PhD in Physics. Well, the enrollment at Methodist was 771 and many people assumed the school would be bankrupt in a few years. Well, today Methodist has 2200 students and so many new buildings I get lost over there. President Hendricks has been the guiding force behind that growth. I would say that he has blessed that institution by helping them to see their potential, but he has also been blessed. In a recent article, there were a whole series of blessings, or as we call them greetings or shout outs:   “I  was in school the day you entered for  the first time and clearly remember as  a young student and basketball player -  having dinner with you at your residence. What you have done for our school has been amazing and I hope that the person who follows you has half of the vision that you did.” A pretty good blessing for a man getting old and about to retire. Or this one: “May your retirement be as  blessed as all Methodist students and The United Methodist Church have been because you have been willing to serve them. Thanks for everything you have done for us.” I could quote many more, but the point is showing appreciation and love, not waiting until the person is dead and it’s too late, but telling them right now how you love them. Whether you use the word “bless” or not I think that is the heart of what a blessing is.

So Saul was blessed by that word “brother.” He was blessed by the ministry God gave him, even blessed by the suffering God allowed him to endure on his behalf. We too have been blessed,  but the question is “Can we bless others? Will we bless others? Saul could have walked away after the meltdown that overwhelmed him on the Damascus Road. He could have walked away and never changed. But there was an angel and his name was Ananias, a messenger of God’s grace. And Saul received a blessing and the holy spirit entered him and God found a home and Saul became a blessing for millions through his preaching and writing.

God has a call for you, something he wants you to start right now and continue after you leave the building. Go and bless somebody. Go and be an Ananias and help the blind to see. Watch those scales fall at your feet. Watch what it does when a person realizes again or for the first time that our God is gracious, our god is loving, and we are God’s children. The power of blessing is the power that will transform the world into the kingdom of Christ.

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