May 1, 2022
Scripture: Acts 9: 1-18
It was a day like no other for a man who was like no other. Paul was fully committed to destroying a new religion that was rising out of the ashes of a crucified man. On this day, Paul and his men traveled the road to Damascus preparing to root out those who would extinguish his faith. He meant to bring them to justice.
As he marched towards his mission, suddenly, there was a blinding light. It hit Paul straight on. He fell to the earth. Paul, like a fighter plane, was grounded. His mission ended.
As he lay on the ground, he heard a voice calling his name. The voice spoke his name twice as if awakening a sleeping prophet. And, the one who was supposed to be dead, Jesus, asked him a question only someone alive could ask, why do you persecute me?
Who are you? Paul queries.
The answers make it clear that Jesus lives…“I am Jesus who you are persecuting.”
Jesus instructs him to go to the city and wait.
And, then nothing more.
It is enough. Like Peter and the disciples, some thirty years earlier, Paul has just met the risen Jesus.
Paul’s unnamed companions hear but they do not understand. Jesus does not reveal himself to them. Their lives are unchanged.
They see their fallen leader unable to find his way and finish their mission by leading the now blind man to their intended destination in Damascus.
For three days Paul lay there in silence, neither eating nor drinking. For three days, the same number of days Jesus lay in the grave, neither eating nor drinking. It took three days for the dying to be complete.
The Paul he once knew was gone.
Isn’t it interesting, that the two big leaders of the church, Peter and Paul, both received another chance from the risen Lord? Peter had denied knowing Jesus the day Jesus was arrested. But after Jesus rose, he went directly to Peter and gave him a chance to proclaim his love. Thirty years later, as Paul is on the road to incite more violence against Christians, Jesus appears…not only appears but stops him in his tracks. Soon he will ask Paul to lead the very people he sought to hurt.
This leads me to proclaim the truth that Jesus never gives up on us.
If Jesus can call Peter back and build his church upon one who was so afraid, he can use anyone to build his church, even you. If Jesus can totally stop the bullheaded Paul’s march and turn him around, he certainly can keep hold and direct even the most bullheaded among us. Happy Birthday, by the way, to all of you Taurus!
Second chance…we all need another chance.
Before the pandemic, a program called 2nd Call was run out of our campus. Call in 2nd Call is Second Chance at Living Life and it is an outreach to those who are released from prison. I called the founder, Skip Townsend, and asked him to tell me more about the program that still runs in a sister Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Los Angeles. I learned that the woman who worked out of our office had been a lifer in prison. Skip found her, we’ll call her Sharon, in prison. He saw that Sharon was a leader. She was centered. She was powerful. She had a direction. Skip saw her; Sharon saw him. It wasn’t a romance. It turned out to be 2nd chance. He saw in her someone who could help him help those who, when they were released, were not ready to hold down a job. It was a chance for her … wait, she was sentenced to life!
And yet, before she was released, hear this, before she gave word that she would be released, she had been given a plan from on high. She would work for Skip; she told him so. Then she would hire her friend Karen to create a safe space for others getting out of prison to find their way back to life.
I don’t know the details of how it happened, I just know that it did. I saw Sharon’s friend Karen lead anger management and life skills classes in the community room where we have our morning coffee. And, Sharon, when we needed help making room for their office, she brought a group of men who felt like family, onto the campus to do the heavy lifting.
We had the privilege of having Sandra and Karen and Skip on our campus for many years. We don’t know if they will be able to come back. I do know that Sandra is helping others have a second chance even as she prepares to give birth to her…second child.
I learned something important from this conversation I had on Wednesday. First, I need to be asking people more questions. Reach out and ask them to share their story. Because there are miracles all around.
We may turn away. We may get scared and run away. We may even intentionally cause harm to another on the way. And still, Jesus appears to us, in one form or another, and gives us a second chance to live again.
As we begin this series, “Look for the miracle” let’s start by asking more questions so we might share in another’s victory. And, let’s also remember…
The second chances we’ve been given. There is not one here who has not made mistakes.
From the everyday moments of mistakes made on the road (cutting people off when changing lanes) to those we make in our relationships (why did I say that?!) to those we make on the job (did I just tell off my boss?) … we don’t just need second chances we need a multiplicity of chances.
I remember the day…
I was teaching and one of the girls in my class was telling me how she had been a gymnast. I liked her; she had spunk. With a glint in my eye, the lesson was long over and the bell was due to ring in 5 minutes, I challenged her to show us a backflip. She said she could do it. But I soon discovered a portable floor is not meant for gymnastics. She stood up in front of the class with a big smile on her face. She squatted and then jumped up and … her head was 1 “ from the floor before she got her feet back under her.
In that instant, her life, my life, passed in front of me.
Thank God she was okay. Thank God she flipped all the way around. Thank God that my stupid whim didn’t paralyze her or get me fired or put in jail.
I never challenged a student to demonstrate even a forward somersault after that day.
Thank God for the chance to continue on. It was a miracle for which I still give thanks.
If you are looking for God’s hand in your life, for the miracle, start with where you’ve been granted another chance at living life. Write them down…your list of miracles.
And, then, let’s journey with Paul to a deeper truth. Unlike me in teaching, Paul doesn’t just get a do-over and gets to continue on with his life. The Paul he understood himself to be dies.
For three days he lay waiting without food or drink.
All he knew, his companions, his purpose, his community, his why….it is all gone.
This isn’t a do-over; this is a rebirth.
As we spoke in Bible Study, Paul’s empty stomach represents his letting go of what once fed him. He is being emptied so he can be filled with a new Spirit and a new purpose. Ironically, he will be held by the very community he sought to destroy.
When soldiers return from war, when part of the body no longer works, when a life-long love dies when you are told its time to move from your home, when you give up the car keys, when you leave college and look for your first job, when you give birth to a baby when you start a career…
The you that you knew dies.
What used to feed you is no longer.
Connections you once had are gone.
Know that when you go into the darkness blind to what is next, you are not alone. Because you belong to God, because you have chosen to take hold of the risen Jesus, you too will rise. You will be reborn. No, your life won’t be as it once was. But you will live again. There is life after you’ve given up the car keys. There is life rising in the middle of the night to calm a screaming baby. There is life after the loss.
We serve a risen Savior.
The moments when we are emptied become the transformational moments when God fills us with a new Spirit.
Thank God for the miracle of Ananais. We are led by such people on our journey; those people arrive in the midst of these transformations and lead us on the way.
I just love that scene of him talking to Jesus…you know, Lord, I’ve heard about this Saul and he ain’t one I really want to be near. And Jesus said, “go anyway for I have hold of him.” And Ananais says “okay, if you say so.”
As I look back upon my greatest life changes…God has always given me an Ananais, someone to lead me from the darkest most frightening place into new life.
That is just what God does. God doesn’t leave us alone to make the change all by ourselves. Jesus has a whole bunch of friends, including you, who will be there for another.
2 + 2 = 4; Paul will be touched by Ananais and will eventually become one of the most world-changing people ever born on the earth; and you, my friend, when you are struck down, brought to your knees, and unable to see what is next, there will be a friend to help you on the way.
You will be reborn; you will rise; because… you are a friend of God.