The English language is constantly changing. Not only are new words added, but words change their meanings. In one such word is the word ‘crisis’. It is a word that we frequently come across in the newspapers, or on the television news. There is a crisis in the government, or in the health service, or in the relationships between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. In this context the word crisis means a problem. But the original meaning of the word crisis is a turning point, with the origin in a word meaning decision. And I suppose the logic of this is that the problem creates the need for a decision which leads to a change of direction.
Although the word crisis is in our newspapers or in the news reports, crises are not limited to the high and mighty. We all have them. And in our reading today, we see Saul (or Paul as he became) at a crisis point. The crisis point of the Damascus Road.
So what can we understand about this crisis point on the Damascus Road? As you will remember, Paul was travelling between Jerusalem and Damascus. Now Paul was a Pharisee. And you may remember from our look at this before Christmas that the Pharisees were very committed to their faith, to Scripture and to the protection and preservation of Jewish tradition and religion. And as part of that heritage Paul was doing what he thought was the right thing to do. He was on his way to Damascus to try and bring under control what he considered the heretical Christians. Paul was a man on a misssion. But suddenly he was brought up short. He was brought to a full stop. And that’s what a crisis does. It brings us up short. It brings us to a full stop. Far too often in our lives we are thundering along in our own direction. We are thundering along doing what we think is right, possibly for all the right reasons. And then a crisis comes. A crisis can take many shapes and many forms. It may be the death in the family. It may be a difficulty in family relationships. It may be illness. It may be a natural disaster. And we are brought up short. What is a crisis for me will not be a crisis for you. What is a problem for me will not be of any consideration to you. But these crises from time to time affect us all. SO I think the first thing we need to understand is that a crisis can affect us all.
Secondly we see that often a crisis is needed for God to a break through. For despite Pauls position and heritage as a Pharisee, God needed a crisis to get through to him. And it is often the same for us. It is in the problems and difficulties of life that we seek God. I think it was William Barclay who said that ’pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world’. And it is just as true for us sometimes as for those who claim no faith at all. For despite our knowledge and love of God, we frequently find ourselves on a different route to the one that he would choose for us. And we frequently find ourselves in a situation where we are deaf to God. We frequently find ourselves in a situation where God has to use a megaphone to get through. A crisis is often needed for God to break through
As you will know, the concept of the Damascus Road experience has entered the English language and culture. The idea is that the sudden breaking in of the bright light results in an immediate change. However what we see here is that this isn’t quite true. We see that Paul fell to his knees. And following that, we see is that there was a period of time following the experience that Paul had on the road. In v 9 it says that for three days Paul was blind and neither ate nor drank. I get the feeling that this was a time that Paul was using to try it makes sense of his situation. Paul was left in a position where he was able to rethink his understanding and his beliefs. Possibly the blindness was caused by God so that he couldn’t be distracted. And so thirdly, we need to respond to the megaphone of the crisis. We need to respond appropriately to the way God is trying to break though to us. And so may be for us when we hit these crisis points, we need to spend time on our knees as we try to make sense of the situation. As we try to get to grips with whatever it is that is going on. As we try to understand whatever it is that God may be trying to teach us in this situation.
So let spend the a few moments in quietness, and think about the crisis points that are going on in our lives. The crises that are going on in the lives of those around us. The crisis points in our world.
Let us be open to being brought up short by God.
Let us allow God to break through.
And let spend some time responding to them and trying to make sense have whatever crisis it is that is affecting us.
When we think about the story of Paul on the Damascus Road we often forget what happens what happens afterwards. As I mentioned before it is often thought that his experiences on the road resulted in an instantaneous change. And we’ve seen that that wasn’t so.
For there was another crisis going on. And this was the crisis that was affecting Ananias. For the crisis that affected Paul was affecting others as well. Someone has described Ananias as ‘ one of the forgotten heroes of the Church’. You see Ananias was at a crisis point because he knew of Paul’s reputation of persecuting the Christians. I can imagine that the Christians in Damascus were rightly scared of Paul. That in itself was bad enough. But God told Ananias to go to this man Paul and minister to him. This inevitably produced a crisis in Ananias. What should he do? On the evidence before him, for Ananias to go to Paul was a serious risk. This was going to require a serious change in his relationship with God.
It is intriguing, isn’t it? For in Paul, we see a man in crisis. We see a man with a need. We see a man with a problem. We see a man to whom God was trying to breakthrough. But it was a crisis that not only affected him, it affected others as well.
And yet the means by which God was going to work in Paul, our friend Ananias, was also in crisis.
But, as we think about this situation of crisis, we realise that a crisis is both a problem situation, but also a situation which brings a turning point.
And for Paul, the crisis became the turning point as he turned from his persecution of Christians, and Christ, to his total commitment to the service of Christ.
For Ananias, the turning point was learning to trust God in all circumstances, even those in which humanly speaking the situation was dangerous.
I have no doubt that the consequences of these crisis points for both Ananias and for Paul were far, far, greater than any thing that they could have imagined.
In this I think lies a lesson for each one of us. There are people all around us facing crisis points of one kind or another. And so often we hesitate to get involved. And on a human level, we may be right to hesitate. It may be risky. It may be dangerous. It will almost certainly require us to give of our time and our energy and our emotions.
But the fact is that we are affected by a crisis in others whether we like it or not. And so not to get involved can be equally risky. For not to get involved is to risk thwarting the purposes of God in each person in crisis.
And so as we think about this situation of Paul and Ananias this evening, we realise that we are at turning points where ever we are in the crisis.
We may be like Paul, where a crisis point of life, health, relationships has caused us to fall to our knees in front of God.
We may be like Ananias, aware of a crisis point in someone right next to us, and needing to trust God to use us as an instrument of his restoration, as an instrument of his healing, as an instrument to bring wholeness.
But too often, we just play safe. We do nothing. But God calls us to reach out to those in crisis. Ananias didn’t play safe, but reached out to touch Paul. And their relationship was changed from enemies to brothers. V17. And healing and restoration of sight came to Paul. V18. God calls us to take risks, to reach out to those in crisis. And in doing so, both their life and ours are changed immeasurably.
God is the master of the crisis. In the crisis, he will break through, he will bring transformation, he will bring reconciliation, he will bring wholeness.
So let us be quiet.
Let us consider the transformations that God wants to work in us.
Let us seek how we may reach out to those around us who are at crisis points.
Let us open up ourselves to be Gods instruments of change, of healing, of wholeness, of reconciliation.