Year C — The Third Sunday of Easter

Commentary for April 14, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

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Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
I once was blind…

Literally, for about a minute, during surgery to repair an abnormality in my left eye — I completely lost my sight, even though I was awake and my eyes were open. It was one of the strangest sensations I can ever recall experiencing. My first reaction was…panic. 

Then, my rational brain took over and began to assure my reptilian brain that this was “normal” and that I was in the capable hands of a gifted surgeon, etc., etc. But, I gotta tell ya’; for a minute there, I knew what it was to be lost.

Saul’s encounter with the risen Christ had to be an initial mixture of confusion, fear, and an utter sense of confronting his “lostness” in terms of the direction of his life. Why did it take that kind of experience for Saul to come to know Christ?

I suppose it’s very different for each of us, this business of our particular service to the Lord. For many, following Christ is a simple, plain decision that has been reinforced by generations of God-fearing, church-going forebears. For others, the “decision” to believe and to attend church and serve God is, perhaps, a bit more dramatic.

Thankfully, God loves and needs and uses us all. As my colleague says so often, “Amen and amen.”

Psalm 30
I believe that we have referenced the classic Mac Davis song, “O Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble” here on the Lab before. (Thanks to the “Search” feature over there on the right-hand side of the page, I see that Dr. Chilton did so in October, 2011!)

Anyhow, I can’t help but wonder if that’s not a bit of the tune the illustrious King David is singing here in Psalm 30. The psalm is a wonderful praise hymn to God’s sustaining power. But, it is evident (in v.6) that, in order to learn just how much it means to have God lift him up, David has experienced a fall from a great height.

We know this to be true from our reading of scripture; the whole Bathsheba/Uriah/Nathan thing and the resultant loss of a child was absolutely devastating for David. In a very real way, he was never quite the same again. (see 2 Samuel 11 ff.)

Life is not permanent, either in its blessings or in its difficulty. God is present through the weeping of the long night, and is the One who brings joy with the morning light. God is the Lord of the Dance and turns sackcloth into festive attire with alacrity and aplomb!

Revelation 5:11-14
Wow, talk about a “mass choir!”

The praise of heaven and earth is never depicted with more forcefulness than in this scene before the throne. It is a vision of the “ending of all things.” 

While topics like Armageddon and Babylon the Great Whore and the “mark of the beast” often get more attention when people think of Revelation, we do well to remember that those are but momentary distractions in the cosmic story of God’s triumph.

The real action is right here — in praise of the Lamb that was slain and who, by his blood, has redeemed “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth….”

John 21:1-19
Are you gonna fish, or cut bait?

There is a time for reflection and then a time for action;  Jesus’ “final” appearance to the disciples in John’s gospel is designed to motivate the latter, I believe.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

One day this week I asked a neighbor pastor how he was faring. He said, “I am dealing with the tedious consequences of procrastination. It’s time to get back to normal.” Things put off and piled up during Lent and Holy Week and Easter need tending to; it is time for life to return to normal.

In our Gospel lesson, Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” And he does. There are a couple of ways to look at this. One is to see him as deciding he needs a break, a bit of relaxation, a vacation. But I don’t think this is why Peter went fishing. I think Peter had had enough. Enough tension and stress and death and dying and dead people coming back to life; enough of all of it. He decides to get back to normal. And normal for Peter and many of the others was fishing. They were, after all, fishermen, professional fishermen; it was their life and their livelihood. There were bills to pay, mouths to feed, families to provide for. It was time to get back to the normal tedious consequences of procrastination, time to get on with life and forget this crazy Jesus stuff. The trouble is, post-Easter, there is no getting back to normal, no way to go back to the way things were, not completely, not entirely. Some events change us forever. Because of the presence of the Risen Christ in the world, things can never be quite normal or completely tedious again.

Peter and his friends go fishing. Fishing at night was normal for commercial fisher folk. That’s the way you get fresh fish to market by sun up. And it was quite normal to have bad luck. Fishing is a bit of a gamble, sometimes you come up empty. And there is nothing unusual, or miraculous, about someone on shore pointing out to those in the boat where a school of fish is hiding. It happens all the time in net fishing in shallow water. It has to do with angle of vision and the glare of the rising sun on the water. And there’s nothing all that special about the someone on shore having breakfast ready when those in the boat come to shore after a night of fishing. Indeed, outside of the fact that the someone on shore is Jesus, a formerly dead person now risen from the tomb and flitting about the country in a resurrection body, there’s nothing odd or miraculous about this story at all. 

It’s all pretty normal stuff, except for Jesus’ presence in the middle of it. Jesus’ presence says, “Guess what folks, from here on out, there is no possibility of returning to business as usual, no going back to normal.” As long as the risen Christ is in the world, there is no insignificant activity; there are no merely tedious details. Christ’s presence in the world transforms ordinary busyness into extraordinary opportunities to serve God and humanity.

All too often, we miss God’s activity in the world because we’re looking for something spectacular; loud thunder, blazing lights, shows of supernatural power. A few days after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech a few years ago, Franklin Graham interviewed on MSNBC about the chaplains who were sent by his organization to Blacksburg to counsel students and parents. The reporter asked the Rev. Graham, “How do you explain to parents how a good God could let this happen?” Graham said “A chaplain’s job is not explanation but comfort and love and care. People in trauma aren’t in a place to deal with those larger questions, nor do they need to.” This did not satisfy the interviewer. Three times he asked, “How do you explain to a parent how a good God lets a thing like this happen?” and three times Graham gave his good answer,

“You don’t. You give comfort and care and love.” The reporter wanted something spectacular and Graham gave him what was simple, yet true. And it is in the love and care and quiet comfort provided by loving people that the activity of God in crisis is found.

In our Gospel lesson, after breakfast, Jesus begins a dialogue with Peter. He asks him, “Peter do you love me?” Not once, but three times. The number is not by accident. Jesus is rewinding the clock, turning back time. Remember; Peter denied Jesus three times on the night he was betrayed. Now Peter has three opportunities to affirm his love for Jesus, and he does. But notice also that every time Peter affirms his love for Jesus, Jesus then calls upon him to take care of his “sheep.” Twice his says feed them, once he says tend them; in all of it he calls on Peter, and by extension, all of the disciples, and by further extension, all of us who call ourselves Christian, to take care of and love one another.

Now, think about it; feeding and tending sheep isn’t all that exciting or spectacular; it’s repetitive and boring and tedious and normal, and oh so necessary. Or it’s like washing dishes and cooking meals and doing laundry and mowing grass and cleaning house and changing diapers and paying bills and driving kids to school and going to work and drawing a check and sitting up all night when somebody’s sick; which is nowhere near as interesting as being in love and going on dates but is so much more like being married.

Just so, the Christian life, lived out in the Body of Christ, the Church, empowered by the Risen Christ, is seldom exciting or spectacular. It is much more often ordinary and mundane, a matter of living together under the leadership of the will of God and the way of Christ. The Gospel is that the change worked in us and the world by the presence of the Risen Christ is greater than any evil that can befall us. And the call of the Gospel is the call to reach out to a world of hurting and mournful and scared people with simple acts of love and care and concern.

Do you love Jesus? Help out a child struggling in school.
Do you love Jesus? Go visit someone who lost a loved one and still grieves.
Do you love Jesus? Help feed the hungry at Loaves and Fishes.
Do you love Jesus? Help Habitat for Humanity build a house.
Do you love Jesus? Do you? Do something simple and ordinary and kind today, knowing God is present in all that you do.


Amen and amen.

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