Friday, April 08, 2016

Mature Faith that Sees - Acts 9:1-20

Acts 9:1-20

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and 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.Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 
He asked, “Who are you, Lord?”
The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul 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 DamascusFor three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.”
He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 
11 The 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, 12 and 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.” 
13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 
15 But 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; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 
17 So 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.” 
18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

Sermon                                No Longer A Blind Faith            Maynard Pittendreigh

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.  From a blind faith to a seeing faith.

Blind Faith listens selectively to the truth

Faith that is blind and 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 God.

Blind, arrogant faith refuses to listen to the whole word of God.
I bet you have met people like that.  I have a college buddy who has no tattoos because the Old Testament book of Leviticus prohibits it.  He does not eat lobster because the Old Testament book of Leviticus prohibits it.  He does not work on the Sabbath because the Bible speaks against it.  But he is not generous.  He gives nothing to the poor.  He is racist and judgmental. 
It is so difficult for him to see that he has not heard the whole word of God – or even the most important words.  His faith is blind.

Arrogant Faith has passion without compassion

Another thing about blind faith is that it 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 confusion and wonder, ‘how can people who claim to have so much faith be filled with so much hate?”

It is because theirs is a blind and 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 blind 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.

Seeing 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.

There is a story of Paul that illustrates how his faith so greatly matured. 

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 old Paul with his blind and 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.

That is the thing about faith.  It grows, it changes, and it never stops growing and changing. 

As people of faith we can never say “I have arrived.”  We are always on the journey.  And along the way, we will have these moments of growth – some will be gentle and slow while others will be dramatic Damascus Road moments. 

And if we are doing this journey correctly, we will see more and more, and be less and less blindly arrogant along the way.

Along the way.

Did you notice that the Christians at this point in the New Testament lesson were called “belonging to the WAY.”

The way.  Not the destination – but the way.  And we are all on a journey along the way.  Our faith is meant to grow and change and mature and to be more and more a seeing faith, and less and less a blind faith.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.