God's Vision for Us

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, May 1, 2022
Acts 9:1-20

    When I was in seminary, we were encouraged to meet with a spiritual director monthly as a part of our training and formation as pastors.  A spiritual director is kind of like a life coach or counselor; a person who serves as a listening ear and mentor to help you grow in your prayer life and actively reflect on your walk with Christ.  Because of that early encouragement, I have been seeing a spiritual director pretty much monthly now for over fifteen years, and this habit has been vital for my spiritual growth and nourishment over the years.  You don’t have to be a religious professional to have a spiritual director, by the way – anyone who is looking to grow spiritually can try spiritual direction.  You are welcome to talk with me after the service if you are interested.  At any rate, recently, my spiritual director asked me to think about my personal or family mission statement and vision.  I thought it was a very interesting question.  Our church has a mission statement.  Many businesses and other organizations have a mission and vision.  I don’t know why I hadn’t ever thought that God could have a personal mission and vision for me, too.  And to be honest, I don’t know that I’ve fully fleshed out what that mission and vision is quite yet – it is taking some time and prayerful reflection.  So I’ll pose that question also to you:  what is God’s mission and vision for you these days – do you have any clue?!
    This month we will be focusing on our first reading as we go through the book of Acts, and we start out today with one of the most powerful stories of transformation in the whole of the Bible – the conversion of Saul, better known as Paul.  Paul is convinced he has a mission from God that is actually diametrically opposed to God’s actual purpose for him.  He is persecuting Christians.  It takes a pretty dramatic conversion experience where he is blinded for three days and does not eat or drink during that time for God to get through to Paul what his actual purpose and calling is.  Jesus tells him, quite clearly, what he is supposed to do next – Go to Damascus and proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God.  God’s call takes Saul in a completely different direction from where he was going and transforms his thinking quite dramatically on what he thought was right.  Think about it – God temporarily blinds Paul so that he can truly see what God’s vision is for him.
    Did you notice, though, that Paul isn’t the only one Jesus appears to in a vision in this passage from Acts?  The Lord also appears to a disciple in Damascus named Ananias.  Understandably, because Ananias knows Saul’s violent reputation, Ananias is reluctant to follow the Lord’s call at first.  But despite his initial concerns, Ananias trusts the vision, goes to Saul, lays his hands upon him so that Saul regains his sight and thus begins a journey that has impacted millions throughout the whole world, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in his preaching, building of churches and writing of letters that makes up the majority of our New Testament.  Although Paul is so often held up as a model of faith and has a compelling conversion story, we are reminded in our scriptures for today in the call of Ananias, Peter, and the other disciples that God finds people in various ways and calls them to different purposes within God’s larger mission.  We all have a part to play, regardless of how we’ve “seen the light,” so to speak.  We thank God that both Saul and Ananias followed this new vision and listened to the voice of Jesus, even though they were called to a mission that would be difficult and included risks.
    In both our personal and professional lives, it is sometimes difficult to know what God’s vision is for our future.  And then, even if we know what the right thing to do is, it can be difficult to follow through.  The last two Sundays, we have celebrated the good news of Christ’s resurrection.  Today, along with the first disciples, post-resurrection, we ask, “Now what?”  What is God calling us to now?  Knowing that we have new life in Christ and God’s hope, love, and peace because of Christ’s resurrection, what is God asking of us now?
    When my spiritual director asked me to identify God’s vision for my life I struggled partly because as we emerge from a global pandemic I feel like I’m moving out of a stage of paralysis.  After adapting to a new way of being in the world because of the pandemic, this year feels like a new start, and I am pretty sure I am not alone in that feeling.  We have exciting new opportunities, but there is still a lot of uncertainty out there.  It can be difficult to trust in God’s hopeful vision for us when we continue to be anxious and concerned about so many things:  rising costs of everything, rising COVID case rates yet again, the ongoing war in Ukraine and murmurs of nuclear armaments.  Perhaps we can start answering these questions about where God might be calling us next and how we follow faithfully by continuing to place our trust daily in the loving arms of Christ, who walks with us and gives us courage despite our fears, even when we don’t know exactly where we are going.  Today, God calls us to renewal. Renewal of hope, renewal of faith, renewal of vision.
    Post-resurrection, we ask along with Peter, Paul, and Ananais…now what? So what?  The risen Lord Jesus calls us to put our trust in him, take risks for the sake of his mission, and have confidence that life in him has the last word.  As individuals, we can ask, If God had God’s way with me, how would I be living my life in the coming years?  As a congregation, we can ask, “If God had GOD’s (not my) way with our church in the next five years, what do we see for our church’s future?  What dreams does God have for us? I’d like everyone to take a minute to think of one thing they see for our future as a church and then turn to a neighbor and share.
 I don’t know what all God has in store for me personally or for our church, but I do see our church changing to better meet the needs of our community – that not everyone will look like me or speak English as a first language.  We very likely will have more people joining our faith community who are not lifelong Lutherans.  Our nursery school will be back to full-time with younger families coming to school and church activities.  And perhaps we will start offering a worship service not on a Sunday morning to accommodate those who for whatever reason can’t make this 10am service time.  I also believe we’ll continue to offer both online and in-person engagement opportunities to keep people connected despite distance, age and health concerns.
    Let’s remember today that Jesus’ call to Saul didn’t stop on that road to Damascus – that was only the beginning.  God continued to use people like Peter, Paul, and Ananias to serve others in word and in deed.  Jesus calls us daily to follow him, to check whether we’re following our own plan or his vision for our lives. Jesus is raised so that we might have life in him and share the good news of new life in him, regardless of our circumstance!  Today, we pray for inner vision to see more like God sees, and for the inspiration of a new beginning to follow Jesus where he leads, regardless of the risk.  Amen.