October 25-26, 2014
<While walking in from the back of the Sanctuary dragging the tree branch…>
It was the time shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, and it wasn’t safe to be a Christian. The disciples and other believers went underground. This new Christian movement had been gaining momentum, and as is often the case when these things happen, the existing authorities, the government, felt threatened. So there were a group of people they had sent out to infiltrate and find Christians; to have them arrested and in some cases, executed.
Saul was one of these people who hunted down Christians. He had been responsible for the arrest of many. He was a leader in the “anti-Christian” movement.
Until, he actually had an encounter with God.
Grace and peace to you from God our creator, and from Jesus Christ, who calls us in to the new.
Now the story of Saul’s conversion actually two stories, or two people, who become interconnected. First, God “persuaded” Saul to “step out” of his history and his behavior, and then the second part of our story, the part where God persuades Ananias to do the same.
The conversion of Saul was anything but subtle. The flash of light…the voice of God coming out of the sky…immediate blindness…here God makes full use of his arsenal of special effects to get Saul’s attention. Then we jump later in the story where it was revealed that it was the Lord Jesus who blinded him, and the same Lord Jesus who would restore him. And then something like fish scales fell from his eyes and he could see. He stood up and immediately asked to be baptized.
There is a Greek word for this concept. It is Metanoia. Metanoia means a complete turn in one’s life. 180 degrees. It is a radical shift in a person’s trajectory. Saul experienced a Metanoia moment.
And as a sign of this Metanoia, of this change, God even goes so far as to change Saul’s name. He becomes Paul, and goes after his new call as a missionary with the same level of zeal that that he’d had when he was seeking the destruction of Christianity.
But the other story…that of Ananias. That is also a metanoia moment, though it is much more subtle.
While we don’t know much about Ananias, we do know that he was a fervent follower of Jesus. And we do know that when God spoke to him and asked him to go find Saul, and to lay his hands on him that he might be healed of his blindness, Ananias strongly resisted: “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” In other words: “Don’t make me walk into that hornet’s nest!”
And the Lord replied: “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Or, in other words: “Go…Step Out of your comfort zone. I’ve got your back.”
And so like Saul, Ananias also had his metanoia moment…his call to step out of his comfort zone and, for the sake of God’s mission, to do something new, something unexpected, something maybe a bit uncomfortable.
God’s words to Ananias are also his words to us. “Step out…go…”
I was leading a mission trip team on an annual trip we took to an orphanage for developmentally disabled children and young adults, about 45 minutes into the mountains outside of Montego Bay, Jamaica. We had been working on direct care of the kids there, and also construction and maintenance projects at the orphanage.
I was walking around the orphanage with Denny, the project director. We came around the corner of cottage #2 and I looked up and saw Susan, a member from my congregation, up on a tall a-frame ladder, painting underneath the roof overhang. She was probably 20 feet up off of the ground.
What caught my attention was the incredibly slow pace at which she was painting. Very slowly. I murmured to Denny “Wow, she’s being really careful with that painting.” “No,” said Denny. “She’s terrified. She’s scared of heights. Look at the ladder.” I looked closer. It was shaking ever so slightly. “That’s from her knees.” I looked. Yep.
I was about to yell up to Susan…something reassuring…something about her not needing to be up there. Someone else could do that task. She didn’t need to put herself through this. But Denny sensed this and grabbed my arm. “Don’t.” He said. “She really wanted to try this…she really wanted to do it.
I looked at him like he was nuts. “Really?” He nodded. And then he started walking on, calling out (softly) “How’s it going Susan?” A slow, shaky voice. “Fine.” “Good, let us know if you need something!”
That night at our group devotions, Susan shared how glad she was that she had faced her fear and done it. “And it only took me 30 minutes to get up the ladder!” The group applauded.
Susan had stepped out. She had had her metanoia moment where she had turned from what was safe and comfortable and was trying something new.
Stepping out…metanoia…turning our life from the comfortable and in to the new…it seems like some of us are wired to be able to do that naturally. Others? It can be more of a challenge.
- Do you prefer the unknown? Or the known?
- Do you prefer adventure? Or security?
- Do you prefer stability? Or change?
There is nothing wrong with either. I think it’s about our personality type…it’s about how we’re wired, created by God to be. And, of course, sometimes it’s the case that we wish we were one, but we wind up being the other.
Martin Luther just wanted to be a priest…a simple pastor. He wanted to have his church and preach, and study, and teach. He never really sought out conflict or change. But after he’d had the opportunity to do more Biblical study, particularly in the book of Romans, he realized that the practices of the church didn’t seem to align with what the scriptures taught.
He asked questions…lots of questions. But as we know, when people ask questions and challenge authority, those in leadership, in this case the church, can feel threatened.
There’s a whole lot more to the story, but in a nutshell, Luther hit the wall. Literally. He pounded his 95 complaints, his 95 theses to the door of the church with the intent of starting a conversation. Instead, he triggered one of the most influential events in human history. And when put on trial and asked to recant, his response: “Here I stand…I can do no other.”
It was Luther’s metanoia moment…it was his stepping out…way out, no safety net. It was the reformation.
But the thing that we have to remember is that the Reformation was not merely an historic event. I believe that God’s creation, the world, has been in a constant state of reformation since creation. Since sin entered the world, God has been at work reforming and restoring our relationships with God. First the law, then the prophets, finally through Christ. Jesus is continually restoring our relationship with God.
And that work of reforming has continued. Ultimately, 1500 years after Jesus, Martin Luther tapped into that ongoing work of reformation to bring Christ’s church into alignment with Christ’s mission.
And that is our work today. We continue to reform. The world, our culture, and the church continues to change, to reform…every single day.
You see, when all is said and done, the reformation wasn’t just a historically significant event. The reformation is about the human heart. The reformation is about what God is still doing within us every single day. Every day God works through Christ to reform and restore our relationship.
So when we bring out the red banners, the red stoles, and we celebrate the Reformation, it’s not merely the history we celebrate, it is what God is doing within each of God’s people.
And a significant part of what God is doing is to call us to step out of our comfort zone; like Saul, to have our vision cleared…to step into the new.
I believe that is what God is doing here at Trinity too. We’re in the final week of our 3-week sermon series. Two weeks ago I asked you to “step in” to our communities in deep, meaningful ways. Last week I asked you to “step up” in your level of commitment to your faith and to the church. This week, I’m asking if you will join us in “stepping out” into the world.
What would it look like if we did that together as a congregation? What would it be like if we could send missionaries to these places that we pray for almost every week? In Chile, in Ethiopia, at the Pine Ridge Reservation? And other new places that we haven’t even dreamed of yet.
What would it be like if every young person at Trinity had a summer mission trip experience…to first hand understand what it is to serve like Jesus served? To have an intense, focused experience sharing God’s love.
What would it be like if we could help fulfill the Bishop’s initiative to end…completely end hunger in southeastern Minnesota?
What would it be like if God inspired an idea for a ministry within you, and you came to Trinity with that idea and it was embraced and supported? And then other people got on board, and this became a ministry of the church.
What would it be like if there were no limits to our creative imagination when it came to God’s mission in our community, our area, and in the world?
How cool would that be?
We can do that. Together. We can step in…deeper to our community. We can step up…reaching farther in our commitment…and we can step out…out of our comfort zone to love and serve in a world that desperately needs love and service.
We can do these things not because of the “feel good” moments they give us, and not because of any favor that comes from God. That comes as a result of God’s grace. Ephesians 2:8 says that “For it is by grace that you have been saved by faith. It is not your own doing, it is a gift from God.”
But we step in, step up and step out not to earn God’s grace, but because of God’s grace…as a response to what God gives us.
So here is this week’s word of invitation. Step out. Step out into something different…something new…something you haven’t done before. Stretch yourself. It may be uncomfortable. You may find yourself in spots you didn’t expect doing things that you didn’t know you could do.
And remember these two things: First, we do this as a response to what God did through Jesus. Jesus stepped in to our world, to our community. Jesus stepped up in commitment and raised the bar for all of us, and Jesus steps out of the tomb, and makes us all people of the resurrection. And second, remember that when we step out, we do so not alone. Jesus’ final words from Matthew’s Gospel were “and I will be with you always to the end of the age.”
Step deeper in to the community, step farther up in your faith, and step out, into the new. Because that’s what Jesus did for you.