Sunday, April 14, 2013

Unlikely Witnesses (Sermon Preached April 14 for Easter 3-C)

Sermon texts: Acts 9:1-22; John 21:1-14

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed.  Alelluia!  Let us pray:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of (our) heart(s) be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, (our) rock and (our) redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

In the name of Jesus.

            Who are you?  It’s the question that links today’s First Reading with the Holy Gospel.  Who are you?  In the First Reading, it’s the question on the lips of Saul of Tarsus who was on the road to Damascus with the intention of persecuting Christians.  And in the Holy Gospel, it’s the silent question on the minds of all the disciples when, having caught nothing all day, they were told by a strange man standing on the shore of the sea of Tiberias that if they just cast their nets on the other side of the boat, they would finally catch some fish.  Who are you?

            In the First Reading, it makes sense that Saul would ask this question.  I mean, there he is, on the road to Damascus with important official business, and papers to prove it.  There he is, breathing threats and murder while he walks like a man enraged.  There he is, delighting in the demise of the ones that call themselves followers of “The Way.”  There he is, probably more than two years after Easter, and with each day that passes, only being more and more convinced in the senselessness of those Christians, who were still hanging on to their foolish belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  There he is, hoping to bind up men, women, and children who would not give up their faith in the risen Lord, so that he could take them back to Jerusalem where they would be dealt with properly.

            There he is, when suddenly, a light from heaven flashed all around him, and a voice began to speak.  Of course, that light from heaven made it a bit difficult to see who was speaking.  But maybe the fact that Jesus had already ascended to the right hand of the Father had something to do with the fact that Saul could not see who it was that was speaking to him.  Either way, it makes sense that Saul would ask the question: “Who are you?”

            What doesn’t make sense is why the disciples have that question on their minds.  Who are you?  Okay, none of them say it, this time, but all of them are thinking it.  Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two other disciples, that makes seven of them—SEVEN OF THEM—who had been together and all except for Thomas had already seen Jesus alive and in the flesh on two separate occasions.  All of them had seen his hands, and his side; all of them had looked upon His risen and glorified body with their very own eyes.  And it was the same Jesus that they had followed across the lands for three whole years.  It makes perfect sense that Saul of Tarsus, that spiritually dead enemy of God would have to ask Jesus: “Who are you?”  But it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever that when Simon Peter and the other disciples have had a bum night fishing and the sun is starting to come up, a man just happens to stand on the sea shore and tell them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, and all of them are thinking to themselves, “Who does this guy think he is?”

            Who are you?  In the case of Saul, it makes all the sense in the world.  In the case of those 7 disciples, it makes no sense at all.  And yet, there it is: the question that links together today’s First Reading and the Holy Gospel.  The question on the lips of Saul, and on the minds of those 7 fishing disciples: Who are you?  Someone we would expect not to know who Jesus was even if he was standing in front of him, and someone who should know better by now; it makes no difference.  In both stories, the question is the same: “Who are you?

            So who are you?  I know none of you are a Pharisee like Saul, and none of you have probably ever been planning to kill anybody.  And I also know that none of you have seen Jesus face-to-face, or followed him around the countryside for three years.  But who are you?  Or maybe I should say, who are you more like?

            Are you more like Saul, who spent years making fun of Christians for their foolish faith until he was met with a light from heaven and a voice that changed his life?  Are you more like Saul, who had gained such a reputation among the Christians for his evil, that when Ananias was told by Jesus in a vision to go and welcome him, he responded, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.”?  Are you more like Saul, who had stooped so low without ever knowing it, that when Jesus had picked him up and awakened him to faith, he was immediately baptized, and for the rest of his life, would not stop bearing witness that Jesus really is the Son of God?  Are you more like Saul in today’s First Reading, who was the last person who would ever be expected to believe in Jesus or be found in Church, or are you more like Simon Peter and the rest of the disciples in the Holy Gospel?

When Jesus called them, they immediately left everything and followed him.  For three years, they had fought between themselves to be the teacher’s pet.  Even if they weren’t able, they had been bound and determined to follow Jesus wherever he went.  Are you more like them?  Are you more like Simon Peter, who wanted so badly to be the best of the disciples, even if his speaking sometimes could have been helped with a bit more thinking?  Are you more like Thomas who wanted to see before he would believe Jesus’ promises?  Are you more like the disciples, who followed Jesus, and received the Holy Spirit, and were going to be leaders of the Church, but when Jesus was helping them fish, and was standing just a hundred yards away, none of them knew who He was?

Who are you?  Are you more like Saul, who wasn’t expected to know who Jesus was? Or are you more like Simon Peter and the other disciples who should have never forgotten who Jesus was?  Who are you?

            I told you that was the question which linked today’s First Reading with the Holy Gospel.  And that is true.  But really, it is the question that links Saul, and Simon Peter, and the other disciples fishing that day on the Sea of Tiberias. Even more, it is the question that links them all with you and with me.  It is the question that links those who have been far from the church with those who have never been far from it.  It is the question that links those who have a reputation they seem not to be able to lose with those who appear to others to do no wrong.  It is the question that links those who should have known better with those who should never have known.  It is the question that must be asked, and answered by all; for when it is, the Holy Spirit binds us all together in a confession of the faith that simply won’t be able to be contained.

            Who are you?  You are created by God—fearfully and wonderfully made—knit together in your mother’s womb.  Who are you?  You are loved by God; loved by God in such a way that He would not spare His own Son, but gave Him up so that He might have you, and hold you, and live with you in His presence forever more.  Who are you?  You are redeemed by God; you have been bought with a price—not gold or silver, but Jesus’ precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.  You were purchased and won so that, no matter what your history might be, you would be His treasured possession.  Who are you?  You have been called out of darkness by the Gospel.  You have been enlightened with faith to believe that Jesus died and rose for you.  You have been set apart as holy, made a new creation in the waters of Holy Baptism.  Who are you?  You are Christ’s, that’s who you are.  And because you are Christ’s, you are an unlikely witness indeed.

            Saul, Simon Peter, you, me, it really makes no difference.  None of us can say we deserve it.  If you are a witness of Christ, you’re an unlikely one.  Saul was the last person the early Christians would have ever believed could be saved.  But when the risen Jesus had done away with Saul, and through baptism and the forgiveness of sins, turned him into Paul, that unlikely witness would be possibly the greatest missionary ever, and would write 13 books of the Bible.  Simon Peter had rejected Jesus three times with defiance, and then, it would take three appearance of the risen Lord before Simon would know the answer to that question, “Who are you?”  But once Jesus had made his third, and convincing, resurrection appearance, Simon Peter had his answer; and the answer to the question would not only make Simon Peter dive into the sea to be with Jesus, but it would be the answer which Simon Peter would never again given up, even in the face of death.

            Who are you?  Whether you’re more like Saul, or more like Simon Peter, it really doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you know who Jesus is.  Because you know that answer, unlikely as it may be, you are His witnesses too.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  Amen.

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