Sermon – The Scales Be a Fallin’
2 Kings 22:3-13; Acts 9:10-22
Farmville Presbyterian Church
April 30, 2023
- What happens when our eyes (hearts) are opened
It is very good to be back with you today. I have had a busy, exhausting, and deeply meaningful experience out among the people of God. Honestly, I would never have imagined going to Guatemala eight months ago. It was one of those countries furthest from my mind, and I could not have told you anything significant about the county other than maybe the capital. I could not have even told you exactly where it was. Then, I went. Then, my socks were knocked off.
That is a really weird expression if you think about it. Sure, we probably understand the significance of the phrasing “knock my socks off,” but it sounds pretty explosive if you think about it. Seriously, how much would have to happen to make my socks leave my body. I wear compression socks to boot. That means something pretty serious is happening to make the feet naked. And, yet, that is exactly what happened to me in Guatemala.
For our biblical heroes today, that could not have happened to Josiah or Saul, also known as Paul, though. They could never have had their socks knocked off. Why? They didn’t wear socks, of course. Nevertheless, they both did have world-flipping, life-altering, mind-changing, spirit-reorienting experiences. Good King Josiah started out as a Jewish king for the people of Judah at the ripe old age of 8. That’s right, eight years old. I don’t really care to get into to how that was possible. He would have had help ruling, though (“Mom, I have a question about treasury….”). When he was mid-twenties, he decided to do some remodeling in the Temple. That was when his life truly changed. The high priest found a written copy of the law of God. He had never seen one before, ever. He gave it to the secretary of the King who had never seen one before, either. The king received this copy of God’s law, and he had never seen one before. NO ONE had ever seen the law of God before. I guess they were just all living hopefully in nicer ways based on traditions passed down, but they were clearly not terribly close to God’s actual law. When Josiah heard the law, he tore his clothes. One does not do that unless they realize they were completely wrong. Josiah apparently is not even close to God’s law. Then, he set himself to getting the people back into following God’s law. God’s wrath is nothing to be trifled with.
In even more dramatic fashion, Saul (who is also Paul, remember) had an eye-opening experience, literally. He had spent his whole life in devotion to the fact that his religious beliefs were the true beliefs. He knew who God was with crystal clarity. He loved following that God and would have died for that God, so when it seemed like the worship of that God was threatened by those heathen followers of Jesus, Saul/Paul dedicated his heart to their eradication from the face of the planet. He was going to hunt them down and make them see the error of their ways. This was his belief, and he did not question or waver from his beliefs at all.
That is, of course, until Jesus confronted him. You heard how this was not a typical kind of a “let’s sit down and discuss how you might do things better” confrontation but a knock-down, big-voice, bright-light, make-you-blind kind of confrontation. You heard how Paul did not eat or drink for days. In his heart of hearts, he realized he was completely wrong. The way he understood the world was shattered. Yes, he had his socks knocked to Kansas.
Personally, I knew that Guatemala was a struggling nation. First, it is not America, so it must be less good, right? Second, I have been to Mexico and Haiti and India and have seen hardship that we can only imagine. What I saw when I got there, though, was all of the good things and good works and good ministries happening in Guatemala where it is needed so desperately. There is a lot of bad history, the kind of history that makes me think of the holocaust. Yes, there was genocide. Hundreds of thousands of lives were destroyed. How many families is that? How many villages is that? How many relationships is that? How can a people live with that? This happened just a few decades, ago, too. It is unusual to find old people there, and it is not just because of healthcare challenges. I won’t get into the story of Guatemala just yet. For now, just know that they have had a tremendously difficult time and continue to live with many challenges – yes, it is a depressed, hard-pressed, struggling country, but children of God have risen up to show a better way. People who have had their eyes opened and hearts opened are giving hope in the grace of our Lord. They are working diligently and tirelessly to take their people in a new direction. Most of their brokenness is the product of choice. The church where we met the second day to the huge welcome of children is also a church that pays extortion money to the local gang so that they will be left alone. Sharing in this story is life-changing.
Whenever you find yourself in some kind of life-changing experience, you cannot just continue in the same old way with the same old beliefs and the same old outlook and the same old you. When you have had yourself opened, you are no longer the same person. To persist as if nothing has changed is a lie. That’s why those who have seen the folly of our past selves in America can no longer continue in those ways of thinking and doing. That’s why we who are in Christ are new creations. It is literally impossible to go back to being the old creation. You might try to emulate or copy or fake old ways for whatever reason, but deep down, you know there is something different, something better. Simply the act of following Jesus requires being different in every respect.
Josiah could not keep in the old faith that he had inherited, but he called the people into repentance and into obedience to God’s actual law – not just what people assumed. There was no going back as long as they had the law. Saul (also Paul) could not have gone back to his old ways, either. He became the biggest champion for the very person, the very movement, he was trying to destroy. Literally, something like scales fell from his eyes when he was able to see, again – when he finally got the truth about Jesus. When he finally figured out was going on, he was able to be a person, again, just not the same person. My experience is not as dramatic as the Bible stories today, but I feel a completely new appreciation for what I shared in Guatemala that will shape my priorities in the years to come.
So back to my initial question: have you ever had YOUR socks knocked off?
Have you ever learned anything, experienced anything, shared anything, or met anyone that forced you to become different? If you are sitting in this room or listening to my voice from wherever, there is a pretty good chance that you have been changed, too. Changing and being changed is at the heart of our faith and tradition. Our church is in constant change at the direction of the Holy Spirit. We, too, are always growing and changing and becoming more and more the people God would have us be. While we certainly fail to be fully the people we need to be, we are also helped much more than we realize in the grace of God. But we absolutely need to be the kind of different people that we are called be, that we are changed to be, that we are made to be.
I am going to leave you with the demands of this changed life:
All who are changed people and new creations must see the world differently. We must see the people and the policies and the practices and the cultures and the very faces of each other differently. It all boils down to how loved our neighbor is.
All who are changed people and new creations must share in the world differently. We must speak differently, receive differently, act differently, and give differently. To follow Jesus means to follow Jesus, not Jesus-lite or sort-of Jesus or one-day-a-week Jesus, but how we relate to the world is directly tied to our changed hearts in our Lord.
All who are changed people and new creations must serve in the world differently. Our priorities are not to serve ourselves but our neighbor, the one in need, even our enemy. If this is a no-go for you, something that you cannot abide, then you need to rethink how changed you really are in the Lord. In fact, our church family will rise or fall on this one point: how well we love the children of God in the heart of Jesus.
Down in Guatemala, there were a few times we sat down with people who had lost everything in the violence they had received. Still, they persisted with the help of the organization we support, and to this day, they create beauty inside their hearts and outside with their hands. They welcomed us as friends with food and hospitality, even though they did not know us and had little to spare. It is a beautiful thing to be genuinely welcomed where no one owes you that welcome. Time and again, we witnessed this simple truth – that Jesus is alive and well in their hearts and is bringing those people to something new, and we were privileged to see it. Yes, friends, the scales be a fallin’. To God be the glory. Amen.