the one about where our faith may lead us...
April 11, 2016, 9:00 AM

Sermon from April 10, 2016

Text: Acts 9:1-20 and John 21: 1-19

Grace and peace to y’all from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ. Will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, whenever you hear of someone who has ‘seen the light’ and has turned to the life of faith, how do you normally react? Many of us are happy and excited about this new sister or brother in the faith. It is great to see God at work. We rejoice, we celebrate.

But, what if the person who is now professing this faith and living this way – what if they were a pretty terrible person before? What if he or she did some pretty awful things, turned a blind eye as others piled on, or even instigated the actions of those who caused immense pain?

Then, we look at someone with a little warier of an eye don’t we? We are a bit more cautious about what they say and do. In fact, I bet most of us are just itching at the chance to find an opportunity to point out their inevitable mistakes and pitfalls. We continually wonder if they’ve truly turned from their ways or if they are actually just pulling the wool over our eyes.

Yet, this morning we are confronted with a story that kind of irks us in ways that we don’t expect. This story of Saul’s conversion that we heard in our second reading doesn’t unfold the way in which we’d think. We are introduced to Saul who is a pretty terrible individual.

He really is.

He was there and behind the cause to drive out – in any way possible – all those who followed ‘The Way’ in Jerusalem. He may not have always actively participated in the actions that others took against those who followed Jesus, but he certainly didn’t disagree with their actions. Standing by and tending to the coats of those who stoned the martyr Stephen. And, he wasn’t just an innocent bystander caught up in the mix of what others were doing – no, he approved of those who killed Stephen. He even states in the beginning of this reading that he has received permission to drag off in chains those who followed ‘the way.’

The more I read about Saul, the more I compare him to Francis Underwood from House of Cards. A person who seems ultimately unredeemable. A manipulative, calculating, zealous, and dangerous individual. Someone – for the most part – who is not the one to personally cause hurt, but is in the background pulling the strings and pushing people to act simply through his words and mind games.

This – for us – would be the last person that we would approach or even imagine Jesus appearing to so that the gospel might be spread beyond the relative small confines of the Jewish culture. I don’t think that those who first heard or read this story from Acts ever expected Saul to be the one that Jesus comes to and says, “This is the guy that’s going to spread my Gospel to all – to those who are and are not Jews.”

I think, most of us would definitely line up with Ananias’ way of thinking. We’d be skeptical. Perhaps even a little fearful. We’d be a little wary of what this man would do to us. Is it a game? Is it a ruse? Is this an elaborate ploy in order to ‘take me in?’ So many thoughts would be running through my mind – our minds – if we were thrust into a similar situation.

But, then that gets us a bit to where I think these readings might be directing us. You see, our readings this morning – especially our reading from Acts and John – focus quite a bit on faith. It may not come out and say the word itself, but it does a wonderful job in showing us what and how faith is lived.

Faith is something that is not always the easiest concept to explain. It is hard to wrap our minds around and to use words to better explain what it means for us. Most of the time, we try to explain faith in such a way that we state what we believe faith is not. We attempt to define faith by stating what we believe is the opposite of faith.

Some will say that the opposite of faith is doubt. But, really that doesn’t make all that much sense because much of what people consider ‘doubt’ is a wrestling and struggle with that which we have faith in. It is OK for us to ask questions and to ponder, because many times – more often than not – that leads us to a more substantial and deeper faith and belief.

It is OK for Ananias to question Jesus’ command – he has full right to be a little nervous and apprehensive.

However, what I think much of what these texts speak to about faith is that faith leads to action. The opposite of faith – would be that which keeps us from moving forward in our trust.

Ananias questions (which some would call doubt), but he trusts ever more fully into what Jesus is sending him to do.

Peter becomes frustrated – perhaps even a bit angry – as Jesus continually asks him the same question three times.

In Jesus’ words, Peter lives more fully into the life and call of faith that Jesus is leading him in. He comes to greater trust because of the faith that Jesus has in him. Jesus continually seeks him out to lead and to proclaim even though Peter has not been the best person to seek that sort of confidence in. He’s denied, he’s run away, he continually has put his foot in his mouth.

But, in spite of all that – Jesus continually seeks out Peter and Ananias and even Saul (who will later change his name to Paul). I read recently that scripture is the story of God’s relentless pursuit of people who fail to trust in God’s promises.

We can see that at play here in the three main individuals within our readings. Peter has failed to trust multiple times. Ananias (initially) failed to trust Jesus’ command to go to Saul. Saul potentially wouldn’t trust in God’s promise out of fear of what God would do to him because of what he has done.

Yet, each person we read of today has substantial and profound faith. Not in the doctrines they hold or the theological ideas they espouse. No, they have profound faith because their trust leads them to action.

Their apprehension, fear, cowardice, or confusion doesn’t keep them from living into the life that God has called them to through their Lord – our Lord – Jesus.

Peter leads, proclaims, and draws many to the way.

Ananias goes to the one who would’ve sought him out to be dragged, arrested, and even killed.

Saul follows the call that Jesus has laid before him.

So, what does that mean for us this day as a part of this renewed life we have been given in Jesus’ resurrection?

How does your faith lead you in your life?

How firm is our trust in where God leads us? The one who calls us – like God called Peter, Ananias, and Saul – calls us to places that could be scary, dangerous, unknown, and unfamiliar.

We now we have faith because we continue to follow the way that Jesus has set before us. We continue to hear the call that God beckons us with.

That faith leads us to action – action to care for those around us, action to proclaim the one who has redeemed us completely and freely, action to walk those paths that others might think foolish and wrong.

And, yet – we are continually confronted with what keeps us from moving forward. Where we are stymied into inaction.

Where have we been so zealous that it has caused hurt and pain to those around us? Where I wasn’t strong enough to speak out against the words and actions we and others have participated in?

Where have we been confused by where to go next – even when Jesus is pointing the way?

In the moments where God has called to you in the most dramatic (and simple) ways to turn us from those thoughts, words, and actions that can and have caused all sorts of hurt and pain?

Where we have questioned someone’s faith because of their past?

In so many ways, we can see ourselves in the midst of the individuals we read of today in our readings. The apprehension of Ananias, the frustration of Peter, the zealousness of Saul.

Yet, in spite of those things that would and could keep someone from living the way – Jesus comes – continually comes – to them. Jesus continually seeks out those who are not perfect, who don’t have it all together, who others would be skeptical of. Jesus continues to come to those who seem and are most broken.

So too does Jesus come to us because we too are broken in so many small and significant ways.

That is someone to have faith in. Faith in the one who seeks each of us out – imperfect individuals to proclaim the love and care of this new and renewed life. That is what we have faith in. It is in that faith that we are called to act, and to live, and to be. That is what makes us whole.

Scripture really is the story of God’s relentless pursuit of people who fail to trust in God’s promises. But, it isn’t just scripture where this happens. God continues to relentlessly pursue today. God pursues each of us – those who at times fail to trust in God’s promises. This relentless pursuit in love and grace and care.

So that we might know how cared for we are, how loved we are, how present God is with us. It is in that relentless love in which God pursues us that we are made whole, the scales fall from our eyes. It is in that love that we are free to live into the life that God has gifted us. It is in that trust and faith that we are called to proclaim God’s love to the world.

To the ones who we previously railed against. To the ones who we wouldn’t expect. To the ones who we might be wary of.

We act, we live, we are – because of our faith. Amen.

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