Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Courage to Answer God's Call

This morning, as our Associate Pastor Nikki Passante preached about Saul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus (Act 9), I found myself focusing even more on the experience of Ananias, a man Nikki called “a forgotten hero of the Christian church.”

Just a quick refresher in case you have forgotten:  The New Testament Saul is the man we meet in the Book of Acts, standing around satisfied at the stoning of Stephen, who was the first martyr of the Christian church (Acts 8:1).  

Saul is the man who began destroying the church by dragging Christian believers from their homes to put them in prison (Acts 8:3), and who was described as “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1).
And Saul wasn’t content to persecute Christians in his own city; he went so far as to travel to other towns in order to round up believers and bring them back to Jerusalem to be stoned like Stephen (Acts 9:2).

Ananias is a believer in the city of Damascus (Acts 9:10, 13), who is familiar with Saul's threatening reputation.  Yet he has a vision from the Lord that tells him that when Saul shows up in town, Ananias should go to the house where he is staying, ask for him, and then place hands on him to restore his sight (Acts 9:11-12).
Now, Ananias has probably not yet heard about what happened to Saul on the way to Damascus.  He may not yet know that the risen Christ has appeared to Saul, asking him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). He may not yet know that Saul has spent the last three days blind, and not eating or drinking anything (Acts 9:9).  He definitely does not yet know that Saul is going to be converted to Paul, and will become one of the great founding fathers of the faith, who carries the Good News of the Gospel around the then-known world. 

Because of his limited information, we can rightly understand Ananias’ reaction as a more-eloquently rendered version of “Say what?!”

Ananias, no less than Saul, faces a moment of crisis.  If he obeys the Lord’s call on his life, and shows up at the house of Judas on Straight Street (Acts 9:11), and faces this man with a horrifying reputation, what will happen to him? After all, without God’s intervention, Ananias certainly would have been one of the very Christ-followers that Saul was intending to round up!

Ananias has absolutely no reason to believe that he will be safe when he comes face-to-face with Saul, the Christian-persecutor.  He has absolutely no reason to believe that he won’t be dragged off to Jerusalem to be stoned.

No reason, that is, except a powerful faith in the Lord who appeared to him in his vision, and called him by name (Acts 9:10).
Just as Saul ultimately chooses to surrender to Christ in response to his vision of the Risen Lord, so Ananias chooses to surrender to Him, to facilitate Saul’s conversion, and to play a role in the emerging faith of this man who will one day be a mighty leader for the Christian church.

Pastor Nikki challenged us at the beginning of her sermon to determine where we can find ourselves and our lives in the pages of the Book of Acts.  I am thinking about what Ananias and his example has to teach us as followers of Christ. 

Ananias seems almost like a footnote to the account of one of the great founding fathers of our faith. While Paul is responsible for writing as many as 13 of the 27 books in the New Testament, we have only ten verses about Ananias.  Yet, as Nikki preached this morning, “Thank God for Ananias.”

We may not be prominent pillars of the church, the kind that will go down in history, the kind whose words will be studied for greater understanding of God and His Will.  Yet, the story of Ananias makes me ask myself: Since we have been given this amazing and unfathomable gift of faith, who then can we share it with? Whose lives can we touch with it? Who stands there waiting to be called “Brother” or “Sister”? Who waits to be on the receiving end of our outstretched hand?

I’ve heard it said that when God calls His people, He equips them for His call, and I see this exemplified in the story of Ananias.  Ananias demonstrated radical faith, radical trust, and radical obedience to his Lord, and God was able to use Ananias for His good purposes. 

Ananias faced what was probably his very greatest fear as a new and vulnerable follower of Christ, and his courage was rewarded, not only with God’s protection, but with a key role in the unfolding of God’s great plan of salvation for the world.  May we be equally open to God’s call on our lives!

God can use us when we don’t choose to ignore His call.  May we also hear, accept, and obey God’s call on our lives:  a call to show up, a call to reach out, and a call to build the body of Christ.

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