Sermon for May 1st

First Reading: Acts 9:1-20

Second Reading: Revelation 5:11-14

Gospel Reading: John 21:1-19

Sermon: “Fish and Forgiveness for Breakfast”

The famous Danish Theologian, Soren Kierkegaard once wrote: “God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners. I think that sums up our readings this morning. We read of the creation of St Paul from the murderous Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus. We also read of the re-commissioning of St Peter. A sort of second calling for the one originally called Simon bar-Jonah, one of several fisherman on the Sea of Galilee who had been called to be a disciple of Jesus. He along with the others traveled with and learned Jesus for 3 years, but he then ended up denying that he even knew Jesus three times. So, Jesus recalled him three times as well. The call of Jesus remade, reformed, we might even say recreated both of these men into servants of God to whom the entire Christian world is deeply indebted. But they certainly did not start out that way. Their new names signify their new identities in an age-old tradition of the saints of God.

Peter’s story began as just an ordinary fisherman called into the extraordinary ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It is the gospel of Luke that provides the prologue for John’s epilogue. Do you remember the story of how Peter and his friends were called into discipleship? Luke tells it this way: (Luke 5:1-11 NLT) [1] One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. [2] He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. [3] Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there. [4] When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.” [5] “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” [6] And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! [7] A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking. [8] When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me-I’m such a sinful man.” [9] For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. [10] His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed. Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” [11] And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Now it is several, years later, and Jesus who had been horribly crucified, but was then wondrously seen alive, a number of times, by a number of people, including Peter – he had risen from the dead! But he keeps suddenly appearing and then disappearing. Now it seems that the disciples have gone home – back up to Galilee from Jerusalem and several of them, including Simon Peter have gone back to their trade – fishing. The resurrected Jesus had told them that he would meet them in Galilee where they had first been called in discipleship. Perhaps that’s why they were there. Perhaps, they just needed time to process all they had experienced. Perhaps they felt unsure and unworthy to set out on the mission the resurrected Christ had laid out for them. For whatever reason, they were back to fishing for Fish to eat or to sell, not for folks to become citizens of the Kingdom of God. They needed a restart and Jesus was there to provide it – for Peter especially. Peter was supposed to be their leader, but he had failed badly those last few bitter days.

Even now, they fail to recognize Jesus as he hails them from the shore. In the scene that follows, John relates many elements that tie back to Luke’s description of their first calling – fishing all night without success; a huge catch at Jesus’ instruction – recognition of Jesus – now for the third time after his resurrection. But it also recreates elements from the night of Jesus’ trial. The charcoal fire and the three questions. Jesus has already provided the meal, but invites the disciple to participate and add some of their own labors to it. As he had done twice before on the hillsides about the lake, for the third time, Jesus takes the bread and the fish – and distributes it to them – now in abundance.

The first question: opened all sorts of other questions: “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” These what? These fish? The boats and the nets? More than the other disciples? Had Peter learned enough to let go of the security of his former profession, was he still prone to think of himself as number one? Those questions hurt Peter. They hurt, because they pointed out unresolved issues. He needed forgiveness and rededication, so that he could know that he was worthy of his calling after he had failed so badly in that dark courtyard on that horrible night – and so this calling was issued three times, the same number as he had denied his Lord. The answer was love for his Lord all three times, and all three times he was asked to show that love by feeding the Lambs of Christ as he had fed them. He was to tend the Great Shepherd’s sheep as he had shepherded them. And finally the simple call – Follow Me. It was to be his life’s work, his vocation to use the proper term. It wasn’t an instant thing, but it was lasting. Peter would be his Lord’s man until his eventual martyrdom. We know call him Saint Peter. I suspect he would have been surprised.

Our other future Saint began as Saul of Taurus. He was not a promising candidate for sainthood. Not in the slightest. The first time we meet hear of him, he is a young man at the death of Stephan. Those stoning this young Christian deacon handed him their outer robes for safekeeping while they hurled stones onto his body. This was the first incident of a major outbreak of persecution inflicted upon the fledgling church. Saul was at the center of it, as Luke records speaking of the death of Stephan: (Acts 8:1-3 NIV) [1] And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. [2] Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. [3] But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

No one would say at this point, that’s the guy right there that God will use to spread the gospel to the gentile world! But it was. As the famous quote from Charles Spurgeon Says; “Great sinners make great Saints.” Passion, drive, intellect – all these and more are great gifts and Paul had them all. But in this young Pharisee, they were warped and misused in spiritual blindness to the grace of God. Still, something remarkable had to happen first and that was the call of the risen Christ Jesus himself. We read of that experience this morning and I would like to point out some things along the way. Spiritual Blindness was transmuted into physical blindness and then even that was cured.

As our reading begins, Saul is expanding the hunt for Christians, who at this early point were know as followers of “The Way”, up as far as the city of Damascus. It was a journey of about 150 miles, almost two weeks by foot or donkey. Saul, as Luke writes (Acts 9:1 NRSV), “was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord”. He was determined to stomp out was he considered to be a heretical group. Our Lord had other plans for Saul however. Luke writes: (Acts 9:3-6 NRSV) [3] Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. [4] He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” [5] He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. [6] But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

So Saul was led into Damascus, completely blind and helpless. Can you imagine the soul searching that was going on in his mind and in his prayers? There was one more critical call to be made before this great sinner could begin a new road, and that was to a disciple named Ananias. One of the very people that Paul had come to town to arrest and haul off to imprisonment in Jerusalem. What would you have said? It took a lot of courage and faith for Ananias to walk down to Straight street and enter that house. As far as Ananias knew, Saul was pure evil. It would have been so easy for him to have responded like Jonah did over the command to preach repentance to Nineveh, the capital city of Israel’s deadly enemy the Assyrians. That city”s destruction was decreed in 40 days unless they repented – Good, let them perish! Saul is blind and helpless – Good! That way he can’t do any more harm. But after Ananias voiced his concerns, he went and did as God asked. Not only that but the whole Christian community in Damascus enfolded him and cared for him. As a result, a new creation was born and instead of an enemy, the church had it’s Saint Paul – the author of a good chunk of our New Testament and the first Apostle to us Gentiles. Other than this one moment, we know nothing else about Ananias. But he answered the call and the world is changed because he obeyed and offered the healing grace of God to this former enemy.

What I want you to hear today is that God meets us wherever we are. Sometimes gently, sometimes not. But when we are confronted, we are also given the opportunity for new life, new strength and new direction. We are given forgiveness, hope and purpose. We are fed, forgiven and then sent out to serve. As we approach the table of the Lord this morning, we find as did Peter and the other disciples that it is already set, the bread and wine are already here. Here too we find that in receiving grace, we find forgiveness and the invitation to Rededicate ourselves to service. Come and eat, be filled and strengthened then go and feed our master’s sheep. It is the loving thing to do.