The road to Damascus
Acts, Chapter 9 and verses 1 to 19, and this can be found on page 159 of the New Testament section of the pew bibles.
This is the story of Saul’s encounter with God on the road to Damascus, when Saul was on his way there in order to persecute the Christians.
A little before this, in Chapter 7 of Acts, we are told that Saul was present when Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned, and that afterwards he did his best to destroy the Christian community. He went from house to house and dragged both men and women off to prison. You can imagine that his reputation spread quickly, and that he was greatly feared by the Christians.
Let us now read from Acts, Chapter 9 and verses 1 to 19.
1 In the meantime Saul kept up his violent threats of murder against the followers of the Lord. He went to the High Priest
2 and asked for letters of introduction to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he should find there any followers of the Way of the Lord, he would be able to arrest them, both men and women, and bring them back to Jerusalem.
3 As Saul was coming near the city of Damascus, suddenly a light from the sky flashed around him.
4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?"
5 "Who are you, Lord?" he asked. "I am Jesus, whom you persecute," the voice said.
6 "But get up and go into the city, where you will be told what you must do."
7 The men who were travelling with Saul had stopped, not saying a word; they heard the voice but could not see anyone.
8 Saul got up from the ground and opened his eyes, but could not see a thing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus.
9 For three days he was not able to see, and during that time he did not eat or drink anything.
10 There was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. He had a vision, in which the Lord said to him, "Ananias!" "Here I am, Lord," he answered.
11 The Lord said to him, "Get ready and go to Straight Street, and at the house of Judas ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying,
12 and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come in and place his hands on him so that he might see again."
13 Ananias answered, "Lord, many people have told me about this man and about all the terrible things he has done to your people in Jerusalem.
14 And he has come to Damascus with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who worship you."
15 The Lord said to him, "Go, because I have chosen him to serve me, to make my name known to Gentiles and kings and to the people of Israel.
16 And I myself will show him all that he must suffer for my sake."
17 So Ananias went, entered the house where Saul was, and placed his hands on him. "Brother Saul," he said, "the Lord has sent me - Jesus himself, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here. He sent me so that you might see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
18 At once something like fish scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he was able to see again. He stood up and was baptized;
19 and after he had eaten, his strength came back. Saul stayed for a few days with the believers in Damascus.
Amen, and may God help us to increase our understanding of his word.
Let us now all come before God in prayer. Let us pray:
Great and Wonderful God, your power and authority are so great that they are beyond our human understanding. When times are good we can easily forget that you are the source of everything, and we do not thank you for all the good things that you give us. Teach us to be thankful for all your gifts.
Your most amazing gift was to send Jesus, who has shown us your infinite love and your concern for every individual, but we can find it difficult to recognise you when you speak to us, and sometimes we allow other things to drown out your voice. When we hear you speaking we often look for reasons and excuses for not doing what you ask of us. It may be inconvenient, or embarrassing, to obey you, and it is easy for us to convince ourselves that it was not you who spoke to us.
We know that you can act in a way which is obvious and dramatic, as you did with Saul on his way to Damascus, but you can also speak to us in a still small voice, as you did to Samuel. Your Spirit can speak to us in many ways; through our conscience, through what we read in the Bible, or even through the words or actions of other people.
Lord, our world seems to be full of disputes and conflicts ranging from family arguments all the way to major international incidents. Everywhere seems to be in chaos, and we don’t see any way to end the problems.
At this time, we especially pray for all those who are caught-up in the complicated and dangerous conflict in Syria. Lord, send your Spirit to guide those who have power and authority over the warring factions, to actively seek to find the path to peace. Bless all the people, and the various agencies, who are doing what they can to ease the suffering of others. Protect them and give them the strength to continue with their humanitarian work.
From where we are in Alva, we know that we cannot directly bring about the end of international conflict, and we cannot personally ease the suffering of those involved, but we can help to support the various charities who are working to help others.
We can also make the first moves to resolving our own personal and family disputes; perhaps we may simply need to say that we are sorry that someone feels hurt by us.
Sometimes you ask us to do more than we think that we can manage. We can invent an excuse by saying that no matter how hard we try, our best efforts would be too small to make a difference, or we can pretend that the words were meant for someone else. Lord, when we feel that the task is too great for us, remind us that we can bring our fears and worries to you, and that you will provide the strength and courage for us to do what you have asked. We know that you can take the smallest action and turn it into a blessing for others.
Merciful God, forgive us for the times that we have ignored your guidance and gone our own way. When we are tempted to ignore you, help us to remember the story of Jonah who tried to go against your instructions.
Gracious God, help us to be always ready to hear you speaking to us.
We thank you that you are always ready to listen to our prayers, and that You have not left us to face our troubles on our own, but that you have given us your Spirit to help and comfort us.
Lord, be merciful to us, and grant us your forgiveness.
Hear our prayers which we offer in the name of Jesus, and we further pray in the words which he taught his followers.
Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever.