SERMON TITLE: “Varieties of Religious Experience: Lightning Bolt Jolt”
SERMON TEXT: Acts 9:1-19
PREACHER: Rev. Kim James
OCCASION: August 14, 2016, at First UMC
On Wednesday afternoon, two people were found dead in a cemetery in Batavia, New York. No, I’m not talking about people buried in graves. I’m talking about two people who were above ground. Police believe the two were under a tree when a storm went through, and their deaths occurred when lightning struck the tree. These days, most Americans are being more careful about lightning than we used to be, so the numbers of casualties are going down. But, averaged over the past 20 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates that the odds of an American being struck by lightning in any given year is about one in a million—which would be the equivalent of three people per year in Utah. The odds of one of us being struck in our lifetime are about one in 12,000. On average, about 500 Americans are hit by lightning in any given year, and about 50 of them die. The other 450 or so sustain varying degrees of injuries.1
My guess is that’s what happened to the man named Saul, who later became known as the Apostle Paul. Saul of Tarsus was making his way along the road to Damascus when, “suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him,” knocking him to the ground, and blinding him. While his companions temporarily lost their speech and their hearing, Saul heard the voice of the Lord speaking to him in this lightning bolt jolt.
For these first three Sundays of August, we’re exploring varieties of religious experience. Last week, we overheard the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well, a person whose soul had become parched from various kinds of discrimination and hardship. In her story, we discovered how Jesus offers us the same opportunity to be quenched by living water. Today, as we enter into this story in Acts 9, we move from the soothing and revitalizing nature of water to the startling and shocking impact of fire and light. As we observe this conversion and calling of Saul, we might wonder if we, ourselves, are in need of a lightning bolt jolt.
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