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It has been years since Easter morning—years since Simon Peter, and that disciple who Jesus loved, and Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb… years since Mary told the disciples that she had seen the risen Lord… years since the first disciples believed—and ever since then… even today…

People are saying that this Jesus who was crucified was attested by God with signs and wonders and deeds of power. 

People are saying that this Jesus was handed over to the powers-that-be… and crucified and killed… but that God raised him up and freed him from death, because death itself could not hold him in its power. 

People are saying that this Jesus is now Lord and Messiah, sitting at the right hand of God, pouring out the holy spirit on creation.

And people are prophesying. And people are seeing visions and dreaming dreams. And people are sharing their wealth, and eating their food with glad and generous hearts, and praising God. 

And, everyday, there are more of them: these people of the way.

And not everyone likes that. Because the people of the way are a threat to the powers-that-be and the world-as-it-is and the way-that-things-are. So the authorities—the religious authorities and the political authorities—are doing what they can to put. them. down.

They are arresting the people of the way. They are imprisoning the people of the way. They are killing the people of the way.

And there is a man named Saul going from town to town breathing murder. There is a man named Saul going from house to house, gathering up the people of the way, and taking them to the authorities in chains.

I am a straight white cis-gendered able-bodied neuro-typical well-educated English-speaking professional middle class man between the ages of 18 and 49 who lives in the United States of America. 

I am among the powers-that-be. I am comfortable in the world-as-it-is. I benefit from the way-that-things-are. Maybe not a lot; but enough.

I have a lot in common with those authorities who aimed to put the people of the way down. I have a lot in common with Saul. I know that my power and my privilege and my prestige—the little bit that I have—are tenuous and uncertain. I know that they could crumble to dust at any moment.

But I also know that I have them. And there is part of me that will fight to hold onto them. And, if I’m honest, there is part of me that will fight to get more.

And I know that when people start prophesying… and when people start seeing visions and dreaming dreams… and when the holy spirit starts showing up…

That is a threat to me… and what I have… and, maybe even, a little bit, who I am.

So I get it… my whole world could fall out from under me. My whole world could go dark.

There is a comforting version of our reading today.

There is a version of this story where Saul is on his way to Damascus when a light from heaven flashes around him… and he falls to the ground… and he hears a voice ask, “Saul! Why do you persecute me?”… and he believes.

There is a version of this story where Saul stands up… and goes into the world… and spreads the word that this Jesus is now Lord and Messiah, sitting at the right hand of God, pouring out the holy spirit on creation… and becomes the man who we know as Paul.

There is a version of this story where Saul sees the way laid out before him, straight and clear, leading on to the horizon and beyond. There is a version of this story where Paul knows exactly who he is, and where he is going, and what he is doing.

But that is not this version of the story.

In this version of the story, Saul is on his way to Damascus when a light from heaven flashes around him… and he falls to the ground… and he hears a voice ask, “Saul! Why do you persecute me?”… and then his whole world falls out from under him… then his whole world goes dark.

In this version of the story, his companions have to pick him up, and lead him by the hand to Damascus, down a way that he cannot see, to a house on Straight Street, where all he can do… is wait.

In this version of the story, Saul sees a way laid out before him, curling around hills and dipping into valleys and leading through dense fog… a way that he will lose in the underbrush and have to clamber through briar patches to find again… a way where he will have to put one foot in front of the other… and take the next step… and do the next thing… and hope.

Meanwhile, across town, Ananias is sitting at home. He is a follower of the way, and he knows that Saul is going from town to town breathing murder. He knows that Saul is going from house to house, gathering up the people of the way, gathering up people like him, and taking them to the authorities in chains.

So he is surprised when Jesus appears to him and tells him to go to Saul, who is lost and blind and uncertain, and restore his sight, and fill him with the holy spirit.

And Ananias says… to Jesus… who is now Lord and Messiah, sitting at the right hand of God, pouring out the holy spirit on creation… “Are you sure? I mean, I know Saul. Everyone knows Saul. He is going from town to town breathing murder. He is going from house to house, gathering up the people of your way, and taking them to the authorities in chains. Maybe we could just… leave him?”

And Jesus—who is now Lord and Messiah, sitting at the right hand of God, pouring out the holy spirit on creation—tells Ananias, more or less, “I know exactly who Saul is. And I know exactly who I am calling Saul to be. And if we are going to get him to that place, then I need you to go to this place, and make him see.”

So Ananias goes to Straight Street. Ananias goes to the place where Saul is waiting. And he  puts one foot in front of the other, and takes the next step, and does the next thing… and hopes

He hopes that Saul will not kill him. He hopes that Saul will not take him to the authorities in chains. He hopes that his whole world won’t fall out from under him. He hopes that his whole world won’t go dark.

I came here the long way.

There are some people who are born pastors. There are some people who move seamlessly from acolyte to youth leader… to college to seminary… to the pulpit and beyond. Elmhurst. Eden. Eternity.

And there are some people who get a nice clear call. There are some people who see a light from heaven flash around them… and fall to the ground… and hear a voice say, “Get up and go forward, and you will be told what to do.”

There are some people who see the way laid out before them, straight and clear, leading on to the horizon and beyond. There are some people who know—who seem to know—exactly who they are, and where they are going, and what they are doing.

And I have never been one of those people.

I used to say that I was called to seminary and given no further instruction. And so I went to seminary with no intention of being ordained and no intention of being a pastor.

And I graduated from seminary with no further instruction. I graduated from seminary with no further plan. I graduated from seminary… and applied to law school… and applied to Ph.D. programs… and moved to Ohio with Mariah… and was unemployed… in a recession… for nine months.

And that is a snapshot of a way that has not been straight and that has not been clear. That is a snapshot of a way that has curled around hills and dipped into valleys and led through dense fogs… that I have lost in the underbrush and had to clamber through briar patches to find again… where my whole world has fallen out from under me… where my whole world has gone dark.

And I would like to say that it has all worked out because I have put one foot in front of the other… and taken the next step… and done the next thing… and hoped. And maybe, a little bit, it has been.

But it has also worked out because I am among the powers-that-be. Because I am comfortable in the world-as-it-is. Because I benefit from the way-that-things-are. Maybe not a lot; but enough.

And because it has all worked out—and because I know why it has all worked out—I know what I have to do for the people who are not among the powers-that-be, and who are not comfortable in the world-as-it-is, and who do not benefit from the way-that-things-are. At least, not as much as I am and not as much as I do.

I have to follow the way. I have to follow Christ. I have to follow this Jesus who was handed over to the powers-that-are-me… and crucified and killed… and raised up and freed from death, because death itself could not hold him in its power. I have to follower this Jesus who is now Lord and Messiah, and who sits at the right hand of God, pouring out the holy spirit on creation.

And that is scary.

Because the thing about following Christ is that the way is not straight and the way is not clear. The way that we follow curls around hills and dips into valleys and leads through dense fogs. It is a way that we lose in the underbrush and have to clamber through briar patches to find again. It is a way where our whole world can fall out from under us. It is a way where our whole world can go dark.

It is a way where, sometimes, all that we can do is put one foot in front of the other… and take the next step… and do the next thing… and hope.

It is a way where we give up the powers-that-are-us, and the world-that-we-are-comfortable-in, and the ways-that-things-benefit-us… for the sake of the Christ who is in every pleading face and outstretched hand.

But while that way is scary, it is also exciting… and inspiring… and adventurous… and wild… and dangerous… and abundant… and full of grace. It is full of the wondrous and holy things that can only be when we give up the comforting illusions and reassuring lies of the powers-that-be and the world-as-it-is and the way-that-things-are.

There is a moment when Saul and Ananias meet.

For Saul, it is a moment of fear. He is sitting in his own darkness when he feels the door open and hears the sound of footsteps falling across the floor. He is completely lost when he feels hands on his face and hears an unfamiliar voice call him brother and threaten him with the holy spirit.

For Ananias, it is a moment of compassion. He sees Saul sitting there—small and blind and lost—and his heart is moved. So he walks across the floor, and he puts his hands on Saul’s face, and he feels Saul shrink back from the unfamiliar touch. And he tells him, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

And in that moment of meeting, everything changes.

They know that the path ahead might not be straight and might not be clear… it might curl around hills and dip into valleys and lead through dense fogs… they might lose it in the underbrush and have to clamber through briar patches to find it again… it might be wild and dangerous and full of grace…

But they also know that it leads to a kingdom that they can barely imagine, where our lord and messiah sits at the right hand of God, and the holy spirit fills all of creation.

Hallelujah. Amen.

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