Sermon May 5, 2019

“To See Anew”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Acts 9:1-20
May 5, 2019

 So 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.’  And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. – Acts 9:17 & 18i

Derek Black learned at a young age how to hate. Born into a white supremacist family he was taught that people of color were to be shunned, separated from a nation founded by and for whites. He was home schooled not only in the Three “R’s” but taught who God loved and who God rejected. He decided to run for public office and became gifted at spreading his message. He would not speak directly but roundabout in order to make an opening for his position. He commented on running for political office in Florida and how he would subtly win people over to his ideology. He writes about that effort and tells the reader what he used to say:

“‘Don’t you think all these Spanish signs on the highway are making everything worse? And don’t you think political correctness is just not letting you talk about things that are real?’ And getting people to agree on that would be the way forward.1

He was, like Saul, blind to love and the common humanity shared by us all.

But like Saul, his story does not end with blindness. He attended New College of Florida where he met several Jewish students. Their tolerance made room for him.

“Black’s new friends invited him over for Shabbat dinner week after week. Gradually, he began to rethink his views. After much soul-searching, a 22-year-old [Derek] Black wrote an article, published by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2013, renouncing white nationalism.”

The scales of injustice, the long years of hate, fell from his eyes and Derek Black could see anew.

In Damascus, long ago, Ananias greeted a man who had sworn to have Ananias killed for Ananias’s beliefs. He spoke to Saul not with words of condemnation or even fear. He said to Saul what would have been hard for me to say to a white nationalist: “Brother Saul….” And so I pondered: are my prejudices so selective that I do not need a blinding light? Am I so confident that my judgment of others is the same as the judgment of God? Have I forgotten the unconditional love of God, who “so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son?” Am I so sure of my virtue that I need not see anew?

When my brother Doug was a sophomore in high school, a car with two teenage boys stopped as Doug was walking home from school. He was a half block from our front door. The boys got out of the car and struck Doug in the left eye. So powerful was the blow that the bone beneath his eye as shattered. They had to take a portion of one of Doug’s ribs and place it below his eye to repair the damage. At the time, I had no idea why anyone would want to hurt my brother. All he was doing was walking home from school. I learned latter that there may have been a reason for their hatred – my brother was gay. Had he somehow let his secret be known? Had they stopped the car and smashed his face because they hated not only what Doug was but themselves as well?

Yet many of us have seen progress made in civil rights, strides made in gender equality, a new found openness to those born with a different sexual orientation than ourselves. It takes time to remove the scales of hate, but God brings them low. Our blindness is not forever if we but share our mutual humanity with all.

So in this era when Americans are tempted to fear others who are not like themselves, when we have forgotten how to be civil to those who do not share our political bias, when Muslims hate Jews and Jews Muslims and Christians are persecuted for following Christ, know this: the blindness of our age, the blindness we may personally possess, cannot withstand the love of God. Blinded on the road to Damascus, Saul would be met by a man who called him “brother.” The grace of God calls us to expand our love towards others. Any time we are told to hate, to fear the foreigner in our midst, to deny human rights to those not our own, we are not on the side of God. To exclude others from the circle of God’s grace is to play at being God. We must always seek to bring others into the circle of grace. As Edwin Markham wrote:

He drew a circle that shut me out —

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in.

And so, my friends, must we.

Blinded, Saul came stumbling into Damascus, a man on a mission of hate and exclusion now blinded by God. One of those Saul would have put in chains was given the courage to great his would-be jailer with the words, “Brother Saul…” The scales fell from Saul’s eyes and this hater of the church became the greatest evangelist for Christ the world has ever known. May they fall from my eyes, too, that I, like Saul, might see anew. Let us pray….

iActs 9:1-20

1Meanwhile Saul, 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 travelling 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.

10 Now 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.’]