There are over 179,000 words in the New Testament. And approximately twenty-five percent of those words or about 45,000, are attributed to one man, the Apostle Paul. It’s hard to overstate the impact of this one faithful individual. His ministry spanned nearly three decades. He established churches in many of the major metropolitan centers of the ancient world. He wrote letters that have been read by billions of Christians for almost 2,000 years. He has been the subject of scholarly debate and study at the highest academic level. He was a leader. He was teacher. He was pastor. He was a follower of Jesus. This is the life and legacy of Paul the Apostle.
But, of course, before he became the transformational leader known as Paul the Apostle, he was known to everyone as Saul of Tarsus, the great persecutor of the church. And that’s where our story this morning begins, with Saul of Tarsus, “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Still bound and determined to stop this Jesus movement no matter the cost. As the story goes, Saul has requested to be sent to the city of Damascus where he plans to expand his rampage against the followers of Jesus. And it is somewhere on that road to Damascus, that Saul has his conversion experience. He sees a bright light shining from heaven. He is knocked down flat on his back. He hears the voice of Jesus, the One whom he has been fighting against. This is a moment full of drama and suspense and emotion. By all accounts, this is the moment that defined the rest of Saul’s life.
But notice that after this transformational encounter with the presence of Jesus, Saul doesn’t ride off into the sunset and instantly become a great apostolic leader. He doesn’t immediately jump to his feet and declare that he is a changed man ready to conquer the world. To the contrary, after his conversion experience, Saul is left blind and weak, confused and vulnerable. He needs assistance to finish the rest of the journey to the city of Damascus. For the next three days he doesn’t eat or drink anything. Now we don’t know what Saul did for those three days. But I have to imagine that it was a time of spiritual darkness and confusion. A time of spiritual wrestling. A time of coming to terms with his own past.
And who knows how long Saul would have been stuck in that spiritual darkness? Who knows how long Saul would have lingered in that wilderness place? Who knows if Saul of Tarsus ever would have become Paul the Apostle had it not been for the faithfulness of a disciple named Ananias.
You see, at the same time that God was at work in the life Saul of Tarsus, God was also at work in the life of Ananias of Damascus. God calls him by name and says, “Ananias!” And he says, “Here I am, Lord.” God says, “I am sending you to a man named Saul, who is from the city of Tarsus, and you, Ananias, are going to pray for him and he will regain his sight and he will fulfill God’s purpose for his life. At first, Ananias is fearful and hesitant. Ananias says, “Whoa! I’ve heard about this guy! He is bad news! He has done a lot of damage in the city of Jerusalem. And he has come here with the authority to arrest anyone who calls on your name.” But God says to Ananias, “Go! This man has a purpose. He is my chosen instrument.” So, Ananias goes. And when he first encounters Saul, who is blind and weak and confused, Ananias says, “Brother Saul, Jesus has sent me to you to pray for you that you might receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Ananias calls him brother. Despite Saul’s reputation. Despite his past. Despite all that he has done. Ananias calls him brother. There is no condemnation. No shame. No judgment. Only an expression of God’s grace and mercy and love.
Saul of Tarsus had a conversion experience. He had an encounter with the Risen Christ. But in the aftermath of that experience, he was blind, weak, confused, and vulnerable. And it was Ananias who came along side Saul and spoke words of grace and healing. Words of unconditional love. Words of truth. It was through Ananias that God brought healing and restoration to Saul. The fullness of this conversion experience was only possible because of Ananias. God could have acted alone. This could have all happened at the private, individual level as it did for Moses and Abraham and Jeremiah and Isaiah. But in the story of Saul, God chooses to act through the touch and voice, the flesh and blood of another person. Ananias overcomes his own fears and apprehensions and becomes a vessel of God’s healing power and transforming love.
And so, I wonder this morning, who has been Ananias for you? Who are those people who have come along side of you? Who are those people whose touch and voice, and flesh and blood, have been the means by which God has moved in your life? When you have been blind and weak, confused and vulnerable, who has been a vessel of God’s healing power and love in your life? I call tell you that some of the people who have been Ananias to me are sitting in this room right now. Who has been Ananias for you?
And moreover, to whom are you being called to be Ananias right now? Who in your life needs you to be a vessel of God’s love and power? Who needs your touch, your voice, your presence? Who does God want to speak to through you? You might have apprehension and fear, just like Ananias. But God is calling you to believe in the power of God’s presence with you. To speak the truth in love and to allow God’s grace to flow through you. To whom are you being called to be Ananias right now?
You see, not many of us will be called to be like the Apostle Paul. Probably none of us in this room will be remembered 2,000 years from now. None of us are likely to write letters that will be read by billions of people. None of us will have the historical impact the likes of Paul the Apostle. But all of us have the potential to be Ananias! All of us are called to be the presence and voice of God to one another. All of us are called to bring light where there is darkness, to be responsive to the leading of God’s Spirit, to come alongside those who need support, encouragement, and hope. We are all called to be Ananias. So, may we be set free from our own fears and apprehensions and may we be empowered to be vessels of God’s grace, to speak the truth in love, and to be partners with God in the work of transforming lives and ultimately transforming the world.