Summary: This is a sermon I preached on Tuesday of Holy Week, 2022, to a gathering of Lutheran pastors for our monthly fellowship meeting.
I’d like for you to join with me in thinking back to your high school years for a moment, and in doing so, how many of you at your high school had a poll asking for who in your graduating class was most likely to do certain things? What was yours? I graduated from Garner-Hayfield High School in north-central Iowa in 1995, and by that time, we didn’t do polls like that. But if we had, I don’t know what I would have been voted most likely to do, but I can tell you what I was most unlikely to accomplish: being the shortstop for the Chicago Cubs since my high school baseball career consisted of starting a grand total of 2 games in 4 years, and a career batting average below my weight, which back then was well below 150.
Today, we are gathered for our monthly time together during our busiest week of the entire year: Holy Week. I’m thankful you all carved time out of your busy schedules to come here to Ladysmith today so we can gather together for worship, fellowship, and the mutual consolation of the brethren. And I also realize how important it is for me to share something with you to feed your souls with the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, as you prepare for all of the special services in your congregations later this week. So as I was thinking of what to share with you, fellow preachers of the Gospel, I settled on the two scripture readings for today, because I want you to take a look at two other proclaimers of the Gospel from the New Testament, because their stories have a lot of encouragement to share with us, as we prepare to share the greatest story in the history of the world.
So to lead things off, let me take you to Acts 9 where we meet Saul. At this time, Saul has earned quite a reputation for himself among Christians. But not for anything good. We read earlier in the book of Acts that Saul was present at the stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the New Testament church. We read that not only did Saul approve of Stephen’s stoning, he was a known persecutor of Christians, looking to round up as many of them as he could find, and send them back to Jerusalem, likely to face death. Christians feared Saul! And as Acts 9 opens, he has gone to the high priest, asking for letters to take to the synagogue at Damascus, so that if he happened to find anyone who belonged to what they called “the Way”, he could lead them back to Jerusalem bound in chains simply because they confessed that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
But, along the Damascus road, Saul has an encounter with the risen Jesus, who asks why Saul is persecuting him, instructs Saul to enter the city of Damascus, and then, he rose from the ground, seeing nothing, needing to be led by the hand to reach his destination. And now, we meet Ananias, a disciple of Jesus who is there in Damascus. Jesus has some curious instructions for him:
“Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” (v.11-12)
Anytime I read this account, I can just imagine that as soon as Jesus mentioned Saul’s name, that’s where Ananias stopped listening. When you hear his objection, it is as if Ananias is saying: “Uhm, Jesus, excuse me? Let me get this straight? You want me to go and talk to Saul of all people? Don’t you know who you’re talking about, Jesus? Haven’t you seen what he has done to your followers? Don’t you know why he’s here? Don’t you know what he could do to me? I think you got the wrong guy. There’s NO WAY Saul is going to want anything to do with you, Jesus!” Ananias believes that Saul is the LAST person in the world who would ever become a follower of Jesus, let alone a proclaimer of the Gospel, right. And yet, Jesus tells him to go. And we all remember what happens next. Ananias goes, he lays hands on Saul, something like scales come out of his eyes, he regains his sight, he’s baptized, spends some time with the disciples, and then, goes to the Synagogue, his original, intended destination. And what does Saul say once he’s there? “Jesus is the Son of God” and he continued to confound the Jews there by proving that Jesus was indeed the Christ! Saul the persecutor, became Paul, the great apostle and follower of Jesus, who would proclaim Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, our Savior who lived, died, and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins, for the rest of his life, even when it meant that Paul would die for his confession of Jesus.