Get Up and Go!

“Get Up and Go!”

Acts 9:1-9 (9:6) – May 1, 2022

            Wouldn’t it be marvelous to live back in Bible times? I mean, during the times when God actually demonstrated God’s power to us common folks? I suspect many people would really like to see heavenly light, hear Jesus’s voice, perhaps even be blinded – but only for three days. Are you – am I – kind of jealous of people back in the Bible, like the Apostle Paul? [1] He really and truly saw the risen Jesus face to face, and experienced His power, first-hand! What must that have been like? Absolutely marvelous!

            We can see people experience the power of God all over the Bible. This week, we take a close look at the Apostle Paul, when he came to know the Lord Jesus, up close and personal. The Rabbi Saul, as he was known, was faithful to his Lord Jehovah to an amazing degree. A Pharisee of the Pharisees by his own account, the Rabbi Saul had zeal to spare against the people he saw as upstart enemies of what he saw as the true faith – the Jewish faith.

The Church today knows the Apostle Paul as a pillar of the early church! How did this sudden change, this 180-degree turnaround, come about?

            What was the set-up of this narrative? “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”

While he traveled around the country hauling these religious upstarts into custody, something absolutely extraordinary happened to Saul. We get a second-hand account from Dr. Luke here in Acts chapter 9. “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

This Greek word, an imperative verb in verse 3, is often omitted in translations. Literally, egeneto! One of Dr. Luke’s favorite words: “Then, it happens!” Another way of saying, “Wham!” This word signals the surprising entry of God into ordinary, every-day events! We see a heavenly light flash around Saul. [2]

Wow! Can you imagine? Just think, the risen Lord Jesus stopping you – me – in our tracks and throwing us to the ground. I would imagine that the Rabbi Saul is totally flummoxed by this astonishing train of events. I ask again. Are you jealous of people in the Bible – maybe even of the apostle Paul – for having such a dramatic confrontation with Jesus?

Let’s get back to the narrative. What happens next? “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

Wow! We can see that the command of the risen Jesus quickly cuts to the chase (9:6). “Get up and go into the city.” There is no argument or explanation, and one gets the sense that Saul’s objectives in the city of Damascus will be changed. The exact words of Jesus are “And you will be told what it is necessary for you to do” (translated from the original Greek).[3]

            As we examine this story more closely, first, we can be shocked and astounded with the Rabbi Saul. Thrown onto the ground by a bolt of lightning! Jesus enters into Saul’s life in a surprising new way. Jesus can enter into our lives in a very real and very sudden way, too.

            We are NOT living in Bible times today. You and I do NOT routinely have a Damascus road experience, like the Rabbi Saul. (Or, should I say the Apostle Paul?) Yes, we can see that Paul had a life-changing experience with the risen Jesus, just as we have been examining with others, in these weeks following Easter.

            Paul reminds his friends in Corinth, in 1 Corinthians 15 “Jesus was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles.”

            We are not living in Bible times, but we can hear the words of Jesus, too. All we need to do is to open the Gospels. Jesus is speaking to us today just as much and just as clearly as He spoke to the disciples and the others hearing Him, 2000 years ago. What’s more, anyone can hear Jesus. What makes the difference is when we truly hear and respond to Jesus.

And, we can take Jesus’s words to heart. His command to Saul to “Get up and go!” gave Saul (now Paul) direction for the rest of his life. Can we take direction from that command? Be willing to go to new or unexpected places. Even down the street. Even across town. Even across the country.

            We see the Apostle Paul, who had a sudden 180-degree transformation in his life because of his encounter with the risen Lord Jesus. His life was never the same. What about you and me? Can our lives be transformed by Jesus, too? Perhaps not as radically altered, as when He sent the followers of Jesus as missionaries into far-flung places in the world. But maybe, our lives can be renewed. Perhaps we can see with new eyes. You and I are welcomed into renewed relationships because of our encounter with the risen Christ – today!

•We are called to get up and go – in the name of Jesus.

Alleluia, amen!


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/03/year-c-third-sunday-of-easter-april-14.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 3C, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2013.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/third-sunday-of-easter-3/commentary-on-acts-91-6-7-20-2

[3] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Who Are You, Lord?

“Who Are You, Lord?”

Acts 9 conversionofsaintpaul - ethiopian icon

Acts 9:1-20 – May 5, 2019

Once there was a recent college graduate named Martin. He had enrolled in a doctoral degree program at the University of Erfurt, but he went home for a few days before the class session started. On his way back, not far from the town of Erfurt, a huge thunderstorm broke over the countryside. Martin was trying his best to get to shelter when a sudden lightning bolt fell to earth. BOOM! It struck the ground immediately next to Martin—so close he could feel it singe his clothing! He was thrown to the earth with great force. Frightened almost to death—literally—Martin made the immediate, passionate vow that he would change course in his life, become a monk and devote his life to God. All this happened while Martin was traveling, on the road. A true “Road to Damascus” experience.

Has anyone here ever known someone who went through a radical transformation in an instant? Or, at least, in a relatively short time? That is what happened to Saul of Tarsus, on the road to Damascus.

But, that comes after the end of our narrative, today. What is the beginning of the story? How did Saul of Tarsus get to this point?

The wonderful commentator Bob Deffinbaugh sets a vivid scene for us. He says, “Imagine for a moment that this is the week of Saul’s arrival at Damascus. By this time Saul has gained a reputation as the ringleader of the movement to make Christianity extinct. A devout Hellenistic Jew, of the tribe of Benjamin, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, Saul did not agree with his teacher, Rabbi Gamaliel, on how the Christians should be dealt with. Rather, he sought the arrest, trial, conviction, and punishment (with imprisonment the norm and death the ideal, it would seem) of those in Jerusalem. Saul was not content to punish some and to drive the rest from the “holy city.” He did not want to merely contain Christianity or to drive it from Jerusalem; he wanted to rid the earth of Christianity and its followers. His opposition to Christ and His church took on a ‘missionary’ spirit. Saul went to other cities where he sought to arrest Christians and to bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment. Damascus, a city 150 miles to the northeast of Jerusalem, was one such city. Word was out that Saul would soon be arriving.” [1]

I don’t know about you, but if I heard of such a bloodthirsty, vengeful person coming to my home town, I might be scared to death, too. What are the followers of Jesus going to do? Ethnic hatred blended with and heightened by religious hatred is corrosive and hurtful, and greatly to be feared.

This was not just a problem in bible times. Seriously, there are many places in the world today where determined, devout people want to eradicate people who do not believe like they do. Not just run them out of town, or out of the country, but instead, put them to death. I am not just speaking about devout Hindus, or devout Muslims, but sometimes devout Jews, or devout Christians or Catholics or Orthodox Christians.

This was the situation with Saul of Tarsus! He was a religious, observant Jew, an up-and-coming rabbi, a “Hebrew of the Hebrews,” by his own account. And, he could not kill these “heretics” fast enough. He even had letters of recommendation to the heads of synagogues in Damascus, to let them know his official status as a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council.

This was early in the life of the Church, only a number of months after the great Pentecost happening in Acts chapter 2. And, the followers of “The Way” (as they were called) were spreading like wildfire!

But, similar to the situation with Martin in the scene I opened this sermon with, Saul was literally knocked off his feet. A heavenly light, brighter than bright, surrounded Saul. A shocking, out-of-this-world thing happened on the road to Damascus, indeed!

Just like Moses at the burning bush, just like Martin when the lightning struck, Saul had the presence of mind to realize that this was so huge, so stupendous, this could only be a God-moment! Have you ever had a God-moment? You, or someone you know? An instant when you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is present? Did you get an answer to that question, “Who are You, Lord?” up close and personal?

I did. I remember it vividly. Itp was early in my first chaplain internship, right out of seminary. In Cardiac Care, I held the hand of a tiny, very elderly woman as she transitioned from this world to the next. The woman had no one—no relatives, or friends, or any one else, except for a state-appointed medical power-of-attorney. I could feel the presence of God. And, yes, God was there with us, as she died.

Saul got that answer from God in plain language. From our reading today from Acts: “Saul fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” He replied.

How stupendous was that response! And, how crushing! All the orthodox theological and religious scaffolding Saul had painstakingly erected throughout his education and training was tumbling around his ears, in that one moment.

Dr. Luke continues with the risen Lord Jesus’s words: “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So, they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days Saul was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.”

“It was time for Saul to ponder what he had seen and heard. For now, he was told to proceed on to Damascus, where he would be given his next instructions.” [2] It was as if this revelation was going to come in several different pieces, or parts. Yes, his sudden conversion happened on the road to Damascus. However, Saul’s blindness allowed him the opportunity to think deeply about these events, and gave him the opportunity to wholeheartedly commit his life to the risen Lord Jesus Christ. How many of us would take something like this seriously?

Remember bloodthirsty Saul? Breathing fire and brimstone? Remember the shock and stunned reaction to the heavenly light, on the Road to Damascus? And, the follow-up question, “Who are You Lord?” Saul made a first-person testimony. We all can thank God for Saul’s—now, Paul’s—testimony and subsequent witness, too. Witness and Apostle to the world.

Remember Martin, almost struck by lightning? That was Martin Luther, and that was a true story. It really happened in 1505, and Martin’s life was forever changed, that day lightning just missed striking him. That was his Road to Damascus experience, sending Martin on the path to grapple with God’s presence and forgiveness in his personal life, and more.

It doesn’t matter whether you or I have had a Road to Damascus experience, or whether we more gradually become aware of God’s work in our lives, because there are countless ways to come close to God. These were the ways Saul (who changed his name to Paul) and Father Martin developed their relationships with the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus has His arms open. He wants us all to struggle out of blindness, like Saul, and come into His heavenly light, the light of a loving relationship and friendship with Him.

Come to Jesus, like Saul, like Martin. Jesus has His arms open wide.

Amen, alleluia.

[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/conversion-saul-acts-91-31

“The Conversion of Saul (Acts 9:1-31),” by Robert Deffinbaugh at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

[2] https://bible.org/seriespage/conversion-saul-acts-91-31

“The Conversion of Saul (Acts 9:1-31),” by Robert Deffinbaugh at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!