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St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Easter 3C: May 1, 2022
Acts 9:1-6 (7-20); John 21:1-19
In our first lesson in the Acts of the Apostles, we meet the notorious persecutor Saul, whom we know as our patron saint, Paul, just prior to his dramatic, and traumatic, conversion. Saul was on a mission to round up all who proclaimed the Christian faith (known as the Way), and bring them bound back to Jerusalem to be viciously dealt with. As Saul was approaching Damascus, about 60 miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee, a heavenly light knocked him to the ground. In that moment, Jesus spoke to Saul, and identified himself as the one whom Saul was persecuting.
That flash of heavenly light, blinded Saul. In that moment, Saul’s venomous intentions, armed with his fangs of confidence and independence, were defanged. In that same moment, Saul also gained something from Jesus—divine instructions for forward movement. “…Get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do,” said Jesus (v. 6).
On the way to Damascus, the blind and helpless Saul was solely dependent on his men, as he was led by the hand into Damascus. Unbeknownst to Saul, the fulfillment of God’s divine plan for his life required his obedience to God’s will, even as he walked in darkness.
Already in Damascus, was a disciple named Ananias, who also received divine instructions from the Lord. “Get up and go,” said the Lord, to the street that I tell you, to this house that I tell you, and find this man named Saul. At this very moment Saul is praying and seeing a vision of you, Ananias. You will lay hands on him so that he might regain his sight (v.10-12).
Ananias was aware of the evil that Saul had done to the saints in Jerusalem and was probably terrified of what he was planning to do in Damascus. Again, Jesus told Ananias to go because he had chosen Saul as an instrument to bring his name before the Gentiles, the power structures and before the people of Israel. Ananias went to the house and followed Jesus’ instructions. Immediately, Saul’s sight was restored, he was baptized and ate food, during which time a now sighted Paul regained his strength. Saul’s renewed strength would not be used to terrorize followers of the Way, but to proclaim—in the synagogues where he had originally intended to hunt the followers—that Jesus “…Is the Son of God” (v.20).
Ananias could have allowed his fear to keep him from going to find Saul, but he pushed through the fear. Just as Jesus had chosen Saul as his instrument for making himself known to all, Jesus had also chosen Ananias to be the human instrument used to bring the truth of his name before Saul, Jesus’ own persecutor. The fulfillment of God’s divine plan for someone else, required Ananias’ obedience to God’s will, even when he was afraid.
In our gospel passage in John, the risen Christ, appeared, for the third time, to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberius. Peter announced that he was going fishing, to which the disciples replied that they would go with him. Having fished all night, the disciples caught nothing, until the next morning when Jesus—who was already standing on the beach cooking fish—directed them to cast their net according to his specific direction. The disciples were able to participate in this miracle because they followed Jesus’ direction, even when it defied human logic.
It would be hard to miss this obvious miracle of the abundant fish catch. But, on the beach, there was an unfolding divine moment, layered with forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. This moment took place between two friends, Simon Peter and Jesus. In this moment, we witness, the not-so-obvious miracle of a relationship restored.
Standing on the beach, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter answered in the affirmative, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus proceeded to ask the same question two more times, “Do you love me?” and Peter, each time, replied in the affirmative. What is the significance of Jesus asking Peter if he loved him three times, even after he received his responses? Recall that this beach scene took place not long after Peter had thrice denied even knowing Jesus. Flashback to the night of the Passover dinner in Chapter 13, where Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him three times, and alluded to Peter’s inability, at the time, to love Jesus in the same way that Jesus loved him.
We know that Jesus’ prediction came true. Imagine the guilt that Peter must have been carrying in his heart about his multiple denials of Jesus. How heavy his shame might have been to know that as much as he believed that he would lay down his life for Jesus, he could not and did not. The love of God through Jesus for Peter was not being fully received by Peter, not because Jesus was holding a grudge, but because Peter suffered from the spiritual wound of unforgiveness of self.
Jesus met him where he was, and matched each of Peter’s three affirmations of love with the commands: “Feed my lambs;” “tend my sheep;” “feed my sheep.” Not only did Jesus forgive Peter, he entrusted the spiritual well-being of his followers to him. Jesus had chosen Peter as His instrument to grow the body of Christ, His Church, in this world. Peter might not have had the confidence, or believed himself worthy of stepping into a leadership role. But Jesus, had been tending Peter, his sheep. Jesus, fed Peter, with the fish breakfast on the beach, and he had been feeding Peter, with himself, the Bread of Life, all along.
Jesus’ commands to Peter to feed his lambs; tend his sheep; and feed his sheep, embody the mission of the Church. The only way that we can reflect God’s unbounded outpouring of agapeic, self-giving love, to heal this world is to confront those things we ought not to have done and to
shed the oppressive guilt and the shame for things that we have left undone.
Just as our bodies, need food to sustain our human vessels, our souls need the spiritual food of Christ’s body and blood to strengthen us for the work that Jesus has called us to do—to proclaim by word and deed the good news of God in Christ within the church and beyond the church. That is why we come week by week, to this holy table.
The fulfillment of God’s divine plan for someone else, and for you, requires your obedience to God’s will, even when you walk in darkness; even when you are afraid; even when the divine direction defies human logic; even when you are weighed down by feelings of guilt, shame and unworthiness, Jesus calls you to get up and go!
So, get up and go to the holy scriptures to be nourished. Get up and go to the holy table to be fed by Christ’s body and blood. Be strengthened to Get up and go into those secular places that do not yet know Christ or are hostile to the Church, and God will tell you what you are to do.
Go and allow God to use you as God’s instrument, because God has chosen you to bring the risen Christ’s blinding Light, and to bear the risen Christ’s unbounded hope, in this dark and hopeless world.