A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Conversion of St. Paul – January 25, 2004
Text: Acts 9:10-21a
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
This Sunday the Church celebrates the conversion of St. Paul, it’s greatest missionary and theologian. Through God’s grace, the man who had been among the Church’s greatest enemies became her greatest servant; the man Saul who had helped kill believers in Jesus Christ would now come to believe himself, and die himself for that faith.
And so we read:
Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord!” he replied.
The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you arrive, ask for Saul of Tarsus. He is praying to me right now. I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying his hands on him so that he can see again.”
“But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! And we hear that he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest every believer in Damascus.”
But the Lord said, “Go and do what I say. For Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for me.”
So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you may get your sight back and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. Afterward he ate some food and was strengthened.
Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”
All who heard him were amazed.
As a child, I can’t say I had many enemies. The kids in my neighborhood were nice, and we almost always got along well enough. At school there were kids I liked, and kids I didn’t like so much… but mostly they and I just ignored each other and did our own things.
It wasn’t until the summer after fifth grade that I can remember actually having enemies – real, honest to goodness enemies.
That was the summer I went to camp. Now, this was no Bible camp; I was one of a handful of kids from my class who were elected to be crossing guard captains, and this summer camp provided important training on the duties and responsibilities of the safety patrol.
I looked forward to my time at camp. I was proud to be chosen as a leader, and excited for my first week away from home. But things didn’t go as I had expected – somehow the kid world rolled over on top of me, and I found myself on the receiving end of the other kids’ teasing and pranks. Now, I won’t go into any of the specifics of what happened there, but you don’t need to imagine hard to understand when I say that I now had my very first enemies in life, and I really hated them.
I’m sure I must have prayed that things would get better, or that God would do something awful to them, to put them in their place. I don’t remember the specifics of my prayers that miserable week, but one thing I can tell you with complete certainty: I did not pray for those other kids. Not one word. If I prayed at all, it was against the creeps who made their week at camp great by destroying mine. Without a doubt, my prayers were against those boys, and not for them, because they were now my enemies.
Those memories still sting, and so I have a lot of sympathy for old Ananias. One of the first followers of Jesus Christ, back in the days when it cost many people their heads to admit it, Ananias knew what it was like to have enemies. And Saul of Tarsus was most definitely among those enemies. Though he’d never met him, Ananias knew all about Saul’s reputation: No one in Jerusalem was more passionate about erasing the name of Jesus from the books of history, and no one was more willing to use force against the people who would use their last breaths proclaiming, “Jesus is Lord!”
Saul was Ananias’ enemy. And I wouldn’t blame him if he prayed each night that God would cause the ground to open beneath Saul’s feet and drag him down to the grave alive. It’s almost certainly what Saul was praying would happen to Ananias and all the other believers.
But Jesus had a different suggestion for Ananias’ prayers: He wanted his disciple to pray for Saul, not against him. In fact, he wanted Ananias to go to the very man who was trying to destroy the Church, and place his hands on Saul’s head – a prayer of blessing suitable more for a king than a murderer! Some days it was hard enough for Ananias to pray for his own friends; how could he ever pray for this monster?
Yet look what Jesus accomplished through that monster, and through Ananias’ prayers for him! God has used the unlikely man Saul and those unlikely prayers of Ananias to rewrite the history of the world. Without Saul’s conversion, our Bible would be shorter by a dozen books. Without the newly-renamed apostle Paul, countless people might never have heard the good news of Jesus Christ. Without one man’s prayers for his enemy, our world would be a very different place, indeed.
Jesus calls us to pray for our enemies; it’s not just Ananias who gets this difficult job. And there’s no doubt, no scholarly dispute, no translational issues or reading between the lines on this one – it’s plain as day in Matthew, chapter 5: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”