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.

March 27, 2017- Covered by the Blood- Ephesians 2:13-16

coveredbyblood

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.  He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.  Ephesians 2:13-16 (NRSV)

The idea of blood sacrifice is rather noxious and offensive to modern sensibilities.  We shy away from any notion that our meat comes from a slaughterhouse or even the realization that a living creature has to die so we can have leather shoes, or steaks, or fish.  Not that we should all become vegan (though some are called to do so) but we should be aware that everything has a cost, and that we are to be good stewards of God’s creation.

Last night one of my dogs had a run-in with a raccoon.  Raccoons can inflict serious damage on dogs (and the dog involved did incur a few minor scrapes and scratches) but in the end, the 20# raccoon didn’t make it in a fight with an 80# Catahoula Leopard Dog.  This particular dog breed is used in Texas and Louisiana as a “hog dog”- meaning they are bred to track down and flush out wild boar.  Some hunters also use them to flush out raccoons, (as well as for protection and tracking) as these dogs are agile and can climb trees.

It’s not a pleasant sight to encounter a bloody creature that was alive just minutes before- and that died in the jaws of an otherwise friendly family dog.  It’s not a thrilling activity to clean all the blood and gore off of the friendly family dog either.

Brutus

Blood sacrifice- or killing in general- is not pretty.  It is gory.  It has a smell.  It is costly.  It is painful to watch.

Yet our salvation was bought with the costliest sacrifice of all- not the blood of a woodland creature who wandered too close to a house in the city, but the blood of the Lord of Life Himself.

It is easy for us to look at each other with skepticism and derision- or even outright hate- and we would be hypocrites if we claim that we always love our fellow human beings with the sacrificial love of Christ.  It’s NOT easy to see others with the eyes of Jesus, especially when they are not treating us the way we should be treated.  It is almost impossible for mere humans to love people who have done unspeakably vile and horrible things.

Yet being covered by the blood of Jesus came at an immeasurable cost.  He didn’t look at how lovable or how good we might be, or at how terrible and evil we might be.  He simply laid down His life to save ours.  He covered us in His blood, so that our sin and shame and failure would no longer be visible to God.

He has made forgiveness and renewal and eternal life possible where it was once impossible. All because we are covered by His blood.

February 22, 2017- Treasure and the Heart – Matthew 6:19-21

treasures

(Jesus said:)“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21 (NRSV)

The love of money is said to be the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10.)  Yet money and material possessions are in and of themselves good gifts of God, and in and of themselves they are morally neutral.  How we regard and use them is what renders their use as being good or evil.

What exactly would we define as a treasure?  Our bank accounts, our homes, our cars, our jewelry, phones, or heirlooms?  Those things are good and useful and are wonderful gifts of God, but are they the things that really matter and really last?  After all we are born with no material possessions, and there are no material possessions that can go with us along for the ride when we die.

Jesus is asking us to look at the true treasures of life- the love of God, our families and friends, and the joy of doing the good things that God created us to do.  Those are treasures that money can’t buy and that last forever, beyond the circles of this world, into eternity in Heaven.