Encountering the goodness and mercy of God: summary of Duncan’s sermon this morning on Acts 9:1-19

Conversion-of-St-Paul

Today’s passage was Acts 1:1-19, the story of Saul coming to faith in Jesus. Last week, Duncan said, we were thinking about Thomas, who said, when told that Jesus had come back from the dead ‘Unless I see….I will not believe.’ (John 20:25) Today’s story is about Saul (who became known as Paul) being temporarily blinded, and then coming to see more clearly than he ever had before.

Duncan asked us to imagine that we had never heard this story before – it would seem a bizarre introduction to one of the great figures in his history of the church. For Saul was initially a passionate opponent of the message about Jesus. He gave approval, we’re told (Acts 8:1) to the murder of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

As a result of persecution in Jerusalem followers of ‘The Way’ as the early Christians were called, were scattered throughout the region – some reached Damascus. Saul seething with murderous intent towards all Jesus-followers (Acts 9:1)  set off as an official Jewish emissary to Damascus to arrest the believers there, and bring them back as prisoners to Jerusalem.

The big picture

Duncan paused to put in context the great story about Saul’s journey from being a great opponent of Christianity to being one of Christ’s most passionate advocates.

He reminded us of the characters we’ve looked at in the last year – Adam and Eve, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Jonah, Peter the disciples: all of them flawed characters.  And now we can add Saul to the list.

What together these people’s stories teach us is that there is nothing, absolutely nothing can ultimately get in the way of God’s good purposes for our lives.  If God worked in the lives of these flawed characters in the Bible, then God can, and will work in our lives to.

On the road to Damascus, ‘the Way’ of Jesus opened up to Saul.  Said Duncan ‘The way of Jesus is the way of grace and love and mercy. It’s a way where all our flaws and faults are drawn into life and relationship with Jesus.’

Jesus is not neutral

Duncan pointed out that despite Saul’s ‘murderous threats’ (Acts 9:1) and his opposition to the very idea of a risen Jesus,  Christ was on the road with him seeking to bless and transform him.  Duncan told us that his favourite line from Psalm 23 is this ‘Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.’

We are loved by God so much that the goodness and mercy of God pursue us, seeking us out, no matter who we are or what we have done. We are loved.

An Easter weekend experience

And then Saul passed through what could be seen as an Easter weekend experience. For three days in Damascus, he was unable to see and neither ate nor drank (Acts 9:9) as he waited for his own resurrection to the new life which awaited.

Our own stories

‘I one was blind, but now I see,’ wrote John Newton in the famous hymn Amazing Grace. Duncan suggested we should think about and discuss our own experiences of coming to faith, our own experiences of blindness and sight, and moments of light and clarity. Some of us may have had a  dramatic ‘Damascus Road’ experience, but for most of us coming to faith in Jesus will have been a much gentler thing.

The important thing is to reflect on our own stories and experiences, and then share them to help and encourage others.

Ananias too

But someone else in the passage was called to a different way of thinking – Ananias. He was called  (Acts 9:10-17) to take a massive risk – to go to a known enemy, to lay hands in healing on the one who wanted to lay hands on him in violence.

Ananias hears from God through a vision (v16), and visions and dreams, significant in Bible times, are still significant today.

God says ‘Go!’ and Ananias is obedient, and finds that the enemy has become a friend and a brother.

Us as well!

None of us, said Duncan, comes to Jesus in a vacuum. We need encouragement and help from others, just as Saul needed Ananias to come and greet him as ‘Brother Saul.’ (v17)

Duncan asked us to reflect on the people who have played the role of Ananias in our lives.

And who are people in our lives to whom we can we be an Ananias?

This is what our faith, and our community as a church is all about. That is what the goodness and mercy of God is all about.

Duncan told a story of someone who was invited to the church many years ago, who came to faith as he attended an Alpha course, and who found work helping and encouraging people with addiction issues. Many people – including someone Duncan spoke to this week – were blessed and encouraged by this man’s work.

And it all started with a simple invitation!

Who can I be Ananias to this week?

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