Sunday May 1, 2022 – The Conversion of Ananias
Life and Work of our Church
Acknowledging the Territory
As we begin our worship, we once again acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the unseeded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to live with respect upon it, seeking justice and equality for all.
Lighting the Christ Candle
The light of the Risen Christ shines in our world.
We light this Christ Candle to remind us to let Christ’s light shine.
Call to Worship
Each week we gather in worship hoping to hear the Divine speak to us.
But we don’t always recognize that Voice speaking in our everyday lives.
Each week we sing our praise and commit ourselves to follow Christ’s way.
But we don’t always remember that commitment in our everyday lives.
Each week we gather hoping to reconnect with the Divine.
But the Divine meets us, not only here in this sanctuary, but wherever we are and in all that we do
And so, as we gather in worship today, let us open ourselves to the One who is with us here and everywhere, now and always. Let us worship God.
Opening Prayer (in unison) ~ written by Roddy Hamilton
You break in, God, in the middle of the road. You break in when we least expect it. You break in and change everything. You break in with a call. You break in with an invitation. You break in with a challenge. God, break in again and call us to be your co-workers. Break in again and use the gifts that you have given us to build your realm. Break in again and use us to change your world. Amen
Gift of Music Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies VU#336
Scripture Reading Acts 9:1-19 (Good News Translation)
Today we leave behind the Gospel According to John and move into the book known as the Acts of the Apostles. This book is generally considered to be the second part of a two-part series that begins with the Gospel According to Luke and is attributed to the same author. Acts begins where Luke ends with the story of Jesus’ ascension and the ministry of those first disciples. However, the majority of Acts, tells the story of the Apostle Paul, whose letters to the churches he helped establish throughout Asia Minor, comprise almost half of the books which are included in our Christian Scriptures. This story begins on the road to Damascus when Paul was still known as Saul.
Acts 9:1-19 (Good News Translation)
In the meantime, Saul kept up his violent threats of murder against the followers of the Lord. He went to the High Priest and asked for letters of introduction to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he should find there any followers of the Way of the Lord, he would be able to arrest them, both men and women, and bring them back to Jerusalem.
As Saul was coming near the city of Damascus, suddenly a light from the sky flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” he asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you persecute,” the voice said.
“But get up and go into the city, where you will be told what you must do.”
The men who were traveling with Saul had stopped, not saying a word; they heard the voice but could not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground and opened his eyes, but could not see a thing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. For three days he was not able to see, and during that time he did not eat or drink anything.
There was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. He had a vision, in which the Lord said to him, “Ananias!”
“Here I am, Lord,” he answered.
The Lord said to him, “Get ready and go to Straight Street, and at the house of Judas ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying, and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come in and place his hands on him so that he might see again.”
Ananias answered, “Lord, many people have told me about this man and about all the terrible things he has done to your people in Jerusalem. And he has come to Damascus with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who worship you.”
The Lord said to him, “Go, because I have chosen him to serve me, to make my name known to Gentiles and kings and to the people of Israel. And I myself will show him all that he must suffer for my sake.”
So Ananias went, entered the house where Saul was, and placed his hands on him. “Brother Saul,” he said, “the Lord has sent me—Jesus himself, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here. He sent me so that you might see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” At once something like fish scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he was able to see again. He stood up and was baptized; and after he had eaten, his strength came back.
The Conversion of Ananias
The story of the conversion of Saul is one of those stories that captures the imagination and is often seen as the prototypical story of redemption. When we are first introduced to Saul, he is overseeing the stoning of Stephen, who is generally considered to be the first Christian martyr.
Following Jesus’ resurrection and especially following Pentecost, the disciples began to publicly preach about Jesus’ resurrection. Many of them were jailed, including Peter and John, but the number of followers continued to grow. The apostles, the twelve intimate disciples of Jesus, chose seven more to help them with their work. One of those seven was Stephen.
Stephen was a man of great faith, power and Spirit who spoke out loudly and eloquently. He was arrested and accused of blasphemy, but when asked if the charges were true, Stephen proceeded to give a lengthy speech demonstrating how everything in the Hebrew scriptures pointed to Jesus and claiming Jesus as the fulfillment of all scripture.
This so enraged those who were gathered that they dragged Stephen outside of the city and proceeded to stone him to death. Overseeing all of this was a young man named Saul who, we are told, approved of the killing.
After the stoning of Stephen, most of the disciples fled from Jerusalem. Saul began to go house to house dragging out any who were identified as followers of Jesus and throwing them in jail. But this was not enough for Saul.
As word began to spread that the disciples of Jesus were making converts beyond Jerusalem, Saul requested and received permission to track down and arrest these new followers wherever he could find them. He was given letters of introduction to the synagogues in Damascus, which gave him permission to seek out and arrest any followers of Jesus that he could find in Damascus and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial. This is why Saul found himself on the road to Damascus that day. But that trip would end up changing everything, not just for Saul, but for all the followers of Jesus who would eventually become known as Christians.
As Saul neared the end of his journey to Damascus, a distance of well over 200 km, he was suddenly confronted by a brilliant light that stopped him dead in his tracks. As he fell to the ground, overcome by the light, he heard a voice from heaven asking, Saul! Why do you persecute me?”
Saul responded as most of us likely would have. “Who are you?”
The voice replied, “I am Jesus, whom you persecute”. Saul was then given instructions to proceed to Damascus where he would be told what to do next. As he stood up Saul realized he was now blind. He obeyed the voice and continued on to Damascus.
At the same time, one of the followers of Jesus, one of the very people that Saul had come to Damascus to destroy, also hears a voice. “Ananias! … Get ready and go to … the house of Judas ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul … place [your] hands on him so that he might see again.”
Can you imagine Ananias’s reaction? Hold on a minute! I know who that man is. He’s the one who was sent here to arrest us. He has already decimated your followers in Jerusalem and now he has come here to do the same thing. You can’t seriously want me to help him! If I go anywhere near him, he will have me arrested and he will likely torture me until I give up the names of your other followers. Lord, aren’t we better off without him?
But the voice was persistent. “Go, because I have chosen him”.
It seems to me that this part of the story often seems to get downplayed or lost in the incredible story of the conversion of Saul. Saul’s entire life is changed. He was even given a new name, Paul, and it is Paul who arguably becomes one of the more influential founders of the early Christian church.
But like Saul, who became Paul, Ananias has his own conversion experience. When Ananias was first called by God to go and minister to Saul, he was horrified. He knew who this man was. He knew that Saul had been doing everything in his power to destroy the followers of Jesus. He knew that Saul had overseen the stoning of Stephen. And he knew that, now that most of the disciples in Jerusalem had either been arrested or fled, Saul had come to Damascus to continue this work.
How could Ananias possibly help such a man? It would be like betraying all those that Saul had arrested. It would be like saying that all those who were tortured and even killed didn’t matter. And it would be putting Saul into a position where he could continue to arrest, torture and even kill the followers in Damascus, Ananias’s own friends and family. Surely God would never ask him to do that.
But that is exactly what that voice was telling him. “Go, because I have chosen him to serve me”.
Like that light on the road the stopped Saul in his tracks, this voice stops Ananias. There was no way of ignoring or dismissing the voice he heard. There was no way of arguing with it. It could not have been easy for Ananias, but he chose to listen to that voice and to go and minister to Saul.
But there is much more to what Ananias did than simply obeying a voice and doing what he has been instructed to do. When Ananias approaches Saul he does so without resentment or anger, without reproach for what Saul has done in the past and without placing any conditions on his willingness tohelp.
“Brother Saul,” he said, “the Lord has sent me—Jesus himself, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here. He sent me so that you might see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Ananias treats Saul not with contempt, but with love. He accepts Saul as his brother, as family, and he freely offers him the help he needs, no strings attached. And what he offers is more than physical healing. He also offers a prayer that Saul will be filled with the Holy Spirit.
It is hard to imagine how Ananias can treat Saul with such care and respect when Saul has spent his entire career trying to destroy all of those who follow the way of Christ, including Ananias himself. It seems almost counter-intuitive. But isn’t that actually what conversion is all about?
have spent a great deal of time over the past few weeks struggling with something that happened at one of our General Council Meetings. It was during the presentation of the proposals dealing with the situation in Israel and Palestine, something about which I feel very passionate.
One of the Jewish interfaith guests who were invited to participant in this year’s General Council was questioning the wording of one of the proposals. One of the other participants unaware that their microphone was open made a very derogatory and offensive comment that was heard by all those in attendance.
I was immediately taken back to my time in Jerusalem. One of the people who came and spoke to our group while we were there, was a young Jewish rabbi. He explained to us why he believed that the Jewish people had the God given right to a Jewish state that included all land of Israel, including those lands currently occupied by Palestinians. One of the people sitting next to me, someone who was in a leadership roll, made a comment that, although less profane, was eerily similar to the comment made by the participant at General Council. The honest truth is that, in that particular instance, the person involved put into words something that many of us were silently thinking.
Since the incident at General Council, I have been forced to struggle not only with that incident but also with what happened in Jerusalem. I strongly disagree with what the Rabbi in Jerusalem said and I am very concerned by the apparent attitude expressed by our General Council guest. But my current struggle is not with them, it is with me. How do I respond to people with whom I completely disagree while still treating them with respect and yes, Christian love?
It seems to me that this was the same struggle that Ananias faced. How could he possibly treat Saul with respect and love when Saul was actively trying to destroy everything that Ananias believed in? How could he offer healing to a man who, in all probability would turn around and arrest him?
I can’t help but wonder if, perhaps, this is what conversion is really all about. It doesn’t matter if it is a bright blinding light that knocks you off your feet and completely changes your entire life or if it is a small quiet, persistent voice that comes to you in prayer. What matters is how you respond.
I believe that we are all called to moment of conversion in our lives, moment of turning away from actions or attitudes that build walls and separate us from other, to actions and attitudes that challenge us to embrace those with whom we totally disagree, those who disagree with us and those whose words or actions have hurt us.
Ananias had the courage to not only reach out and offer healing to Saul, but to embrace him as ‘brother’ and to pray that the Holy Spirit would bless him. Lately I have been forced to ask myself, do I have that same courage? Do you?
Gift of Music Will You Come and Follow Me VU#567
We Offer Our Gifts
Part of our call within Christ’s church is to share what we have. Here at Beacon, we share our financial gifts by placing them on the offering plates at the back of the church, or by making arrangement to give through Par or through online donations. And so, remembering all the gifts that God has given us and offering what we have, let us join in our offertory response as these gifts are brought forward.
What can I do? What can I bring? MV#191
What can I say? What can I sing?
I’ll sing with joy. I’ll say a prayer.
I’ll bring my love. I’ll do my share.
Let us pray;
Loving God, we thank you for the many gifts and blessings that we have received and we ask that your spirit to bless the gifts we offer today. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
Each week along with our financial gifts, we offer our prayers for the people or situations in our lives that concern us or that are held in our thoughts. So, let us take a moment of silence now as we bring our own personal prayers before God.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Our prayers of the people this morning, were written by Ann Siddall. I have decided to offer this prayer exactly as written which is something I don’t often do, but for me this prayer speaks very eloquently and very profoundly to our need to be open to change and to reconciliation. Let us pray.
Reconciling Christ, bless our efforts to bring about reconciliation. Give us the strength to persevere without counting the hurts, and to find within ourselves the capacity to keep on loving.
Give us the grace to be able to stand in the middle of situations, and to be a conduit for the deep listening which can lead to healing and forgiveness.
Help us to conduct ourselves with dignity, giving and expecting respect, moving from prayer to action, and from action back again into prayer.
Grant that we may be so grounded in your love, that our security is not threatened if we change our minds, or begin to see a better way to act.
Bless those who are called to reconcile on a large-scale – politicians, world leaders, leaders of business, and those who stand in the midst of bitter conflict.
Reconciling Christ, bless us and bless all who engage in the sacred work of envisioning new wholeness, and bringing people and nations together. Amen.
Gift of Music Jesus Calls Us VU#562
May we depart knowing the invitation of God, to move
– from comfort to insecurity
– from what we know to what we have yet to discover
– from where we have been to where may yet to go
– from safety to a place of risk
May we go in faith, remembering the example of Saul waiting in blind darkness and being challenged by the example of Ananias, willing to reach out in faith.
May we go in faith, trusting the example of the Christ who said ‘follow me’ without saying where he will lead, just promising transformation along the way and a renewed relationship with our Divine Creator.
Let us go in faith.
Let us go with God.
Choral Blessing VU#416
Forth in your name, O Christ we go, our daily labour to pursue,
You, only you, resolve to know in all we think, or speak, or do.