A sermon by Fr. Justin Clemente to the People of New Creation Church (Anglican). Week two in the series “Eastertide & Acts.” This series explores the connection of the Resurrection to the mission of THE Church and OUR church.
No One is Safe
You may have heard the story of C.S. Lewis’s conversion to Christianity. As he tells it in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, this is how he frames his coming to faith:
“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen [College], night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
It was the hound of heaven, or rather should I say, the Lion of Judah, who brought him home. Of course, it was Lewis who also made so much of that wonderful and terrifying image of Jesus as the Lion, Aslan. The one who is not safe, but good. If we understand Paul’s conversion aright, I believe we too will walk away thinking, no one is safe.
Jesus Isn’t Safe (vs. 3-5)
No one is safe, firstly, because Jesus isn’t safe, or inactive, or tied down, or in the tomb. He’s alive, on the throne, and gloriously at work in his world! Whether it comes through an undeniable experience like this in Acts 9 or not, we should believe that Jesus is just as able to draw sinners to himself as he was the day Paul met him.
For instance, today our Lord appears to be particularly at work in powerful conversions among Muslims. For example, the recent documentary Jesus in Athens covers the work of Christians among refugees to Greece from war-torn countries in and around 2015. Many of those refugees were Muslims. One powerful testimony in the film relates to an Iraqi family feeling in a boat from Turkey. One night, during rough weather, the young daughter of the family actually fell overboard. Her family could not locate her. They cried out to God in desperation asking him to save her. They next thing they knew she was back on the boat, safe and sound, with no apparent explanation. “What happened?!” they all asked. Again and again, the young girl’s response was only this: “A man in white walked on water. He grabbed my hand and put me in the boat.”
At the same time this was happening, a missionary who was involved in the work to help migrants in Greece was on the beach where the family was about to land, building a fire to warm incoming refugees. He also sensed that God wanted him to share the story of Jesus walking on the water. In comes the family. They’re warmly received, they hear the story, and they breakdown. They say to the missionary, “Can you give us the book you’re reading? We want to know the man who walks on water.”
Christians, we do not serve a God who is safe or inactive. We serve a God who is still reaching the world he loves more than we do.
- Does your praying and witnessing to Christ reflect this? Or do you assume that God will do nothing and that you will have to do everything? Nothing could be further from the truth.
Paul Isn’t Safe (vs. 6-9)
And because of that, the Paul’s of the world aren’t safe. In the blink of an eye, Paul glimpsed the uncreated light, the glory of Jesus, the glory that made him realize literally and figuratively that he was blind. Jesus so humbles him that he has be hand-held into Damascus. Jesus takes a Pharisee who is, at the same time, so “committed” to the God of Israel, and yet so confused as to persecute the Way, and makes him the greatest missionary who ever lived! As his last “capital A” Apostle, he makes him, humanly speaking, the author of over half the New Testament. Next to the Resurrection itself, the conversion of St. Paul is considered to be the most powerful and impactful event in the history of Christianity. In fact, in our Church we think it’s so important that we have a Holy Day devoted to it! January 25 is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
The lesson here for us is that even the hardest heart is not fully insulated against the love and power of Jesus Christ. You have never met such a person! So that friend you have, or that family member you pray for who seems so distant from God, so recalcitrant, so cold, is not as unreachable as you might think. Yes, they must turn to Christ. They must put their weapons down and surrender to God, but the Lord is able to melt the coldest of hearts. No one is safe, and all are potential worshippers of the living God.
You’re Not Safe (vs. 10-11)
Just like last week in Acts 5, here we have another powerful instance of how God sovereignly involves and uses his people in his mission.
Ananias was not an Apostle. He was not a presbyter. He was not a deacon. He was a faithful Christian and a disciple. When God called him, he went. He went even with his reservations, which he so boldly and ironically tells to Jesus in verse 13! What a conversation! Ananias: Lord, have you heard of this guy – he’s real bad! Jesus: Well, thank God for you – I almost messed that one big time! Nevertheless, it was the witness of this obedient and faithful Christian that brought to us and to the world St. Paul. It was the witness of Ananias, who was willing to go and embrace Saul and call him “brother” that led to this monumental moment – Paul’s baptism and conversion.
Now tell me that your faithful witness to the gospel of Christ doesn’t matter! You will never know, this side of the New Creation, how much it does gloriously matter! By God’s grace and in God’s power, faithful witness to Jesus can accomplish so very much.
So you’re not safe. Or you shouldn’t be. As an ordinary, faithful Christian, you’re not exempt from being powerfully used to bring others to Christ. Perhaps some of us need to ask ourselves if we have insulated and protected ourselves from the call of Christ to be faithful in our witness to Jesus. On the word of Jesus, Ananias was willing to take great risk in the mission of God. He was willing to be faithful.
I began talking about C.S. Lewis this morning, so I might as well end there, too. Lewis went on to become the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th century. And again, if you know Lewis’s story, you know that his friend, J.R.R. Tolkien was very influential in his coming to faith. I always find it incredible the two of the leading storytellers of the 20th century were faithful Christians. But what you may not know is that there were other voices. Other powerful, faithful witnesses who chipped away at Lewis’s resistance to Christ and influenced him. Their names are still largely unknown to the world, but they are known and dear to heaven. That we know Ananias’s name in the lines of Holy Scripture tells us that his and their work is valued and blessed. Our ordinary, faithful witness to Christ is blessed too.
O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.