3rd Sunday of Easter
April 14, 2013
John 21:1-19 and Acts 9:1-20
Sometimes it’s a struggle to deal with the lectionary – those readings that have been used from ancient times at certain times of the church year. But sometimes, like this week, I get to talk about two of my favorite stories at the same time. This story about Paul’s “Conversion” gets me every time, as does the story from John’s Gospel. Sara Miles, in her book “Take This Bread,” claims that Jesus came back from the dead to cook breakfast for his friends. I love that.
So let’s look at them:
Paul, or Saul as he is first known, was never an unbeliever, he was a trained theologian and deeply committed to his tradition. He was so opposed to the Way, the Jesus movement in his faith, that he condoned the murder of Stephen, and was prepared to go into Gentile territory to root out these heretics. We know the spectacle of the flash of light and the voice that speaks: “why do you persecute me?” Saul doesn’t know who is speaking, but Jesus identifies himself and gives directions to go into the city and wait. Luke the Evangelist is such a good storyteller, we get the information that this lovely believer named Ananias is praying when God says to him, “go to this man who is having a vision of you coming to heal him.” Ananias is shocked, “don’t you know who this guy is, Lord? He’s come to send us to jail and close up our worship?” But God tells Ananias that this man has been chosen for a special ministry, “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” And Ananias goes, lays hands on Saul, heals him, baptizes him, and eats with him.
I love the twin visions, that Ananias gets his command and that Paul is seeing him come to fulfill it. I guess I love it because God is so outrageous in who is chosen to do God’s work, and how a faithful believer can be the hands of healing that makes it possible. God is always at work inviting souls to wake up to the grace and love of God, and a parent, a friend, or someone you never met before often bears the key that opens that invitation.
And then there’s that wonderful story from John. It seems almost as if the disciples have gone back to fishing after Jesus’ resurrection. Like they’ve seen him, and know that he’s alive, but they aren’t doing any of the things that they did when they were with him. If you think you’ve heard this story somewhere else, you’re right. In the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus meets Peter and Andrew and James and John and tells them to follow him, after a miraculous catch of fish. I do love the part about coming ashore to find Jesus cooking breakfast for them. I can just imagine coming up out of the Deschutes River in my waders and finding Jesus at a charcoal fire, saying, “bring over some of those fish, let’s have breakfast.” You know, in John’s version of the Passion, there is no Eucharist meal, in which Jesus gives the bread and wine to his disciples. But it sure feels like that in this story. Jesus gives them bread and then he gives them the fish he’s cooked. If you look at the ancient symbols of the Eucharist meal, they often include bread and fish. In a very real way, this story is similar to the story of Thomas you heard last week. Jesus is teaching these fishermen to see something that they had not seen before, and like the story of the Road to Emmaus, he is opening their eyes to see him in a new way. As those disciples on the road said, “were not our hearts burning within us?” How do you think these men feel, as Jesus begins his commissioning of Peter.
“Do you love me?” Jesus asks three times. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Feed my sheep, feed my lambs, follow me,” is Jesus reply. You’ll notice, I think, that Peter denied Jesus three times, and now is confessing him three times. But more is going on than that. These disciples are being re-commissioned in this story, invited into Jesus deep love for them so that they can go out tell the story that will change other’s lives as theirs have been changed. Peter, like Paul, is being asked to lead, to become Jesus, the bearer of God’s Good News to all people, and will end up suffering for it just as Jesus himself did.
This is not just a story of a bunch of people who did amazing things all those centuries ago. It is the story of all believers whose hearts are changed by God’s love for them, and who come to understand the power of the love and grace that has been granted them. When you know God and the power of God’s love, you want everyone to know it and to have that deep peace that you know. You begin to see with God’s eyes of mercy and want to take care of people and love them into health. In your baptism, you were not just adopted into God’s family, you were commissioned to be Jesus in the world, to see a vision of healing for someone and to go to them to offer it, to share your abundance with Jesus you see in others, to be willing to follow the new path Jesus is opening for you.
We know that the story of Paul and of Peter that we have before us today is just the beginning of the journey of faith that God had in mind for them. In further stories we see God ask them to do way more than they ever expected and that God will shape them into something beyond their wildest dreams.
I guess what I love most about these stories is that I know how this happens to us. Your faith grows, your challenge grows, your story of how that faith works grows, what you are grows and changes, and you begin to realize that you are no longer just a believer, you are a disciple, and in your life of prayer and love and faith, you are helping God shape others into disciples. So all of you who share with people that you come to church, who raise your kids to know Jesus, who pray for your friends, who participate in acts of kindness, you are being Jesus. It always amazes me that God can take the most ordinary, imperfect, stumbling people who want to believe, but are mostly scared to death and turn them into people who feed God’s sheep as they themselves have been fed. So this morning I want to lift your ministry, and I want to tell you that your ministry is always in my prayers, and I want to tell you how your life of faith inspires me. And I want to encourage you to keep at it, because it is how Jesus is saving the world.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.