Getting It Wrong
Sunday, May 1, 2022
Pastor Deb Kielsmeier
Have you ever been completely convinced something was true and right, only to find out you were wrong? Changing our minds about things – especially deeply held religious beliefs can be deeply unsettling. It can plunge you into a distressing time of disorientation and doubt.
In today’s scripture we meet a man named Saul, who was zealous for God and passionate about God’s law. He knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards and was certain that what he believed was right.
In Philippians 3 we learn that he was “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5). He was born in Tarsus, brought up in Jerusalem, was a disciple of the famous Rabbi Gamaliel and an expert in God’s law. (Acts 22:3).
Saul heard the rampant rumors about this false Messiah Jesus having risen from the dead. And now Jesus’ disciples were accusing the religious council of his death. This blasphemy was spreading like wildfire and Saul was determined to stop it.
We read in Acts 8 that Saul was “ravaging the church, entering house after house; dragging off both men and women and committing them to prison.”
Then, “Still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, Saul 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.”
Saul was determined to snuff out this religious cult before it did any more harm. So, he and his companions set off on the 135 mile journey to Damascus, more than a week’s journey away.
Suddenly, However, a blinding light flashed around the travelers, and Saul was knocked to the ground. He heard a voice. “Saul? Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, Sir?” Saul answered. “I’m Jesus, the one you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
Saul – who was now blind – spent three days in the house of Judas on Straight Street, without eating or drinking a thing.
I can only imagine what was going through Saul’s mind when he realized that instead of doing God’s will and defending the faith by persecuting those claiming Jesus as Lord, he had been thwarting God’s will.
All he had been certain of was wrong, completely wrong.
The irony is that he spent his whole life trying to be right. Following the letter of the law and obeying the Scriptures.
God told Ananias to go and lay his hands on Saul so that he might regain his sight. He did so, saying, “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 Saul’s eyes, and his sight was restored.
We still use that phrase about scales falling from our eyes today. It means that we suddenly can see things in a whole new way.
That encounter on the Damascus Road changed everything for Saul. It convinced him that he had been wrong – completely wrong, about Jesus. Soon he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues saying, “He is the Son of God!” (Acts 9:20). What a complete and utter turn around.
Have you found yourself reexamining your faith after experiencing or learning something new? It is hard because we have been so certain that what we believed was correct. When a traditional understanding is challenged, our hackles can get raised.
I have spent countless nights unable to sleep staring wide-eyed at the ceiling… struggling with a new insight that challenged long held beliefs – and wondering what that might mean for my faith.
Saul was convinced that Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah. And yet there on the road to Damascus he had an encounter with the living Christ that convinced him that he was wrong.
I have found that convictions I held to be true were also mistaken. One of those beliefs was about what scripture said about women in pastoral ministry. It kept me from entering seminary for decades. And I have continued to be challenged and change my beliefs on my journey of faith..
It is scary to think that a long-held belief might turn out to be wrong. But…
It happened to the apostle Peter. He had a vision of a sheet filled with unclean animals that was lowered to a rooftop where he was napping. God said “Rise, Peter. Kill and eat.” But Peter resisted saying, “God forbid it. I have never eaten anything unclean.”
Peter knew the scripture expressly prohibited eating such animals. He knew it was wrong. But God told him “Don’t call unclean what I have called clean.” Later Peter realized that God was also proclaiming that Gentiles were clean, outsiders that the Jews knew to be unclean. After the Holy Spirit fell upon a Gentile believer named Cornelius and his household, Peter asked, “Do you see any reason we shouldn’t baptize these people?”
The scales fell from his eyes, and he realized that had been wrong about including the Gentiles; completely wrong!”
The book of Acts is full of stories like this. God is moving in startling, unexpected ways, and upending many long-held convictions and beliefs in the process.
But make no mistake, having a long-held belief challenged is no picnic. It can feel like the ground is shifting under your feet. If you are struggling with your faith, I urge you not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Spirit may be moving you to a new understanding. And know that pastor’s doors are always open at Augustana. We’d love to listen and talk and pray with you on this journey.
Faith is never stagnant. Jesus is still alive, and the Holy Spirit continues to speak to hearts and surprise us with unexpected turns.
When we pay attention, we can find scales falling from our eyes and realize that we just may have been wrong about a few things.
Heck, if Saul, later known as the apostle Paul, was wrong; and if Peter, the rock upon whom the church was built, was wrong; then my guess is that we might occasionally get few things wrong as well.
The good news is that God is forever the rock under our feet, is a sure foundation – even as we are led to through change into a deeper truth and a new future.
Let us pray.
Living God, you are forever calling us into new life, surprising us in ways we do not expect. Be the rock under our feet as we we seek to faithfully follow you into a new future.
In Jesus’ name we pray,