WHO ARE YOU, LORD? Acts 9: 1-19.

In our text: Saul appears not to have known much, if anything, about Christ: yet he ‘breathed threats and murder’ against the unknown, through persecuting Christ’s followers.
 
Today, atheists, and others, who claim not to believe in God, spend a surprising amount of time and energy in speaking against that which (so they say) is not merely unknown; but does not actually exist.
 
Saul was no atheist. He had devoted his life to achieving the highest levels within the Hebrew religion: and there were spiritual needs all around him; that he could have helped to meet.
 
Despite such opportunities: he, too, seems to have spent a surprising amount of time and energy in speaking and acting against Christianity, which, so it seems, he believed had no right to exist.
 
Probably: Saul was too much of a dyed-in-the-wool Hebrew, to be changed in any way: other than through the life-changing ‘drama’ that, then, came upon him.
 
What about us? Have we ever been so ‘dyed-in-the-wool’, in defence of some aspect of faith that suited us, or in defence of particular religious practices; that it took a bit of ‘drama’ to change us?
 
From a very ‘set’, toes-dug-well-in position: Saul underwent radical, positive and life-altering change.
 
Through revelation: he discovered that he was not called to defend the Hebrew religion; but to become the dedicated servant of Jesus; and to promote the Christian faith, wherever the Lord sent him.
 
The history of the Church shows that, down through the centuries: thousands of Christians did not follow Saul’s good example.
 
They appear not to have asked: ‘Who are you, Lord?’ and ‘What is it that you require of us?’ Instead: they got on with what they wanted to do.
 
Regardless of biblical revelations about God’s requirements in the matter of the Church, and its life and functions: they went ahead with schisms, splits and splinter groups, that cut against, and destroyed some part of the unity and peace that Christ had lived for, and died for.
 
Have we ever felt the need to ask God: ‘Who are you, Lord? And: ‘What do you really require of me?’ If so: did we respond to that need, and actually ask the question?
 
Many Christians admit that: when given such opportunities; they failed to call upon God in that particular way: because they were afraid that they might receive a ‘Damascus Road’ type of reply?
 
Because Saul cried out to God, in anguish: he could not afford to be ‘choosy’ as to the sort of answer he might get.
 
However: it must have been a big surprise, at the least: when the answer was not given in Old Testament terms: saying: ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel; and this is what I command of you’.
 
Such an approach would, probably, have done no more than to confirm Saul’s existing standpoints, and to justify; in his mind, at least; his attempts to stamp out what he believed to be a heresy.
 
Instead, the answer was given in up-to-the-moment modern terms.
 
It went against Saul’s previous experience, against his set way of life, and against his belief that Christianity was heretical: for the voice said: ‘I am (present tense) Jesus, (Christ’s earthly name) with the powerful implication of: ‘Not dead: but very much alive’.
 
The first surprise, was followed by another: ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting : with the equally powerful implication, that hurt done to any of Christ’s followers, was hurt done to Christ himself.  
 
Jesus bypassed Saul’s highly trained mind: and went straight to the depths of his humanity, at heart level – and got a positive response.
 
Today, there is a sense in which ‘high and holy’ talk about God, challenges the minds of some, but tends to pass most people by.
 
It seems that, with us, too, appeals to the depths of our humanity, at heart level – produce our most positive and fulfilling responses.
 
What challenges the mind will, at best, remain theoretical, and abstract, until it is made concrete through ‘hands-on’ application and experience.
 
What challenges the heart: opens us more directly to opportunities for experiencing God’s activity; as he offers new aspects of spiritual life; a deeper faith, and a desire to be caught up in loving service and outreach.
 
The impact of the challenge that came upon Saul, in his ‘Damascus Road’ experience; touches and influences us, today.
 
His formal training at Tarsus (one of the great university colleges of its day) together with him asking for, and receiving, letters from the authorities, made him ‘official’, and someone to be reckoned with. 
But Saul’s question ‘Who are you, Lord?’ also proved that he had deeper needs: that his ‘official standing’ could not reach, let alone deal with.
 
What about us? We have ‘standing’ as citizens, taxpayers, employers, or employees, as Christians, with formal membership, as leaders, stewards, and in many other ways.
 
But no matter how our ‘standing’ may be useful to us, and helpful to others: we remain people of spiritual needs, who; like Saul, in his need; must call out to the only one who can truly meet and fulfil them.
 
Paul’s blindness may be taken as a symbol of ‘none so blind as those who will not see’; and the restoration of his outward sight, as a symbol of a new, inner ‘sight’ being given, and received; that made him both willing and able to serve the Lord.
 
We read that, on the Damascus Road: the men travelling with Saul: ‘heard the sounds’, but ‘did not see anyone’.
 
Today, as then, people can go about their ‘religious’ business; read the right books: listen to talks, sermons, hymns, prayers etc, and ‘hear the sounds’, without actually ‘seeing’ God, to whom the sounds are directed.
 
They can share in a church service and, without having received a spiritual challenge; can walk out as unchanged as when they walked in.
 
All true faith is given: at first hand, by God. Therefore, we must ensure that we never risk preventing Christ imparting his: ‘I am Jesus’ love and care; at the time and place, and in the manner, that he chooses.
 
Largely, the Old Testament Jews believed that God confined his activities within the boundaries of ‘The Promised Land’. Our New Testament text: began to change that; through revealing divine activity being undertaken beyond the borders of Israel - at Damascus, in Syria.
 
Along with all Christians: we must be prayerfully alert against thinking that God always works within the boundaries of our understanding.
 
For, such set-in-our-ways thinking; puts us at risk of not receiving new, life-changing, faith-deepening revelations.
 
God, who does not force things upon us: will not remove the boundaries that we create. Therefore, the Lord’s gracious activity, going on beyond whatever limits that we may have set; cannot change and bless our lives, until we remove the said boundaries.
 
In our text, we find that Ananias was afraid; and had established a mental barrier between himself and Saul. However, God’s commands, overrode Ananias’ reservations: enabling him to remove the barrier: so much so, as to lay hands upon the needy Saul, and call him ‘brother’.
 
Not only that: for he went on to say:  ‘The Lord has sent me, so that you may see again, and be filled with the Holy Spirit’.
 
Can we say that we have never prevented the close approach of someone who; as Ananias was, to Saul; may have been God-sent, to us, in order that ‘we may see, and be filled with the Holy Spirit?’ Can we be that sure? 
 
Saul’s need; was far greater than his reluctance to ask for help. The received revelation made a new man of him; and, under his new name, Paul: his example, and teaching, became, and remains, of very great value to the Church; and to us, today.
 
What about our situations? Could it be that, somewhere along the line: reluctance on our part; to receive challenge; and to undergo change, created a barrier that has not yet been fully removed?
 
If we feel that there is still, something of a barrier, that stands in the way of our ongoing spiritual growth and development: would we dare to ask that very definite question of God…
 
…‘Who are you, Lord, and what is it that you require of me?’ 
 
If we do ask; and the Lord replies: how prepared are we to gladly accept what the Lord offers: even if it is a ‘Damascus Road’ type of answer?                                                                               
                                                                                                                     Amen.