Have you ever had a dream so real that you couldn’t tell the difference between a dream and reality? It’s not surprising if you have. There’s an interesting bit of brain research which has come out recently. Brain researchers did an experiment in which they had subjects look at a picture of an object. While subjects did this, researchers monitored which sections of the brain "lit up" on brain scans. Researchers then took the picture of the object away and asked subjects to imagine the picture of the object. Mind you, the subjects were focusing on the object no longer. They were simply imagining them. Guess what happened on the brain scans? The exact same portions of the brain lit up. The exact. Same. Portions. This means our brains literally do not know the difference between something that is real and something that is imagined. Does this mean some of you are sleeping right now and I am haunting your dreams? I honestly hope not!
Interestingly enough, this premise was used by the movie The Matrix which came out almost a decade ago. The movie is built on the premise that most of us are living in a dream world induced by machines which have taken over the world. We are kept in this dream world because the machines are actually using the energy our bodies generate to fuel themselves. I know, this is a little far-fetched, but please stay with me for a little bit.
There is a segment of humanity which has escaped this induced world and become freedom fighters of sorts for humanity. They seek out people in order to free them and bring them into the real world to fight against the machines. One of the people they free is a character named Neo. After they wake him up from the dream induced world, they literally have to build up his muscles which have atrophied over time. Usually, Neo is asleep while they are doing this, but one day he wakes up during the process. Lying on the table, he opens his eyes and squints. "Why do my eyes hurt?" he asks.
One of the other characters replies, "Because you have never used them."
In our first lesson this morning, St. Paul, who at the time is called Saul is blinded by such a light. But this light is the light of Christ, and in the end, this light is truly eye opening.
Let’s work our way through the story for a moment to see how this happens. First off, we must remember Saul was raised to be a Pharisee. By his own admission, he was an excellent student far surpassing his peers in zeal and knowledge of the Jewish law. He calls himself blameless before God in regards to his ability to follow the law according to the Pharisaical tradition. So, we are not talking about your ordinary Jewish citizen. We are talking about a die hard–a religious zealot if you prefer the term. Saul is so seeped in this tradition that when he hears about the threat Christianity poses to Judaism, he readily joins in its persecution. In fact, when we find Saul today, he is on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians living there.
Yet, as he travels along, something marvelous happens. A blinding light strikes Saul, and a voice speaks to him, "Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?"
Saul replies, "Who are you, Lord?"
The voice said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told
what you are to do."
Now, stop just a moment before we go further. I want you to imagine for a moment what Saul might have been thinking. Imagine for a moment what might be going through his head. I mean in this moment, everything Paul once thought had now been called into question. His entire world-view is being shattered.
Remember, Saul was so seeped in the Pharisaical tradition that he was persecuting the church. He believed this whole Jesus raising from the dead thing was a lie. He believed he held the absolute Truth when it came to following the Jewish faith. This point of view affected his entire life–from the things he ate to how he ate them. It affected how he related to others and who he hung around with. Now, with this one encounter, everything was called into question.
This is actually a snippet of how our human lives work. For we make some basic assumptions about the world. Based upon those assumptions we begin building a frame of reference about the world. Layer upon layer is added to those assumptions until we have what is called a world-view. And rarely do we ever change our world-views. It’s just too hard. I mean, pause a moment to consider a basic assumption that many of us have–we assume we have freedom. Try changing that assumption in your brain for just a moment to believing we are not free. What would that do to the way you think about life and what you do and how you operate? Would it shake things up greatly? Of course it would. And many of us wouldn’t change our world-view even if we were offered evidence to the contrary. It would mean rethinking everything we ever knew or thought we knew. It would be extremely uncomfortable.
This is what Saul is going through. All of his basic assumptions have just been challenged by Jesus himself. This experience on the road to Damascus is fundamentally changing the way he looks at life. And he is blinded by the experience. Literally.
I had a thought about this. Why is Saul blinded? Why does he spend three days neither eating or drinking? Perhaps it is because his brain literally needs time to reconfigure itself. His brain literally needs time to reconstruct a world-view. Everything he believed or thought he believed has just been shattered and come crashing down. If he didn’t take the time to work through all of this, he would go insane. So, perhaps, just perhaps, God is giving him sufficient time to work through this experience. Perhaps, just perhaps, God is giving Saul an opportunity to begin working through the transition of believing the resurrection was a lie to understanding the resurrection is true and Jesus is Lord. Perhaps, just perhaps, God is giving Saul an opportunity to really and truly come to grips with a new way to look at things. Until this point, Saul hadn’t really been seeing the world. "Why do my eyes hurt?" "Because you have never used them." Now, Saul would be able to see it with open eyes.
Now, what does this story have to do with you and me? You might be surprised to hear the direction I am going to take now. For I am going to talk about our calling given to us by Jesus Himself in Matthew 28. You know it as the Great Commission–the call of the Church to "make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching everyone all that Jesus commanded."
It is indeed our calling to go into the world and make disciples of everyone. Yet, this is an extremely difficult task. In this day and age, it literally means getting someone to change their world-view. It literally means getting people to challenge and perhaps change the basic assumptions about how they view the world. How easy a task do you think this is? Do you think we will be able to accomplish such a thing on our own? I mean, have any of you ever tried? Have any of you ever tried to argue with someone to attend a worship service when their assumption is they don’t really need it? Were you able to make a difference? Probably not. It’s not surprising. You cannot argue with someone and make them change their perspective on life.
You can’t make them change their basic assumptions. Saul surely didn’t. It wasn’t until Saul had an
encounter with Jesus that this actually happened.
This, I think is paramount here. Saul was only changed when he met Jesus. Saul was only changed when the light of heaven surrounded him. This begs the question: how can we bring people into contact with Christ? How can we help lead a person, not to church, not to worship, but to Jesus? Where can we help people find Jesus so that He can bring them to faith?
Ponder this point for a moment. You and I cannot produce the light of heaven. We cannot produce the light of Christ. At best we can only reflect it. At best, we can only mirror Jesus in our own words and actions. How does your mirror look? Is it dusty and dirty? Is it turned toward Jesus so that it may reflect that light? When others see you are they blinded by the light of Christ bouncing off of you? And if they are not, ask yourself; why not? Amen.