3rd Sunday after Easter
May 5, 2019
“From Foe to Friend”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the First Lesson from Acts 9.
My dear friends,
Pretend for a moment that you’re going on vacation and you have a pet. You have no one else to ask but one of your neighbors. There is the kindly little old lady next door who loves pets, has dogs and cats of her own, and who has been the best next-door neighbor you’re ever had. OR…do you ask the “wild child” neighbor who lives on the other side of you who revs his motorcycle at all hours of the day/night, never takes care of his lawn, owns 3 large angry-looking pit bulls, and keeps throwing empty beer cans into your yard? Which one will you ask to watch your cat? What’s that you say? “The wild child?” Really! Thought you’d pick the little old lady. Choices like that might seem to defy human reason.
Yet in today’s reading from Acts, we find our Lord making just such a logic-defying choice, as Christ selects Saul – SAUL – the persecutor of Christians, to be his chosen apostle to carry the Gospel of Christ to the nations. What? That makes NO sense whatsoever!
In the earliest years of the Christian Church, it would have been difficult to find a more dedicated foe of Christ than Saul of Tarsus. From supporting the stoning of Stephen to rounding up and imprisoning Christians in Jerusalem, Saul did his best to destroy the Christian Church (Acts 7:58; 8:1–3). As we heard, Saul sought and received permission from the high priest to travel to Damascus to arrest the Christians there and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment. Arrest Christians? Does that sound like the guy you would ask to be the guest preacher on Anniversary Sunday? I’ll bet not! Jesus, though, had other ideas. Saul set out on the road to Damascus to imprison Christians, but Christ met Saul on that road to set him free.
Christ began by confronting Saul with his sin. The risen, glorified Jesus came to Saul in a flash of blinding light—and having brought Saul to his knees on the dirt of the Damascus road, Christ said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (v 4). In his blindness, Saul called out, “Who are you, Lord?” [The Lord answered,] “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (v 5). It’s ironic…although Saul’s physical sight was gone, he began at last to see things clearly. In persecuting the Church—the Body of Christ—he had been persecuting Christ himself. And Christ, whom he persecuted, is himself the Lord God. That’s not good!
With that heartrending knowledge, Saul was sent by Jesus into Damascus. Over three days of fasting and prayer, he had time to consider what he had done and to begin re-thinking the Scriptures he had long known. Then the Lord sent to Saul a faithful man named Ananias—one of the Damascus Christians Saul had been intending to arrest.
Imagine being in Ananias’ shoes for a minute. “What Lord? Go and baptize WHO? Saul? I gotta get outta Dodge!” Yet, Ananias came to Saul, laid his hands on him, Saul’s eyes were opened to see, and Ananias baptized him into Christ Jesus. Saul was brought out of the darkness into God’s marvelous light. Now that Saul had been brought into the light of Christ, he would serve as the Lord’s instrument to bring that light to the world. Saul had been Christ’s foe, but Christ graciously transformed him into a friend.
In the Second Reading today from Revelation 5, we learn that on the cross, Christ by his blood “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9); every “wild child,” every Saul, every sinner. No one is outside of God’s grace.
And in his gracious wisdom, our Lord chose to send that message out to sinners through sinners. After all, who better than the forgiven to share the good news of forgiveness? Who better than a man like Saul, who could describe himself as the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15), to speak the comfort that Christ is the friend of sinners?
So, beginning from Damascus, Christ sent his Gospel through Saul—also known as Paul (Acts 13:9) —to places like Arabia, Asia Minor (including Greece/Turkey – our destination for our trip in 2020), and Europe bringing Christ’s name before Jew and Gentile alike.
And along the way, Saul suffered greatly for the name of Christ—much like others had once suffered for Christ at Saul’s own hand. But through that name of Christ that he proclaimed, countless souls through the ages have found light, life, strength, peace, and hope in Christ—just as Saul himself did.
Just as Christ was not content to let Saul continue on his dead-end road, our Lord did not want to see any of us lost…not even the wildest child, God desires that “all people (are) saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). So, as he did for Saul, our Lord came to us. As he did for Saul, Christ came to you personally to give you the new life that he purchased for you on the cross. By water and the Word, he shined his light into your heart. Having paid your ransom on the cross, he came to you personally and unshackled your chains whatever they are and no matter how heavy they are. Everyone’s “faith moment” – your own “Road to Damascus” experience – was different, but it was also not a “one-time” deal. Christ continues coming to you in his Word and at his Table—comforting you with his forgiveness, strengthening you in his grace, giving you his peace, giving you hope for a better tomorrow, and giving you life that lasts forever especially when your “forevers” become “nevers.”
Though we have earned none of this, it is all ours as God’s free gift in Christ. For, as we have seen in Saul’s experience and our own experiences, we have a merciful Lord who transforms foes into friends.
For that is the kind of God we have: a God who astounds us with his amazingly gracious choices…sometimes choices we never would have thought of. A God who reaches out to people like Saul—and like you and me—who have lived as his foes, and he chooses us to be his trusted and loved friends.
May we continue to celebrate and thrive in that blessed, eternal friendship for the next 37 years and beyond. Happy Anniversary, Good Shepherd.