we’re dealing with stories of 3 men who undergo changes. The change
in Ananias is probably the least significant, and may be the most
fun. Ananias is briefly described as “a disciple in Damascus,”
where disciple means student and implies student of Jesus or the
early church. Damascus was then, as it is today, a city in Syria
which is north east of Galilee, about as far northeast of Galilee as
Jerusalem is south of it.
is my kind of disciple. He is in the midst of a visionary experience
with Jesus himself, and is told to go find Saul to fulfill a
concurrent vision that Saul is having. His response is EXCELLENT.
He says, “I’ve heard of that guy. He has done a lot of evil, and
he has the authority to do a lot more.” Which I take to mean, “Um,
Jesus, you sure you have the right guy? Cause what you are telling
me makes no sense. This is the guy killing us off, and thus not one
who is likely to be invested in helping you out. Also, I’d rather
not.” I appreciate anyone who talks back, asks for clarity, and
double checks instructions that sound wrong.
this case, as the story goes, Jesus was quite sure that Saul actually
was the right guy, and Ananias was open to doing as he was asked, and
it worked out. Thus, I don’t think that there was a huge change in
Ananias. He was already a student of Jesus, he was wise enough to
ask for clarity, and courageous enough to do what was asked. When he
was told to do something new, and convinced it was really on purpose,
he was game. However, he didn’t follow blindly. Phew.
and Peter experience bigger changes. I was reminded recently that
most people have a lot of things to do and learn in the world that
don’t have to do with the Bible and Christianity, and thus it is
particularly helpful to say directly: Saul is also Paul. Saul is a
Hebrew name, Paul is a Roman name, the same guy was called both,
depending on where he was. So Peter and Paul, two relatively huge
figures in early Christianity, undergo major changes in today’s
stories. I’m not sure which one is bigger – if you need extra
entertainment in this sermon, feel free to try to decide for
story in Acts about Saul (Paul) and Ananias starts off saying,
“Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the
disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and 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.” (Acts 9:-1-2) in the previous chapter of Acts, Saul
was introduced as standing in approval when Stephen was stoned, and
dragging disciples in Jerusalem to prison. (Ananias had not been
had gone to all the trouble of getting special permission to
persecute early Christians outside of Jerusalem. He was deeply and
profoundly committed to eliminating the scourge of Jesus-following
from faithful Judaism. Saul was from a committed Pharisee family,
Pharisees at the time of Jesus were a sect of Judaism who were
particularly careful in their observance of laws and traditions of
Judaism. They were often the experts in Jewish law, and many were
scribes and sages. At the time of Jesus, and of Saul, Pharisees were
not the most common sect of Judaism, rather they were the ….
populous nerds, if that makes any sense, and around here it SHOULD
;). After the destruction of the Temple, the Pharisees were the
strongest sect left, and modern Rabbinic Judaism is largely based on
the Pharisee perspective.
explaining all that because I’ve often wondered why Saul was SO angry
about the early Jesus-movement. He seems to have taken it
personally, in that he made it his personal mission to root it out
and kill it. The Pharisees, from my perspective, didn’t have a
particular reason to be threatened by the early Jesus-movement. The
ruling sect, the Saducees, did, because they were responsible for
keeping things quiet and under control and the Jesus followers didn’t
help with that. But the Pharisees existed quite peaceably with other
sects of Judaism, and I really think early Jesus-following could have
been understood as just another sect before Paul started his
could be that Saul/Paul was really upset about the ways that Jesus
threatened the value of the Law, particularly about strict Sabbath
observance, but I don’t quite believe that. There were far more
important violations of Jewish law happening, and Paul wasn’t stupid.
From all accounts he was incredibly faithful and very intelligent.
Perhaps one of Jesus disciples had really annoyed Paul. Perhaps one
of the stories or teachings he heard drove him particularly nuts.
Perhaps he noticed the power of the fearlessness of the early
followers, and noticed that the nascent movement was a bigger threat
than others noticed. Perhaps he was just doing his job, and his job
happened to be to root out THIS threat, and he thought it needed to
be done in Damascus too. Try as I might, I can’t quite get my head
into his thought pattern to figure out why he was rushing to arrest
people and approving even of murder.
then this … something happened. He became blind. He heard a voice
he attributed to Jesus. He prayed and fasted for three days, then
Ananias came and healed him, he could see, and he became a part of
the very movement he’d been trying to kill.
Paul guy. He didn’t do things in half-measures. He was 100% against
you and then 100% for you, and he did both with complete devotion and
passion. It is a bit scary. I guess it also makes sense. A
capacity for passion can be harnessed in a lot of different ways.
Also, when someone who has stood VEHMENTLY in one position manages to
change their mind, they are sometimes just as VEHEMENT on the other
wish I could see the bridge though. I suspect it would be very
interesting. Something about how Paul valued his faith and
understood God had led him to think that the Jesus-followers were a
threat to what mattered, and Paul was willing to do anything to
protect God and God’s people. After the change, Paul was still
willing to do anything to protect God and God’s people, it is just
that his conception of God’s people had expanded. I suspect the same
motivation was there all along, but his interpretation changed.
seems to me that this may be a helpful tool to remember when we are
face to face with people with whom we are on ENTIRELY OPPOSITE SIDES
of things. There are a few such examples in our society (and
denomination) today, and I know you are aware of some. The irony is
that there is often a shared value in our positions, but a difference
in interpretation. If you’ll allow me to admit it, I suspect that
the VAST majority of people in the United States care about our
country, care about the people in our country, want people to have a
chance to thrive, and want our country to be a leader and positive
example in the world. There are some incredible differences in how
we think those things can be accomplished, but if you look at it that
way, we’re seeking the same thing. One of the ways we can meet
people with whom we disagree, if they are willing and we want to keep
being in connection, is to keep digging deeper and deeper until we
find shared values underneath what appear to be radically different
positions. A game can be made of how deep two people have to dig to
find shared values.
is an example of an extremist, but one who shows with his life that
the same passion can be expressed in polar opposite ways, and that
gives us a chance to remember that those with whom we most
passionately disagree may be people with whom we … well, share
fundamental values. )
onto our final changer – Peter. I’ve always thought Peter was set
in up the Gospels to be a bit of an idiot so we’d feel better about
ourselves when we are being idiots, but John Dominic Crossan thinks
that the Gospels are rough on Peter because they reflect some
ambivalence about his role as church leader. In any case, Peter
usually looks like an idiot.
is no exception. After Easter, Peter is sitting around, aimless and
decides to go fishing. Now, fishing for Peter is not like fishing
for any of us. (I’m unaware of any commercial fisher-people in this
church. If I am misinformed, please let me know.) Peter, at least
according to the Synoptic Gospels, had been a fisherman before Jesus
called him. (John doesn’t share this information, in fact this story
sounds shockingly like the call of Peter in the Synoptics.) A
fisherman was a commercial position. Peter had likely fished the sea
of Galilee, as his means of making a living. Scholars seem to argue
a bit about fishing – they agree that a large profit was being made
at this time from fish, as demand for it was high in the Empire at
that time. Scholars don’t seem to have clarity about whether or not
the fisherman were able to actually keep any meaningful portion of
the wealth they produced. Based on how the world works, I’m leaning
any case, if Peter had been a fisherman, and then left fishing to go
follow Jesus, then going back to fishing after Jesus’s death was
going backward. This was AFTER Easter, so after the disciples were
supposed to have GOTTEN IT, that they could keep on sharing Jesus’s
message, that they could empower others as he had empowered them,
that the work wasn’t done but it was now theirs to do.
in this passage, they DEFINITELY don’t get it, and so they go fishing.
They revert. They pretend away the past year, INCLUDING Easter, and
just go back to what they knew.
gone fishing. I’ve found wonderful new ways of life, new
possibilities, transformations, and then let them slip away. I’ve
gone to anti-racism trainings, and committed to attending to my own
privilege, and then come home to be immediately distracted by all
that is normal in my life. I’ve gone away on retreat, found my
center, remembered how much I NEED to spend time in connection with
the Divine to be my whole-self, and then allowed myself to be
immediately pulled into things that aren’t whole-self inducing. Or,
on a SUPER practical level… on a regular enough basis that it is
embarrassing, I notice that I get a little bit overwhelmed, and am
not sure which way to turn in the midst of too many options, and I
turn to my phone to do something ENTIRELY meaningless rather than
exist in the uncomfortableness of not knowing.
go back to what I know, what I have been, what comforts me, EVEN when
I know better.
think, maybe, we all go fishing. But Jesus called the disciples away
from the fishing, in this story he does it AGAIN. He didn’t let them
revert, he kept on prodding them into the fuller life they needed and
the ways they could gift the world around them. He commands Peter to
feed and tend his sheep and lambs… which is NOT fishing. The story
says that when Peter first saw Jesus he leapt into the water to swim
to where Jesus was. That is, he KNEW that where he was supposed to
be wasn’t fishing, it was in the new life Jesus had called him to.
think that’s true for us too. Rather than breath threats and murder,
we’re called to work with those who God loves (ahem, all.) Rather
than be afraid, we’re called to speak love to those who scare us.
Rather than revert to what is comfortable, we’re called to new life
and new possibilities. They can feel like odd commandments, but
we’re called away from fishing and into taking care of vulnerable
sheep – including ourselves and each other. Thanks be to God that
God doesn’t make peace with the status quo, or leave us in our
comfortable places. Amen
Rev. Sara E. Baron
First United Methodist Church of Schenectady
603 State St. Schenectady, NY 12305
May 5. 2019