Pastoral Letter 115

Dear Members of St. Andrew’s Uniting Church, Friends and Adherents,

Grace and peace to you all.

Last Sunday we dedicated our service to the memory of the ANZACs, as well as the Armenian Genocide. We remembered, honoured and prayed for them and promised to keep remembering them for the great sacrifice they did. Lest we forget.

And now as we move on towards to celebrate Pentecost Sunday on June 5, we think about the forty days that Jesus spent with His disciples before ascending to heaven to sit on the right side of the Father to intercede for us, the promise of giving the Holy Spirit to enable them to go and preach the good news, assuring them that He will be with them until the end of time. So, as we continue to serve Him faithfully by serving the community around us, let us be assured that He is, and He will always be with us.

This Sunday, after Morning Tea we will have our fellowship meal on the occasion of Mother’s Day. We gather a week before the official Mother’s Day to celebrate and honour our mothers, leaving the following Sunday for family celebrations. As we celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday and the next, we say to our mothers: “Thank You for everything!”

If you will not be able to join us at our face-to-face service, you can worship with us at home. Please light a candle, have a small roll of bread and a cup of wine/juice for Communion and follow the attached Order of Service.

Be safe and well, continue to pray, remembering those who need care, support and love and let us know if any member of the congregation that you know of needs our help and prayers.

Here are some more prayer points for this week:

  1. Pray for Breeze, a young child and a relative of Luigi and Isabel, who is terminally ill with cancer.
  2. Pray for the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, the struggling and the stressed.
  3. Pray for world peace and ask for God’s blessings.
  4. Pray for the hope that God gives.

Please let me know if you or anyone else has prayer points.

Best Regards,

Krikor

MESSAGE

Turning Point and Changed Life!

Acts 9: 1-9

Change!

What comes to mind when you hear the word change?

Do we think of the coins in our pocket?

Do we think of the changed furniture in the house?

Do we think of the many times we had to change outfits because we couldn’t figure out what to wear?

Do we think of the changes our children go through the different stages?

No matter what our perception on change, we must all realize that change is a necessary part of life. Some of us welcome change, others hate change. The challenge for us today is to welcome the change God wants to make in the world, the church and each of our lives.

What about turning point?

What it means to turn and change direction?

We learn in geometry that 360 degrees makes a full circle. That is, we start at one point and go all the way around and end up at the same point. 180 degrees is a half-circle. We start at one point and end up at the opposite end. This is in itself a good example of change; change of direction to a totally new destination.

People’s lives are changed so often with change of circumstances or challenges of life.

When we look at a person’s life, we must first look at who a person was before the change. 

Today we look at Paul (Saul), whose life was radically changed. He was educated as a rabbi by Gamaliel in Jerusalem. He spoke Aramaic and Greek.  He was a Roman citizen through his father, a strictly orthodox Jewish and a Pharisee. He himself was a Pharisee. So, this means he has had a deep love and appreciation for his Jewish faith and could easily speak to people who were rooted in Judaism. He was a devout religious man. In other words, a perfect Jew following the instructions of Jewish Law in detail, to the point.

We see in verses 1 and 2 that Paul was going his own way, doing his own thing. Verse 1 says: “Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” We read in the same book of Acts few chapters before, that he had just given approval to the stoning of Stephen, who was also a follower of Christ. Paul (Saul) hated those Christians. He was only about me, myself and I. He hated these Christians so much we see in verse 2 that he went to the high priest and asked for letters to the synagogues so that if he found any followers of Christ, he would have them put in jail. Paul thought he was doing a service for God by getting these Christians, but Paul was lost, and was doing bad things.

The good thing is that, after the first two verses there is a verse 3. Paul was going to do his thing and capture the followers of Christ, when suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him: “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” He asked: “Who are you, Lord?” Christ’s answer was clear and straight: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting”. Paul thought he was doing a service for God by going after the Christians. But he is ultimately the one who didn’t know God. He was the one in need of God. He was religious, but he wasn’t right with God. We must note that Paul wasn’t looking for God – Paul was on his own agenda and God had to knock him off his feet so he could stop, look up, and see Jesus.

As a result of this life changing encounter with Christ, Paul was forever changed. According to Acts for three days he was blind and did not eat or drink anything. God spoke to Ananias (a disciple of Christ) in a vision and said: “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man named Paul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

Ananias responds to the Lord in verse 13 with doubt saying: “Lord I have heard many reports about this man and all of the harm he has done to all your saints in Jerusalem”. Ananias is saying in other words: “Lord are you sure this is the brother you want me to go see”.

Ultimately Ananias is convinced by God and goes to the house and Paul’s sight was restored – he was filled with the Holy Spirit and baptized as a sign that he had trusted in Jesus Christ. Ananias questioned at first, but he was convinced that God had changed Paul’s life.

God totally changed this man named Saul. Even his name was changed from Saul to Paul. The meaning of the name Saul is “asked for” or “prayed for”. We read in the Old Testament that the people of Israel asked for a king and God made the first king of the Jews a man named Saul. On the other hand, the name Paul means “small” or “humble”. The change in this man named Saul is big, even we see in the names and their meanings. A recognisable change a total change; 180 degrees change.

In verses 15 and 16 we see God took with His grace and forgiveness the one who had murdered and persecuted others and made him His chosen instrument to carry His name before the Gentiles, their kings, and the people of Israel.

God so radically changed Paul that He used Paul to have a life changing impact on those around him – Paul’s life shows what it looks like when one is changed by Christ. A clear shift, a total change and a total transformation of life that we cannot imagine. This total shift and change is clear in the words he wrote later in his letters. For example:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”. (Galatians 2:20) 

For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”. (Philippians 1:21) 

Whatever was to my profit I now consider a loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”. (Philippians 3:7-8)

What an amazing change God made in Paul’s life. But this change came with pain and suffering. Verse 16 says that God was going to show Paul how much he will suffer for his name. Paul the ex-murderer and persecutor of Christians was ultimately beheaded in the end, for the very same Christ that he once persecuted. Paul gave his all – even his very life.

This changed life ultimately affects us all. For Paul it changed the course of his life. As once he was a persecutor of the Christians and now, he became the persecuted. God graciously used him to write most of the books of the New Testament and many were saved as a result of the changes God made in his life through Jesus Christ.

What about our lives?

I can truly say that I wouldn’t be up here if back in September 1975 Jesus Christ didn’t change my life. I wanted to go to Uni and major in Maths, if I could financially afford or be either a taxi driver or open a recording shop, to copy LPs onto cassettes. But God changed my life totally. I had my training and studied, not majored in Maths, but theology and became a humble servant of God. God did not change my name, but he called me to be his witness and to preach the good news.

Saul was heading down the road to Damascus from Jerusalem, got stopped in his tracks and made a 180 degree turn. He was heading down the road for one purpose and ended up there for another.

In some ways it might seem unlikely for God to choose Saul to be one of the major leaders of the church, especially since he originally wanted to eliminate the Christians. However, we see that God used him and all his talents, to be an excellent leader and I would say a good manager. He planned missionary trips and planted churches, appointed leaders to carry on the work. When he was not able to go and revisit them, mainly because he was in prison, he followed up by delegating people to act on his behalf. 

There are several things we can learn from this story and several questions come to my mind as we read it.

One of the unanswered parts of the stories that we often wonder about is, what happened to the men that were with Saul?

Luke, the writer of Acts, tells us that they heard the voice. They helped Saul into town and then that’s the last we hear of them. Maybe something dramatic happened and they became Christians as well. It doesn’t tell us. Or they may not have. There are many people today who see God at work in powerful ways and they continue to disbelieve.

Another question this story confronts us with is:

Do we really believe people can change?

If we do not believe that people can change, then we miss a big part of the gospel message. The gospel is all about Christ coming into the world to shake the core of our being, so that we are never the same. We may not have the kind of experience like Saul/Paul had, but we believe that God is continuing to work in our lives and through us and make us into the people God would have us be. The message of the gospel is that people can change. God can change people and can change us if He change a man like Paul.

Another question:

What would have happened to Paul if Ananias hadn’t gone?

I’m sure Ananias could have said: “That wasn’t a vision, just an imagination. I don’t have to tell anybody about this, and no one has to know.” It took a lot of courage and faith for him to go. If he hadn’t gone, it would have been a lot harder for Paul to be embodied into the church. But God would have used other means.

Another question:

What would have happened to Ananias if he hadn’t gone?

He would have missed a great blessing. He wouldn’t have seen the transformation of Paul’s life and his baptism. Also, he would have been disobedient. When doing something looks hard, it’s better to do it accepting the challenge in order to hear God saying to us: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Without the changed Paul and the changed faithful disciples, the Gospel would not have been preached and the church would not have existed. After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples several times and He challenged them, as He challenged the great disciple Peter, asking him if he loved Him. He asked three times and every time Peter’s answer was: “Yes Lord, I love you”. Jesus told him to feed His sheep and lambs and take care of them.  Jesus was looking and still He is looking for faithful servants to act on His behalf and take care of those who are around them. The disciples and the changed Paul did, and changed the world.

We are called to live a life that justifies our existence as the body of Jesus Christ, a group of people whose lives have been totally changed, shifted and transformed by the grace of God. The church is called to be that changed group of faithful people, the body of Jesus Christ and His witnesses, who are ready to do the best they can for Him and His glory.

We all need that change, that total shift and the turning point to be the people of God in this world. This is undeniable expectation from the church and from us.

Amen!