Sermon: June 12, 2016 – “The Task of Ananias”

“The Task of Ananias”

Text: Acts 9: 1-19


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. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul 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. For 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.” 11 The 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, 12 and he has seen in a vision[a] a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But 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; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul[b] 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.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

I have always loved this story because of the many layers of meaning you can draw out of it, there is a superficial literal story, but the metaphor and the depth of what it represents is, at least for me, far richer. Let me see if I can give you a couple of ideas of what I am talking about.

The first thing that jumps out at me is the irony in the story. It seems ironic to me that Paul, or Saul as he was called prior to his conversion, was really blind to who Jesus was and what Jesus stood for. His spiritual and mental blindness then ironically turns into a physical blindness when he meets Jesus on the road to Damascus. This is just one little example of the kinds of ironic metaphor you can find in this story.

Another one of my favorites is the background story of Ananias. You gotta feel for this guy. Did you catch the language around what Ananias said when the Lord told him to go a pray for Saul? Ananias protests a little bit; he said that he has heard about this man and it might be better for him to just stay away. The Lord persists, the Lord tells Ananias that Saul is an instrument whom I have chosen, and he needs to go and pray for him.

Now this is not an enviable position. Saul is well known for the level of persecution of Christians all throughout the region, and Ananias, also a Christian, is asked to go and confront this man of authority and this persecutor of Christians. Yikes.

But this is what I think is interesting. The Lord tells Ananias that Saul is an instrument that can be used, an instrument whom God has chosen. I think there is a lesson here. No person, regardless of how we view them, is lost or diminished in the eyes of God. The Lord can take anyone and make them new and create an instrument of peace from that life. So Ananias obeys and delivers the message to Saul, even though he considers it to be a great personal risk, Ananias answers the call.

I’m going to switch gears now for a minute, because I feel a little like Ananias this morning. I feel a deep and sincere calling to share some observations from our recent trip to Scandinavia, but I also have a few reservations. You see, just like Saul had a reputation that everyone knew about, there are still things that everyone agrees on that are sometimes better off left alone. Ananias did not really want to go and see Saul, but he went anyway, and Paul’s eyes were opened as a result. The scales of blindness fell away. I’m hoping for the same outcome.

What I’m referring to is the long standing tradition that you simply do not mix religion and politics and what I have to say could be interpreted as political. Well aware of that risk, just like Ananias, I am called to deliver the message anyway.

There were two cities we visited that had a remarkable similarity; the two cities were Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and both of these cities had bicycles everywhere. While we were in Amsterdam, we took a canal boat tour of the city, and one of the things that the guide told us is that once a year the city dredges out the canals. It seems that when the useful life of a bicycle has expired, a favorite place to send the bike to its final resting place is to drop it in a canal. When the city of Amsterdam performs its annual ritual of canal dredging, they remove about 15,000 bicycles from the canals. Crazy. The guide also told us that there are about 2.8 million people in the Amsterdam area and an estimated 3 million bicycles…figure that one out. They have parking garages, actual multi-floored structures, which are just for bicycle parking. There are bicycles everywhere.

I bring this up because one of the cultural differences you notice right away between the United States and these cities is there is a definite energy awareness among the residents that is not present here in the states. Use of bicycles is just a part of that awareness. The presence of wind and solar power is also a big part of that cultural shift in awareness. I’m sure the price of gasoline has something to do with all of this as well; converting the foreign currency is hard enough, but then you also have to realize that they sell gas by the liter and not the gallon, so there is more conversion. My best guess is that gas is somewhere between $6 and $8 a gallon, but that is just a guess, so many people choose to walk or bike their way to work and to run errands, etc.

When we were in Oslo, Norway it was also very similar. One of the things we did in Oslo was visit the Nobel Peace Prize Museum, which was a fabulous experience, but it was also quite personal, because I have a personal connection to two different Nobel Peace Prize winners. By personal connection, I mean that I have met these people personally, and while I may remember the event, I’m pretty certain they do not. The two winners who I have met are former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice-president Al Gore. President Carter was awarded the Peace Prize for his work in bringing peace to the Middle East during his presidency and Al Gore was awarded the Peace Prize in 2007 for his work on climate change. I am quite familiar with Mr. Gore’s work on climate change, as I had the privilege of participating in the Climate Project, which was organized through the efforts of Mr. Gore. It involved my spending an entire week in Nashville, many hours with Al Gore himself, learning about the subject, developing an ability to answer questions, and learning how to present the slideshow Power Point presentation that is the basis of the award-winning movie, An Inconvenient Truth.

I want to show you just a small clip from that movie, An Inconvenient Truth, because it has relevance to an experience we had in Copenhagen. During this part of the movie, Mr. Gore is explaining how through the analysis of ice cores scientists can determine the CO2 content of the atmosphere for thousands of years into our past. He charts these results on a graph and then compares those results with the current CO2 level emissions. But he has some fun with it while he’s at it-so let’s give it a look.

Play movie clip

I wanted you to see this graphic representation of what has happened to our CO2 emissions over the last 100 years or so, because there is a sculpture in Copenhagen that we stumbled across that uses this same representation. This sculpture seemed odd at a distance; I wasn’t exactly certain of what we were looking at. It was also a little disturbing and I couldn’t quite understand why it would be centrally located in a government square in Copenhagen.

So we walked a little closer to investigate and try to find some more information regarding this particular sculpture. This is what we discovered;

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – A sculpture of an impaled polar bear went on display on Friday in front of the Danish parliament to highlight the impact of global warming.

The seven-meter high metal sculpture named “Unbearable” depicts a graph of carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere sky-rocketing into the belly of a polar bear, gutting its abdomen and almost penetrating the back of the beast. Polar bears are among the animal species most threatened by the increase in global temperatures.

“The rate at which our ice caps are melting is crazy. It is going way faster than what people expect,” said Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt who produced the sculpture in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund.

The sculpture was first unveiled at the Paris climate summit last December where world leaders pledged to do more to curb greenhouse gas emissions. (The sculpture) is a symbol of the need to hold on to the climate deal we made in Paris. We need to keep working on climate solutions, sharpen our goals and make more initiatives to convert to sustainable energy,” said Christian Poll, energy spokesman for the project.

The arrival of the sculpture coincides with data from Greenland, a former Danish colony, which showed its ice sheet melting more rapidly this year during the onset of spring. The data showed almost 12 percent of the ice sheet surface melting by April 11, a level usually only reached in May.

What the article from Reuters failed to mention is that the graph of CO2 emissions in the sculpture is constructed out of oil pipeline pipe, which adds more to the symbolism of the entire sculpture. The article also says the sculpture is 7 meters in height, which for us sometimes doesn’t mean much, so let me convert that for you. 7 meters is very close to being exactly 23 feet. To give you a rough idea of the size of this sculpture, it is approximately 22 feet to the top of the cross here in our sanctuary. So it is a large sculpture.

Of course because of the size and rather graphic nature of this sculpture, it carries a dramatic impact. But beyond that initial impact, what I found to be particularly interesting is that the sculpture is found in front of the Danish Parliament building. If it were in this country that would mean the sculpture would be in Washington DC in front of the capitol building where congress meets. If you think about that for a minute, you realize that would probably never happen.

So here is where I feel a bit like Ananias. The rest of the world recognizes the serious nature and the threat of climate change. The rest of the world is willing to engage in dialogue about what needs to be done and what the path forward looks like. The rest of the world is fully engaged in developing alternative sources of energy, beginning to pivot off the burning of fossil fuels and is confronting the issue of climate change head on.

In this country, unfortunately, we are still blinded by the light of corporate greed.

Perhaps if enough people pray for the scales to fall from our eyes, we will see what needs to be done and we will develop the political will to actually do something. The task of Ananias was to pray for Saul and help him see the truth in both a literal and metaphorical sense. Our task is the same. Climate Change is the single most important issue this planet has ever faced; it is also the most urgent; and our United States of America is politically blind and paralyzed to that fact. And we need to pray for the scales to fall from the eyes of our leaders and begin to move forward with the rest of the world and solve this problem.

Even if it makes us uncomfortable.

And that is food for thought.


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