Sermon for Easter 3, April 18, 2010
Acts 9:1-20, Revelation 5:11-14
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
(The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia)
If it’s true it changes everything. If it’s not true, we might as well get on with business as usual.
Saul, we read in Acts, was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. Still. He hadn’t yet realized that everything had changed. He was still operating under the old way. The old way is that when what is good and right and true is threatened you meet that threat with counter-threats. What Saul knew was good and right and true was threatened by these crazy people of “the Way” – the way of Jesus who had recently been executed as a security threat. But the threat had continued with his followers. They had to be stopped. And Saul was going to stop them.
But, on his way, Saul himself was stopped. Surrounded by a flash of light, he fell on the ground. He had been sure Jesus was the enemy of God and all that was good. And now he is confronted by that same Jesus back from the dead. Under the old way, Saul knew what to expect. He was toast! But, Jesus does not fry Saul. Rather he says, “Get up. I’ve got something for you to do.”
Try to appreciate how mind-blowing this is. Saul, who had been sure that what he was doing was right and pleasing to God, discovers he is doing exactly the opposite. Instead of doing the good he wants, he is doing the evil he did not want to do. He is opposing God! How wretched. No wonder everything went black. No wonder a chastened Saul-cum-Paul would later write, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.” It is a statement of humility that he learned the hard way. It is the wisdom of humility we would all do well to take to heart.
But there is more. Saul’s falling on the ground is not just an act of fear, it is an act of humble repentance. Then, amazingly, in spite of Saul's finding himself the enemy of God, Jesus reconciles him and says, “Get up. I’ve got something for you to do.” I hope you are able to hear the good news, the grace, in that. I hope you are able to hear Jesus saying the same to you when you find yourself to have been opposing God in one way or another. “Yes, you’ve blown it. Yes, you are in the wrong. You are right to repent. Get up. I’ve got something for you to do.”
What Saul had not realized was that with the death and resurrection of Jesus things had changed. Like a Japanese soldier hiding in the jungle long after peace had been declared, Saul was still breathing threats and murder after God had declared the war over offering amnesty to all comers. The Lamb that was slaughtered is now the sign of power and wealth and wisdom and honor and glory and blessing. Those ideas – and the very idea of God – must now be interpreted in that light.
Saul’s conversion was rather sudden and dramatic. Ananias’ was more of a process. He was already a Jesus follower. He knew that Jesus was the Way. But he still needed to live into the Way Jesus is. He had every reason to reject Saul or at least to resist accepting his sincerity. Saul was one of the bad guys. But that is still thinking the old way. The Way Jesus is is a way in which there are no real enemies, but only potential brothers and sisters. As Augustine preached, “Most of the time, when you think you are hating your enemy, you are hating your brother without knowing it.” That is the Way of Jesus. That is the Way of the Lamb that was slaughtered to absorb all the violence and hate, all the sin and suffering, and transform it into reconciliation, mercy, and grace.
Maybe we should have bumper stickers that say, “Come to St. Barnabas. We worship a slaughtered Lamb.” If we really believe the Lamb that was slaughtered is also risen and at the heart of it all, how might that change the way we live? It seems harder to meet threats – large or small, real or imagined – to my security, or to things I hold dear, with counter-threats and murder (and remember Jesus’ expansive understanding of what constitutes murder). If the Way of the One who is the Way is the way of self-emptying, the way of the Lamb that is slaughtered, do we want to still be about business as usual? If, like Ananias, we can understand enemies to be brothers and sisters unknown, shouldn’t we seek reconciliation? If, like Saul, we know ourselves to be receivers of mercy and grace, shouldn’t we be humble agents of that mercy and grace?
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
(The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
Everything has changed.
Get up. I’ve got something for you to do.