SERMON Easter 3C 5-5-19 St. Monica’s Episcopal Church, Naples, FL
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20); Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
Have you ever wondered what a disciple job interview with Jesus would be like? Jesus might say, “So tell me why you think you are qualified for this position as disciple.” We might say, “Let’s see, I have no background in evangelism, healing, leading, teaching, or walking long distances in sandals, but I am a fan of your work Jesus.” Jesus would say, “Great, you are hired!” I do not know about you, but that applicant does not seem qualified for such an incredible mission. You would think Jesus would call only the best people, the most qualified, the best educated, but that has never been the case. Jesus trusted his mission of love to the most unlikely characters, and over the centuries he continues to trust that mission to us.
In two of the readings today, we hear about two unlikely disciples (leaders even), who despite their resumes, their sinful pasts, and even their frustrations and desire to return to the “easy life,” God still used both of these people, to spread the Gospel throughout the world. The truth is, we all are sitting here today as members of the beloved mission community, and not on the golf course, the airport, or the mall, because these two unlikely followers of Jesus, faithfully (and yet reluctantly) allowed God to use them for his mission of love.
Paul of Tarsus – Impossible Disciple
Paul of Tarsus was both a Roman citizen and a devout Jewish man who had deep connections to the Pharisaic tradition. He was on the ladder of religious success and well respected among his peers. Paul attended the Harvard of Pharisaic studies, being instructed “at the school of Gamaliel one of the most noted rabbis in history”. His early work was as a persecutor of the church, being given a license to arrest, detain, and haul Christians to Jerusalem for trial. He took an active role in the martyrdom of St. Stephen. Despite all that, Jesus still found use for Paul in the work of his mission of love.
This unlikely character actually spread the gospel throughout the Jewish Diaspora and the Greco-Roman culture of that time, and God’s wisdom prevailed. God chooses even the unqualified, the impatient, the self-absorbed, and the pursuers of “the shiny objects of life” to be his mission partners. So, if God can put someone like Paul on the mission trail, and Paul was able by the grace of God to be an effective witness of grace, then he can use us too.
Reluctant disciple Peter
In today’s gospel, we hear Peter say, “I am going back to fishing” and then, he dragged some of the other so-called disciple heroes along with him. Even though they saw the Risen Christ, even though their lives had been changed, for some reason they decided to go back to the comfort, easiness, and loosy-goosy life they knew before Jesus changed everything. They went back to fishing. Listen to the irony of these so-called faithful followers who gave up on Jesus’ mission.
Nathaniel was one of the first few to be called by Jesus, who early on said boldly, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Thomas, who doubted the truth of the resurrection, when he saw the risen Lord said, “My Lord, My God.” The Sons of Zebedee (James and John) whose mother wanted them on Jesus right and left in glory (little did they know) witnessed the glory of Jesus at the transfiguration. Peter who proclaimed Jesus as Messiah early on, was the leader of the band that abandoned the mission and went back to fishing. Each one of these claimed Jesus as Lord, and despite the evidence they had of that truth, they became weary, afraid, and disappointed, and went back to the comfort of how things were.
Jesus did not leave them there though, because even though he chooses the unqualified, impatient, self-absorbed, and pursuers of “the shiny objects of life,” he gives us endless chances to be his mission partners. So, if Nathanial, James and John (Sons of Zebedee), Thomas, and yes, Simon Peter were able by grace to be effective witnesses of the Good News, then Jesus can change us too, but we must be willing. We must decide if our love for Jesus is sufficient to open us up to the transformation he will bring, so we might be his mission partners.
Love is a verb
A dialogue between Jesus and Peter in today’s gospel explains that how we see Jesus in our lives (Lord, mere friend or pal) has a lot to do with our desire to get on the mission trail with him. In verse 15 of John’s gosepl, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me.” The Greek word for love Jesus used was “agape,” which refers to a love of deep fondness with a focus on a self-giving commitment. Peter responded with, “Lord you know I love you,” but the Greek word for love Peter used was not “agape” but “phileo”, which means, “to like someone,” to treat them kindly, or to consider them a pal.” Peter said, “Lord, you know I love you like a pal.” That sounds a little non-committal to the mission, especially for someone who would rather go fishing than do the hard work of discipleship. Jesus gave Peter a mission assignment and said, “Peter, if you do “phileo” me, then “go feed my sheep” or in Greeke βόσκε, “go teach my people.”
Jesus asked Peter the same question a second and third time, but the third time he said, “Peter if you “phileo” like love me (or if you are at least my pal), thenποίμαινε, or go cherish and nourish my people and show themagape like love.” In other words, even if you can’t love me with agape love, go give that kind of love to my people and show them the way. Three times Jesus gave Peter marching orders for being on his mission team, and Peter was frustrated and sad at Jesus’ questioning.
Was Peter sad because he knew he just could not love all the way with Jesus? Was Jesus just his pal? Peter needed a shakeup, and a new attitude about his mission call, because he was so willing just to go back to the way things were before he met Jesus. . Peter still carried around his failure of Jesus and though forgiveness was not possible and that held him back, but Jesus never leaves us in our failures.
He brought this crew together for breakfast in order to comfort them, feed them, and then send them out into the world on mission. Peter and the others could not go backward, and do things the way they had done before Jesus came into their lives. Jesus was calling them to a new mission and he would not let them ever go back, because they would never go it alone.
God calls the faithful
Jesus also invites us to gather around the warm fire, the hearty meal, and the safety and comfort of our weekly gatherings where he tends to our needs, but there is more to this life of discipleship than comfort and peace at the Master’s feet. Jesus gives us all a mission, and he asks us if we if we are willing to be vessels of self-giving, for his mission of love. We struggle to believe that God will lead us in the right paths, and the right mission, and the right goals and purpose, but if we follow his marching orders to go love others in all that we do, how can we fail to haul in the big catch?
It is so easy to experience the grace of God each week, and once we leave the safety of this sacred space, to revert back to the way things were before, when it was comfortable, when everything was easy or “loosy goosey.” It is so easy to just go back to fishing, the way we fished before.
However, God is calling us, St. Monica’s, to a new way of being the beloved community of grace that he has in store for us, and we just cannot go back to the way things were before. We are being called to grow as a radically welcoming community that invites all people to experience the Risen Christ in our midst, and we help each one find their place of mission in the Body. We are being called to grow to each one taking our places in the church’s mission, whether in leadership, service, or some other area of ministry. We are being called to go out into the world around us, in these local neighborhoods, and bring Christ’s love to each one of the least, lost, and lonely. St. Monica’s is not a clubhouse in which, our needs alone are the first priority. St. Monica’s is a lighthouse in which, our neighbors’ experience the Risen Christ through all our work is focused on Christ’s mission of love, even if we don’t feel qualified and ready.
The Mission Job Interview
“God does not call the equipped to do the work of mission, but rather God equips the called.” Well, we are all just like Peter, Paul, Nathaniel, Thomas and that whole motley crew, who reluctantly and haphazardly, but faithfully followed Jesus. You do not have to be a super Christian, a seminary trained expert, or even a cradle Episcopalian to get on Jesus’ mission trail. If God can use Peter, Paul, Nathaniel, Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and all those broken, messed up, and non-committal disciples to effectively carry on his mission, then he can use each one of us too. But we have to answer the call. We must show up, and we must be willing to stay focused on our purpose.
So, imagine for a moment you are being interviewed by Jesus for a position on his Mission Team. Jesus says, “So let me get this straight, you do not feel qualified to do this work, right?” We say, “Yes, Lord.” Jesus says, “So, sometimes you’d rather go back to the comfortable life you knew before you met me, right?” We say, “Uh, yes Lord.” He says, “So, do you agape love me?” Crickets. Then he says, “Let’s try this again, do you consider me a pal and are you at least a fan of my movement?” We say, “Yes sir!” Jesus says, “Do you think you can go show the world around you the grace, mercy, peace, and reconciliation I pour out on you each and every day. Can you do that?” We reluctantly say, “I guess I can.” Jesus just smiles at us and says, “Well, guess what you are hired; you’re perfect for this position!” Then with a grin, you know that all knowing, challenging, and trusting grin, he asks us, “So, when can you start?”