Sermon for Third Sunday in Easter 2019
Acts 9:1-6 (7-20) Psalms 30 Rev 5:9-17 John 2:11-19
Two men dressed in pilot’s uniforms walk up the aisle of the airplane. Both are wearing dark glasses, one is using a seeing-eye dog, and the other is tapping his way along the aisle with a cane. Nervous laughter spreads through the cabin, but the men enter the cockpit, the door closes, and the engines start up. The passengers begin nervously glancing around, searching for some sign that this is just a little practical joke. None is forthcoming. The plane moves faster and faster down the runway, and the people sitting in the window seats realize they’re headed straight for the water at the edge of the airport territory. As it begins to look as though the plane will plow into the water, panicked screams fill the cabin. At that moment, the plane lifts smoothly into the air. The passengers relax and laugh a little sheepishly, and soon all retreat into their magazines, secure in the knowledge that the plane is in good hands. In the cockpit, one of the blind pilots turns to the other and says, “You know, Bob, one of these days, they’re gonna scream too late and we’re all going to die.”
Two blind men fly a plane into the air in the midst of laughter, screams and anxiety. It is a miracle, indeed. And the passengers are not the only ones affected by the act. The plane, themselves, are also mixed up in the wide assortment of emotions. This is the way of miracles. They leave an array of reactions in their wake.
The resurrection was a spectacular thing, but the aftermath was hard to keep tidy. The disciples were still a bit lost, even after Jesus had appeared to them twice. The reality of what happened, while bringing great joy, was still mixed with the numbness of loss and uncertainty. The disciples in the passage were so uncertain about how to move forward that they went back to their old jobs, fishing. They were so ingrained in their old ways that they didn’t even recognize their Lord until he did something they’d already seen. Familiarity is what allowed their eyes to be opened again.
They all have unfinished business. Jesus needed to talk to Peter, and the disciples needed to be reminded of their calling. It happens like that often. In the midst of whatever we are doing in life, in sorrow or celebration, our unfinished business crops up and needs settling. In this case, it is Peter’s need for forgiveness and restoration that drives the end of the narrative. But for all of us, the grace of God is present in those moments of settling, gently calling us forward into our discipleship.
As we gather today, as the family of God, as a religious community, we are celebrating the Great Fifty Days. The Great Fifty Days are the period of rejoicing in the Risen Lord between the Easter Vigil and Pentecost. During this time the Paschal candle is lighted at all services and “Alleluia” is said frequently. The Easter Season provides opportunities for the church to reflect on the post-resurrection appearances to the disciples and to celebrate anew the blessing upon those who have not seen and yet who believe. There is no fasting in Eastertide and the liturgical color is white. And did you notice we didn’t do a confession last Sunday? A fixed feature of Eastertide is the reading from Acts that takes the place of the Old Testament reading.
For many people today, sensory and emotional overload is a regular part of our lives. There is such noise and violence on television and the movies and in print. Times of peace and quiet have become much less frequent for many and the stress that some people feel at work pulls them away from the joys in their lives. We might wonder if the overloading of our lives has led to a numbing of the human spirit?
This is how many of us experience daily life. We experience emotional overload when we receive bad news on a medical issue, or a spouse leaves a marriage, or we lose a loved one. Experience like these overwhelm the human spirit and we seek comfort. Some enjoy solitary gardening, and others go shopping (retail therapy) and others reach for chocolate. Some escape by losing themselves in television shows or late-nights at the office, and others turn to drugs and alcohol.
The disciples felt the overwhelming nature of the last week of Jesus’ life. The tension-filled, emotional high of their entry into Jerusalem was followed by extraordinary events in the temple, a Passover meal unlike any other, an intense experience in the Garden of Gethsemane, an unexpected betrayal, an armed arrest, a series of denials, a mock trial, a jeering mob, and a bloody execution. Surely in the hours following Jesus’ death, the disciples were crushed and numb. The human spirit can only take so much. Then came the events that brought an emotional overload of another sort of thing altogether – news of the empty tomb and resurrection appearances that had to be seen to have believed. These events would not only overwhelm and change the lives of the disciples forever; those events would change the entire world forever.
In the immediate aftermath of these events, surely the disciples needed some time and emotional space to process and assimilate what they had experienced. Following Peter’s lead, the disciples returned to the familiar. “I am going fishing,” Peter tells them and the others go with him. It is a detail in the telling that feels quaint and quirky, especially now that Jesus has risen. This is how some human beings respond to emotional overload. The disciples return to their former life – a life of certainty. But they quickly see that there is no escape. Wherever they go, Jesus will be with them. The ordinary and the routine will no longer be ordinary and routine. Even as the disciples retreat to their familiar trade, as we might retreat to the office or the garden or the mall, what they ultimately discover is that Jesus is there, and he is waiting to serve and nourish them.
Of course, we have to have eyes to see, and it is notable that only one of the disciples recognizes Jesus on the shore. All of them see the Lord, but only one of them, the beloved disciple, recognizes the Lord. The pastoral implications of this are enormous. Could it be that times of quiet immersion of ourselves into the presence of God are the key to recognizing God in our daily lives and ordinary routines? Could it be that those impetuous desires – wanting to build three booths on the mount of transfiguration or needing to go fishing just to keep busy – could it be that our need to stay on the move or remain productive, instead of “wasting time with God” in prayer, often keeps us from recognizing the presence of the Lord in our lives?
In the end, perhaps the risen Lord offers the Peter in each of us still another way to recognize and encounter the Divine in the day-to-day, as the Lord tells Peter three times to feed his sheep. It is as if our denials of God are somehow redeemed by our encounters with God in the hungry, the marginalized, and the poor. However, surely there is a Beloved Disciple and an overactive Peter in each of us.
This Gospel passage gives us some guidance in surviving, and even overcoming circumstances that threaten to overwhelm us. As we sit with Jesus in prayer, our spiritual vision is sharpened. As we spend time listening to Jesus, we are nurtured, even in the most routine and familiar occasions of our lives. Feeding the Lord’s sheep is a tangible way of staying in relationship with the Lord, as well as the surest way to express our love for him, “not only with our lips, but in our lives.”
The days after the resurrection challenged the disciples. They wanted to experience the risen Christ – finding the holy in the ordinary. Finding fish where there had been none, opens the disciples up to seeing Jesus in those small changes in their lives – seeing Jesus in our lives.
Today’s text challenges us: What is it we need to change? What can we do differently? Are there people whom God sends to help us, but because we don’t recognize them, we are not open to them. Only when we are open to something new or someone new do we realize that Jesus is in our midst. He saves the day and the night. He saves us from the failed efforts of our routines. No matter how we answer these questions, Jesus commissions us to declare the presence and power of God in the midst of our ordinary days. he risen Christ makes himself known to us in ways large and small. As people of faith, we are to be witnesses to Christ’s presence among us, in our words and in our deeds; our faith demands nothing less. Let’s remember God’s ability to show up in every situation. Let’s not miss God’s next move in our lives. Amen.