Saturday, May 4, 2019

No Going Back Year C, Easter 3, Acts 9.1-20, John 21.1-19

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
“I am going fishing.”
Faced with uncertainty, we revert to the most familiar.  That’s our tendency, isn’t it?
For the disciples, that meant fishing.
For three years they had followed Jesus, witnessed his miracles, heard his teaching, enjoyed his friendship, and were touched by his love.
But then the tragedy of the Cross.  They watched him die.
For the disciples, the events that unfolded after that seemed to raise more questions than answers.
First the report from Mary, the tomb was empty.
Then, she saw Jesus in the Garden.
That night, Jesus appeared to the disciples as they gathered behind locked doors in fear.
The next week also, he appeared again. 
“Now what?”
That was the question the disciples were asking themselves, and the answer was to return to the familiar.
Back to Galilee.
Back to their boats.
Back to the life of fishermen.
There must have been some great comfort in that.  It likely felt like going home.  Returning to that ‘safe place’. 
Their world had been turned upside down, and now all they wanted was some normalcy.  Having faced the dizzying unfolding of events in Jerusalem, Jesus death, his resurrection, and not knowing what that meant—they cast their nets, doing the one thing they truly knew how to do, and what to expect.
Faced with the turmoil of life, many of us would also like to go home, to return to the familiar.
President Trump’s campaign slogan has been “Make America Great Again”.
The reason that resonates with so many people is because of this ‘homing instinct’ that we have.
We’d like to return to an earlier time, a time when we felt safe, and a time that we’ve now idealized in our minds, that brief but shining moment in our memory.
For Americans, we remember the golden years of our history, and usually that means the nation of our youth.
We idealize the post war period of the fifties and sixties, when America emerged on the world scene as a superpower, when economic prosperity was transforming our country, when people were in church, and our homes were filled with children.  Jobs were abundant.
At that time we could send men to the moon and seemingly accomplish anything we set our minds to.
We turned on the TV and saw depictions of the American way of life like “Father Knows Best”, and “Mayberry, RFD”, and “Leave it to Beaver”.  On Sundays we watched “Bonanza” and “Disney”. 
Make America Great Again.
Implicit in that sentiment is an idealized understanding of a time gone by that was indeed great.  And we want to return home to that time.
What we tend to forget, however, is the reality of what it was truly like.
Life was not all “Ward and June Cleaver”.
There was a dark side to the post war years of that “golden age” of the American experience.
McCarthyism and the Cold War.  Fear of communism led to the attempt to purge America of its scourge, and that resulted in the wrongful accusations against many innocent Americans.
There was the racial strife that precipitated the Civil Rights Movement.
And of course, Vietnam.
And while we watched “Father Knows Best” a revolution was taking place.
From Haight Ashbury in the West, to Woodstock in the East, the times they were a changing.
The point being, that while we often remember the fifties and sixties as the Golden Age of the American experience, it was actually a time of transformation and cultural revolution.
Not only that, but we cannot go back.
You cannot return to your childhood.
As much as we’d like to return to the familiar, we can’t.
“I am going fishing.”
But they didn’t catch any fish.  Returning to the shore after that long night of fishing, they see Jesus, and hear him calling out to them.
“Children, you have no fish, have you?”
Being called a child, likely was not a compliment.  I find it a bit humorous. 
What followed was another encounter with the Risen Christ.  And Jesus made clear, the times were a changing.  There was no going back. 
“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.” 16A 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.” 17He 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.
Three times, Simon had denied knowing Jesus.
Now three times, Jesus asks him if he loves him.
And how is he to show his love for Jesus?
Not by going back to a life of fishing.  There is no going back.
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.”
“Follow me.”
I wonder if today, Jesus is asking us that same question.
Do you love me?
Do you love me?
Do you love me?
And if so, how does that change things?
In John’s first letter he writes:
We love because he first loved us.  Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this:  those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.  (1 John 19-21)
We live at a time when our ability to love one another is being challenged each and every day.
Polarization, discord, and a battle for the soul of the nation seem to be much more the status quo.
We cannot say “We love God” and hate our brothers and sisters. 
Actually, we can SAY that, we do all the time.
What Jesus is saying is that if we love God, we will care for his flock.
If we would love Jesus, we must love one another, and if we don’t love one another, we cannot love God.
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God's love was revealed among us in this way:God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  (1 John 4:7-11)
Do you love me, Simon?
Jesus doesn’t just ask that question of Simon Peter, he asks it of each and every one of us.
And when he does, we have a choice.  To follow him into a new way of relating to the world.
Or to revert to our old ways.
And the hardest thing of all, as a human being, is to avoid reverting to our old ways of judging and condemning one another. 
I am a pastor, called to be a shepherd of the Flock.
And you know what?
It’d be easier to love all y’all if you’d just be more lovable.  If all y’all would repent, it’d be easier. 
“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
“Do you love me?”  Jesus asks.
“Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
“Then love these brothers and sisters of mine, even though they are still sinners, love them anyway.”
“God’s purpose for our congregation is to welcome, love and serve all in our local and global community.”
We continue to remind each other of this.
I think if I could change it in any way it would be to add the word “sinners” to it.
“God’s purpose for our congregation is to welcome, love and serve all sinners in our local and global community.”
The reason for that is that too often we are tempted to add a condition to that love, namely, that people repent of their sins. 
Well, repentance has its place, but we are still called to love every one.  Nowhere in all of scripture does it say that if someone has not fully repented of all their sins, we don’t have to love them.
Jesus loves us, “while we were yet sinners.”
And because he first loved us, we are to love one another, ‘while we were yet sinners’.
Do you love me, Simon?
Feed my lambs.  Tend my sheep.  Feed my sheep.
And these sheep of Jesus are all sinners.
Once we realize that, there is no going back.  We cannot return to a time before the cross, before the resurrection, and before the saving grace of Jesus Christ was made known.
We can only follow him, loving as he loved.  Amen

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