Sermon–April 10, 2016


Easter 3—Year C

April 10, 2016

William Bradbury

Acts 9:1-6, (7-20), Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14, John 21:1-19

Most of you will remember Margaret Thatcher back in the 1980’s when she was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. One day she is touring a nursing home when she meets a woman who doesn’t recognize her, so Margaret Thatcher asks the woman, “Do you know who I am?” The woman replies, “No, dear, but I should ask the nurse if I were you. She usually knows.” Galatians for Everyone by N. T. Wright, page 24 

In the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles Saul of Tarsus knows exactly who he is as he heads down to Damascus to root out and lock up followers of the crucified and failed Messiah. In Galatians he tells us that he is advanced in Judaism beyond many his own age. Saul knows he is a rising star! But then, Messiah Jesus appears out of the blue, and in short order destroys Saul’s well-crafted, seemingly permanent, identity. Jesus tells him that he as he persecutes Christians he is also attacking Jesus, who is obviously not dead but more than alive. In that moment darkness descends and Saul goes stone blind—physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually. In that moment he no longer knows who he is for his old self has been crucified with Christ.

The shining star has gone out and he now has to ask the nurse—in this case a disciple named Ananias—who am I now? And slowly Paul finds out who he really is: He writes, “I no longer live but Christ lives in me” and that means from now on Christ in him takes the good news of God’s one world-wide community to those who haven’t a clue that they too could be so blessed to be part of God’s new creation.

God in Christ means to change all of us from the inside out: not change us from the outside by making us act more moral or more pious, but by giving us a brand new self, which is Christ in us—the individual and the community.

Paul wrote of his devastating experience on the road to Damascus in the letter to the Galatians, simply saying, “God had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, and was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me….”—IN ME, not to me as some translations want you to believe. Christ didn’t just appear to Paul, but Christ appeared in Paul, as now his deepest, truest, Self.

In less dramatic ways Jesus continues to appear unexpected and uninvited to transform us into who we really are.  Take C. S. Lewis’ account of part of his conversion experience: “You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England….who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?” Surprised by Joy

Encounters with Jesus are more right brain, than left brain, more poetry than prose. Encounters with Jesus make us pregnant with Christ. From that moment on the goal of the Christian’s life is not to keep the law or be nice, or perform well enough to please one’s parents.  The heart of the Christian’s life is not what we try to do for God but trusting what Christ is doing through us from the inside out. As N. T. Wright says for Paul in his letters it means “One must lose everything, including the memory of who one was before, and one must accept, and learn to live by, a new identity, with a new foundation.” Ibid. Page 25

Peter and some of the guys are fishing in Galilee when Jesus shows up on the shore—as always “uninvited and unexpected”. (Karl Barth). He has breakfast ready for them then he takes Peter on a long walk. Ever since his denial of Jesus three times on Holy Thursday, Peter has been filled with shame and remorse for his failure to admit to a servant girl that he even knew Jesus.  We usually see this famous dialogue as Jesus’ way of healing Peter of his three-fold denial, by giving him a chance for a three-fold affirmation of his love for Jesus. And so it is.

But there is more here when you look at the original Greek we see Jesus and Peter strangely using different words for “love”. Jesus uses “agape”. Agape is the NT word for unconditional love. Agape is the love the Father, Son, and Spirit have for each other and for us.  But the word Peter uses is the word from the root “Philos”, which we know in the word Philosophy which is the love of wisdom, or Philadelphia which is brotherly love. “Philos” in addition to love can also mean to have affection for or to like.

So N. T. Wright captures the conversation this way in his Kingdom Translation of the New Testament, which reads:  Jesus asks, Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?

“Yes Master, you know I’m your friend.”

Well then, Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

“Simon son of John”, said Jesus again, for a second time, “do you love me?”

Yes, Master, he said, “you know I’m your friend.”

Well, then, he said, look after my sheep.”

Then, we wait to see what Jesus will do the third time: He’s the eternal son of the father, the Risen Messiah, surely he will keep asking Peter to love him, to agape him, until Peter finally gets it right, since Jesus once said the greatest commandment is to “agape” the Lord your God with all your heart mind, soul, and strength.”

But that’s not what we get because this third time Jesus lowers himself to Peter’s level and says to him, “Simon, are you my friend?”

To which Peter responds, “Master, you know everything! You know I’m your friend!”

Well, then, said Jesus “feed my sheep.”

Peter now has a new identity that is not defined by how intensely he loves God, but by how intensely God in Jesus Christ loves him. And through Peter Christ will feed his sheep.

 This is our deepest struggle: believing the incredible news that Christ lives in us, meeting us where we are, and then calling us from wherever we are to let Christ live in us and through us for the healing of the world.

This is what it means to follow Jesus.

 In baptism we have been given the same new identity as Peter and Paul, not because we’ve earned it but because God wills it for us in Christ.

Steve McVey puts it this way:

“Our identity in Christ is one of the most liberating truths we will ever understand.”

Therefore, our job as disciples is not to try hard to make something happen, but to trust hard that Christ is happening in us….not just for our benefit but for the healing of the world.