Saturday, April 13, 2013

Blind Faith - Seeing Faith

Acts 9:1-20

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.  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?"
"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."
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 he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.  In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!" "Yes, Lord," he answered.  The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.  In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight."
"Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name."
But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord-- Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here-- has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.

A Jewish father was concerned about his son who was about a year away from his Bar Mitzvah, but was sorely lacking in his knowledge of the Jewish faith. To remedy this, he sent his son to Israel to experience his heritage.

A year later the young man returned home. "Father, thank you for sending me to the land of our fathers," the son said. "It was wonderful and enlightening; however, I must confess that while in Israel I converted to Christianity."

"Oi vey," replied the father, "what have I done?" So, in the tradition of the patriarchs, he went to his best friend and sought his advice.

"It is amazing that you should come to me," stated his friend. "I, too, sent my son to Israel and he returned a Christian." So in the tradition of the patriarchs, they went to the Rabbi.

"It is amazing that you should come to me," stated the Rabbi. "I, too sent my son to Israel and! he returned a Christian. What is happening to our sons?

Brothers, we must take this to the Lord." They fell to their knees and began to pray and pour out their hearts to the Almighty.

As they prayed, the clouds above opened and the mighty voice of God said, "Amazing that you should come to me. I, too, sent my Son to Israel........"

This morning’s New Testament lesson is about a conversion.  It’s a famous, well-known conversion experience, at least for Christians.  It is the conversion of Paul, or as he is still known at the time of our New Testament Lesson, Saul.

Now one thing you have to say about Paul is that he was a man of great faith.

Before this New Testament Lesson, he is a man of a deep Jewish faith.

After this New Testament Lesson, he is a man of a deep Christian faith.

But that is not the only conversion that Saul or Paul experiences here. 

It is also one of converting from arrogant faith, to mature faith.

Let me share a line from a book I read recently.  Actually, I didn’t really read the book – just the first 50 pages – which is about the time I discovered the book had no plot.  It was dull, it was boring.  But it had an interesting but disturbing line on page 9:  “Ian was sort of conventional about religion.  He always went to church on Sunday.  However – I think he was the only Christian I ever met who was polite about his religion.”

Is that the way the world sees us?

Are we so passionate about our faith that we have become rude and arrogant about our faith?

Well, that was Saul.  He was arrogant about his faith. 

Arrogant Faith listens selectively to the truth

Faith that is arrogant listens only selectively to the truth – it does not listen to the whole truth.

And that was Saul.

Saul was a very religious individual.

He was described as blameless according to the Law of Moses.

In other words, Saul was passionate for God, so he listened to voice of the law and tradition, which was good.

Saul was also a Pharisee among Pharisees, very passionate for the faith of his fathers and absolutely convinced that he was doing the Will of God.

In other words, Saul was passionate for God, so he listened to voice of his community of faith, which was good.

Saul was well educated – Trained at the feet of Gamaliel, one of Israel’s greatest teachers of the day.

In other words, Saul was passionate for God, so he listened to voice of his teachers, which was good.

Unfortunately, of all the voices he was listening to, there was one voice that was missing.  The voice of Jesus.

Arrogant faith refuses to listen to the whole word of God.

Arrogant Faith has passion without compassion

Arrogant faith is also a faith that has a lot of passion, but has very little compassion.

If you have not met people like that, they you have certainly seen them on television.  For example, the Islamic Extremists who kidnap people – mostly innocent civilians, and who hold them hostage and in many cases behead them.  It is so difficult to read about these people in the newspapers, but when we do we often shake our heads in confussion and wonder, ‘how can people who claim to have so much faith be filled with so much hate?”

It is because theirs is not a mature faith, but an arrogant faith.

It has passion, but no compassion.  It is missing so much that true, mature faith ought to have.

Saul was like that.

He was on fire for God.  He was filled with passion.  But his faith early on lacked so much. 

Compassion.  Love.  Understanding – these are things you find in Saul after his conversion, but not before.

He was at the stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the church.  And as our New Testament lesson begins, Saul is out there trying to round up those who do not believe as he believes.  He makes them prisoners.

Now, we are not going around killing people – but we have to admit that sometimes our faith is arrogant and lacks compassion, understanding and love.

And this is where we see Saul as our New Testament lesson opens.  He was arrogant.  More than that, he was a man who was full of bitterness and hatred – hated anything and anyone who could be a threat to the things that he believed, and those who would cause trouble for his people and those who opposed the teachings of the high priest and the Law of Moses. He hated those who preached and taught heresy against the Law that had led Israel for so many years.

Saul was on his way to do the Will of God as he traveled to Damascus – at least what he thought was God’s will.

Arrogant Faith is a disappointment to God

While Saul is on this road to Damascus, he encounters Christ, and one of the things he learns is that arrogant faith is a disappointment to God.

Our New Testament lesson put it this way, “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?"

"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied.

When I hear the voice of God, I want to hear something like, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

What I don’t want to hear is the disappointment in the Lord’s voice, “Maynard, Maynard, why do you persecute me?”

But that is what Saul heard.  The news that the Lord was disappointed in him.

It is a dramatic moment.  Saul, or Paul, thinks Jesus is dead.  And here he is talking to Jesus.

Paul is trying to gather up all of the people who believe in Jesus to punish them.  And here he is, beginning to believe in Jesus himself.

Paul is a man who has had a blind faith, but now he is literally struck blind by the light of God.

Everything changes here for Paul.  As much as anything, what changes is that his faith turns from an arrogant faith, to become a mature and true faith.

And Saul makes the discovery of what true faith is all about.

True Faith has open ears to hear the voice of Jesus

True faith has open ears to hear the voice of Jesus.

It is interesting that Paul has been willing to listen to so many sources, except Jesus.

He has listened to the Law of the Lord – which Paul dearly and sincerely loved.  It is good to listen to Law of God, but that’s not enough.

Paul listened to the teachers, which is wonderful – but even that is not enough.

Paul listened to the traditions of his faith, and again, that was not enough.

It is never enough to hear all of the voices around you but not to listen to the voice of Jesus.

But God eventually does not give Paul any choice.  God knocks Paul off his high horse, literally and figuratively, and Paul is forced to hear the voice of Jesus.

What do we hear when we listen to the voice of Jesus?

Do we hear arrogance?  No, of course not.

Do we hear hatred?  No.

When we listen to the voice of Jesus, we hear him say, “Love the Lord your God, and your neighbor as yourself.”

When we listen to the voice of Jesus, we hear him say, "Do not be afraid.” 

When we listen to the voice of Jesus, we hear him say,  "Your sins are forgiven."

When we listen to the voice of Jesus, we hear him say,  "Peace be with you!”

Arrogant faith listens to only a few of those words.

True faith listens to all of those words.

True Faith has open eyes to see the truth

True faith also opens peoples eyes to see the truth.

Sometimes when your faith is so arrogant, you are blind to the truth.  That was Paul.  He was figuratively speaking, blind to the truth.  Which is strange, because he was so passionately on fire for the Lord. 

But that is the way it is with arrogant faith – blind.

Now please understand… when I talk about letting go of arrogant faith, I don’t want you to think that I am encouraging you to have a faith that is so wishy washy, no one, including you, knows what you really believe.

I’m not suggesting a form of political correctness that doesn’t stand up for one’s faith or have a clear understanding of faith.

Let me illustrate this by using something that happens in Paul’s own life. 

Years after his conversion experience, Paul is on a mission trip and he is in Athens, Greece.  He looks around and he sees all these temples to false gods.

Now the arrogant Paul with an arrogant faith would have stormed in and called the Greeks idol worshippers and he would have put them down for their false religious faith.

But having his eyes opened by true faith, he looks around and doesn’t see the false gods as much as he sees that the Greeks are spiritually hungry.  They are in search of God and of truth. 

In Acts, chapter 17, Paul speaks to the Greeks and says, "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now let me tell you about that unknown God, because I know who he is!”

It is an amazing transformation – or conversion for Paul.  He is able to see the bigger picture and approach these people without arrogance.  He communicates the truth of God on their level.  He sees that they may be worshipping false gods, but more than that, they are searching for the true God.

True Faith has open mouth to speak the truth.

Paul also finds in his conversion experience that true faith is not a silent faith.  Our New Testament lesson ends with him proclaiming boldly the Word of God and telling others about how Jesus is indeed the Christ.

There are some people who believe that it is wrong to share one’s faith with another person.

Faith and religion are personal, therefore it is wrong to share the faith with someone else.

Sometimes even parents raise their children this way.  “We don’t want to dictate what our children will believe,” some parents will say.  “We want them to make their own decision when they are old enough to decide.”

That makes no sense to me.

When my son was a child, I didn’t let him make his decisions about what to eat – he would have had pizza every day topped with ice cream every day.

I didn’t let him decide whether or not to go to school, or whether or not to behave.  I was very clear about matters related to drugs and alcohol.

And faith is no less important than these things. 

We baptize infants in this church.  In part because this is what we are taught in Scripture and in our traditions.  But in part because we believe that it is appropriate for us to raise children in the faith – we don’t wait until they are teenagers or adults to introduce them to the faith.

It is not arrogant to teach your children your faith.

It is not arrogant to share your faith with your neighbors.

It is not arrogant to share your faith with strangers.

As long as we do so lovingly and respectfully.  As Paul did with the Greeks.  He wasn’t arrogant, but he shared his faith in words of respect to the Greeks.

True faith is bold enough to share the faith.


God wants all of us to have faith – but what kind of faith do we have?  Is it a seeing faith that is mature and loving and compassionate?  Or is it a blind faith that is so arrogant that even the voice of God cannot be heard?

Copyright 2013, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.
Ministers may use all or part of this sermon in their own ministries.