A Forgotten Saint
My name is Ananias. If you do not know my name I am not surprised and frankly, I am relieved. I was never an exceptional Christian like Peter, James, John, and the original Twelve. I came to follow Jesus but I had no need for any spotlight.
Forgive me. I am getting ahead of myself. Let me first tell you more about me than my name. I was born and raised in Damascus, Syria. Have you ever traveled there? You should. Damascus is filled with beautiful gardens and orchards. When the disciples of Jesus first came to Damascus, I soon was baptized and joined their company.
In my day, Damascus was a Roman province but we were free to practice our new Christian faith as long as we did not stir up anyone against Rome. Trust me; we had no desire to rouse the Romans against us.
Early on in Damascus it was no problem to follow Jesus. Each Sabbath my Jewish kin still welcomed me into the synagogue. They allowed me to argue that Jesus was the Promised Child of God before they dismissed me as a naïve fool.
Everything changed when the maniac arrived. His name was Saul, best known to you as Paul. You may not like to hear that the author of much of the New Testament was a maniac, but he was. And, he was the worst kind of maniac – a religious one. He was on a holy quest to kill anyone who followed Jesus, to close every church and preferably to burn them to the ground.
It was Saul who applauded the stoning of the Christian deacon Stephen. The word spread like wild fire throughout Damascus that Saul was coming, the Maniac was on the loose. He had gotten papers from the High Priest in Jerusalem to arrest any Jew who was following Jesus in Damascus and to bring them back for trial, if they lived long enough to stand trial.
Do you have any idea what it is like to fear for your life because of your religious convictions? To be hunted like a wild animal by a madman on a holy quest? We were terrified that the maniac was headed to our city and he was out for us.
The story I am here to tell began during an ordinary time of morning prayer. I was praying and dreaming at the same time, as I was sometimes apt to do. But this prayer and dream was different. I was no longer just offering petitions to God and asking God to heal or to help someone. No, somehow, I was actually hearing the voice of God.
I know. Maybe I am the maniac for saying that I heard the voice of God. But the fact that I heard God’s voice is not extraordinary in the least compared to what God called me to do. And, to be honest, when I heard what God wanted of me, I wondered if my dream was really a nightmare. I wondered if the voice I was hearing was not that of God, but of the Evil One.
God called me to go to the house of my friend Judas and there to come face to face with the Maniac. Even more disturbing is what God asked me to do. God called on me to put my hands on this filthy, untouchable enemy of the church and through me God promised to restore his sight. I could hardly catch my breath.
I reminded God of all the evil Saul had done to the church in Jerusalem and would do to the church in Damascus. I prayed that there had been some sort of divine error. I prayed for the changing of God’s mind.
I could not believe what I heard next from God. “Go, Ananias, for Saul is a chosen instrument of mine; he will bear my name before gentiles and kings and the children of Israel; for I will show him how he must suffer for my name’s sake.” At that moment, I finally understood the story of Jonah. Just as Jonah wanted to flee God’s call for him to travel to the hated Nineveh, I wanted to run from that house as far as my feet would take me. How could Saul, a murdering maniac, possibly be an instrument of God? Why would God heal such an evil man who had done such evil things when so many good people were still suffering?
Even today, I cannot give you a logical reason why I went, except I could do no other. So, I did what God asked of me. Through me, Saul experienced God’s healing grace and was baptized. If I could ever have guessed anyone who would never be baptized into Christ it would have been Saul from Tarsus.
Some call me “a forgotten saint” for doing precisely what God called me to do, but please don’t call me that. If it had been only up to me, I would never have gone to that house. I would never have touched that man, except perhaps to wring his neck.
I stand before you today not because I have not received the recognition that I deserve, but because God has not. God saw something in Saul that none of us could see. God saw someone of the Jewish faith who could bring the Christian faith to Jews and to gentiles. He saw a man who could endure the physical pain and emotional heartbreak of being a messenger of Jesus. I am here to witness to a God who could take a maniac like Saul and make of him the greatest Christian missionary ever to have lived.
I stand before you to tell you what I have learned: Never underestimate the power of God to lay claim on your life and to change your life beyond what you consider possible. How often do you pray to God only for what you consider possible for God to accomplish? And, how often do you and I really pray for the “Sauls” of the world and when we do, how often do we secretly pray that God will not answer those prayers?
Most of all, I am here to say a special word to Amanda and Tom who have responded to God’s call through you to be leaders of this community of faith. My word to you is: be careful. Do not underestimate what God might accomplish through your service at Cove. Do not underestimate changes that God might bring about in you and through you, changes that you cannot imagine, and perhaps, may not even desire.
Then and today, the world is full of Sauls who are dead set on doing what they believe is right even though they are dead wrong. God sent me to Saul so that he could finally see the loving truth of the risen Jesus and stop trafficking in hate and destruction.
So, before I go, let me ask questions not just to Amanda and Tom, but to all of you. Where is God sending you today? To whom does God want you to touch with the power of the gospel? Whose life or lives will your Christian service make all the difference in the world?
Thank you for letting me share my story as you listen for God’s call on your lives and when God does call, may God’s Spirit give you the courage to respond.