Monday, April 23, 2007

That Was Then, This Is Now

This past Sunday was a preacher's challenge: the Joy of Eastertide clashing with the killings at Virginia Tech. Here's my sermon attempt - I'd be interested in your thoughts...

April 22, 2007
Year C, 3rd Sunday in Easter:
Acts 9:1-19a, Revelation 5:6-14; John 21:1-14

“Open the Eyes of Our Faith”

A Sermon preached at St. David’s Church
In the City and Diocese of Washington, D.C.

By The Rev. Jennifer G. McKenzie

Gracious God, we pray that you will open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold Jesus in all his redeeming work. Amen. (from the Book of Common Prayer: Collect for 3 Easter)

All it takes is one haunting event – one occasion of deep grief – to change our lives forever. To change the way we understand our world. All is takes is one occasion of grief and confusion to create that line in our mind that divides between “that was then” and “this is now.” For many in our country – especially our young people, the horrific event of the massacre at Virginia Tech this past Monday will be that occasion of a great divide.

What event in your life marks that divide? Which times in your life fall into the “that was then” category? And which times in your life have become the “this is now” moments?

If we take some time to reflect on our lives and remember, and if we are honest with ourselves about these memories, we can probably point to several “dividing line” moments: some joyful but most grief-filled.

Some of these moments are deeply personal: The death of a spouse. The adoption or birth of a child. A commitment to “have and to hold from this day forward.” The divorce of parents. The start of a new job. A move to a new town. Buying our first house.

Some of these moments are engraved on the public consciousness: The assassinations of JFK and MLK. The bombing of Pearl Harbor. A declaration of War. The Riots in Los Angeles. Kent State. 9/11. Columbine. And now, the massacre at Viriginia Tech.

Certainly for St. Paul, still called Saul at that point in his life, being knocked off of his donkey onto his….derriere by a blinding light was one of those moments. And certainly three days later when the scales fell from his eyes of faith and he saw Jesus’ disciple Ananias standing before him praying for his sight to be restored must have been another one of those moments.

And for the disciples? Well, for the disciples of Jesus – there was a whole string of events in rapid fire succession: The triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the Betrayal in the Garden, The Arrest and Scourging of Jesus, his Crucifixion, his Death and Burial, the disappearance of his body from the Tomb, the word of the angel and Mary that “He is Not Here – He is Risen!” and then finally Jesus’ appearance among them behind locked doors after his resurrection.

Is it any wonder that after all these things, Peter was at the point of saying to the gathered disciples, “You know what, y’all? I’m going fishing.” No surprise that their response was, “Hang on a minute – we’re coming too.”

To me, this scene is no surprise because in the midst of grief and confusion, our human instinct is to seek a return to the comfort of the familiar. How many times this past week have we heard the phrase, “return to normality?” To think this way is instinctive. Like the disciples, we can’t help ourselves in the face of grief. “You know what y’all? I’m going fishing.” Or, probably more prevalent in our culture is the bumper sticker sentiment, “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.”

But Jesus, hailed and Hosanna-ed, betrayed and beaten, Jesus crucified - murdered, buried and resurrected – this Jesus offers another way. Where we can’t help ourselves, Jesus steps into the fray and helps us. Jesus helps us to see anew with the eyes of our faith that in fact a line has irreversibly been crossed. Jesus signals that normal is normal no more.
So not normal is this fishing expedition that when Jesus appears on the beach, ready to host a Bar-B-Que, the disciples don’t even recognize their Lord. The same Lord with whom they had just spent three years traveling. The same Lord with whom they had intense conversations. The disciples simply don't recognize Jesus. Certainly in the midst of this time of confusion their minds traveled back across that great divide to the “that was then” time when they first encountered Jesus.

On that day three years earlier, standing by the shore, their Master's first words to them were, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

But that was then and this is now. Certainly on this day as Jesus again stood on the shore and called out to these fishermen they heard more in his poignant question than a simple conversation-starter from a stranger. “Children, have you any fish?” They answered him, “No.”

“Children, have you realized that you’ve crossed a line and your world will never be the same?” “No.”

“Children, have you become fully aware of the truth that is in you that has the capacity to set yourselves and the whole world free?” “No.”

“Children, have you remembered that I promised to pray for you and that God is keeping you in the world for a reason? “No.”

“Children, have you acknowledged God’s power working in you to do infinitely more than you can ask or imagine?” “No.”

“Children, have you taken your experiences of ministering with me and incorporated them into your lives in such a way that you now fish for men?” “No.”

He said to them, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”

He did not say to them, “No more fishing for you.”
He did not say to them, “Ehhh...Just keep doing what you’re doing and eventually maybe your luck will change.”
He did not say to them, “What are you, a bunch of losers – or simply idiots?”
He did not say to them, “Get out of the boat and let me handle this.”

He said to them, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” Look guys, I know this is going to sound a little weird, but the fish are there. Trust me. Sometimes just a small change in orientation – just a shift in perspective – is all that is needed.
So, follow my instructions. Take up your net, turn around and face the other direction, and cast your net again.

And, with eyes wide open, they cast the net…and this time…this time they were not able to haul it in for the quantity of fish was so great: a hundred and fifty-three to be exact.

And although there were so many, the net was not torn.

We are disciples. We tend, in the midst of our grief and confusion to return to what is familiar. But Jesus calls us beyond the familiar – beyond grief and confusion – to resurrection life with him.

What is resurrection life?

· Resurrection life is a life where we take up our nets and become fishers of men – we tell the story of our faith to those who are outside the church and then we say to them, “Come and See.”
· Resurrection life is a life where we aren’t surprised when Jesus calls to us – we expect to hear the master’s voice speaking words of encouragement and instruction and challenging our perspectives and our comfort zones – and we are obedient to that voice.

· Resurrection life is a life where if at first we don’t succeed, we don’t just try, try again – but we try new things, we try to change our perspective and trust that God has something great in store for us.

· Resurrection life is a life where with the psalmist we rejoice, praise, and we aren’t afraid to sing a new song – to trust God and be bold in our worship.

· Resurrection life is where we recognize that Jesus has made us a kingdom of priests to serve our God – and we do serve God when we serve God’s beloved saints from every tribe and language and people and nation – we reach out to those who are different from us.

· Resurrection life is the life lived as the church not simply in the church. We are bold to be who we are – people on a journey of transformed lives, living their lives for the world around them.

· Resurrection life is new life breathed into tired disciples – disciples that are willing to cast our nets in a new direction.

· Resurrection life is knowing that when we haul in a net that is full, that the net won’t break.

Resurrection life begins when we recognize who Jesus is and where Jesus stands.

Who is Jesus? Jesus is the one who overcomes death with unexpected joy and hope. Jesus is the one who calls out to us to see things a little bit differently. Jesus is the one who calls us to action – to cast our nets wider and in a new direction.

Where does Jesus stand? Jesus stands with the poor. Jesus stands with the outcast. Jesus stands with the mentally ill, the homeless and the AIDS victim. Jesus stands on the corner with the prostitute and Jesus kneels in prayer with the parents of murdered children. Jesus even has the capacity to embrace the murderer. Jesus is the net that does not break. And Jesus calls us, his church to be that net in emulation of him.

Jesus gladly meets us wherever we are: in joy, in hope, in boldness, in meekness, in our obedience and in our sinfulness – in our moments of confusion and most especially in our moments of deepest grief. But Jesus doesn’t leave us where he finds us. Jesus calls out to us and invites us to change. And then, when finally perspectives are changed, and grief is overcome – when our net is full and yet not breaking - then we can exclaim with the beloved disciple, “It is the Lord!” Yes, Lord. Open the eyes of our faith that we may behold Jesus in all his redeeming work. And then, we pray, make us your instruments of peace and of the proclamation of your name and of Resurrection Life throughout the world.

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