"My Chosen Instrument"
Rev. James A. Splitt
Sermon April 26, 1998 - 3rd Easter Sunday
John 21:1-19   Acts 9:1-20

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote words that in the midst of the Hitler regime
seem strangely ironic, "God can and will bring good out of everything, even
out of the greatest evil."   [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Letters and Papers from
Prison", ed. by Eberhard Bethge. New York: Macmillan Co. 1972,  p.11]. 
Bonhoeffer wrote those words from prison, perhaps to speculate, that out of
hope he believed God would work some good out of the nightmare of
devastation of human lives brought on by the 3rd Reich.

Our witness to a God of hope comes from the 9th Chapter of Acts.  There was
no greater evil facing the early Christians than the zealous desire of a man
named Saul who lived to see the blood of Christians shed.  He was planning a
mass execution of Christians.  Authorized by the chief priests he journeyed
to Damascus in order to round up all the Christians so that he could bind
them up and take them back to Jerusalem where they would be publicly

The first word in Acts 9 is the word BUT.   You may not think of BUT as a
word of hope, but in this case it is the word that begins the story of the
inconceivable truth of how God does bring good out of everything, even the
greatest evil  . . . individual,  a man named Saul .....

"BUT Saul still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the
Lord. went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at
Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he
might bring them bound to Jerusalem.  Now as he journeyed he approached
Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him.  And he fell
to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you
persecute me?"

Jesus appeared to Saul . . . while he was still breathing threats and
murder against the disciples of the Lord.  BUT Jesus appeared to Saul and
got his attention.  He asks a question I want you to remember . . . "why do
you persecute me?"

If you have your Bibles open to Acts chapter 9, jump ahead to the verse
that gives title to this sermon, verse 15.  We know that Paul has been
blinded by a great light and taken into Damascus where he is being cared for
while he awaits instructions from God.  He is under the care of Ananias, a
disciple of Christ.  The Lord speaks to Ananias and says: "

Go for he (Saul) is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the
Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.  For I will show him how much he
must suffer for the sake of my name."

Saul who is on a mission of evil is called into the service of our Lord to
preach the Good News.  To complete the transformation of character, Saul is
known from that time on as Paul (Acts 13:9).  Paul, in his witness before
King Agrippa, shares the events of what occurred on the road to Damascus and
what the Lord said to him (Acts 26:16ff):

And the Lord said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.  But rise and
stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to
appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen
me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the
people and from the Gentiles -- to whom I send you to open their eyes, that
they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God,
that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are
sanctified by faith in me."

Paul is the chosen vessel, the chosen instrument to transform people from
darkness to light from evil to sanctified in faith by Christ.

The message of resurrection is turn from evil into goodness.  Seek
forgiveness and obtain righteousness.  Paul becomes the chosen instrument
because he models what it means to be resurrected in Christ.  Paul's
message, as ironic as it may seem, is now calling for everyone to repent, to
seek forgiveness, to turn from evil, to stop the persecution of Christ in
order to be transformed from darkness into light.

The word for instrument in Greek "skeous" means container, vessel.  The
meaning is the one who carries a message, a vessel who brings to others a
message.  The instrument of the Lord proclaims the message of resurrection,
our hope is that evil is overcome in Christ!

Back to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the continuation of his earlier quote is:

"I believe God can and will bring good out of everything, even out of the
greatest evil.  For that purpose he needs people who make the best use of
everything.  I believe that God will give us all the strength we need to
help us to resist in all time of distress.."

We have a serious threat facing us today.  We are becoming numb to evil. 
We are developing a kind of nonchalance to extremely destructive forces at
work in our society.  We can watch hours of TV, and be unaffected by the
routine use of language that profanes the name of God.  We become
uninvolved, passive.  What does it matter if we allow such profanity to come
into our homes.  We have the choice to turn it off, but rarely do we.  We
label it ADULT, but it might better be called DEMONIC.

Video games for our children are more luring, more attracting, if they
portray violence.  Yet, we buy them or turn our heads not believing that
they will have any lasting influence.  We are shocked when a young person
shoots classmates outside a school, but we draw no conclusions to a society
becoming obsessed with evil. 

Chuck Swindoll says,

"There is nothing shallow about authentic love.  Nor is it a magic wand
that we whip out and wave over a problem with a whoosh, hoping all the pain
will go away.  Real love has staying power.  Authentic love is tough love. 
It refuses to look for ways to run away. . . . While the world around us
gives the opposite counsel, love stands firm."  [Charles R. Swindoll,
"Dropping Your Guard."  Waco, Texas. Word Books, 1983. p. 123-124.]

We are all walking the road to Damascus to persecute Christ, if we are not
living in the light of redemption.  To see the light and turn from a way of
darkness, (sin and evil) we have to become vessels of what Swindoll calls
authentic love. 

The Lord's chosen instrument is a vessel containing these qualities:
     1) Willing to stand in judgment
     2) Humility to seek forgiveness.
     3) Integrity to live righteously.

We have to be willing to stand in judgment.  Wayne Oates, a great theologian
and psychologist states that the "loneliness of a person under temptation
makes it all the more burdensome."  [Wayne E. Oates. "Temptation: A Biblical
and Psychological Approach."  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1991.
p. 92].

    Before we can admit our sin, we need to face a God who asks us, "Why do
we persecute our Lord?" 

Have you ever had to appear in court.  Go to the principal's office. 
Answer to your parents?  The question is one of judgment. WHY DID YOU DO IT? 
What possesses us to break the law, to hurt or injure our neighbor, to
steal, to commit adultery, to take the Lord's name in vain?  We can say we
are sorry and ask forgiveness, but we must first stand in that hot seat of
judgment before God.  We think the judgment is something that happens when
we die.  But let me suggest that resurrection theology says that we live
under judgment right now, a judgment that offers grace.  Saul was graced by
a light that brought him face to face with sinfulness.  We have to break out
of our passive nonchalance, and recognize the evil that we are a part of and
answer the question ... why are we persecuting our Lord?

When we feel the burden of our temptation, we can humble ourselves to seek
forgiveness.  I misplace my glasses all the time.  I put them down
somewhere and I have to go searching, retracing all my steps.  Then, it is
inevitable, I find them where I last left them.  Seeking what is ours, what
we lose, means we want something back.  So it is with forgiveness, but we
have to do it on our knees.  I feel so foolish when I have to admit that I
have lost something by carelessness. 

We lose sight of goodness when we sin.  We become careless with life when
we take our neighbor for granted, when we want to cheat another, when we
want to live disobedient lives dishonoring our parents and our family, when
we idolize the material gods that adorn our home.  Humility is the doorway
to forgiveness.  And like authentic love, forgiveness must be the seeking of
an authentic heart that wants the burden of sin removed.  The long road to
becoming human is like the road to Damascus.  Christ knows our journey,
Christ knows our sinfulness, and yet Christ is willing to stop and confront
us with our sin.  Fortunately, Saul paid attention, and responded to
Christ's call for redemption.  There are many who walk the road to Damascus,
are called by our Lord, but they journey on bringing with them destruction
because they ignore Christ's call.  But for those who hear the call and are
humbled, the grace of the Lord is poured upon them.

When we are willing to stand in judgment and humble enough to seek
forgiveness, we will be blessed with a divine integrity to live righteously. 
I believe maturity, integrity is being blessed with divine power.  Paul
preached with a maturity of faith because he realized that his power was
from God. 

The highest level of personal integrity and maturity can be understood by a
child. "The message of the Gospel is so simple that any child can understand
it, even if he or she is unable to read or write."  [Dorothee Soelle.  "The
Strength of the Weak: Toward a Feminist Identity."  Louisville: Westminster
John   Press, 1984. p. 133.]  We all know this:  we are to "love one
another."    The resurrection message is simply this.  We become the Lord's
instrument, when we become the vessels, the containers, of the message . . .
"Love one another." 

"For God so loved us "  (John 3:16)  ... this is the Christ that Saul met on
the road to Damascus.  Redeemed from sin, transformed from evil into the
goodness of God with a purpose to proclaim victory over evil. 

With divine integrity we live righteously.  God calls us back from sin with
the grace of the risen Savior to live resurrected.  Like Paul, we are called
back to become the chosen instruments of authentic love.  Called back! 
Called back from evil!  Called back to righteousness!  Called back from
darkness to light!  Called back from death to life! 

Remember I asked you to remember the question Christ asked, Why do you
persecute me?   The answer to that question is, NO MORE!  I will persecute
you, NO MORE!  Because you have called me back, called me back as your
chosen one to love one another with the Good News!  Amen!