Ananias: To heal or not to heal?
The following sermon was the second in a series on living the resurrection focusing on lectionary stories from the Acts of the Apostles. This sermon was a bit different as it is done as a first person monologue from the perspective of Ananias – Bishop of Damascus and the disciple asked by Jesus to heal Saul’s blindness. For the record the choice to have him as one of the seventy sent out by Jesus in Luke 10 is according to early church traditions. Just about every list of those seventy includes him. As for aspects of his character.. well that’s all just in my head. Its a scary place my head. 🙂
Resurrection People: Forgiving
By Andrew Kukla
9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and 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. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul 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.9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11The 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, 12and 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.” 13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15But 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; 16I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17So 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.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
Grace and Peace to you. My name is Ananais. You probably haven’t heard of me… I’m not a center stage person. Oh I have taken on leadership positions in the past and hold one currently, but I’m more of a “say yes when asked” kind of person.
I remember the first time when I began to get caught up the teacher… Jesus is from Nazareth up in Galilee – a back row kind of place. Encountering his preaching was amazing. He had such passion, and when you listened to him there was this palpable sense that what he spoke was right. It wasn’t easy.. never easy stuff. But He lived what he preached… you know what I mean – it wasn’t just words in his mouth. You could tell that when he spoke, this was also the way he lived his life. That is rare to find, rare to find someone who really wrestles with what it means to believe what he believes and then live accordingly…. Except with him it’s like backward from that –it’s almost like he lives it and only afterwards does he preach it… once he is preaching something its only because he’s already been doing it.
He questions everything… its why I liked being the back row; the twelve could answer his questions and get the notice. I didn’t need to be up there stumbling over answers. But I involved from early on, I was one of those seventy he sent out… He sent us out healing and preaching and teaching… amazing things happened on that trip – I did amazing things, but it wasn’t really me doing it. Have you ever had one of those moments when amazing things are happening because of you, but you know that you couldn’t’ have done all that and its not really you doing it… and yet it is your hands, they are looking at you. They were thanking me… and I feel like an imposter when they thank me because it wasn’t me – thank God, thank Jesus. I didn’t do it…. But… well it was done through me.
Amazing things happened on that trip but understand me in this – it wasn’t easy. I was as conflicted at the beginning of that trip as I am now. He told us we couldn’t take money, or spare clothes. Nothing extra.. extra, it wasn’t even just about extras… he wouldn’t even let us take much of the basics. How would I survive? His words are challenging words, and I’m still wondering if I believe it and now I’m supposed to be teaching and preaching it, actually healing people!
Jesus’ teachings? They get in your head… and they don’t let you go. You begin thinking weird thoughts, thoughts you aren’t even sure will work. But I’ve seen it work. Challenging myself and others to not worry about tomorrow, but trusting that God will provide for tomorrow tomorrow, so today I can give all that I am and all that I have freely, knowing I won’t need it tomorrow… new blessings will abound for me then.
That’s crazy talk right? But I’ve done it… I lived it… I’m proof that such a way of life can actually work. And when you get to thinking about it Jesus teaching wasn’t new. That is what mana was all about during Moses time. I mean I read that story a thousand times before and yet it wasn’t until Jesus that I thought maybe I was supposed to live that way. Not store up food or resources for tomorrow but trust that God will provide and live for today. Jesus is so consistent with what I have always been taught but no one before really expected me to live that way… and he does.
I’ve been on board for all of it. What he is asking now though is just too much. But Saul??? Jesus wants me to forgive Saul? To heal him; to love him?? He’s asked me to go heal our enemy for God’s sake!! Does Jesus really think I can do that? Saul has made a name for himself in hunting down all of us who follow Jesus. They say he has no mercy in his eyes when he looks at you like you aren’t even human. A fire burns there… and people flee here from his wrath. And now Saul is up here with papers from the chief priests to get me! ME! But not just me, I could handle that…. I could handle risking my life. But he wants to gather up the whole church and haul us down for trial in Jerusalem. I’m not worried about my own life, this isn’t just about me. I live in Damascus and I’m the leader of the church here in Damascus. Sure we are a small bunch but I’m responsible for people’s lives. I have to look out for them, protect them, feed them.
I get the tomorrow will take care of tomorrow but it’s their lives I’m messing with. That is hard. To make decisions about other people’s lives, and other people’s safety. Sure God knows that is too much to ask…. Sure…ly… but he sent me out that way didn’t he. I mean I was Jesus responsibility when he sent me out like a lamb to the wolves – those were his very words! I send you out like a lamb among wolves. And he did… so he isn’t really asking anything of me as a leader that he didn’t do as a leader… AGGGH – this is why life with Jesus is so hard. How do you wiggle out of a loophole with a guy who never looks for loopholes, and wouldn’t wiggle out of it even if he did?
Saul has been struck blind? Isn’t that a gift from God? A great opportunity for us to be safe? He can’t find us now, he can’t hunt us down. We’re actually safe for the moment… and God wants me to give that up? I don’t know if I can put my people at risk to heal Saul. After this anything he does will be on my head. I will put us all at risk and any harm he brings to us will be my fault! My fault…. Does God really want that?
It was enough when it was about money, and stuff, and houses and all of that. It was enough when I was trusting God to provide tomorrow, but my own life – and the lives of all these people who trust me? Surely some things I can care about and protect at all costs? Surely…. … I know it’s there behind me. You don’t have to remind me. That cross. What it’s reminding me of. I like to think, I want to think, it would be comfortable to think Jesus wouldn’t ask this of me. But you can’t look at the cross and imagine that Jesus would ask anything else.
Do I have it in me to forgive Saul?
Let’s for a moment assume I’m going to do this thing. I’ve never said no before. And saying no to Jesus is really a hard proposition. So presuming I’m going to do this… can I? Will I be able to do it when I’m there, standing over him? Will I be able to forgive him? Heal him? Love him, him who has hated me? When Saul’s life is in my hands… will I have the strength to actually forgive and heal?
When Jesus sent me out, one of the seventy. These hands healed many… but it wasn’t really me, I remember that. I didn’t heal them. Never thought I could, and I still know that I can’t but God did heal them through me. So maybe God can love through me too. Maybe when I can’t do it God will do it through me… not so much me forgiving and healing, but Jesus – who I know would do it…. I’m just making way for Jesus right?
I am going to do it… I don’t say no to Jesus. I just can’t believe it. Saul. Jesus always said love your enemies and it was much easier when it was “enemies” that I was supposed to love. It’s harder when an actual enemy is there before you ready to be loved. I do wonder what God has in store for him. Probably would be nicer to Saul if I just let him go… Jesus sure does mess with your head. Saul may regret this mercy some day when Jesus has him in his grip, just like I am.
I guess if I was Saul, I would want to imagine a world where God doesn’t give up on me. Its great news isn’t it? It’s wonderful to imagine that God is out there working among the people I have wronged asking them to forgive me, love me, work healing in me…
I can do this… we can do this. Amen.