1Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11The 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, 12and 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.” 13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15But 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; 16I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17So 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.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
In the book of Acts of the Apostles, Saul is known as a persecutor of the people who are followers of Jesus in the early church. Earlier in the book we hear that as Stephen, the newest of the disciples, is being stoned to death while Saul is manning the coat check closet at the event.
We also need to remember that Saul is also known as Paul, and in the New Testament, 12 letters are attributed to his hand. He becomes an instrumental tool by which God’s work and God‘s word is conveyed. In fact, every week in worship we almost always include a reading from one of the epistles attributed to him.
But can you imagine what it must’ve been like for Ananias. Here is this leader who stands in opposition to your cause. Saul has been going from synagogue to synagogue to get names of people who have joined in this group of followers of Jesus Christ.
On the road to Damascus, Saul is knocked off his “donkey“ and is struck blind. He hears the voice of Jesus asking why Saul is persecuting his Jesus and his followers. For Saul this is a life-changing, eternally altering experience.
But Saul has the benefit of the vision, and the lack of vision, and the benefit of Jesus speaking directly to him. Ananias to receive that word from God, and probably a difficult one to hear. Ananias is the first one to welcome Saul into the mix. Talk about faith and trust!
I would venture to say that many of us did not have a conversion experience like Saul. Many of us, as one of my high school students once said, experienced a drug problem growing up – our parents drug us to church! It’s a part of who we are. And yes, we have heard of incredible conversion experiences. And maybe we have been envious of such stories. Are our faith journeys any less worthy of God’s love and God’s calling? I would say emphatically “NO!”
So there are two things I’d like to say.
Be thankful that God has called you to follow where he leads. No matter the story, and no matter what brought you here today, God loves you. God calls you. God claims you. No matter what it took to get you here, give thanks.
Secondly, don’t be surprised who else God calls. Remember who’s in charge. It’s not you. It’s not me.
May we learn a lesson from Ananias and trust God in what God is doing. Believe me, it’s amazing!
Let us pray: Holy God, in the waters of baptism you name us and claim us. May we follow where you lead, and listen to your call. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.