Acts 9:1-6 (7-20); Psalm 30; Revelations 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
May 5, 2019 –Third Sunday of Easter
Once again, our Scriptures and our Liturgy and our Hymnody lead us into a time of contemplation. What was true 2,000 years ago that is still true now? What will always be true?
How can I align myself with this truth to live in attunement with it? How can I ride the big wave…the deep wave…the true wave…of life…so that when all is said and done, people will say, “Here was a man”?
Paul thought he knew what would always be true. We think smart people will be able to see the truth at all times and in all places. But Paul was wrong once …at least once.
We catch a glimpse of him this morning, breathing threats, as he trudges toward Damascus against the followers of The Way. He was born and bred for this moment in his life.
He is the son of a Pharisee, a Pharisee of Pharisees. He is a devout Jew, circumcised on the eighth day and observant in every way. His mother is Greek, giving him a great second (or first) culture to embrace. He is sent to Jerusalem to study under Gamaliel, one of the great teachers in all of Israel’s history. What more could he ask?
He grows up in Tarsus, a city several hundred years old at that time, and one of the most important trading centers on the Mediterranean coast, renowned for its university. What more could he ask?
He has all of the knowledge in the world in him. Oh…and he is a Roman citizen…as he claims in his trial before a commander of the Roman army in Jerusalem. What more could he ask?
He is the tri-fecta of his place and time: Jewish, Greek, and Roman. Not only that, he has a world-class education in the classics. Not only that, but he is a prominent leader of his people.
This guy is going places. So what does he do? He stands by and holds the cloaks of the men who stoned Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church, to death. “And Saul was there, giving approval to his death,” we read. (Acts 8)
God needs to humble the mighty, and he blinds Paul as he sets out to do even more evil. Jesus Christ, the resurrected Christ, blinds him, speaks to him, and instructs him on what he must do to regain his sight.
Until now, Paul is the one who has been blind…no matter how full of knowledge he was.
There is something more about being wise than about smart. There is something more about being honest than being clever. There is something more about being good than pleasing others.
Being smart is one thing. Being clever is its own thing. Being honest is an important thing. But there seems to be some power in being humble, too.
The disciples who were so humbled they were in hiding behind locked doors were humbled to their core. They had do decide what they had to live for and what they were willing to die for. They had hit bottom. Where to go from here?
Then they became powerful, with informal authority, with authentic power. That’s where John is now, an exile on Patmos Island, writing to a church that is hunted down as if they were sporting trophies.
He speaks to the kind of hell that men like Paul will inflict on the Christian Church in the name of their God, whoever they may see that God being…no matter what they hear that God saying.
“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.”
In the very recent past we have seen shootings at Muslim mosques, the arson of three Black churches in Louisiana, and an attempted mass murder at a synagogue near San Diego. Are they after the Jews… or the Muslims….or the Christians?
Or is this some uber-narrative wave that is smashing into the shorelines of our hope, trying to erode our faith away? It seems that we are in a new world now…more than a new era …and we are having trouble getting our bearings.
The enemy does not care who wins, or that anyone will win. What the voice of darkness seeks is discord among all of us…that we would see each other as enemies and not friends…and while we fight with each other, the devil can do his darnedest to bring down the house ...all the houses.
It must have seemed a lot that way to the disciples in the early days of the church, too. You were dangerous if you believed the truth …or if you didn’t see the truth the same way.
So John sits on Patmos Island asking himself what is important… what is lasting…what is that is worth giving the rest of my life to? To put it another way: What is more important…to the world I love and the people I love…than I am?
This question doesn’t just sit down across the table from you and say it would like to have a talk with you. It comes at you all at once when you are trying to finish the one job you wanted to do before sundown.
Life is what happens to you, John Lennon wrote, when you are busy making other plans. Then, one day, there is a stranger on the shore calling out, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”
You just meant to do some fishing and then eternity was calling to you from the lakeshore. In his book, The Second Mountain, David Brooks talks about the meaning of life…but more than that, he talks about the quest to see the meaning of life.
The first mountain is the mountain of gaining skills and achievement, fortune and fame. It turns out, though, that climbing to the top of that mountain leaves us feeling empty.
I have talked to you before about my friends in Denver. He was one of my third year roommates and they met and married that year. After graduation I went into the Army and they moved to Denver.
He had spent 37 years at Sherman and Howard, a super-regional law firm with a national practice. She was the president of nearly every civic group in Denver.
They raised two wonderful children, who graduated from top-flight schools and married world-beater partners. My friends had succeeded through their children beyond anything we had hoped for when we were their age.
So…they asked me over dinner one night…what do we do now to make it mean something? Sipping lemonade on a beach in the Bahamas went through my mind. Then there was the French Riviera …a cruise to Antarctica.
But that was not what they were asking, and I knew it. They weren’t looking for entertainment or leisure. They were looking for a challenge and fulfillment…a sense that they had made a difference with their lives. They ended up the Peace Corps, fighting AIDS in Africa.
Brooks picks a much more famous example, Leo Tolstoy, author, philosopher. His passion was evidenced by the number of things he kept giving up to make himself a better person: tobacco, alcohol, hunting and meat among them.
Then his brother died at the age of 37, a serious man who never knew why he lived or why he died. Neither did Leo, and this mystery bothered the most famous, most brilliant man in the world.
Then he witnessed an execution in France. He saw that “no theories of the rationality of existence or of progress could justify such an act.”
He realized there was much support for capital punishment in society, so he concluded that “my judgments must be based on what is right and necessary and not on what other people do.” And he found freedom, if not answers, in that.
This morning we read from the Gospel of John. They are all together. They had been to the mountaintop with Jesus, but now he is gone. They are in the valley between the first and second mountains.
So a guy does what a guy does, and Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” The rest of them follow but the day is fruitless until a stranger on the shore tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. They haul in 153 fish.
Funny to find such a large precise integer in the Bible, and I can’t name anywhere else that 153 is the precise number of anything. There are many theories, but my favorite is that there were believed to be 153 different kinds of fish in the Sea of Galilee, and they had caught one of each kind.
Talk about fulfillment! They have reached everyone…and they know who the stranger on the shore is. He is the one who would make them fishers of men. Peter, the most impulsive among the disciples, jumps into the water to get to the Lord.
Jesus tells him he has a second mountain to climb, although most folks would not see it as a mountain. “If you love me, feed my lambs.”
Really, it’s more like an echo of Isaiah: “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.”
And every soul might see a way to salvation, fulfillment, a deep sense of personal worth, and The Second Mountain.
So what is your Second Mountain …our Second Mountain? There is no better place in the world to seek an answer to that question than where we tarry at this hour. This is the last real place in America…we gather in a church.
Real people share real joys and real sorrows with real people. Here real love abides. How can we share our common quest for fulfillment with each other? How can we listen to each other, heart to heart, so quietly that we can hear our hearts beating together?
It is a coincidence that we read an epistle that proclaims, “Worthy is the Lamb!” the same day that we hear our Pascal Lamb speak to us, “Feed my lambs.”
We are called to a ministry we cannot see yet…that we have not heard yet. We are confronted once again by the risen Lord who tells us, simply, to go into the world, “and you will be told what you must do.”
The day is dawning. The great season of sunlight and beauty is about to break over us. Let us be one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world. Let us cast our net….one more time, on the other side of the boat.
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us… through me…today? Amen.