What Difference Does A Resurrection Make?
My friend, Jasper Pennington, Episcopal priest in Ypsilanti, Michigan once told me that
when his parishioners complained about the amount of time they had to spend Sunday after Sunday in worship,
he would remind them that singing praise and falling on one’s knees in worship
was what they would be doing constantly in heaven.
So Sunday morning worship was just a rehearsal for where they hoped they would be one day.
To put it another way, Kathleen Norris writes in her Introduction to Revelation:
“I am attracted to the book of Revelation because it was Emily Dickinson’s favorite book of the Bible,
and because it takes a stand in favor of singing.
In fact, it proclaims that when all is said and done,
of the considerable noises human beings are capable of, it is singing that will endure.
A new song – if you can imagine – and light will be what remains. I find this a cause for hope.”
John the Divine had beautiful visions of heaven.
Saul and Ananias had visions of Jesus.
The disciples, gone back to being fishers of fish, not only saw Jesus;
Jesus fed them with a miraculous catch of 153 fish.
And John’s Gospel continues after today’s reading with, “There are also many other things that Jesus did;
if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world
itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
The other Gospels contain other miraculous stories of Jesus after the Resurrection
like his appearance to the two men on the road to Emmaus.
We are told that there were hundreds of other appearances by Paul in his writings.
How many times haven’t you wondered, “why can’t God provide me with a vision?”
or“why doesn’t God intervene in a miraculous way to solve the big problems of our world?”
Let’s look at the readings for today to see if there are answers to those questions.
In the first reading, we hear about Saul, the same Saul who last
week was not only an observer but an active participant in the death of Stephen.
Now Saul has been given the responsibility to find the followers of “the Way” to bring them bound to Jerusalem. While struck down by Jesus’ blinding light, Jesus asks Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?”
Not, why are you persecuting my disciples, my followers; but why are you persecuting Me?
This tells us that when Jesus’ followers are persecuted, Jesus is persecuted himself.
Jesus announces to Saul and to us that We are the Risen Christ.
After Saul, now Paul, is given back his sight through Ananias, Paul is baptized into the same community
that we have become through our own baptism.
It is significant that Luke, the author of Acts, calls us people of “the Way.”
Instead of being identified by our beliefs, we are identified by our actions.
Christian faith is a way of life; one that brings us out of what is comfortable and onto a road which
has both joy and challenge.
We are forgiven what is past. We are baptized into “the way” of new life – Easter life.
In today’s Gospel, Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James and John and two other un-named disciples
have gone back to Galilee to fish.
They fished all day and through the night and as the sun was rising, they noticed someone on the beach;
but they didn’t know it was Jesus.
The stranger told them to try one more time –this time casting their nets on the other side of the boat.
Remember, they didn’t know it was Jesus but they went out to fish anyway.
And when they did, they caught 153 fish!
That’s when they knew it was Jesus who told them “try again.”
Jesus invited them to “come and have breakfast.”
And while they were having breakfast, Jesus turned to Peter, who had denied him three times,
and said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Three times Jesus erased Peter’s denials by re-calling him to “feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep.” Finally, to all the disciples, the Risen Lord Jesus who knew that he would not be with them much longer said,
Try again when you have failed. Your sins are forgiven; so, follow me.
We are, of course, the descendants of Peter and the disciples.
And to us, the Risen Lord Jesus says, “feed my sheep and follow me.” Follow me on the Way.
Jesus tells us to cast our nets again and again and again not knowing whether there will be any catch to enjoy.
But Jesus is always with us; providing breakfast, lunch and dinner; with dessert to boot.
Our personal faith in the Jesus who sacrificed himself on the Cross for our sins has a firm place in our hearts.
We Lutheran Christians have a strong belief in the grace of God which grants us salvation and eternal life.
And when we sin; when we fall into the natural human condition, we know without a doubt that God will forgive us and make us one with God again and again just like Jesus did with Peter on the shores of Galilee –
three times wiping away Peter’s sin of denial.
When we gather to worship (as the Easter preface says) together with “Mary Magdalene and Peter,
with all the witnesses of the resurrection, with earth and sea and all their creatures”
we firmly believe that Jesus visits our very bodies with his Body and Blood and our whole lives are fed with strength.
But fed for what? Forgiven for what? Called to do what?
We are so often reluctant believers.
And when the Risen Lord Jesus calls us to follow, we don’t want to believe that we are being
told to put our faith into action.
We think it’s the pastor’s responsibility to preach, teach, heal and gather the faithful into the life of the church. But, like Saul become Paul, we have been chosen to bring the good news to the world!
Like Peter, we have been chosen to feed the little lambs and the reluctant sheep.
Like all the apostles, we have been chosen to walk “the Way.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to knock on doors or become antagonistic
about our Christian faith in conversation.
It does, however, mean that we should look for those opportunities the Spirit of Christ gives us.
Remember, when the disciples first saw Jesus on the shore of Galilee, they didn’t recognize him!
But they went out and fished anyway.
Sometimes, we only need to look for the opportunity to share the gospel with others
and we will know that it is Jesus standing on the shore to make sure our proclamation brings in
new faith to new believers.
Be open to what God can accomplish when you tell your story of faith! Look for those opportunities!
Maybe as you sling your nets of faith on the other side a few times, your nets will be filled to overflowing!
You can begin by praying.
Pray for our ministry partners: for Lutheran Social Services,
for Refugee One and the various groups that do ministry in our community
as they share our building during the week.
Pray for our missionaries throughout the world and for our prison and military chaplains
and realize that when you give your offering on Sunday, you support the ministry
of thousands around the world through the ELCA’s mission.
You can also participate in justice ministry by becoming active in the
Organization of the Northeast or by volunteering for phone banks to gain Marriage Equality in Illinois or by giving to the ELCA's Malaria Campaign to eliminate Malaria in Africa.
You can give your time to help your neighbor who needs your words of comfort and
hope during tough times of divorce or unemployment.
And, even though it might seem difficult, open yourself up to your
co-worker, your neighbor or even a family member to tell them that belonging to
a worshipping community like Unity Lutheran Church has made you stronger and healthier in your daily life.
You want to have visions like Paul and Ananias?
You want to hear the voices of the angels like John?
Put your faith into action.
Allow yourself to be Easter People! Look for the Risen Lord Jesus and say
yes when he calls, “follow me.”