Acts 9:1-6 and John 21:1-19
I love the resurrection stories that don’t happen at the tomb. It’s not that I’m one of those folks who’s so weirded out by death and funerals that it’s hard to imagine meeting Jesus there. Instead, I like hearing, being reminded that resurrection doesn’t happen only where you might expect it or look for it — in the shadow of death or in the most overtly religious of settings.
The other stories, where the risen Lord appears far from the tomb and outside any religious setting, they promise me, resurrection can happen anywhere and that it’s for everywhere… When Jesus walks through the wall to enter the locked room of his disciples’ fear… When Jesus catches up with Cleopas and his companion on the run, trying to get away from Jerusalem and everything to do with Jesus. There’s the encounters we heard this morning: The blinding light and the voice that fells Saul, so that Paul can rise… And then in our second reading…There’s the stranger on the shore who shows up in the midst of the 7 disciples’ failed attempts at the life they used to live, the again unrecognized One, who tells the dispirited and exhausted fisherman to throw their nets out on the wrong side of the boat… And how the miraculous catch is the recognition they need to identify Jesus. Or later, on the beach, when their Lord is there grilling breakfast for them, when Jesus asks them to contribute to the meal, and we get the closest John’s Gospel ever comes to a communion meal.
But what I want to ask you to pay attention to this morning, church; where I want to get us thinking is in the exchange between Jesus and Peter. Because I think that simple back and forth if we understand it well encapsulates most of our faith lives. In the intro. to our Gospel lesson today, it was called “the normal thing.” I like that. It’s actually an image of our whole lives. And if we can see it clearly, it can help us know how to live.
Three times Jesus’ asks Peter to confirm his love. Three times Peter does, though by the third time he is frustrated, or disheartened, even hurt. But what Peter doesn’t quite catch in the moment of this interaction, we as the inheritors of this holy story all these years later, we surely do. Or we should. The last time Peter was standing at a charcoal fire warming himself, was when he was in the high priest’s courtyard on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, and when he denied his Lord three times. So three times Jesus invites Peter to confess his love, symbolically, allowing him with those affirmations to wipe away his three denials…
There’s an important spiritual transaction there — “a normal thing” — confessing our dedication (or even just the act of taking our failures to God) is the step we can make towards our forgiveness. Maybe we need only affirm or reassert, “I love you, Lord.” Maybe we can do so without even the need to use words.
Moreover, just as throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus doesn’t merely make room for our humanness with God’s mercy, he also invites Peter’s participation and help in God’s plan by telling him to “tend and feed my sheep.” Peter isn’t merely forgiven; he’s also drawn back into the serving community. Simon Peter had tried to throw in the towel and return to his old ways of life, but Jesus came to him again in the midst of his escapism… found him back in his old life… backsliding in his old life… in order to exhort him to pick up his ministry again and to continue with his kingdom work. “The normal thing.”
Church, do you see how important this is? You and I, we, well, let’s just be honest, we’ve let ourselves and others and God down. Certainly, in all kinds of ways of which we are I fear sometimes mostly unaware: Little ways that may hardly be visible (or we hope they aren’t but are still felt — still hurt us and others. And maybe some of us feel we are bearing some great fault, fearing or knowing that we’ve really fallen badly. But do we really think God doesn’t know? And do we really need to worry that the God of crucifixion and resurrection has forsaken us?
By our baptisms, since way back then, we’ve been called into ministry in Jesus’ name. How’ve we been doing? You don’t need to tell anyone else, but God knows, so look at your record honestly. Have you found yourself paralyzed with fear? Or just exhausted by it all, wondering if it’s worth your effort? Have you been trying to duck the whole thing, disassociating yourself from Jesus and the community in his service? Do you sometimes pretend that nothing ever happened, that you know nothing about any of this, that none of this God-stuff is real, so you might just go on with your life? Or do you sort of paper over the falls and the faults, and act like you’re better than you are, more religious, more moral, more together, more self-sufficient and more successful?
How often have we fallen short, failing to give witness in word and deed?v Jesus knows. It’s probably important for us to see too. And also to see, understand and trust how Jesus responds to what he sees. He’s asking, “Do you really love me?” Maybe it’s an honest question? Or maybe he wants us to see our own conflicted selves more clearly — the difference between how we see ourselves and what we believe about ourselves and how we are living? Or maybe it’s his invitation to confession and God’s mercy? Whatever he’s up to, he’s clearly about more than just reassuring himself. Because Jesus doesn’t just hear us and forgive us. He invites us to try again. And then he makes room for what we have to offer. And gives us some meaningful work to do.
Are we ready for that? Can we accept and open ourselves to that? That broken and in pieces as we often are, that we still have something to offer and …that there’s still service God’s waiting on us to fulfill? Can you believe that, together with Peter, you can feed Jesus’ sheep? That God still has room and need and love of us? That we’re inescapalbly — torn and tattered as we often are — … that we are still part of the holy plan?
Ask most Christians, and we have a hard time connecting what they do most of the week to their faith on Sunday. Or the faith in their hearts. So it’s the church’s job, my job, to keep telling you that what you do matters. How many times do you need to hear it? Three times? Three hundred times? 3 times 300 times? What you do matters, as parents, friends, employees, volunteers, citizens, neighbors. We are called and given and forgiven and given again to look for opportunities to care for the people and world that God cares for so much. God needs us. And we’re going to let God and ourselves and others down. We are. We’re going to fall short of our goals and aspirations, our best efforts and our deepest hopes. This is “the normal thing too.” We will compromise. We’ll fail to follow through. We won’t live up to what we know is right. We will time and time again disappoint and fall away.
But resurrection which can be found anywhere, happens right there, happens because of our falling short, and means Jesus and God never give up on us. Ever! Rather, after each failure, we are invited to try again. We are offered mercy, provided forgiveness, encouragement and nourishment – what else is this gathering about week after week? – and then Jesus calls us to add what we have and to depart worship to meaningful work in the world.
Beloved, your work matters. God is working through you. I know how important and hard and sometimes lonely your work is. And how much it can hurt to realize and bear the burden of not always doing it as well as you would. But here’s what this sermon is really about —
It’s a message about what grace upon grace is like: It’s about a God who can break into our fears and do for us what God should never have to do, but for love. It’ s about God chasing us down the road when we run away. And God starting back at the beginning and explaining it all to us again. And God finding us when we’re headed out to some terrible deed, to knock us down and turn us around. . And to give us just the teacher or the lesson we need. And God finding us when we think we’ve lost ourselves and the better life and God. It’s about God offering us the strength we need for the journey. God’s presence. Grace upon grace is about a blinding light and hell of a lot of fish, when you least expect or deserve that grace, like the wine at Cana, when all hope is gone. When you wonder what you are doing. When you think it’s all a waste of time. When you worry there is no future. When your well has dried up. When you doubt grace is true. When you question if grace or God is really for you. This is the resurrection we need. Desperately. All of us. Not just some Sunday morning resurrection. Or some spiritual churchy resurrection. But the resurrection God gives us in Jesus. “That normal thing.” That we can… will experience the truth of the resurrection beyond the empty tomb. That Jesus will always show up on the shore. And those roads we use to run from where we should be or run to where we shouldn’t be. That Jesus will tell us what we can’t know ourselves. Will invite us to a meal once again, ….and in all this is invite us back into God’s mercy Because abundance really means abundance when it comes to God. Giving that never stops giving. Never. Why? Because God’s love goes on and on. It’s real. And for us. For the whole world. “The normal thing.”