Monday, June 26, 2017
Why Do You Persecute Me? (Acts 9:1-20)

First United Methodist Church

Glen Rose, Texas

June 10, 2012


“Why Do You Persecute Me?”

(Acts 9:1-20)

Rev. Billy D Strayhorn

INTRODUCTION:

     We ARE called. Each and every one of us is Called by God in Christ to be in full time ministry. For most of us, that doesn’t mean the Ordained Ministry; it means the ministry of everyday life; the going to work, raising the family, being involved, ordinary kind of ministry that we live out as we attempt to live a faithful life that represents Christ in and to the world.

     Frankly, I think that’s harder than the Ordained Ministry. Our roles are pretty defined, but living for Jesus in the marketplace of everyday life is hard. And yet that’s our calling. Many of us feel ill equipped to answer that call. Strangely enough, it seems that those who feel the most ill equipped are the ones who generally live it the best.

     And what surprises us even more, are the ones whom God calls and sets aside for certain ministries. God certainly has a great sense of humor and sense of the absurd because God never seems to choose anyone we would choose. God always seems to choose the least likely.

PRAYER

I. CAIN LACKEY:

     Cain Lackey was known as the Meanest Man in Patrick County. He was rough and tough. The year was 1892 and Patrick County, Virginia, was a place of dirt fields and mud roads. There wasn't always enough food. People died because there were no doctors. Some places were almost impossible to get to because of the roads.

     For all that, it was still very beautiful. There were the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, and the music of winding rivers racing over the boulders in their streambeds. In the western part of the county were rich fields and long grasses. There were dairy farms, and orchards so plentiful that the smell of the fruit was like perfume.

     Two ministers, Brother Dove and Brother Elgin, were standing at the edge of a swamp. Down below, a tough, wiry man was digging a ditch. Brother Dove was a revival preacher, new in town, and Brother Elgin warned him about the man who was digging: Cain Lackey, the Meanest Man around.

     Brother Elgin proceeded to tell Brother Dove about Cain Lackey, how he could carry a railroad tie the way most men carried a two-by-four, how he could out-wrestle and out-fight anyone else who'd ever passed through these parts. And he told him about the famous fight against a man known as Champion Ben, who he had laid low with a single blow, and how it had required twelve men with mule spurs to pull Cain Lackey off the former champion.

     Brother Elgin also told him about the man's father, who kept him from school, worked him from dawn to dusk, made him sleep outdoors all summer long, and how Cain had built a working mill by himself at the age of ten.

     No one could level another man with his fist like Cain. No one was stronger or meaner. "Well, he certainly looks like the strongest man in the county," Brother Dove said, watching the way Cain Lackey thrust his shovel into the swamp, and sent great clouds of mud into the air behind him.

     "I'm going to invite him to the revival," Brother Dove said suddenly.

     "He'll never come," Brother Elgin said.

     "He'll definitely never come if we don't ask him," Brother Dove replied.

     Brother Elgin watched as the Brethren minister descended into the swamp. Brother Elgin could see Brother Dove step first ankle deep, then knee deep into the swamp, getting mud and gunk all over him. He watched as Brother Dove stuck out his hand to Cain Lackey. After a moment, Cain took the hand.

     A few moments later Brother Dove was walking back to Brother Elgin. Mud clung to his boots and pants. "What did he say?" Brother Elgin asked. Cain Lackey had already returned to digging. Not much seemed to keep him from work. "He said he'd come. Is he as good as his word?"

     "Yes," came the reply. "If he tells you he'll come he'll be there. He's just that way. He'll do what he tells you. But if he tells you he'll give you a whipping, he'll do that, too."

     That night at the revival, the church was full. People had come from miles around to hear Brother Dove. There were young people and old people. There were children and mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, and plenty of babies. All the windows were open, and still it was hot, very hot inside, yet no one left. No one wanted to leave, because when someone like Brother Dove came to preach it was something special, very special.

     The songs were the sorts of songs that everyone already knew. A sweaty man in the front of the church moved his arms up and down, right and left, to direct the singing, but everyone already knew the songs. They didn't need songbooks, which was a good thing, as there weren't enough for everyone.

     Brother Dove looked out over the congregation, and then he saw, in the doorway of the church, a big man standing. It was Cain Lackey, all right, and he had a child in his arms. He hadn't thought about it, but he now knew that Cain Lackey was married, and had children. There was a darling child in his arms. There was no room for anyone else in the church, but when Cain came in the door, people were afraid of him and made room for him to sit down.

     Opening his Bible, Brother Dove began to read, and to talk. It got hotter and hotter in the building, and Brother Dove was dripping with sweat, and so was everyone else. It had gotten dark outside, and it was getting dark in the church as well. He could barely see into the back row, and he wondered, what did Cain Lackey, the Meanest Man in Patrick County, think about what he was saying?

     The invitation song went on and on, louder and louder. Some were crying in the church, and some were squeezing forward so that Brother Dove and Brother Elgin and all the other Brethren ministers could pray for them. Sometimes they were so weak they could hardly stand. Many people were coming forward.

     Brother Dove could see a dark shadow, a silhouette of a man, standing at the back of the church. Cain Lackey was standing, but he could see there was no way Cain Lackey could come forward, even if he wanted to. The church was just too packed.

     And then he saw something that surprised him. Cain Lackey was standing on top of a church bench. He was holding a little girl in his arms, and she was fast asleep. This person who was supposed to be the worst person in Patrick County had a little girl asleep in his arms, and he was coming forward by walking on top of the church benches.

     The other ministers stood back as if they were shocked, but Brother Dove welcomed Cain Lackey, and hugged him very tightly, both him and his daughter. Then Brother Dove invited Cain Lackey to kneel while they prayed together. All along, the singing continued. Then a cool breeze blew in the window, a breeze that brought relief and comfort.

     When he was through praying, Brother Dove raised his hands and suddenly everyone was quiet. No one was singing. No one was crying. Everyone was listening.

     "Today you have seen a miracle of grace," he said. "God has called this man to do great things. You will be the ones who will see these things. Welcome this man into our church!"

     Cain Lackey went on to learn to read and write. He became a minister and built many churches. He was elected to public office and spent tax money to build roads to improve access to rural areas even though it made him unpopular. He worked to provide social services for poor people who had been ignored by other politicians. He smashed stills where he found them. He changed lives. He stayed extraordinarily strong to the end of his days, once lifting a sack full of anvils over his head when he was told - erroneously - that another man had done the same.

     But most of all, he lived a life of grace and a life of service to Jesus Christ.

     One of his descendants went on to become a college president. Another became the head of a denominational pension plan. His many descendants proudly told stories of the fellow who was known as the Meanest Man in Patrick County.

     Our faith is all about transformation. There's an old saying, "The fruit doesn't fall far from the tree." It's a way of saying that people can't change. But that's not the Christian belief. We believe that fruit can sprout legs and run to Jesus!

     When The Disciples wrote the Gospels and the Book of Acts, they lived in a time when biographies were written to show you could never change. If you were great you were born great, grew up great, and stayed great. If you were rotten, you were born rotten, grew up rotten, and stayed rotten.

     But the Gospels and acts show that people CAN be transformed. The woman at the well, Zaccheus, Peter, the Centurian, the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son all demonstrate how love can change attitudes and change lives. Jesus invited people to a new relationship with God.

II. SAUL OF TARSUS:

     A. Saul was the meanest Pharisee in Jerusalem, he could parse a verb faster than anyone else and leave it spinning in pieces before you blinked an eye. He could quote Scripture faster and more accurately than any Sadducee or scribe or Levite and could make the Bible Baseball World Series champion look like a t-ball player.

     Saul was so mean, the Pharisees were afraid of him. He could out Pharisee the Pharisees in spades. When you looked in his eyes you could see the stony stare and almost see the stone heart upon which the law of God was chiseled.

     Saul was the self-proclaimed Mr. Clean of the Pharisees destined to wipe-out the germ of this Christian movement before it became an epidemic. He was the Grinch who almost stole Easter. He was the Ebenezer Scrooge of the First Century.

     He stood stoically by while they stoned Jesus follower, Stephen, blithely holding the coats as his colleagues did the dirty work, unfazed by the violence of his friends or the simple plea of Stephen that God would forgive them.

     When you saw Saul you knew there was trouble in River City, trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for Pharisee, Saul the Pharisee. But just like Cain Lackey, God had other plans for Saul. LISTEN to that story in Acts 9:1-19 (NRSV)

[1] Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest  

[2] 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.  

[3] Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  

[4] He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"  

[5] He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  

[6] But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."  

[7] The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one.  

[8] 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.  

[9] 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 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 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. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus,

[20] and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God."  

     B. Scripture goes on to say, “And all who heard him were amazed.”

     You know that when God told Ananias to go to Saul it was as simple and pretty as Luke puts it. I think Ananias had to look heavenward and say, “Are you nuts? Have you lost your mind Lord?” I’m sure the argument went on for a while but you know who won. God always wins. God always seems to call and use the least likely and then does great things through them.

     Saul was blinded because sometimes only the blind can truly see. Saul was changed and became Paul, the greatest evangelist of the First Century.

     Has anyone seen the movie “Snow White and Huntsmen” yet. It’s a very dark retelling of the Snow White story, not really suitable for young kids. Even though there are quite a few quick little homages to the Disney version, this is not Disney. The basic story of Snow White is told and good does triumph over evil. There’s one scene that I really liked. Snow White wakes while with the Huntsman and the dwarves and takes a walk, led by fairies. The Huntsman and dwarves follow. After an encounter, they realize who she really is. WATCH

     Just as the Dwarves and Huntsman discovered that Snow White was “The One” who would heal the land; Ananias discovered that Paul was The One who would plant the church and spread the Gospel in so many places; and Saul who became Paul discovered that Jesus really was “The One.”

     Jesus was “The One” Scripture had foretold; “The One” who would change the world; “The One” who brought life and hope and resurrection; “The One” who brought forgiveness and eternal life.

     Just like Cain Lackey, Saul of Tarsus realized Jesus was “The One” and would never be the same. He became Paul, he heard the call and he followed.

     That’s why our Youth and the adults going with them are going on Mission Trip, paying to travel hundreds of miles, sleeping in crowded conditions on the floor of a church in some town they’ve never been to before, and working long hours in the heat of the day for people they don’t know. They are going because they know Jesus is “The One” and they want to be faithful.

CONCLUSION:

     In the end, it wasn’t about Cain Lackey, it wasn’t about Ananias, it wasn’t about Saul, and it’s really not about you or the youth. It’s all about Jesus. It’s all about being faithful to Him. He IS The One. And like Saul and Cain and Ananias, Jesus is Calling You to be in full time ministry in your everyday, ordinary life; your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life. All God asks it that you hear God’s call in your life, that you place it before God as an offering and live faithfully.

     That’s our challenge, to live faithfully, answering God’s Call each and every day so others will know the love and grace and forgiveness of “The One” whom we know as Savior and Son of God.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.

________________________________

Bibliography

1.   Sermons for Sundays in Lent and Easter: The City of Justice, Frank Ramirez, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 0-7880-2397-7b

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