May 5, 2019 Sermon
Updated: Jul 29, 2019
“It’s Not a One-Time Deal”
The Acts of an Easter People: Acts 9:1-6 (7-20)
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
He asked, "Who are you, Lord?"
The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias."
He answered, "Here I am, Lord."
The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight."
But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name."
But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name."
So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored.
Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God."
*New Testament Scripture: John 21:1-19
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.
Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.
Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing."
They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?"
They answered him, "No."
He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.
That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!"
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught."
So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?"
He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.)
After this he said to him, "Follow me."
Sermon: “It’s Not a One-Time Deal” Rev. David Hawkins
Sometimes, really well-known scriptures like the ones today can be difficult to preach. On one hand, they are so well known that there seems to be nothing more that can be learned from them, we’ve heard them a thousand times, from a thousand different people, and really, what else is there to say? And besides that, they describe experiences with which we have almost nothing in common. I mean, really, a flash of light, a voice from the heavens, scales falling from eyes? And the disciples, fishing naked in the sea, seeing a resurrected Jesus on the shore. All very weird. Not our normal, everyday religious experience.
In the first scripture, from the book of Acts, the author tells the conversion story of the Apostle Paul. Paul, who was originally called Saul, is on his way to Damascus, chasing after the early disciples of Jesus Christ. He had already made a name for himself with his zeal and his fiery persecution of early Christians, presiding over the stoning of Stephen. And now, he is determined to wipe them out entirely.
But something happens on the road. Something crazy. Something worthy of the sort of pyrotechnics you might see at a Beyoncé concert. Lights flash all around him, he’s thrown to the ground, and he hears a voice, literally from heaven, asking him just what in the world did he think was doing.
And in the second scripture, in the Gospel of John, we see the disciples trying to get on with their lives after everything that had happened to them during the most amazing Passover week ever in Jerusalem, and Jesus appears to them, and directs them to fish on the other side of the boat. They haul in more fish than the nets could actually support, Peter jumps into the sea in some sort of gesture of shame and fear, and then they have breakfast with the risen Jesus, right there on the seashore.
And then, both of these amazing, world-shaking stories end with personal words from Jesus.
Wouldn’t it be helpful if it was always like this? Immediate, undeniable, encounters? Practical, encouraging words, affirmations of who we are, instructions for the future?
Wouldn’t it be great if every time God wanted us to do something for Him, he would announce his presence, first with some sort of lightning strike, or a miracle of epic proportions that got our attention? Wouldn’t it be great if whenever God wanted something from us, he would make his intentions absolutely clear? No guesswork, just a quick status update on Facebook maybe, or a text message outlining exactly what it was that we are supposed to do?
Yeah, that would be great.
But it doesn’t seem to work like that for most of us.
And that’s what makes these scriptures so difficult.
They don’t really apply to us.
These spectacular stories of conversion and personal messages from God aren’t really our stories. At least, not for most of us.
Most of us haven’t had a moment on the road to Damascus where we dramatically and violently encountered the resurrected Jesus. Most of us haven’t had a personal, one-on-one breakfast chat over fish with our Risen Lord.
And so, when we hear stories like this, it would be easy to walk away with a sort of ‘faith-inferiority complex’, a sort of feeling that our experience with God has been somewhat lacking; that because we haven’t seen Jesus in the same way that Saul saw Jesus, or that Peter saw Jesus; we haven’t seen Jesus at all; that because our lives weren’t so spectacularly at odds with the will of God, he didn’t actually need to throw us on the ground and shine a spotlight in our eyes to get our attention.
After hearing stories like this, it almost feels like we haven’t really been converted, unless it was accompanied by some sort of miracle, or a personal word in our ears about what we’re supposed to do next.
And this sense of ‘faith-inferiority’ can be reinforced by well meaning but misguided fellow Christians. It seems like there are stories all around us of folks who were going down that same road as the Apostle Paul, they may not have been persecuting the early church, per se, but they were living destructive lives, and then they found themselves finally on the ground, blind, unable to move, wondering what put them there, and then being lifted up again by the love of Jesus Christ.
In fact, it seems like it’s almost a given that if you’re going to be any kind of an evangelist these days, you’ve got to have some kind of major conversion story to tell. You’ve got to be able to say with precision and dramatic flair, THIS is when I became a Christian. I once was lost, and boy was I ever lost, I was incredibly lost, but now, I’m found. Was blind, boy was I ever blind, you have no idea, but now I see. There’s a perverse sort of pride in how awful they really were.
Here’s the problem: not many of us were ever quite so misguided as Paul is in our scriptures today. No many of us have led the kind of lives that would require the sort of world-shaking intervention that he had.
Not many of us have so adamantly denied Jesus in the way that Peter did. Not many of us have so completely abandoned our loved ones the way the disciples did at the moment when Jesus needed them the most.
And I’ll tell you what.
That’s a good thing.
These stories about the conversion experience of Saul and the convicting words of Jesus to Peter, reminding him to feed his sheep are stories about people who had completely, and utterly failed. They had completely and utterly misunderstood what God was really about. And they had said and done things that were completely and utterly shameful.
Let’s be honest, I’m not sure that we really should want to be in their shoes. They’ve really messed up. The guilt and the embarrassment they must be feeling has to be overwhelming.
And so, maybe it’s a good thing that we don’t know exactly what’s going on with Saul and with Peter in these ‘come to Jesus’ moments. Maybe it’s OK that we don’t have that much in common with them. Maybe we don’t need to have exactly their kind of conversion experience in order to know who Jesus is.
But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have our own conversion stories.
Because if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we haven’t always been on the path that God would have set out for us. We’ve all been in a place that we shouldn’t have been, and we’ve all felt what it was like to come to our senses.
Maybe we are the business man or woman who pursues success at the expense of marriage and family.
Or the teen-aged child who can’t seem to forgive their parents for mistakes they’ve made.
Or an accommodating family member who facilitates the addictions of their loved ones in an effort to maintain peace.
Or the sports fan who can’t control their emotions at their children’s ball games.
Or the spouse who is unable to say, “I love you.”
The employer who is unable to see the equality between men and women, and pay them accordingly.
The politician who equates policy differences with personal moral failings.
The demanding parent who forgets how to give their child a break from time to time.
The well-off person who blames the laziness of poor people for their poverty.
The gossip who can’t seem to keep their nose out of other people’s business.
The casual racist who dismisses the humanity of people different than them.
Or perhaps even the worst, a New England Patriots fan. (Just kidding! A little pastoral humor!)
But when we remember our own unique sin, when we have that moment in the middle of the night when we realize that we’ve been in a bad place, we’ve been hard-headed, prideful, self-centered, when we’ve forgotten those things that matter most in life, maybe we can identify just a little bit more with our friends Paul and Peter.
Maybe we haven’t had the sort of shattering revelation that they have, accompanied by light shows and miracles, but we when we’ve been stuck, and our eyes are opened to a different way of thinking, maybe we have had our own Damascus road experience.
Being a disciple isn’t a competition with other disciples. Our faith is not measured against the faith of Peter, or Paul, or Joe Evangelist down the street. And it’s not a one time deal. Our journey is a constant struggle with our own shortsightedness, our own fears, our own stuff. We have our Damascus road over and over again. We are asked repeatedly, do we really love Jesus?
And while we may not encounter Jesus in the same ways as Paul and Peter did, we do know what grace feels like. We know we hear God speaking when we are reminded to feed his sheep, rather than to feed the fires of intimidation and persecution, when we are called to show compassion, not cruelty, when we are reminded that our first calling is to share Christ’s message of forgiveness and welcome, rather than to condemn, judge, and dismiss.
Because when we do these things, when we feed, when we forgive, when we help, when we offer a cold glass of water in Jesus’ name, that is when the scales fall from our eyes, and we see Jesus before us.
It might not be in a circle of sunshine, a ray of light accompanied by choirs of angels. It may instead be the grateful thanks of a homeless man by the side of the road, or a single mother trying to get medicine for her child, or gas money to take an ailing parent to the hospital in Lubbock. It may be in the letting go of an old grudge, or the welcome of an old rival. It may the embrace of a new idea about the unfamiliar, the foreign, or the unknown.
It may even be the acceptance of forgiveness for your own sins, sins that you may have thought were unforgivable, sins that you thought would keep you from ever feeling peace, or hope, or joy again.
All these things are signs that point to Jesus among us, if we just take a moment to look for him. It may not be as spectacular as Paul’s conversion, or as poignant as Peter telling Jesus that he really does love him.
But for those whose life is touched by even the smallest amount of grace, it changes everything.
Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might be to our God
forever and ever. Amen.