May 1, 2022

Prayer of the Day

Eternal and all-merciful God, with all the angels and all the saints we laud your majesty and might. By the resurrection of your Son, show yourself to us and inspire us to follow Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]

1Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” [7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “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.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength. 
  For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”]

Psalm 30

1I will exalt you, O Lord, because you have lift- | ed me up
  and have not let my enemies triumph | over me.
2O Lord my God, I cried | out to you,
  and you restored | me to health.
3You brought me up, O Lord, | from the dead;
  you restored my life as I was going down | to the grave.
4Sing praise to the Lord, | all you faithful;
  give thanks in ho- | ly remembrance. 
5God’s wrath is short; God’s favor | lasts a lifetime.
  Weeping spends the night, but joy comes | in the morning.
6While I felt se- | cure, I said,
  “I shall never | be disturbed.
7You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong | as the mountains.”
  Then you hid your face, and I was | filled with fear.
8I cried to | you, O Lord;
  I pleaded with | my Lord, saying,
9“What profit is there in my blood, if I go down | to the pit?
  Will the dust praise you or de- | clare your faithfulness?
10Hear, O Lord, and have mer- | cy upon me;
  O Lord, | be my helper.” 
11You have turned my wailing | into dancing;
  you have put off my sackcloth and clothed | me with joy.
12Therefore my heart sings to you | without ceasing;
  O Lord my God, I will give you | thanks forever.

Revelation 5:11-14

11Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12singing with full voice, 
 “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
 to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
 and honor and glory and blessing!”
13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, 
 “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
 be blessing and honor and glory and might
 forever and ever!”
14And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

John 21:1-19

1After [he appeared to his followers in Jerusalem,] Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
9When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  It may be difficult to picture Paul before his conversion on the Damascus Road.  We know him primarily as the author of many of the beautifully written and passionate letters in the New Testament.  His letter to the Romans holds a special place in our Lutheran tradition.  Martin Luther had his own conversion experience while reading Romans.  But Paul, Saul, had a passionate career before he became a disciple of Jesus.

 The first time we hear about Saul (7:58), he was standing guard over the coats of those who would execute Stephen in brutal fashion. But he’s not just a passive witness. No, he “approved of their killing him” (8:1a). Furthermore, Stephen’s is not the only Christian life whose taking he has approved. Saul is portrayed as arch-persecutor, “ravaging the church … dragging off both men and women,” he shut them all behind bars.

We meet Saul this morning as he draws near to Damascus and a slew of new persecutions.  On the road Saul is struck by a heavenly light and addressed by a heavenly voice. This voice belongs to none other than Jesus himself.  If we needed a reminder of what happened to Jesus after he ascended to heaven, here it is.  Jesus’ ascension was not the inauguration of a time when Jesus is absent from the life of the faithful. Jesus’ is fully present in the life of these Christian communities, in this case, catching a persecutor off guard as he travels down a road.

Jesus’ instructions to Saul are specific but mysterious. Go into the city, and there you will discover what you need to do. This opens up the wideness of this story.  This is in fact a call story. Saul does not just turn away from a previous way of life.  More importantly, he is called, commissioned to walk in a new “Way.” Saul’s monumental experience on the road to Damascus is a call, a commissioning like the call of Isaiah or Jesus’ mother Mary or one of the twelve disciples.

God, however, works in unusual ways. Instead of continuing to dictate instructions from the clouds, Jesus calls upon a disciple in the city. Now the story shifts to Damascus and to a disciple named Ananias, who is one of Saul’s former targets. The close parallels of the accounts of Saul and Ananias suggest that there are really two call stories taking place here. 

To his obedient “Here I am, Lord,” Ananias receives the same cryptic “Get up and go,” but with explicit instructions regarding the object of his mission: Saul (9:11). The voice adds reference to Saul’s “prayer” and vision of one coming to lay hands on him so that he can regain his sight.  The narrative already anticipates the effective promises of God. The story invites us into a future that even Ananias is not quite ready to see.

Instead, Ananias responds, “I have heard from many …how many evil things he has done.” Ananias knows too much about the ways of the world and about persons like Saul. Even after the reference to God’s “name” (9:14); even after the promise to Mary that with God “all words” are possible (Luke 1:37), the past still seeks to define and control the present. But in the promise of God’s word, then, as now, the ways of the world are being rearranged.

So, the command needs repetition along with supporting rationale. “Go, because..” Because Saul is God’s chosen vessel who will carry God’s name. Surprise, surprise! Saul’s name will be added to the list of those who “call upon the name” and now will bear this name to strange places and to strange peoples like Gentiles and kings, and yes even to the children of Israel.

Ananias’s initial response is perfectly reasonable. Saul, with all of his threats and murder, is the last person in the world a Christian disciple wants to meet face-to-face. That’s when Jesus does more than reassure Ananias; he also tells him that Saul is being transformed. No longer is Saul a persecutor, for Jesus has renamed him a chosen instrument. Jesus decides who people really are; their reputations do not.

If the sole point of Jesus’ confrontation of Saul on the road was to get Saul to switch teams, then this story could have been shorter. Because Ananias plays a role, there must be more going on. If Jesus is powerful enough to generate a bright light, blind Saul, and speak with a disembodied voice, then surely Jesus is capable of telling Saul directly all the things he told Ananias to tell Saul. Why?

Ananias is necessary because Saul is not only being brought out of something, his old ways and understandings. He is also being brought into something; a new identity woven into the communal existence of Jesus’ church. No follower of Jesus in Damascus, Jerusalem, or anywhere between is going to trust that Saul has changed. Ananias can help with that. Furthermore, Saul’s transformation needs to be acknowledged by the people of God as an act of God. If an enemy like Saul can turn around, potentially anyone can. Starting with Ananias, the church needs to know that. 

All that Ananias is asked to do looks challenging but by far the most difficult thing he does is addressing the man as “Brother Saul.” He looks at Saul, once the ravager of the church, and greets him as family. If the church’s comforting messages about new life, forgiveness, reconciliation, hope, and community are true for anyone, they must also be true for Saul. His transformation is an implication of the good news that no one saw coming. It is a possibility made reality. 

Our conventional ways of assessing people and circumstances often hold me back from embracing Jesus’ efforts to reconfigure our outlook. It is far easier to talk about the new possibilities the good new brings into being than it is to actually live into them wholeheartedly like Ananias. That takes a willingness to risk and to love. 

Can we see with God? Or can we see those who are in rumor or in truth dangerous as God sees them–with a future drenched in divine desire? Willie James Jennings says, “Discipleship, truly being a follower of Jesus, presses us to reorder our knowledge. The truth we know of a person or people must move to the background, and what we know of God’s desire for them must move to the foreground. The danger we imagine inscribed on their bodies must be read against the delight we know God takes in their life. Thanks be to God, that same divine delight covers us too.”

In this story a profound transformation takes place between Saul’s opening threats and his concluding preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is God’s Son. The two conversions are a vision, a sign, of how the name of the risen Lord takes shape and unfolds in the lives of believers, then and now. In this story disciples and non-disciples alike are swept up in the necessary plan of God’s design.

The story of Saul and Ananias invite us to ponder how we will look at our own world when God takes our “no way,” and our “we’ve never done that before” and transforms them into “yes.” Like Saul’s and Ananias’ new vision, God rearranges our ways of seeing, being, and acting. God changes our world and calls us to be part of it in active ways.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

The prayers are prepared locally for each occasion. The following examples may be adapted or used as appropriate.

Set free from captivity to sin and death, we pray to the God of resurrection for the church, people in need, and all of creation.

A brief silence.

Holy One of new beginnings, fill us with new life. Send us into the world as you sent your apostles Philip and James, to invite people to come and see your wondrous acts in Christ. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

Revive ecosystems along coastlands that have been devastated by natural forces and human negligence. Reestablish plant and animal life that purifies air and water and that feeds humans and other living creatures. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

Accompany laborers who get little rest from their work. Give them hope when they struggle to produce what they need. Give all who labor fair treatment and just wages. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

Restore all people who cry to you for help (especially). Turn their mourning into dancing, clothe them with joy, and put a testimony of healing and praise on their lips. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

Be present to faithful ones who are persecuted for following you (and especially the church in . . .). Sustain them by your faithfulness, and give them strength in the name of Jesus. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

Join our voices with angels, creatures, and all the saints in praising Christ and bestowing upon him all blessing and honor and glory. Reveal Christ’s glory to us and through us in our worship. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

In your mercy, O God, respond to these prayers, and renew us by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Amen.

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