This sermon is based on Acts 9:1-6 and John 21:1-19
‘It is the Lord!’ ‘Who are you Lord?’ The first statement is made by the disciple who Jesus loves. The second statement is made by Paul on the road to Damascus.
Each of these moments is a moment of revelation, a moment when Jesus breaks unexpectedly into the lives of human beings and changes them forever.
In the case of the disciples out fishing, this is only the third appearance of the risen Lord in John’s Gospel. The disciples have gone back to their everyday lives and the last person they expect to see is the risen Jesus. But because of this encounter with Jesus, their lives will not be as they once were. In this encounter, in this moment of revelation, there is a call: ‘feed my sheep’
And I think that it is the same thing with Paul. § Although this story is often entitled ‘the conversion of Paul’, I think that it can also be properly viewed as Paul’s calling to mission. This moment of very dramatic revelation is a life-changing experience for Paul
Called by God
I think that today’s readings are stories about ‘callings’, but in this third Sunday in the Easter season, I think that it’s good to remember that they are stories of callings set in the context of resurrection.
I wonder if any of us have ever been envious of people like Peter or Paul? In Peter’s case, he had the privilege of quite literally walking in the footsteps of Jesus for three years. Surely, for someone like Peter, faith in Jesus must have been easy? And although Paul was not a disciple of Jesus during his lifetime, he claims to have met the risen Jesus. And the Church has always supported this claim and called him an Apostle. Surely such a powerful encounter with the risen Lord must have made it easy for Paul to have faith in Jesus and to answer Jesus’ call?
In this season of Easter and of celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, I want to remind us that, as committed Christians, we have each received a call from God. Each of us will have experienced moments of revelation - resurrection moments, however fleeting - when we caught a brief glimpse of the love and the life of God in all its glory. Brief moments of really understanding in our gut that God is fully alive and without reference to death. Fleeting nanoseconds when we live fully in the resurrection. ‘Ah hah!’ moments, as some people call them.
Some people have dramatic and dazzling encounters with God, like St. Paul did. Sometimes Christians make the mistake of suggesting that such dramatic encounters are the norm - particularly with respect to conversion. I suspect that such experiences are not the norm at all, although I have spoken to people who have had some truly dramatic experiences of God in their lives.
For the vast majority of our Christian lives and for the vast majority of Christians, our encounters with God and our glimpses of the divine are a lot more like that of the fishing disciples. We are going through the daily business of our lives when somewhere, somehow we catch a glimpse of the risen Lord. This encounter with God may be unexpected and it may startle or confuse us.
What are these experiences for? Why do we have them?
Well, you won’t be surprised to hear that I think that it is in such moments when we can hear calls to serve the risen Lord. But I also think that such moments are there to encourage us and to sustain us as well as to assure us of God’s love and forgiveness. They are touchstone moments when we catch a glimpse of God that we can use as a benchmark in times of doubt and darkness.
Peter is certainly being called into the service of God in today’s Gospel reading. At the end of today’s reading, we’re reminded that Peter will suffer martyrdom in his old age. Peter’s call to feed Jesus’ sheep is not going to prove to be an easy vocation. But it is going to be a vocation in which he is fed and sustained by the Spirit of Christ.
Jesus Feeds His Sheep
Because here at the close of John’s Gospel we have yet another story of Jesus feeding human beings with bread and fish. Imagine how incredibly special this encounter was - the disciples were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ death, yet here they are on a quiet shore early in the morning shortly after his death, eating an intimate breakfast with their friend.
I daresay that this is a touchstone event for the disciples - especially for Peter. Were Peter ever to doubt his call, he had only to look back to this morning when his risen friend commissioned him three times: ‘Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.’
But Jesus does not just call Peter. He doesn’t tell Peter, ‘I’m leaving you in charge of my flock and I expect you to prove that you’re up to the job.’ Jesus knows that, in his own strength, Peter isn’t up to the job - none of us are. Instead, Jesus partners with Peter and the other disciples. They obey his strange order to cast their net into the sea at dawn - not the best time to catch fish - and their net comes up full to overflowing, but miraculously doesn’t break. The disciples work with Jesus and their endeavour is a success.
Jesus also forgives and heals Peter even as he calls him into service. Echoing Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus in the courtyard over a coal fire, Jesus and Peter linger together over a coal fire as Peter has the opportunity to affirm his love of Jesus three times. I can imagine three open wounds with Jesus gently touching each one in turn and healing each wound with his forgiveness. Healed and forgiven, Peter is thus equipped and empowered to take the message of Jesus’ healing and forgiveness out into the world.
A Resurrection Call
I said earlier that this calling and commission is set in the context of the resurrection and I believe that it’s important that this scene takes place with the risen Jesus. Without the resurrection, the call to Peter, the disciples and to us would not be the call to live a New Life in a New Creation.
Following the resurrected Jesus means that the Old Order has been turned upside down. In the old order, death rips our loved ones from us, sin has the power to permanently sever our relationship with others, and evil has the power to destroy communities and entire nations. But here in the New Creation is the risen Christ, standing in loving relationship with us despite our imperfections, calling us to reconciliation with him, and entrusting to us his message of reconciliation.
Here in the New Creation, Christ is alive, hope is alive and God’s outrageous, generous love is alive. In light of this fantastic good news – news which many people still find unbelievable – we are commissioned along with the disciples to proclaim and to live the good news of God’s love to all the world.
As we come together in Holy Communion in a few minutes, I pray that each person here is fed and strengthened at the Lord’s table in the same way that the disciples were fed on that morning on the beach.
I pray that we each remember our touchstone moments when God broke into our lives and called us into his service.
I pray that we may be empowered to bring the love of the risen Christ into the world by our words and our deeds and our lives. Amen.