Sunday, April 18, 2010

(Easter 3) Something funny happened on the way to . . .

Easter 3: John 21:1-19; Acts 9:1-6

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Happy Easter . . . again . . . on this third Sunday of Easter!
I’m always glad somebody decided that, for the church,
Easter wasn’t a day, but a season.
It’s just too big a deal for a one-day celebration.

Of course every Sunday, for Christians, is a nod to the resurrection.
But once a year we set aside fifty days, or eight Sundays,
to specifically dwell in this truth,
to live with it,
to explore its many angles,
to remind ourselves that it makes a world of difference
that Christ is risen!
Fifty days to say yes, God has the ability and the will
to take the worst that the world can do
to try to thwart God’s purposes—even death itself—
and then transform it, redeem it,
turn it into something glorious and beautiful.

In the Easter season,
we join with Christians all over the world in saying,
there is nothing that the love of God in Christ cannot redeem.
Everything, in God’s hands, can be redeemed.
That’s the glorious truth we proclaim at Easter.
The God who raised Jesus from the dead,
is still in the raising business.
God raises, for instance,
people who appear hopelessly irredeemable,
and redeems them for full value.
God takes persons who are in complete bondage—
to sin,
to the powers of evil,
to their illusions,
to some crippling loss,
to the oppression or violence of others,
and transforms their bondage to freedom.
God resurrects, God in Christ redeems,
that which seems hopeless, dead, lost, of no value,
and redeems it for full value.

We heard two of these resurrection-redemption stories this morning.
That’s why I love that we have eight Sundays in Easter.
There are so many resurrection stories in scripture to tell.
For eight weeks, we get to wallow in stories about
God turning death and darkness on its head,
and surprising people with life and light.
In today’s stories, as in all good gospel stories,
things are going a certain direction,
then God injects a surprising, and delightful, reversal.
Something funny happened on the way to . . .
you name the place.
For Saul, it was on the way to Damascus.
For Peter, it was on the way to disillusionment.
For you and me,
depends what direction we’re heading.

So let’s take a close look at this story in John 21.
At the beginning of this text, v. 3,
seems to me is where Peter hits bottom.
In almost every way.
When he said, “I’m going fishing,”
that was no casual comment.
He wasn’t just bored,
tired of being cooped up in the upper room.
He wasn’t gonna cool his heels down by the creek
with a cane pole in his hand . . .
in case that’s the image of fishing
that gets conjured up in your mind.
Peter’s brand of fishing was not something anyone did to relax.
It was grueling, physical, messy, exhausting, all-night work.
And it required substantial equipment.
Peter’s comment, “I’m going fishing,”
and the other disciples’ immediate reply,
“We’re going with you,”
represents, I think, profound giving up, complete resignation.
They were quitting.
Their 3-year stint as disciples of Jesus was over.
This was a mindful, deliberate turning away
from Jesus’ first call, “Follow me.”
They were going back to a job that held some security.

If Peter was going to be redeemed, Jesus had a lot of work to do.
Not long before, Peter denied publicly, three times,
that he even knew this man Jesus.
Now, he was the ringleader of a group decision
to quit following Jesus altogether.
What could Jesus possibly do
with this grand mess Peter made of the whole project?

And the story goes,
Jesus went to the edge of the lake
where they were fishing just off-shore,
They had slaved away all night,
and every time, the nets came up empty.
Jesus called out,
“Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No?”
“Well, then, cast your nets on the right side of the boat,
and you’ll have some.”
They don’t know it’s Jesus, but they do what the man says.
And here comes the surprising, delightful,
and downright hilarious redemption.
They suddenly have in their nets
more fish than they have manpower to pull in.
Then they realize it’s Jesus there on the shore,
and Peter jumps into the lake half-dressed
and waddles to shore,
where Jesus has a little fire going,
cooking up some breakfast of guess what? . . . fish!
And Jesus says, probably with a mischievous grin,
“Ah . . . you have some fish now, too.
Bring a few of them.
Let’s make it a big breakfast.”

Jesus was making the same, gentle, redemptive approach
that he did when he appeared to them in the upper room.
As I said last week,
he could have tore into them in that upper room
for their betrayal, their desertion,
their embarrassing lack of trust.
But he held out his arms, saying, “Peace be with you.”
Same thing here on the seashore.

Once again, they had deserted.
They showed how faith-less they were.
The fact that they caught nothing all night,
was actually poetic justice.
Jesus should have let them stay empty-handed.
They had quit Jesus to become fishermen again.
Now Jesus had a fire going on the beach,
with some of his own fish already cooking.
Let the disciples eat his fish.
Would have made a powerful point.

But Jesus wasn’t trying to make a point.
He was trying to make disciples.
Jesus didn’t scold them for quitting
and going back to fishing.
Jesus helped them with their fishing.
He provided for them, a huge catch of fish,
which they, of course, could sell for a healthy sum of money.
Then he invited them for breakfast,
and invited them to put some of their fish on the fire, too.
He didn’t look at those fish they caught as ill-gotten gain,
even though they wouldn’t have been fishing
if they hadn’t turned their back on him.
Jesus shared in their bounty. Shared in the joy of the catch.
Ate some of the fish himself.

Amazing. Hilarious.
Indeed, something funny happened on the way to Peter’s escape . . .
back to his old life.
His hopelessness and disillusionment got redeemed.
His old, dead faith and hope and love for Jesus, were resurrected.

But Jesus wasn’t done with Peter yet.
This breakfast was Peter’s redemption for going back fishing.
There was still the issue of Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus.
At the darkest moment in Jesus’ life,
while he was being accused, mocked, and tortured,
Peter denied, three times, he had any connection to the man.

So Jesus opened a conversation with Peter.
In the most gentle, and affirming way, yet with utmost clarity,
he asked a question three times,
“Simon son of John, do you love me?”
The same number of times Peter denied that he knew Jesus.
Each time Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus said.

Jesus wasn’t punishing Peter.
But he was holding him accountable.
He held up a mirror to Peter, for clarity, not condemnation.
“Do you love me, Peter?”
“Yes, Lord. I love you.”
“Feed my sheep.”

I think with that, Peter’s redemption was complete.
_____________________

And as for the other redemption story of the morning, from Acts 9,
I won’t go into detail.
Ross told it well to the children.

But here again,
someone, Saul of Tarsus, seemed unredeemable.
Full of passion and zeal
and absolute single-minded conviction for the wrong thing.
He was fighting a holy war,
putting to death Jewish believers in Jesus.
And he knew he was acting on God’s behalf.
Doing God’s work.
Unredeemable.
God’s best chance would be just to get Saul out of the way,
right?
Put an end to him. That’s what the believers wanted.
No more Saul.
But God saw resurrection potential in Saul.
So a funny thing happened on the way to Damascus.
Funny, in that there was
another delightful and surprising and joyous reversal.
Saul was struck blind, and then given a new way of seeing.
The same Saul who in verse 1 of chapter 9, was (quote)
“breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,”
by verse 19 was (quote) “with the disciples in Damascus . . .
proclaim[ing] Jesus in the synagogues, saying,
“He is the Son of God.”
_____________________

There are no end to these resurrection-redemption stories.
We’ll look at more in coming weeks.

And God is still in the resurrection-redemption business.
Here and everywhere, funny things are still happening . . .
on the way to . . . somewhere else.

God has the power and the will
to redeem all kinds of lives that have gotten off track,
and redeem them for their full value.
That’s what redemption means.
Something loses its value—
dies, or is lost, or is in bondage in some way—
then it gets restored it to its full intended worth.

God created each life good and beautiful and in God’s own image.
But for all kinds of reasons, lives get diminished.
They get damaged, derailed.
They might get derailed by our own illusions,
like in the stories of Peter and Saul,
who both lived out of badly mistaken notions
of who God was, and what God was doing.
Lives can also be diminished by willful sin on our part,
be it sexual promiscuity, or other self-destructive behavior,
unrestrained greed, or even criminal activity.
Lives can be mortally wounded by violence,
whether as victims of domestic abuse, or war,
or other violent trauma.
Lives can be badly damaged by some misfortune
or catastrophe or crippling loss.
Think of the people of Haiti whose suffering is unimaginable,
and whose lives are now redefined by that disaster.
And when I visited the Ninth Ward in New Orleans
in December,
I saw the same utter loss of hope brought about by
a physical, economic, and social disaster,
still . . . nearly five years after Hurricane Katrina.
There are many different kinds of death, you know,
and not all physical.
Each needs its own sort of resurrection.

Whether our lives get diminished and suffer a sort of death
due to illusions, or disobedience, or violence, or
some irredeemable loss or disaster . . .
the God of Easter resurrection
never stops surprising people.

When God gets involved,
funny things happen on the way to wherever we’re headed.
God has this delightful habit of surprising people
by redeeming a life or a situation that seemed irredeemable,
and making of it something holy, something full of life.

We need only open ourselves to the work God in Christ wants to do.
Our encounter with Jesus may be as patently obvious
as was Paul’s on the road to Damascus, or
as was Peter’s in the fishing boat.
Or it may happen more quietly and gradually.
Either way, God is working to bring life from what looks like death.
We all have these stories in our own lives, and they must be told.
They are gospel. They are good news.

I invited Jon Dutcher, a member of this congregation,
whose life has blessed me many times, to tell his redemption story.

_____________________

Jon Dutcher story of redemption
“Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it; redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.” Am I boasting in this redemption? No, the Word points me to one who deserves my boasts. “In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever.” (Psalm 44) So - when I boast, let me boast in the miraculous redeeming nature of Christ who causes me to thrive, yes, even to conquer. Let me be enraptured, enriched, and totally taken up in giving “credit where credit is due.” (Psalm 34)

When I experienced the new birth, God’s redemption was poured into me. The holy nature of the divine, in effect, occupied every aspect of my being. I now view situations from a new vantage point. Let’s look at one example, one action of the Blessed Redeemer in my life.

I have spent more than 30 years in education. This includes teaching pre-school through grade 7 and administration, K-12. Most enjoyable was the time I spent in second grade: 9 years as a teacher, and 2 years as a student.

Redemption was the last thing on my mind when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease on that January day. For the next 7 years, I worked “around” the disease until finally I simply could not go on. It was painful, devastatingly painful, and when I use the word “painful,” it includes the concept of gut wrenching loss. Who was I if not an educator?

So did God redeem this painful situation? Yes, but first I had to find myself in the pain. In order for God to redeem this hurting heart of mine, I had to see myself and my situation as needing to be redeemed and worthy of redemption.

While I was an administrator, I had assumed (wrongly!) that having Parkinson’s would simply translate into more years “back in the classroom,” but it became exceedingly clear that even that level of stress was more than I could sustain. My days of teaching were over! And I wasn’t at all happy about it.

But the redeemer had plans, and those plans did not include years of isolation. In fact four years ago Vi and I felt led to make a huge move to the Shenandoah Valley. Here in the Valley I have felt support from the community, from Park View Church, from my Maust cousins, and from our PVMC small group which meets weekly. I receive a boost of joy from my volunteer work at Cub Run Elementary Library, where I teach library skills to100 second graders every week.

Did someone mention “redemption?”

_____________________

Yes, Jon, I did mention redemption.
Redemption redefines us,
it gives us a new way of seeing ourselves and seeing life.
That is the good gift of the God of resurrection,
a gift we celebrate with you, Jon.
Christ is risen! May God be praised.

—Phil Kniss, April 18, 2010



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