Saul Transformed by Grace
August 28, 2022
St. Stephen’s UMC, Burke, VA
Acts 9:1–19a (NRSV)
When it comes to Christian faith or discipleship, I like to describe it as a journey. Being a Christian means being on a lifelong journey from Point A to Point B. We journey from darkness to light, from old life to new life, from being held captive in sin to freedom in Christ, from brokenness to wholeness, and from nothingness to God’s presence. In our Methodist tradition, we call this movement from Point A to Point B, “moving on to perfection.” And this perfection does not mean flawlessness, but rather it means being in perfect union with God as fully reconciled, restored, and sanctified people.
This lifelong journey begins with repentance. To repent means to turn around. By the grace of God, we recognize that we are going toward the wrong destination. And it is also by the grace of God, that we can turn around and set our journey toward the destination where God waits for us with open arms. This “turning around” marks the beginning of our faith journey, and we often celebrate it with baptism.
This faith journey, just like any other journey, is full of ups and downs. And inevitably we sometimes get lost, get stuck, or even backslide. But whether we walk through the green pastures beside still waters or through the valleys of the shadows of death, God is still with us. And it is Jesus Christ who calls us to follow him, being both our exemplar and our companion in our lifelong journey called faith. And by God’s design, this journey is meant to be walked with one another; we are created in the image of God who is relational, thus we too are relational. The church is not a replica of our final destination, but rather it is a community that commits to journeying with one another as one body. The church is an extension of God’s message to the world, that God is with us; we are not alone.
Paul’s story from today’s reading is one of the prime examples of how one turns around to walk this journey called Christian faith or discipleship.
Paul, originally known as Saul, was the enemy of the early Christian church. Saul was zealous in upholding righteousness through means of violence.
As we read in today’s reading, the early church was called the Way, as Jesus is the way we are called to follow. And Saul’s mission was to go chase after the members of the Way in Damascus and to bring them back to Jerusalem.
On the road to Damascus, Saul encountered the Risen Lord, who introduced himself to Saul, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” And upon this encounter, Saul lost his eyesight, becoming vulnerable, he could neither eat nor drink, and became powerless. He was no longer a zealous, self-sufficient Saul but an utterly helpless person who needed other people’s help. The act of “turning around” is only possible when one is susceptible to change.
And today’s story is not only about Saul but also about Ananias, a disciple in Damascus. He, too, received a vision from the Lord, being told to meet Saul and lay his hands on him so that Saul might regain his vision.
But Ananias had already heard of Saul, who was known infamously for his evil acts against Jesus’ followers. How could God call him to go and meet this evil persecutor of the church, a very threat to his own life? Yet, 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; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
Ananias represents the role of the church — a community that commits to journey with others, despite the inconvenience and the potential risk that comes with it. In the end, being on a journey is to be adventurous, and no adventures are meant to be comfortable or risk-free.
So, Ananias made a short journey toward Saul in obedience. Imagine how terrified Ananias was, yet he walked by faith. Imagine how frightened he was, laying his hands on this notorious enemy of the church, yet Ananias obeyed the Lord and called Saul “brother.”
Immediately, Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit, and his vision was restored. He was baptized, broke his fast, and regained his strength. And as we are likely familiar with, Saul became the Apostle Paul, becoming the very instrument of God in spreading the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles. And just like Ananias, Paul also took on this adventurous journey despite the potential danger and risks, inviting others to join him in this Christian discipleship, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
I am almost certain that all of us are here today because of someone else’s willingness to invite us into this journey called Christian discipleship. We are here today because of God’s grace communicated through someone else’s willingness to step out of their comfort zone. We all have Ananias in our lives. And we are also called to be Ananias to others.
I suspect some of you have incredible stories, how figures like Ananias dramatically appeared in your lives out of nowhere. And I suspect some of you have stories like mine, where it was our family who played the role of Ananias in our lives.
I was born into a Christian home and baptized as an infant. But my household was a bit different than others at church. On my mother’s side, my great-grandfather and grandfather were pastors. And funnily enough, my mother also married a pastor. That’s where I was born.
As a young child, I never took this family lineage lightly because their stories were full of sacrifices and suffering, yet to my innocent eyes, their stories were so appealing, because their stories were also filled with joy, love, and gratitude.
My family never pressured me with faith. But it was the church people who broke my innocence. I mainly attended my grandfather’s church as a pre-teen, and every Sunday, the church people would ask me with a grin, “Are you also going to be a pastor?”
For the longest time, my goal was to run away from this question — which meant I needed to run away from the church and hide from the church people. And I also wanted to run away from the pressure and expectations placed on that very question, “Are you also going to be a pastor?” I wanted to run away from the sacrifices and suffering embedded in that very question. And ultimately, I wanted to run away from the fear of possible comparison, shortcomings, and failure.
But my running away wasn’t that rebellious or intense. Especially as I started to attend my father’s church as a middle schooler, I started to be drawn to many stories in the scripture, to my family’s story, and to the stories of many other saints I got to learn through my father. It was at a tiny church by the Jersey Shore with no youth group, but in that season, both of my parents played the role of Ananias in my life, opening my eyes to witness God’s work. Eventually, I felt this inner call to pastoral ministry, but I was still very reluctant and, in fact, fearful of this daring and peculiar adventure.
It was as if I were being pulled from both sides, both from Point A and from Point B. I was stuck in this tension, not knowing what to do with my life. I was hoping to find a happy medium between the two, being able to serve God’s kingdom without facing the pressures or entering a life of sacrifices. Finding this happy medium became my goal throughout college.
Then, I had my own Damascus Road moment. On my way back to college, I prayed throughout my ten-hour drive down through I-95 towards Atlanta. And in that long-winded prayer, I felt this courage that I never had before broken into my body — the courage to stop running away from the question and confront the call that I had been avoiding for many years. And that small dose of courage not only warmed my heart strangely, but also moved the needle that ultimately pushed me to explore the call to pastoral ministry. And I knew this courage was drawn not from my own self-confidence but from the assurance that God is with me no matter what, even if I fail. God is with me; thus, there is no reason to fear. God is with me; thus, I will confront my biggest fear and follow the passion God has placed in my heart.
This is my call story that happened about twelve years ago. And during the past twelve years, I’ve often found myself still drawn to the idea of finding that happy medium, especially within the past two years — when it became exceptionally challenging for everyone, including us pastors. And in the face of various trials and tribulations as a new father and a struggling church planter, I’ve found myself asking the question once again, “Are you still going to be a pastor?”
But I’ve also encountered many Ananiases, meeting them in places like schools, churches, hospitals, and conferences. And I am still continuously being shaped and reshaped under their guidance. And I’ve wondered if this continued transformation — being shaped and reshaped — is what it means to walk this journey toward God’s presence.
This lifelong journey called Christian faith or discipleship is meant to be adventurous — always on the move, always facing the unknown, and always being molded by the Spirit of the Living God. It is not meant to be comfortable, and it is not meant to be done alone. Rather, it is a daring adventure we journey together as one body, with its head being Jesus Christ (Col 1:18). And we have been invited to this body thanks to many Ananiases in our lives, who took their risk so that we may witness the love of God. And so, my prayer for us is that we continue to be more like Ananias, walking by faith and not fear, so that others may also get to witness the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Minoo Kim is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, currently serving in the Virginia Annual Conference. He will very much appreciate it if you like and follow his Medium profile. Peace!