Sermon for May 5, 2019

Readings: Acts 9:1-6, 7-20 • Psalm 30:1-12 • Revelation 5:11-14 • John 21:1-19

This week’s theme is A Higher Calling. Psalm 30 is a parallel between David praying, “I will extol you no matter what I face,” and Jesus in the Garden praying, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus became the worthy lamb who was slain (Revelation 5), fulfilling that calling. John shares the story of Peter being redeemed by Jesus’ calling, “Feed my lambs.” The sermon focuses on Ananias’ response to his higher calling.

Pick Me!

Introduction: Share a time when you (or perhaps your child) were chosen for something and how good it made you feel.

Who doesn’t love the enthusiasm of a child, who, when the teacher asks for a volunteer, shoots their hand up in the air and squirms with excitement saying, “Pick me. Pick me.” When it comes to something we enjoy doing, or something we know a lot about, and we are asked to participate, we are often more than willing to say, “Count me in!” Other times our response is a bit more reluctant.

Ask the congregation for an example of a time when they excitedly said “Yes” to something they were asked to do. Or when they volunteered for something and it turned out to be an amazing experience.

Through God’s story in the Bible, we find times when God specifically calls someone by name. Some responded positively at the get-go; others were more reluctant. There are eight times when God called someone’s name twice. We may be familiar with the stories and the responses.

  • Abraham, Abraham—when he was ready to sacrifice his son, Isaac. He was relieved to sacrifice a ram rather than his son. He had passed a test proving he feared God.
  • Jacob, Jacob—when he is preparing for his journey into Egypt. He is told to not be afraid and that his descendants would become a great nation in this foreign land.
  • Moses, Moses—when he is called from the burning bush and told to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses gave excuses to get out of this calling before surrendering and leading the nation to the land of Promise.
  • Samuel! Samuel!—At first Samuel thought he was hearing Eli’s voice and ran to him. This happened three times. The next time he heard God call he responded as Eli instructed, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:1-10). Samuel went on to bring God’s word to the nation.
  • Martha, Martha—when Jesus tells her she is worried about so many things. Become more like Mary, learn. We believe Martha learned that lesson.
  • Simon, Simon—when he is told he will deny Jesus. He did, but then Jesus restored him by asking him three times, “do you love me.” After Peter affirmed his love, Jesus told him to “Feed my sheep.”
  • Saul, Saul—on the road to Damascus. Saul is struck blind, healed, and later given the name Paul. He then became the apostle to the Gentiles and a prolific writer we still learn from today.

We can tell stories of Aaron, Joshua, Samson, David, the prophets, the apostles—all people whom God called and gave a mission. How do we respond to God’s call? Do we respond like Jonah, who ran and then spent three days in the belly of a fish, or do we respond as Isaiah responded when called? “Here I am Lord, send me.” No clue what he was in for, but he knew who he was in to—God.

Isaiah wasn’t the only one with that response—Ananias responded in the same way. Let’s look at the story in Acts 9.

A bit of background

Acts 9 starts off talking about Saul’s persecution of early converts:

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 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 (Acts 9:1-2).

This was a tough time for the disciples and the early church. Saul was a Pharisee and there is a good possibility that he was part of the Sanhedrin—the supreme council, or court of the Jews. And he wasn’t putting people into jail to spend a night or two, these prisons were horrific places to be. Many early Christians were horribly tortured—so Saul was not someone you wanted to mess with. You avoided him at all costs.

Here he is heading to Damascus to persecute more Christians. On the way, a bright light from heaven flashes and he falls to the ground. Let’s read the story:

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied, “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 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. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything” (Acts 9:4-9).

Now the story really gets interesting for one man—Ananias.

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered (Acts 9:10).

Here I am Lord, ready to do your bidding—the response each of us believes (hopes) we will give to God’s calling.

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. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight” (Acts 9:11-12).

We don’t know if Ananias had a minor heart attack at that moment, but we can surmise this request scared him to death. Notice his response: “No way, Lord, this guy is trouble.”

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13).

Have you ever prayed this way—as if you are talking God into something or acting like God isn’t already aware of the situation? But God, let me share the facts with you. You must have forgotten who this guy is and what he has done to you…

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15-16).

I can’t help but wonder if Ananias had a little smirk on his face when God said, “I will show him how much he must suffer…” But God also said, “This man is my chosen instrument…” I imagine Ananias had conflicting emotions. Still, God said Go, so Ananias went…

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.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength (Acts 9:17-19).

We know the rest of the story. Saul becomes Paul and after more training begins his ministry to the Gentiles. He wrote more letters—turned into books of the Bible—than the rest of the apostles combined. Because Ananias meant what he said when he said, “Here I am, Lord,” he was a big part of the gospel being spread throughout a large part of the Gentile world.

This story reminds us of some important things about God calling us to go…

  • God already knows all the details. We don’t have to remind him, but when we do, he patiently works with us. “But God, this does not look safe.” “Go anyway because I am with you.” “But God, do you know who this person is you are asking me to serve?” “Yes, it is a beloved child of mine who needs to know my love and who needs to enter relationship with me.”
  • God does not ask you to go outside of his presence—ever! Remember the promises, I will be with you to the end of the age. Nothing can separate you from my love. Nothing can snatch you out of my hands.
  • Not only are you never outside of his presence, you are never outside of his power. Remember what Jesus said before he gave the Great Commission? “All power and authority on heaven and earth has been given to me.” This is the one who is with us always—even to the end of the age. Wherever Jesus sends us, he is in the lead. He does not ask us to do things for him, but with him. His calling is an invitation to participate.
  • God does ask you to do things that are beyond your ability—but never beyond his. Again, it’s an invitation to participate, not a job to do for him.
  • We’ve all been called to go… Go and make disciples.

Most of us won’t see a vision from God giving us a specific place to go, but our calling to go is just as meaningful. Our calling is to go—make disciples—share God’s love and life with others—show others who their Father is.

When we say, “Here I am, Lord,” and are willing to follow him and go with him and minister with him, we are joining something that will change us. We are participating in what Jesus is doing—bringing many sons and daughters to glory. We are giving people hope by telling them their sins are forgiven, they are loved and God wants to live in them.

We are walking alongside them as Jesus helps them see why their way of life leads to such discontent. We help them see that God always has their best interests in mind. We help lift people when they are down, hold them up when they are falling, give them a shoulder to cry on, give them someone to lean on, and share life with them. We also share our hope, our joy, our faith and whelp them know the one we call Papa and the one we know as Jesus.

God has called us to go—to partner with him in sharing good news others need to hear. What are you doing with that call?

Ask God to place a name or names in your heart and mind—people he wants to draw you to and share life with. And when those names come to mind, my prayer is that your response to God is, “Here I am, send me.”

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • On a scale from 1 to 10, how willing would you be to volunteer for something where you didn’t know all the details? (i.e. someone from ‘up front’ saying, “I need a volunteer.”)
  • Do you know anyone who would say, “Pick me! Pick me!”?
  • Has there been a time when you “heard God’s voice” with a prompt to do something and you didn’t do it? (An “I’m not here, or I can’t hear, Lord” response.) Please share.
  • Has there been a time when you “heard God’s voice” with a prompt to do something and you did it? (A “Here I am, Lord” response.) Please share.
  • Read and discuss John 21:1-19.
    • What do you think the apostles were thinking in the morning before they went fishing?
    • What do you think Peter was thinking as he left the boat and swam to Jesus?
    • Why did Jesus ask Peter the same question three times?
  • Read Rev. 5:11-14 and share what this verse tells us about Jesus. Compare this to the promise Jesus gave of never leaving or forsaking us.

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