At Romsey Methodist Church we are considering four Ws, Welcome, Wonder, Worship and Wider, which will be forming the foundations of our vision for the church.
In the second week of four themed services we looked at Wonder – the sense of being drawn into the awesome purpose and presence of God.
Blinded by the light
Saul was a real thug with a mission. His story, told in the early chapters of the Book of Acts, is of a man with permission to chase down the followers of The Way and arrest them in an attempt to wipe out this troublesome new religion. On the way to Damascus he has a dramatic and frightening encounter with Jesus, recorded in Acts 9. Blinded and left in the middle of a busy road, he found himself stopped from what he believed was his life’s calling – persecuting the followers of Jesus:
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.
Acts 9:3-5, NIV
Saul experiences the full power of God’s presence, brought to a standstill in the middle of his persecution of the followers of Jesus.
- He’s a man of great moral certainty – driven by his conviction that these Jesus people were blasphemous and needed rooting out… “breathing out murderous threats”… he had voted for the death penalty for some and was heading to Damascus to arrest more.
- On the road he encounters the wonder of something he cannot understand. Blinded by the light.
- Blind, alone and at the mercy of those he is out to attack. He discovers that the very person he is trying to destroy is seeking him out.
- We are surrounded by people who are convinced that what we believe is misguided, stupid, outdated. Demanding our rights against such a view cuts no ice. There is a different way.
We may not have been struck blind, but many of us will have had “wow” moments when we’ve been overwhelmed by the power and glory of God. Wouldn’t it be great if our neighbours and friends could have the same experience?
Seeing the full picture
God meets Saul at the point of his confusion… and the conversation begins in blindness… “who are you lord (sir)?”… “I am Jesus”… led by the hand into Damascus… then Ananias is sent…
How does Ananias behave?
- Comes alongside him
- Calls him “brother”
- Prays for him to receive the Holy Spirit
- Is the instrument of the return of his sight
- Provides food and restoration
- Gives him hospitality.
Is he excited by this “opportunity” to minister?
‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’ 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.’
Acts 9: 13-15, NIV
Saul experiences the change from dark to light and later (Acts 26, before King Agrippa) he says he was “not disobedient to the heavenly vision”… his encounter with Jesus… he has now seen the full picture of what God is doing in the world through Jesus and is totally transformed.
The Christian faith is an invitation to explore the mystery and wonder of God’s grace and love and we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves. Ananias was prompted by God to be Saul’s way in to the puzzle of discovering all about faith. God can use even our hesitation – isn’t that encouraging!
The most dangerous thing for the Christian Church is for it to think that there are enough people in it or that they all need to look like me. On the other hand, the most amazing thing about the Christian Church is that there’s always room for one more and there’s even room for me!
Who could you be a friend to? Who may God be sending you to befriend? Who may be blinded by the light?
Bringing out the God-colours
The Christian faith is an invitation to wonder. We are drawn into an adventure where we explore a relationship with the creator of the universes and – side by side with fellow Christians – we grow in faith.
The Psalmist put it this way:
Many, Lord my God,
are the wonders you have done,
the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
they would be too many to declare.
Psalm 40:5, NIV
But the world should also be a different place simply because we are here.
“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
“Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working.”
Matthew 5: 13-18, The Message
We are here to be salt-seasoning – bring out the God flavours and light bearers – bringing out the God-colours
We are to be Ananias for our neighbours… but we have to have our antennae up for what God asks of us… Ananias wasn’t on the lookout for Saul… he was faithful to God. Bringing out the God-colours begins there.
Remember the Jesus command:
‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
John 13:34-35, NIV
People are open to mystery but often feeling fragile and tentative… in the dark… even if they have been connected to the family of the church in some way for years.
When they see acceptance, hospitality, and even forgiveness, lived out by Christians it is easier to find a secure place to explore what faith means for themselves.
And it’s not about perfection.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Anthem, Leonard Cohen
If we were flawless we would be Jesus! As it is, we are called to be the faithful church of Jesus on earth – coming alongside those who are blinded by the light and offering them exactly what Ananias offered Saul (Paul):
- Prayer for them to receive from God
- Enabling them to recover what they have lost
- Providing food and restoration
- Giving hospitality
- Helping them open up to the wonder of God.
Some things to ponder…
- When were you last brought to a standstill by the wonder of God?
- Can you think of a time when Jesus has challenged you about something you’ve done?
What can help us keep our spiritual antennae tuned in to God for the moments he calls on us to go to someone in need?
Matthew 5: 13-16
The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most famous bits of Jesus’ teaching. Even people who don’t think Jesus was the Son of God like this part of the Bible and reckon Jesus knew what he was on about. They probably haven’t really read this bit. The Message version is particularly sharp:
13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
14 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept.”
Matthew 5: 13-14, The Message
Jesus doesn’t pull his punches and there’s no hiding for us. The task of those who follow the Son of God is to make a difference – to ensure that the glory and wonder of God is put on full display for all around.
Salt… light… God-flavours… God-colours… people who make a difference. That’s us. Giving light to the whole house or the whole world. It’s quite a calling and it’s not just for some of us.
The Cinnamon Network, who support churches to address the most pressing issues in their neighbourhoods, discovered that, across the country, churches and faith groups contribute 288 million hours to their communities every year. If each hour was paid at the Living Wage, that would be worth £3 billion pounds. We are the God-colours.
Just like Ananias did for Saul (later St Paul), Jesus calls us to do for our neighbours. He doesn’t want us all to go away and train at Bible college – he wants us to be faithful in our streets so that when people need help on our doorsteps we are available with faith and a bit of God-flavouring.