Sermon for Third Sunday of Easter -
Vicar Julie A. Kelly -
Do you ever wonder what the lessons have in common? Like, who picks these out and what do they have to do with each other? Some weeks, it is really obvious, others, not so much. I mean, this week for example. Thousands of thousands of Angels singing “worthy is the lamb” from Revelation, Saul who hates Jesus gets scales on his eyes and decides to switch teams in Acts, a Psalmist sings about anguish and mercy and finally, a reading from John about a stupendous amount of fish and feeding sheep. I can tell you that even experienced Pastors are still stumped some weeks.
What I found this week though, is that we have lessons from each of our characters about how we are called and live out that call in faith. In Acts, we have Saul, who will eventually become known as Paul, and Ananias. In John, we have Peter, in Revelations, the Angel, and finally a Davidic Singer in Psalms.
Saul of Tarsus, born Hebrew, knew how to keep the law- in fact, he was zealous about it. He was a proud man, testifying to his pedigree from the tribe of Benjamin as well as his blamelessness before the law and he leaned strongly toward Pharisaism, which practiced a separatist, legalistic and literal understanding of the Jewish law.
This passion for the law meant that he had it out for the followers of The Way. The reading makes no bones about that, remember it states in Acts 9:1, “Meanwhile Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” He was on a mission to kill any of those who were following or supporting Jesus. A guy doesn’t get to this point overnight- it’s not like he wakes up saying, “Hey, today I think I am going to hate those guys to death.” He was highly committed and passionate in his pursuit. In fact, his persecution of the Disciples of Christ is so well known that Ananias has already heard of him. His reputation precedes him.
Now this is pretty important to know, because what happens to Saul is a complete turn around. After he hears the voice of God, is prayed over by Ananias and has the scales fall from his eyes, he turns from everything and everyone he knows. That would be like going suddenly changing from Trump to Hillary or vice versa! You laugh, but it was no small thing. He walked away- or rather ran- from the faith he understood, his daily lifestyle, his understanding of God and even the people he spent time with. No less, he does this and has to face being the turncoat that is suddenly a supporter. The new Christian community didn’t trust him right away- and we can’t blame them- because days before he was methodically hunting them down and killing them. But Saul, to become known as Paul, keeps going. He uses his zealous nature to really lean into his new call from God and later reminds us he is an imperfect man, prone to mistakes but who loves God deeply and is profoundly grateful.
Saul to Paul teaches us a lot about conversion, passion, and imperfection, but I want to also point out that not everyone has a conversion like this. The story of Saul’s conversion, much like Martin Luther’s is dramatic. Their individual crisis of faith and subsequent turn around implies that this is what conversion looks like. But let me assure you, equally as often it is not, but is instead a quiet awakening, like watching a flower bloom, like watching grass grow, or in my case, watching a glacier move. We are each led by the Spirit to our faith, to our Salvation in Christ in unique and lovely ways and the Holy Spirit takes artistic license of the process for each and every one of us.
Speaking of the Spirit moving, Then we have Ananias. This guy is already a follower of The Way. He is a known disciple of Christ and in a vision, is told to go to see Saul. His response to God? “Are you HIGH? That dude eats guys like me for an afternoon snack!” Yup. You got it, he has a vision and unlike Saul who does not question the voice, Ananias argues back. But in the end, he is obedient and goes- putting his life on the line in trust of the Lord. Better, he does not just go to Saul, he then prays over him, laying hands upon him and in his prayer, identifying himself as a follower of Jesus Christ. Talk about putting it all on the line. Now that is faith and compassion.
What do we learn from him? That it is okay to argue with God, that we can double check with God, but also that we need to go and do as God bids us. We need to step out in faith. Sometimes God calls us into scary or potentially life changing or life endangering circumstance. There is nothing wrong with asking God to “come again?” But once it is clear, let us go out in faith, have compassion on the one who is our enemy and pray for them.
Our Psalmist kind of does the same thing that Ananias does. You don’t see it in the reading, but just before in versus 1-8, he speaks of the way God provides, and then in a calling out, tells God how broken he is right now- an artistic way of saying, “You promised me good and all I got was this t-shirt- which is NOT what you promised me, God.” The Psalmist is teaching us that we can call God out on the promises God made to us, that God loves us enough to hear that cry, and to be present with us. We learn that God wants to know our every pain, and that we are loved enough to be heard by God.
Our Angels on the other hand teach us that God is worthy to be praised- in all things, at all times, enough that all of heaven resounds in praise of God. This God, this Jesus, this Holy Spirit are Good. Very Good. So good that even in the midst of crying out like the Psalmist, we cannot help ourselves and still praise the Lord.
Finally, let’s look at Peter from the Gospel lesson. How many times have you heard this Gospel about feeding the sheep and the net of fishes? (Raise hands- 1-3, 5-10, more than you can count?) How many times did you notice Peter was NAKED and that he PUT ON his clothes to jump into the lake? Now that is either crazy or dedicated. I can tell you it is not the first. Peter, upon realizing that the Lord is present, is so eager to jump up and follow the Lord that he cannot wait for the boat to be at the shore. He grabs his cloak, puts it on and jumps into the lake- ready to go at a moment’s notice. There is no hesitation, no fear. He grabs what he needs and GOES.
But we also learn something else from him later. Finally dried out, watching the fire crackles down and the fish and bread are eaten, Christ asks Peter three times if he loves him. Do you love me? Yes, Lord. Do you love me? Yes, Lord. Do you love me Yes, Lord, Yes!
In that moment, Peter is given the chance to right a wrong, to do a Saul to Paul, to declare three times that he loves Jesus after he had denied him three times at the crucifixion. Peter teaches us that no matter how we may have denied or betrayed, we are still loved, we are still sought and we are still called to go out and feed God’s sheep.
In each of these readings we have a lesson, a way to our call as people in Christ. This is what it boils down to:
Use your passion the right way.
It is never too late to change
Talk with God, even argue, but then obey
Be honest with God about where you are.
God is worthy of praise, praise, praise.
Be ready to get dressed to jump in the water
And finally, we are never, ever too far from God to be called to praise, pray and proclaim the goodness of God.
In other words, I don’t care what your past is now, I don’t care what you did last night or last week or even just before you arrived here. If God has called you, you are chosen. Your experience, what you are wearing, and your past is not too big, ugly, inappropriate, or dirty for God to use you for the kingdom in this place.
When God asks you, Do you Love Me, Will you feed my sheep, will you answer yes, Lord, of course I will?
Julie A. Kelly
Vicar - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Fishes, Wishes, and Scales
Sermon for Easter 3 - c
Written by Julie A. Kelly
April 9 & 10, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California