Acts: Surprised & Sent
Sermon Series: Acts: The Disruptive Presence of the Holy Spirit
By: Donnell Wyche – June 23, 2019
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. Together we’ve been welcomed into God’s family through Jesus. As we become the people of God, we choose to reflect God’s love in our gratitude, in our joy, and in our generosity as we navigate the complexity of our daily lives. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.
The Book of Acts invites us on a journey to explore how we might have faith in the Empire. Acts also asks whether we are open to the disruptive presence of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.
Our Invitations Matter
I want to follow-up from my Risky Response last week to encourage us to consider how our invitations impact others. As I’ve said before “Many of us are in this room because of an invitation.” Our invitations can change people’s lives. When we see people and create breathing room for them, God shows up.
Consider what Jesus says in John 15:16:
16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:16)
Our Faithful Presence
As we continue our journey in the Acts of the early disciples and apostles, I want to encourage us with a story of how the Spirit might surprise us by sending people to us. As the pastor of this church, I’m often surprised by the people that God sends to us Some of these folks travel for miles to participate in our fellowship. Since I’ve been in our church for over twenty years, it’s easy to ignore just how special and unique our church is for people looking for a faith community.
(Disclaimer: It is difficult talking about the church in this way without it coming across as self-aggrandizing – look at us, we are so great people drive an hour to be here. But don’t worry, there are 231,000 people in our county, many of whom live within 20-25 minutes of the church and many of them don’t join us on Sunday mornings.)
I have this crazy belief that if we would consider being faithful to a local church in our local community, that God will change us and allow us to have an impact. I’m sharing this story with you for two reasons — because God is surprising and because I’m wrong. Recently, a long-time congregant and friend of mine shared a simple story with me; she told me that when she initially found the Vineyard, “It was a breath of fresh air.” Prior to settling here at the Vineyard, she had given up on the idea that she could find a faith community that cared about the same things she cared about. This is a story that I hear a lot. She also noted that if I had turned her away by suggesting that she attend another church closer to her house, it would have crushed her. When she spoke those words, I was at once convicted and encouraged.
God surprises us by sending people to us, and I want us to be people who can embrace what the Spirit is doing in our midst. This requires us to be interruptible; with a receptivity, flexibility, and confidence in the work of the Spirt in our midsts.
This all brings me our text this morning found in Acts 9. Let’s start with the background for the story, which includes the conversation of Saul who later becomes Paul. I’m reading from Acts 9:1-9,
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6“Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. (Acts 9:1-9)
The focus of the story for me this morning isn’t Paul’s dramatic transformation and salvation; instead, it’s what happens next. See, the reason why I was convicted by the congregant’s comment to me that, “I would have crushed her spirit”, was I couldn’t see what the Holy Spirit was doing in her life. There is a danger of assuming we know what the Holy Spirit is doing before the Spirit reveals it to us. When we are surprised by people, now I’m talking to myself here, instead of assuming we know what’s best for people, we should embrace the work of the Holy Spirit in people’s life that have brought them to this point. Saul has this conversion on the road. Again, it’s a desert road just like Philip’s encounter with the eunuch in Acts 8. There’s something about these “desert roads”, the in-between spaces in our lives. While Saul is being transformed and saved, another disciple is being called. Ananias.
Like Philip, Ananias is interrupted by the Spirit.
10In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
11The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
This seems like a completely reasonable request from the Lord. It’s the same command that the Spirit gives to Saul, get up and go. It sounds a lot like what Jesus says in John 15:16:
“Ananias”, the Spirit says, “there’s someone who needs you. I’m sending you. Go”.
But Ananias has an objection. He’s surprised by who the Spirit wants him to go to.
13“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your people in Jerusalem. 14And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” (Acts 9:13-14)
Let me break the story for a moment to acknowledge something. We all want to hear from God, but hearing presupposes that we will obey God, if God speaks.
Some may even argue it’s a reasonable objection. Why are you sending me to someone who threatens my very existence? Someone who is armed with warrants and authority to have me arrested or worse, to have me executed? Someone who breathes out threats and murder Someone dead set on my destruction?
A simple response might be that Ananias has missed Jesus. Maybe Ananias has misunderstood what Jesus meant when he said in the Sermon on the Mount;
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? (Matthew 5:43–46)
But if we are being honest with ourselves and God, how many of us have mastered loving our neighbors as ourselves? What we are seeing here is the need for a faith that is growing into a courageous faith, if you will. A faith that leans into God, especially when it’s difficult. It’s one thing to love your enemies when you don’t think you have any, it’s quite another thing when you see your enemy everyday. If there’s time, share a story.
Let me say that I’m uncomfortable here.
I’m really challenged by Jesus here. I want this story to be, in some important ways, different. I want the Spirit to heal and restore Saul without putting Ananias at risk. Ananias doesn’t know about Saul’s encounter with Jesus. Ananias doesn’t know that Saul is about to become Paul. Ananias doesn’t know that Paul will lead the church, planting new communities, preaching to rulers and kings. That Paul will be credited with the expansion of the Gospel throughout the known world. What Ananias knows is Saul is a murderer who targets Christians. Ananias is a Christian. What Ananias knows is the Spirit is commanding him to get up and go.
We have to ask ourselves, what would we do?
We have to sit in our discomfort.
We have to sit in our reluctance to go because we are being sent to someone surprising.
A faith community, I would love for us to be the kind of people who want to learn to trust Jesus more and more.
- Trusting Jesus is dangerous.
- Trusting Jesus is uncomfortable.
- Trusting Jesus will cost us.
- Trusting Jesus might cost us our lives.
In John 16:33, Jesus promises us that in this life we have troubles.
Now, hear me, I’m not inviting any of you to look for danger. I’m not inviting you to look for trouble. Remember, the scripture says that each day has enough trouble of its own.
I had a friend who thought that the sign of their discipleship was the measure of persecution in their lives. I think that’s misaligned and misses the point.
When we love people. When we see others. When we invite people into life instead of death. When we declare that all of the wrong people are welcomed, loved, and that they belong, that will welcome its own persecution and trouble. You don’t have to look for it, you don’t have to manufacture it.
I want to make this easier for you. Because I want you to want to trust Jesus, but I have to recognize that this is the leading edge of our discipleship. Learning to trust Jesus will cost everything we have because obedience is costly. This is why we resist it. We recognize the cost of obedience, and we want to avoid it, but following Jesus through the narrow gate into life is just that – following Jesus through the narrow gate.
Jesus himself warns us that only a few of us will follow him.
Let’s continue up by returning to Ananias,
15But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)
Ananias could have ignored the Lord. Ananias could have chosen a different path. Some of us would consider Ananias wise for avoiding Paul. But God surprises us by sending us to people that God is working on, people who need us. People who need us to be obedient and to go.
17Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength. (Acts 9:17-18)
Saul is waiting on the Lord, the Lord has partnered with his people. Now, I want to be careful here because there is a huge danger of giving you a guilt trip. And at the same time, I want to push in… People need us to be the people of God, who are willing to go and bear fruit. Because people are waiting on their freedom, healing, restoration, and transformation. God had decided to partner with us to restore, heal, and transform the world.
Let’s be willing to trust Jesus, lay our hands on those we are surprised by, and watch the Spirit fill them, heal them, and transform them. Let’s be the people of God, willing to have our lives interrupted, willing to live with open hands, so that people might discover and surrender to the King of Glory who is renewing all things.
- Grow. The Lord wants to help people grow in their prayer walk with Him.
- Hope and reconciliation for broken relationships.
- Healing for wounds of abandonment.
- Faith to lean into God, learning to develop and deepen your dependence and trust in God.
- Courage. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can put your faith into action and partner with the Holy Spirit.