Love in the Face of Hate
Rachel Billups | Acts 9: 10-19
I’ll never forget sitting in a World Religions class at Anderson University. I took the class to seek understanding but had a classmate that was heck bent on belittling and labeling every unique practice of people who found themselves outside the Christian religion.
So, whether Sikh or Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, he was desperate to make fun of their practices.
My classmate didn’t get it. He was rude, downright hateful. And I remember thinking, sweet Jesus please never place this guy on mission. There’s no way that God would use a jerk like this one for God’s kingdom work. But then, I was reminded of the story of a guy named Saul.
Saul was the guy in my World Religions class, not literally, but he really was that GUY. Right about everything, belittling, hateful, rude, and downright persecuting those who didn’t believe and practice religion in the way he believed and practiced his religion. Saul was particularly hateful toward those early Jesus followers who called themselves “people of the way.” He made it his personal mission to bully, beat up and in some extreme cases oversee the execution of these Jesus followers. That is until he had an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.
As Saul was on his way to persecute Jesus followers, he was literally blinded by a bright light – stopping him in his tracks – and Jesus appeared to him on that road to Damascus, transforming his vision and calling Saul into a whole new purpose for his passionate gifts.
“In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, 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.” “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9: 10-16 NIV).
Ananias never imagined God would give him this great and ambiguous assignment… you know that dude that’s been persecuting Jesus followers? Go heal that guy. No way, God! Anybody—but Saul!
Let’s get honest with ourselves.
There are people we don’t like.
Saul was a Pharisee, a Jewish sect in the first century known for their meticulous attention to every detail of the law. They were rule keepers. And they kept the rules with such clarity and precision that the folk around them figured these guys must be holy.
Not only was Saul a Pharisee, but he also touted the privilege of being a Roman citizen.
Now friends, that’s a golden ticket, that’s what we call power and privilege. Saul didn’t even have to buy or barter for his, somehow, he was born into a family where citizenship was a guarantee.
So, here’s this powerful, privileged Pharisee who’s terrorizing Jesus followers, known for their grace and generosity particularly for people on the margin.
Remember there isn’t a distinction in the first century between political and religious identities. There is no separation of church and state and although the Roman Empire tolerated other religious expressions like Judaism, the expectation was cultural assimilation. So to be Roman… was to arrive.
Here’s this ragtag group of Jesus followers who are declaring Jesus as Lord, not Caesar, and they are following an alternative form of 1st century Judaism where they are declaring this street preacher from the backwoods village of Nazareth, as the Messiah, the Anointed son of God, and challenging everyone they encounter to pledge their lives and therefore their allegiance to King Jesus.
And if and when you say yes, expect bullying, beatings, persecution and even death.
I wonder what Annanias was thinking?
Have you ever been asked by God to talk to, to cheer up, to encourage someone that you just plain don’t like? Have you been convicted by your own bitterness of resentment toward a person or even a people group?
There have been too many times in my life when God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, has nudged me to reach out to someone that has hurt my feelings or harmed me with their words.
I realize that my bitterness and resentment aren’t hurting the person that has targeted me, no bitterness and resentment are corroding my soul from the inside out.
Don’t get me wrong there are occasions in our lives when it’s too early to confront or even encourage the person or people group that has hurt or harmed us, but when a nudge comes, we get that 75th nudge from the Holy Spirit—by that time is really is a genuine shove, it’s time to take a long look in the mirror, surrender our resentment and reach out.
“Anger, resentment and jealousy doesn’t change the heart of others—it only changes yours.”-Maya Angelou
“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12: 15 NIV).
You don’t have to have it all figured out, you just have to be obedient. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Go and send that text of encouragement to a forgotten friend, have the hard conversation with the coworker and ask for the person’s forgiveness that you have harmed.
HEALED PEOPLE HEAL PEOPLE
Ananias was a follower of Jesus. He had experienced the healing of Christ’s forgiveness from the inside out. He didn’t allow his prejudice for zealous Pharisees like Saul to keep him from obeying the nudge of the Holy Spirit.
God gave Ananias very specific instructions. Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street, which by the way was a pretty well-known thoroughfare, and ask specifically for a guy named Saul from Tarsus. Ananias basically has the guy’s street address and Facebook profile pic to look Saul up. God was specific.
Have you ever had a very specific request that made you scratch your head?
Maybe it was a simple as, “I want to you go to the grocery store today to pick up milk.” You don’t know why you are going to the grocery store but once you get there you find yourselves in a conversation with a person in great need.
Jesus has healed Ananias and no amount of fear is going to keep this healed person from being God’s instrument for healing others.
“Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength” (Acts 9: 17-19 NIV).
Did you hear that – Brother Saul? Ananias welcomed Saul in as part of the family of God before Saul ever verbalized a change of heart. He immediately included Saul.
How often when we are in dialogue, whether face to face or over the interwebs are we quick to point out our differences, calling people out, rather than calling them in. Ananias called Saul in, placed his hands on Saul and then told Saul his God story.
What Ananias didn’t know was that God had told Saul the very same thing. This was a double vision of sorts. Both men receiving the same introduction from Jesus. Their job was to obey, and God’s job was to heal.
We don’t control the miracle.
Healed people heal people. We have the honor of being co-participants with God in this incredible work!
“A new command I give you –Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13: 34 NIV).
Brothers and sisters, we are doubting God’s power when we are not loving in the face of hate. We are manipulating and dare I say mutilating the gospel when we use our Christianity as permission to hate.
For the last several years of my life, I’ve attempted to figure out what it looks like to love Jesus and do something about it. And sometimes I got it really wrong and sometimes I got it really right, but all the time I was held in the loving arms of God who didn’t give a rip about whether I preached real good or lead with the best strategy or even if my hair was on point, because you know most of the time it was ;). Nope. I learned early on that the only thing that mattered was that my identity didn’t come from what I did, my identity was firmly rooted in who I was, a beloved daughter of the living God.
Healed people heal people, loved people love people.
Don’t add to the noise. Be a people who love regardless.