Summary: God often works in ironic, paradoxical ways to carry out God’s will and purposes.
Sermon for 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C
Based on Acts 9: 1-20
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
In our first lesson today, we learn once again that our God is a specialist in irony and paradox. My New Webster’s Dictionary And Thesaurus of the English Language defines irony and paradox as follows: “irony: a literary technique in which characters and situations are treated in such a way as to show the incongruities between appearances and reality, intention and achievement etc., the writer’s personal view being unmistakably implied though not always openly stated (p. 511); and paradox: a person or thing displaying contradictory qualities (p. 727).”
Indeed, God works—as many are fond of saying—in the most mysterious ways. God chooses the most unexpected times; the most unlikely people; the most unpredictable ways in which to carry out God’s will and purposes. Many of us are familiar with the following words of an old hymn: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.” But it would be more correct, according to our first lesson to sing: “Blessed disturbance, I am Jesus’s.”
In our first lesson today, God comes to disturb and interrupt the lives of Saul (who becomes the apostle Paul) and a Christian in Damascus named Ananias. This is truly an amazing story! We have Saul of Tarsus, who was so enthusiastic about his own Jewish faith that he was: “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord (Jesus). So zealous was Saul against the followers of Jesus that he was willing to go out of his way to travel from Jerusalem to Damascus—in those days likely a good week’s journey—to persecute Christians there.
Saul was a powerful, self-confident, influential person; very much in control of his life with a clear purpose—namely, to persecute Christians. Yet, ever since he was a witness to Stephen’s martyrdom, something or someone was deeply troubling Saul’s conscience and soul. Then, at a most unexpected time, while on the road to Damascus, the resurrected Jesus appears and speaks to Saul. Now “the tables are turned;” powerful, self-confident, controlled Saul has fallen on the ground! His life has been so disturbed and interrupted by the risen Christ that he is now blind.
What irony and paradox! There is more—Saul, the great Jewish leader who, up until this point was accustomed to giving orders is now receiving orders from the very one he was persecuting! Jesus said to Saul: “rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The powerful, self-confident, controlled Saul is now a servant. To emphasize this even more, we are told that the people traveling with Saul: “led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.” Now for Saul, who up to this point had been in control; who was the epitome of the rugged independent individualist; that was definitely a disturbance and interruption!
The life of Ananias is also disturbed and interrupted when the risen Christ comes to him and gives him orders too. When Ananias is told about Saul, certainly does not jump up and down with excitement over the mission Jesus had given him. Who knows, he may even have complained and argued with Jesus at first, although we’re not told. Ananias had heard of Saul’s reputation as a persecutor of Christians at Jerusalem. He was now supposed to go to this man?! What would we do if we were in Ananias’s shoes? “You’ve got to be joking Jesus! This is mission impossible! Is this really the voice of Jesus, or am I hearing things? Is my imagination playing tricks on me?”
The hesitation on Ananias’s part was probably due to his fear for his own life as well as the other Christians in Damascus. What agony Jesus was putting him through. What irony and paradox! Jesus sends Ananias to the very person, Saul, who had the reputation of being one of the worst enemies of Christians. However, Ananias ends up going in faith and obedience and doing what Christ had ordered him to do. Even with Ananias’s reservations and misgivings, God’s irony and paradox continue to work. The first words Ananias speaks to this complete stranger are: “Brother Saul!” The two men, who on their own—without Christ’s disturbance and interruption in their lives—would likely be enemies, were now united as brothers in Jesus Christ. What irony and paradox! Two potential enemies, now brothers!
God continues to specialize in irony and paradox today. God still continues to choose the most unexpected times. We may think that everything is in control and our life is carefully planned. Then, at a time we least expect, God comes along to disturb and interrupt all of that. God chooses a time when it is no longer we but God who is in control; it is no longer we but God who plans our life. It doesn’t matter whether we are starting out, well established in the middle of a career or in retirement; God may choose any time to change the course of our lives.