From Side Streets to Highways: Our Roads to Damascus

This morning’s sermon!  The Road to Damascus …

Acts 9:1-20

From Side Streets to Highways: Our Roads to Damascus

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

I was reminded of these words, the Prayer of Saint Francis, when I was reading about the Apostle Paul’s conversion this week. The Lord told Ananias to go to Saul in Damascus, where he was blind and unable to eat or drink. The Lord said to Ananias, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen …”

Saul’s conversion is often referred to as “The Road to Damascus”. Most of us do not really think about Saul as Saul – we mostly know him in the bible as Paul, the apostle who wrote many of the letters, the epistles, in the New Testament. But Saul of Tarsus was a Jewish man who threatened the earliest followers of Christ and ordered to have many of them killed. We actually were first introduced to Saul earlier in Acts, at the stoning of Stephen. Stephen was stoned following his speech to the council in the seventh chapter of Acts. While Stephen was being stoned witnessed laid their coats down at the feet of Saul (Acts 7:58).

Saul was later visited by the Lord, as we heard in this morning’s scripture reading from the ninth chapter of Acts. He was blinded by a light from heaven while traveling to Damascus. While Saul was in Damascus, the Lord sent a man named Ananias to him; Ananias laid his hands on Saul and said to him, “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.”

In an instant, Saul could see again. And from there, Saul – then called Paul – went into the synagogues in Damascus and proclaimed to everyone that Jesus was the Son of God.

This can be a tricky story for many of us to think about. Saul’s conversion experience was so dramatic, so overwhelmingly life-changing. And while there are Christians all around the world who have dramatic conversion experiences like Saul – people who find God, who see Jesus, who are saved, who have one defining moment of clarity – there are also so many people who simply live their lives believing. They do not know what it means to have a drastic conversion.

But strong faith is not necessarily defined by a drastic moment in someone’s life. It can also be defined by the journeys we all take. I truly believe that this story does speak to all of us.

Let’s think about the smaller pieces of this story. The Road to Damascus is about an encounter with God. And not one single encounter, either. God is speaking to and working through many characters in this story. Most obviously to us, Saul had an encounter with Jesus. God wanted to work through Saul, to use Saul as an instrument through which Jesus’ teachings and story could be spread throughout the world.

But – God also wanted to work through Ananias. God called Ananias; God wanted Ananias to go to Saul, to be a prophetic voice in Saul’s life as he was experiencing his conversion.

And what about the men that Saul was traveling with? God worked through them; they heard Jesus’ voice when he first spoke to Saul and then they led him into Damascus when he could not see his own way.

This may be a stretch, but I cannot help but think that God was also working through the disciples that Saul joined in Damascus after his conversion. Despite the fact that Saul once persecuted them and tried to have them killed for teaching and preaching in the name of Jesus, they still embraced him and welcomed him into their ministry in the synagogues.

I titled this sermon, “From Side Streets to Highways: Our Roads to Damascus,” because I realized that the “road” to Damascus is simply a reminder that life and faith are journeys to be traveled, not destinations to be reached. And no one says that our roads to Damascus – our encounters with God, our conversion experiences – have to be as over the top as Saul’s was. Our roads, our journeys, do not necessarily have to include some sort of massive and immediate conversion in order for them to have meaning. Four different people – or groups of people – experienced God in this story in very different ways, both in form and size.

Where have you encountered God in your life?

Have you ever felt like Saul, even if your experience was not quite as dramatic as his was? Have you ever felt blind? Perhaps your blindness was not necessarily in a literal sense. Were you unable to find an answer to a question, unable to come to a decision about a choice in your life? What did you learn while you were waiting for your “sight” to be restored? And what did you see when your eyes were opened?

Have you ever felt like Ananias? Has you ever felt God pushing you to meet someone on their journey at a point of conversion in their life? Have you felt called to encourage them in their ministry and to reach out your hand with a healing touch when they are weak?

Have you ever felt like the men who travelled with Saul? Have you ever had to be a caregiver to someone else, to guide someone while they experienced some kind of blindness or difficulty in their life?

Have you ever felt like the disciples that Saul joined in Damascus after his conversion? At one point, Saul threatened their lives and now they were all working together. Have you ever had to embrace someone after they wronged you in some way or another?

Look for yourself within the characters and the pieces of this story. Where was God working in your life during those times? How did you encounter God?

The Road to Damascus shows us such diversity in the expression of God’s power and presence in the world. The story reminds us that while we may not know who, what, where, when, why or how God is working in our lives, we are the instruments through which God does ministry. And God is changing our lives through these encounters, even if it is in a small way.

When I was reflecting on this passage of scripture this week, three phrases jumped out to me. The first – as I have already eluded to – was, “he is an instrument,” words that the Lord spoke to Ananias when he told him to go to Saul in Damascus. We are instruments. God is using us – all of us – in unique and beautiful ways.

The second phrase that jumped out to me was, “Here I am, Lord,” words that Ananias spoke to Jesus when he called him and told him to find Saul. When have you said those words in your own life? God calls in so many different ways and places. If God needs us to be instruments, then we need to be ready to respond to God’s call, to say, “Here I am, Lord” in our own lives.

The last phrase that jumped out to me was not something that was spoken, but part of a descriptive narrative. “And his sight was restored” – these words come at the end of today’s story, at the end of one part of Saul’s journey, at the beginning of a new phase in his life as the Apostle Paul. Can you imagine what this must have been like for Saul, to see the world and his faith in a completely new way? Sometimes – even if we think we may be seeing clearly – we need to wait for our sight to be restored. We need our sight restored in a literal sense, a metaphorical sense and a spiritual sense – in order to see where God is leading us.

Saul’s story on the road to Damascus does show us such an elaborate expression of God’s power. Blinding light … voices from the sky … visions … healing. But maybe – in addition to telling a vivid story about an important figure in the church – this story is acting as a reminder to look for God – from the smallest of places to the largest of places – along our own journeys. We all have our own Road to Damascus story. Sometimes we are blinded. Sometimes we are bringing a message to someone. Sometimes we are helping someone in trouble. Sometimes we are embracing someone.

And think outside of the details of the story. How is God working in your life? How is God using you as an instrument? How is God using you in your family, within your circle of friends, in this community and in the world? How will the life you lead be a living expression of the faith you have in your heart?

Every single day – from the smallest of ways to the largest of ways – God is transforming you and the life that you are living.

Answer God’s call.

Let your sight be restored.

And see where your road will take you.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

One thought on “From Side Streets to Highways: Our Roads to Damascus

  1. And his disciples took him by night and let him down over the wall, lowering him in a basket. And when he had come to Jerusalem he attempted to join the disciples but they are all afraid of him for they did not believe he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists; but they were seeking to kill him. And when the brethren knew it, they brought him down to Caesarea and set him off to Tarsus. (Acts 9:25-30)

    And (Ananias) . . .said, The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Just One and to hear a voice from his mouth; and you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now, why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name. When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple I fell into a trance and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get quickly out of Jerusalem, because they will not accept your testimony about me. And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in very synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in thee. And when the blood of Stephen thy witness was shed, I also was standing by and approving, and keeping the garments of those who killed him.’ And he said to me, ‘Depart; for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ (Acts 22:14-21)

    But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and I still was not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; they only heard it said, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy. (Galatians 1:15-23)

    My conclusion: Paul either had a very poor memory, was mentally ill, or lied about what he did in the weeks, months, and first few years after his conversion experience on the Damascus Road. Yet, Christians base their belief in the Resurrection, the pinnacle event of their faith, on this man’s testimony, which in his own words, was a “heavenly vision” of a talking, bright light…along with the writings of four anonymous first century authors, writing decades after the alleged event, in a foreign language, in far away foreign lands, for purposes we do not and will never know.

    That isn’t evidence, folks. That is speculation, superstition, and fantasy.

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