November 16 – 20, 2015

“Saul’s Conversion” Preaching Text: Acts 9:1 – 31

1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 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. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 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. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. 11 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. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” 13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” 15 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. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 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.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. 23 After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.

26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.

Monday The Apostle’s Teaching: Saul’s Conversion, What’s In It For Me? (Brad Edgerly)

4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is

hard for you to kick against the goads.”
6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him,

“Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (New King James Version)

It is said that Saul was just like any man, only more so! One commentator described the young Saul as being like a “fire-breathing dragon” as he preyed upon the infant church. Paul would later describe himself as a “Hebrew among Hebrews” as well as “the worst of sinners.” He “boasts” of his remarkable sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11. Saul did nothing by half-measure. His “Damascus Road” experience was no exception. Full of mystery and drama, it seems as unique as Moses at the burning bush. Luke records the story three times in Acts, so it’s clear we are called to remember it. But why? Is there anything in it that we, who lead quiet lives, might also experience?

Saul was a man who was absolutely convinced he was doing God’s work in persecuting the renegade believers of the “Way,” as Christianity was first known. He was sure Jesus of Nazareth was no Messiah, because He had been crucified. He knew how things were to go for the promised One, and it didn’t involve dying on a cross. He was well educated, well-traveled and well connected. He had it all.

Through grace, the Lord saw fit to interrupt Saul’s life. Jesus initiates this personal encounter with unsuspecting Saul. In a glorious, blinding light that laid him low, and in a mysterious voice out of nowhere, Saul heard: “Why are you persecuting me? & It is hard to kick against the goads.” This meant Saul had been strenuously resisting the Lord’s urgings in the way an ox might resist the ploughman’s prodding. Saul wanted to know both the Lord’s identity and “what to do.” This brief conversation was a revelation: Jesus is Lord! By grace, the Lord brought the bright light of truth into Saul’s life. What would Saul’s next step be?

Saul learned that to harm Jesus’ followers was to harm Him! He became aware of the unity between Jesus & the believers. He sees that Jesus is still “present” even after the crucifixion. Jesus is able to “interrupt” the natural world with a blinding light. Jesus knew, through His “prodding,” what was in Saul’s heart & mind long before Saul was aware of it.

Unable to see, yet obedient to the Lord’s instruction, Saul was led into Damascus, not to complete his original mission, but to prepare for a righteous one. It began with quiet days of prayer & fasting, during which came a vision promising restored sight. Ananias, a man who before would have been the object of Saul’s wrath, comes at the Lord’s command to heal him, calling him “brother!” Not only was Saul’s sight restored, so too was a right relationship to Jesus and His followers. Saul became capable of receiving the Lord’s grace. His first response? He was baptized, which proclaimed publically his repentance, faith and a new beginning, full of new relationships to God & others.

When & how did Jesus first illuminate your life and show you His true identity & your own?

Tuesday The Fellowship: My Jerusalem (Jean Edgerly)

By some standards, my Jerusalem appears to have no Sadducees or Roman occupying forces. I have a loving husband, we have two wonderful daughters who are happy and productive in their lives and I teach at a parochial school (which means I have two months off in the summer). Certainly I am very blessed. I can (and do) freely share my faith at work and have multiple opportunities for prayer each day. However, if I consider the details of my days, my Jerusalem reveals itself to be a bit more complicated.

One complication is that I’m actually an active member of a Catholic Church community. By definition, I’m not part of the Forestdale Church community, but all my friendships and the majority of my spiritual nurturing originates with Forestdale. It also helps me connect better with Brad by worshiping with him and participating in the relationships that affect him the most.

A detail that I share with others at Forestdale is my (our) concern about our children. Having daughters who are happy and productive doesn’t mean I (we) don’t worry about their relationship with God, their relationships with others, the risks they take, and how much I (we) should say about any of that. I wish we could be around them more, but even a few hours away by car (and all our busy lives) limits how often that happens.

Communication with my siblings is even more rarely in person since we moved here from Florida 35 years ago. Brad says I’m from the south (which he thinks would explain why I’m so different from him), but I lived there only briefly due to my father’s Navy career and I never considered it home. I’m much more at home in the Boston area or the west coast.

As for my job: There’s always the student who doesn’t have their homework or the one who asks a question that was just answered. Then there are the emails to parents to keep after their child to make up work from when they were absent or remember to have them stay after to get extra help. I am in constant need of grace to spread the Gospel by being gracious when it would be much easier to be critical – particularly with all the training I got as a kid to find what’s wrong and make sure to share that. You can imagine how long it takes me to write those emails in order to sound caring and encouraging.

On the other hand, I enjoy the challenge of teaching middle school age kids (88 between the ages of 11 and 14 this year). They are eager to please in most cases, they have a sense of humor, and understand irony. They can be reflective, and aren’t yet jaded and sarcastic as most high school students are. Besides, I really like math and always want to do a better job of getting them curious and fluent with it also. It’s even better when I can get them to consider how God’s handiwork can be found in this elegant language.

Other perks of this Jerusalem: I enjoy traveling with Brad – exploring on foot and by bike or car. The destinations are mostly family, but if we can include buildings, nature, art, history – both around the corner and across country, that’s even better. There’s so much of God’s creation to be amazed at and find joy in the experience. We like movies (from the library usually), reading to each other from books (usually non-fiction) or otherwise sharing what we’ve learned or what has moved us.

I’m newly a grandmother to Gabriel and haven’t gotten much chance to explore that role yet, but I think I’m ready for the challenge. There’s a good chance he’ll get treated as another student, but I hope all my students feel that I love them at least half as much as I plan to love Gabriel. (Brad wanted me to include the photo).

Lord Jesus, when I am timid about sharing my faith with others, please, remind me that someone once shared their faith with me.

Wednesday The Breaking of Bread: Discovering Christ Among Us (Chris Redford)

I think the stereotype of a college student is an 18-21 year old, who lives in a dorm, whose parents pay the tuition, and who lives a pretty care-free life until graduation. Although this is true in some situations, I find that the students I teach are quite different from that.

I have a 28 year old single mother, who decided to go to college when her daughter was in second grade. There’s another student whose mother is dying of cancer, so she commutes in order to care for her. I have another student who is pregnant and is due any day, and an 18 year old student told me that she’s in a lot of pain from arthritis. This is only a sample of the students in my classes.

One conscientious student came to me early in the semester. She told me that she would be absent for a few days. When I inquired a bit, she told me that she’s the youngest of eight children. When she was young, her grandparents adopted them all, because their mother was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Her grandparents are now in their eighties. Her grandfather was recently diagnosed with cancer, so she has to take care of her grandmother who has Alzheimer’s. In spite of all this, she has been able to keep up with the work. Since we initially talked, I try to check in with her before each class. I noticed that she’s been making a point to come a bit earlier. Therefore, we have an opportunity to chat before class starts. She always calls her grandparents before heading home each day. She told me that recently she had done so and her grandfather told her that the grandmother was in a Boston hospital, because her hip went out. Her general practitioner had to find a good orthopedist for her. My student is just so upbeat, in spite of it all. She told her grandfather that she’d go to the hospital and wait until she could bring her home. I pray for her and her family. I try to encourage her, but she’s really an inspiration to me.

She’s my God sighting.

Prayer: Father, we pray today for all of those who are caring for others, while also trying to manage their own lives. It is like Ananias of Damascus, whom You asked to take time out of his own life in order to go and take care of Saul, who was blind, hungry, and in a state of shock after his encounter with the Risen Christ. Ananias went in obedience to your call, even though he may have felt stressed, afraid, and inadequate for the task. But as he went, You went with him, and You empowered him and used him in a wonderful way. May that be the experience of this young student who is taking care of her grandparents, even as they had taken care of her and her siblings as they were growing up. And may it be our experience as we give ourselves to love and care for others who are in need around us. Amen.

Thursday

Prayer: Learning to Pray the Scriptures (Nancy McLaughlin) “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

I once was los, but now am found, was as blind but now I see.” (From “Amazing Grace,” by John Newton)

Dear Lord,
Saul’s conversion was not accomplished by anything he did.
Rather, his conversion was initiated and accomplished by Jesus in His amazing grace. Help me to remember that my conversion is not rooted in myself either,
So that I might not rely on myself, but on You, Almighty God.

Indeed, Saul was riding along steeped in sin.
And it was You, dear Jesus that knocked him off his high horse and gave his blindness sight.

Thank you Heavenly Father for kicking the legs out from under me,
to insure that I am brought to an end of myself.
I ask You to help me be less confident in my own strength and goodness;
Less tempted to believe that my conversion and faith has something to do with my own merit. Rather help me put aside my pride and magnify You, dear Lord.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for giving sight to the blind
and giving hearing to the deaf like all of us.
When we were all unbelievers, we were not even aware that we were blind or deaf. It was your revelation, O Holy Spirit of God, that showed us our blindness.
I give thanks for the gracious favor granted to us.

We are continuously grateful to You, Lord,
So fix our eyes on Your Amazing Grace. Thank you for appointing us to be Your ambassadors

as though You are making Your appeal through us.
Like Paul, we once acted in ignorance and unbelief.
But you have shown us mercy, and Your grace was poured out on us abundantly.

Thank you Jesus for coming into the world to save sinners.
Dear Jesus help us display Your mercy and kindness to others
that they too would believe in You and receive eternal life.
Just as Your amazing grace humbled Saul, it is the grace of God that can humble us and equip us with generosity to show grace to others.
Fill us with Your Grace to replace our sinful nature with compassion toward others. Let us be Your servants led by Your Spirit and Your love.

Help us grow in grace and be increasingly conformed to the image of Jesus. We ask this in the name of Christ the Lord. Amen.

Friday: But Wait, There’s More! (Picking Up The Pieces) (Brad Edgerly)

23 After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.

What a new beginning Saul had experienced! The Lord had given Saul a new mission in life and he wasted no time proclaiming what he had experienced and learned: Jesus was in fact the Son of God! This turn-around astonished both friend and foe. Yet hidden in verse 23 is an important factor in the process. What Luke calls “many days,” we learn from Paul (Galatians 1:17-18), was actually three years! Saul’s “Damascus Road” experience was the “Super-storm Sandy” of his life. As with destructive storms, we often experience the best of humankind when circumstances seem most bleak. But then the clean-up begins, and the long, lonely slog to restore & reorder what remains…

So, Saul spent much time “in Arabia,” away from Damascus, during this period. Jesus’ interruption of Saul’s life had changed his plans dramatically. All he had valued most was actually toxic to God. Yet, his background & training had also prepared him for the righteous mission God assigned:

to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.

How did these two things: the destruction of his long-held beliefs and the new mission fit together? To find out, the Lord was slowing Saul’s life to a near standstill. Perhaps he needed to spend less time “doing for God” and more time “being with God,” as did Joseph in an Egyptian prison or Moses as a shepherd in Midian. His relationships were changing, introducing him to a new & different suffering: his own rather than others. The “dragon” was now being hunted by old friends and sheltered by former enemies. Saul had learned that his “prey” was actually one with Jesus and Jesus was one with God. Slowly, he would move “from guilt-to grace-to gratitude,” as do all who follow Jesus. In times of solitude, we ask ourselves: “What have I done? What has God done? What must I now do?”

The sequence of events that transpired during his early preaching-days in Damascus were repeated in Jerusalem. There, faithful Barnabas played the part Ananias had in Damascus and, with the aid of a God-sent vision, the young church again aided Saul’s escape from the mortal enemies his new-found voice birthed. The Lord’s grace was revealing His great reunification project to Saul, to the early church, to Israel and to the Gentile world. The die was cast…

We each experience our own unique version of Saul’s personal encounter and transformation. As we do, it’s good to ask, “Lord, who do you want me to be and what do you want me to do?”

4 Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths;
5 guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. 6 Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.
7 Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways;

according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD. (Psalm 25)