January 18, 2018 – Courage, Conversion and Salvation- Acts 4:8-12, Psalm 118:22-24, Romans 8:26-27

cornerstone

 

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  Jesus is:

“‘the stone you builders rejected,  which has become the cornerstone.’

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:8-12 (NIV)

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; Let us rejoice today and be glad. Psalm 118:22-24 (NIV)

Imagine the courage it would take to do what Peter did- to stand up to the authorities and defend his faith.

What would we do in Peter’s position? This was the same guy who had denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed (Matthew 26:75.)  Yet after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension Peter had been filled with the Holy Spirit.  He had supernatural courage that only God could give him to speak boldly even when such speech could cost him his freedom or even his life.

Sometimes we wonder if the Holy Spirit is still at work today. Where is that courage we need when we aren’t feeling it, or when we know we should speak up for what is right, but we don’t?

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)

We can be confident that God the Holy Spirit will fill in the gaps. He is strong where we are weak.  That is how Peter, who betrayed Jesus three times, became a bold and stalwart witness for Him.

The Holy Spirit still intervenes for us today. He brings us back to the One Who has become the cornerstone. He gives us the courage to stand when we no longer have- or never did have- the power to stand on our own.  He brings us back from a place of denial and cowardice into a place of defending our faith.

Different Christian traditions have differing views on soteriology (the “how” of salvation) but we can all agree on the Who of salvation.  Whether we believe that salvation is a one-time lightning bolt event, whether we believe we choose God, or that He chooses us, or whether we believe salvation is a gradual and life-long process, the Who of salvation is not in question. It all comes back to the Cornerstone the builders rejected, the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:1-5) who Isaiah spoke of so long ago.

Perhaps we can agree that the Holy Spirit has endless means of grace at His disposal. After all, Saul the Pharisee- who became the apostle Paul- was knocked off his high horse on the Damascus Road. That was a pretty dramatic conversion event.  Some of us have experienced dramatic conversion events as well.  Others of us have gently grown into faith over the years through a series of small epiphanies and discoveries about God.  God does speak to each of us differently, and we are called to respond.  We can trust that when we are asked to attest to the reality and the power of God in Christ, the Holy Spirit will lead us and give us the words we need when we don’t have our own.

October 5, 2017- Thoughts Along the Damascus Road- Acts 9:1-19

ananias and saul

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”  The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one.  Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.  For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment 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.”  But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.  So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Acts 9:1-19 (NRSV)

There’s nothing like the zeal of a person with a cause. The Pharisee Saul thought he was doing God a favor when he persecuted and killed Christians. He thought that ridding the world of those who followed the Way would keep the world pure for “law-keepers” like him.

Even in modern times genocidal purges continue- one faction against another, killing each other over ideological differences. Genocide has gone on for countless centuries, and it has only created more division and pain in our world.  There is a time when we as children of the same God need to acknowledge that even if we have deep disputes and ideological differences with other races or nations, that we need to maintain and respect each others’ boundaries and each others’ right to live as they see fit.  Much heartache could be avoided if everyone could agree to disagree and be peaceable with those who don’t subscribe to the same beliefs.

The problem with Saul was that his zeal and his mission weren’t lining up with the purpose God had for him. Saul was Doing It Wrong in a big way, even though he thought he was doing everything right.

Jesus had plans for Saul. Jesus had big plans for Saul, exactly the opposite of killing off Christians. The Pharisee Saul was to become the apostle Paul- the most influential Christian evangelist and writer of all time.

Jesus knocked Saul off of his high horse, quite literally. For three days (does this interval sound familiar?) Saul was blind, hungry, and more or less dead to the world.  Then Saul was brought to a place where God came to him through a believer- one who would nourish him, clean him up, bring him to the baptismal font, and restore him.

Ananias must have been scared speechless, to have God command him to take care of this evil guy who had been killing off Christians. Yet Ananias listened.  He was faithful and did what God said to do for this enemy of believers.

Many of us have had those Jesus-come-to-us moments, when we are knocked off our high horses only to come to the realization that it is only in Christ (and through His hands and feet in the body of Christ) that we are set right, healed and restored. In Baptism our eyes are opened and our sins are washed clean.

We have had our Ananias experiences too- when God calls us to care for someone we think is a basket case or beyond help- or someone who means us harm. Sometimes trusting God seems like the most illogical thing to do.

God has a purpose for everyone, no matter how unlikely, no matter how unlovely we are or how abysmal our pasts can be.

Thank God He loves sinners like us, and that He has the power to make us His saints.