This is my sermon for two different weeks. I first gave it on June 18 for the Withee Days Community Worship Service, and then gave it on July 23 at Our Savior's in Greenwood. Two of the communities I serve have Summer festivals, and the most of the churches (including 2 of mine) in those communities cancel their Sunday services so people can worship as a community.
I was asked to lead worship at Withee Days, and did that. Two of the churches cancelled services for the Owen Junior Fair, leaving me to only have one service on a Sunday, and since no one from Greenwood heard this message in Withee, I used it again.
This is my favorite story from Bible because it echoes how I feel called to ministry. I love it so much that I named my bulldogge, Ananias, after the disciple from this story.
This is really two stories in one; the Calling, Conversion and/or Commissioning of Saul/Paul and the Calling of Ananias. I’ve shared that when I was in seminary at Gettysburg, I used the window in the chapel portraying the Conversion of Saul as a focal point for my meditation and prayers. In fact, I have part of the quote from one of Saul/Paul’s recounting of this event tattooed on my left forearm. By the way, here in this story, he is called Saul. We know him as the Apostle Paul, the chief evangelist of the early Church and the man who wrote most of the New Testament. Because of what happens here, I’m calling him Saul/Paul.
Despite of most of the focus being on Saul/Paul, I’m going to focus is on the second part, once Saul/Paul enters City of Damascus.
Saul/Paul is “breathing threats & murder” because he views The Way (the time’s name for followers of Christ) as perverting of his Jewish faith. He has been persecuting followers of The Way in Jerusalem. Now, he has been given the authority to arrest and charge Jews who are worshiping and following Jesus. On his way to Damascus to round up followers of The Way, Saul/Paul encounters the Risen Christ & he is blinded by the light of his appearance. Saul/Paul is told to go into the city and there, he will be told what to do.
But when Saul/Paul gets into the city, he doesn’t hear from Jesus. Instead, Jesus speaks to an ordinary follower of The Way, Ananias. Ananias responds, “You want me to do what?” Ananias is reluctant to do what Jesus asks, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; & here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” That is why my Ananias got this name. He is comfortable and content, and when I call him, he looks at me, “You want me to do what?”
Ananias the disciple is safe and content is his bed. This is the last thing he wants to do. This is the most evil man for followers of The Way.
Jesus does not respond with words of reassurance. Jesus does not say everything is going to be all right. Instead, He says, go because of what will happen through Saul/Paul. “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.“
Ananias isn’t reassured that he will be ok. Rather, he is told what God’s greater plan is and how Saul/Paul plays into it. Ananias is called to go to Saul/Paul, the scariest man for followers of The Way because of what Saul/Paul will do, but he isn’t promised that he will be ok after the encounter.
What would you do? Would you go to the most dangerous enemy? Would you do it if you knew it was for the greater good?
God has revealed God’s plan to Ananias. Through this man, through the bad guy, Saul/Paul, my name and story and love will be brought before the Gentiles, to kings, and to all of the people of Israel. All of this will happen through this bad guy, and you have to go and take care of him. Yet, Ananias is given no reassurance of safety.
The only thing this is comparable to is those who serve in the military. They know they may be called to a mission where there safe return is not guaranteed. Their return may not even be expected. You may be called to lay down your life for others. But that is expected in military service, you know that when you put on that uniform, you may have to give up your life for the sake of the mission.
We don’t expect that in following God. We don’t expect that we may be called to do that as Christians. Even though Christ laid down His life for us. Even though Christ repeatedly tells his followers to take up their cross to follow Him.
The followers of Christ, the early church, are known as The Way. The Way is a powerful identity for the early church. They were not identified by their beliefs; rather, they were known by their character. Their faith in Christ was a way of life. They called people to leave safety of their homes and to walk the path Christ calls us to follow him. They were called to take up their crosses and follow him.
The Way is a way of life. Their faith isn’t what they believe; it is how they lived. The Way is defined by what they would do. Followers of The Way don’t proclaim their faith. They show their faith by what they do, and how they act.
Following The Way means knowing we have been saved in order to serve. We have been blessed in order to be a blessing. We have been forgiven in order to forgive. It is realizing we want Thy will to be done, and not my will. The Way is a way of service.
That is what Ananias was called to, even if he was afraid.
Living in The Way calls us from our safe beds and to the places to the people we least want to encounter. Ananias was called to go to Saul/Paul, the persecutor of the faithful. We are called to the poor, the sick, the rejected, and the marginalized. The Way calls us to turn to face and help the people we’ve turned our back on.
We need to find the courage to trust God’s call, just as Ananias did. The Way is serving those who would kill you, as Ananias did. The Way is going to places where we fear to go. The Way is putting our trust and faith in God.
Ananias goes into the valley of the shadow of death, even though he feared the evil he would find there, but his trust in his Shepherd was stronger than his fear.
Ananias goes to the house of Judas on the street called Straight. He enters the house, and sees Saul/Paul. He goes to Saul/Paul. He lays his hands on Saul/Paul. He calls Saul/Paul “Brother.” Ananias lives out The Way. He goes to a man he doesn’t want to go to, a man that he rightfully fears, and brings him to faith because Christ called him to do so. He went where he was called to go.
What was Saul/Paul’s reaction to being healed, to having something like scales fall from his eyes? He was baptized. He was brought into the Family of God, claimed as a Child of God, just as you and I are also claimed.
Saul/Paul wanted to destroy the church. Saul/Paul wanted to bring an end to The Way. Instead, he becomes its greatest evangelist.
The greatest persecutor of The Way became the leading evangelist for The Way because he encountered Christ in the least expected place.
Christ calls us to go where we are uncomfortable and afraid, and to love those we should hate, or who may hate us. And we are not reassured that we will be safe. We are not told we won’t be changed by the encounter. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, no matter if they are gay, of a different race or a different faith. We are called to tend to the marginalized and isolated, and to tell them their lives matter, that they matter. We are called to tell truth to power: to tell them they shall not take food or medicine from those in need; to tell them refugees and immigrants are our neighbors; to tell them to help the poor and not only the rich.
The Way calls us to go where we should be afraid to go because that is where the Risen Christ calls us, because that is where we need to share God’s love with people who have been told they are unloved, and to tell them they are loved, by us and Our God. Jesus got into trouble with the religious leaders of his time, because he was always going to those on the outside of society, those who they had their turned their backs on, bringing them the Good News of God’s love.
Jesus is always found where we least expect him, with the people we least expect him to be with.
Where are the places that Jesus is calling us to? Who are the people that Jesus is calling us to serve? Are we willing to go?
Pastor Brian's Page
Pastor Brian Robert Campbell has served at Our Savior's and Emmanuel since August 1, 2011, and began serving Nazareth on December 1, 2015.
Pastor Brian is originally from Saginaw, Michigan. He graduated from Alma College with a B.A. in Business Administration, and worked for the Saginaw Public Schools' Community Education Department for 17 years before answering the call to ministry. He graduated with a M. Div. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish is his first call.
He is the only child of Robert and Charlotte Campbell, both who have entered the Church Eternal.
He is accompanied in ministry by his faithful bulldogge Ananias, who regularly writes for our newsletter. His articles are archived here.
He is a fan of sports teams from his native Michigan, especially the Tigers and the Lions. But we tolerate him despite that.
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