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Lectionary Sermons: Eastertide

Called in Our Weakness

By Derek Olsen

Third Easter; Year C
Acts 9:1-20, Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14, John 21:1-19

Last Saturday night, we heard about the risen Jesus appearing to his disciples on Easter, and then again, the following Sunday. The loose ends of the Gospel got tied up - Jesus gave his disciples the Holy Spirit, and Thomas, the doubter, returned to faith. All in all, it was a really great ending for John's Gospel. The problem is, he didn't end there. He had a natural stopping point, but didn't stop. Instead, we have this reading and a bit more. Five verses later the gospel is over for good. In some ways this chapter is almost an after thought - an epilogue if you will. And this story too, is a bit unusual for John. Notice how he begins it - John, normally so precise about dates and times and days, just says "After these things." As readers of John who are used to his style we want to say, yes, but when? Another unusual thing about this account is the part Peter plays in it, which is a larger part in many ways than Peter plays in the rest of the Gospel. In some ways this is Peter's chapter. This is an unusual chapter. It is a mysterious ending to a mystical gospel.

For me this is a very vivid chapter. It's visual; it's almost cinematic. When I read it, I add in some details of my own, because when I read it, it reminds me of a fishing trip I once took, a canoe trip in Canada on the great Lakes. We were camping on the Fingers, these great long ridges of granite that projected from the surface of the lake. We had a small fire going to cook our breakfast and to ward of the chill and the damp for that morning. We were surrounded by fog. The mist was rising from the surface of the lake, cloaking us in a grey blanket. We couldn't see very far in front of us at all, and recognizable shapes and people turned strange in the mist. I imagine that it was that kind of morning - the mist rising from the surface of the sea of Tiberius cloaking the fishing disciples in a misty haze further deepened by their exhaustion after a full night of fishing. Nothing but the mist, the slap of the waves against the hull, the creaking of the wood, the swishing of the nets and splash of the weights as the nets settled into the waters. What do you think Peter was thinking? What was going on in his mind? I suspect probably memories, memories of his life before he encountered Jesus, memories of the life that he had left behind in order to follow the teacher from Nazareth. Maybe he had memories of a boyhood sent on the lake: the slap of the water, the swish of the nets. And suddenly he hears a voice from where he knows the shore must be: - "Hey boys, caught any fish tonight?" An early-riser probably, looking for a fresh breakfast. "Nope, no luck tonight." "Oh yeah? Try casting to the right side of the boat." He hears the swish of the nets, the splash of the weights as the nets settle into the water. And then the sudden unexpected groan of the ropes and the calls from the men as the set their tired muscles against a heaving net teeming with slippery, scaly captives reaches him. And suddenly they know, suddenly they realize whose voice it must have been.

And Peter's mind must have gone back to that morning years ago now the first time he met Jesus, when a rabbi flushed and full of vigor from preaching to the crowd on the shore called to him, cast your nets to the other side of the boat. And then surely the nets began to break with the fish, and they had to call the second boat to help them out. And Peter in his mind must have remembered falling on his knees and saying, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man." You remember those words? Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man. And that was before the fleeing, the denying, and the dying. Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man. How those words must have hit Peter again.

Then, once again on the shore, the disciples saw the shadowy figure squatting over a fire, loaves warming on the rocks beside it, one fish already cooking over the dull flames. Summer is well on its way here in Peachtree City. We are bringing out the grills, getting ready for barbecue season. I imagine that many of you probably have gas grills, but some still cook over charcoal. And even if you use gas, you remember charcoal, right? A charcoal fire is very distinctive: the ashy gray over the glowing red; the dull orange flames that dance between the coals, never very bright but putting out the heat. Every once in a while, a yellow flame as a puff of wind stirs things up? But even more distinctive than the flames has got to be the smell; the acrid smell of a charcoal fire. And as the smell filled Peter's nose, what do you think he was thinking? Memories, memories of another charcoal fire just a short time before, a charcoal fire, ashy grey over glowing red warming the courtyard of the high priest where Peter had warmed himself that cold night. That night that Jesus had been betrayed, that night that he was bound and led away. That night the woman said to him, you are not also one of his disciples are you? "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" "Lord, you know that I love you" "feed my sheep." And the soldiers warming themselves by the fire asked him, "you are not one of his disciples are you?" "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" "Lord, you know that I love you,": "Feed my sheep" And one of the slaves of the high priest said "Did I not see you in the garden with him too?" "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" "Lord you know everything, you know that I love you." "Feed my sheep." Three times, Peter denied his Lord three times, and Jesus asked him do you love me three times. It could have been an accusation. It could have come in anger. But it didn't. Instead it came with a call "Feed my sheep." At the moment that Peter remembered himself at his most human, when he must have wanted to say again, "Go away from me Lord, for I am sinful man," Jesus again speaks to him his word of Grace, "Peter, feed my sheep." Isn't that fascinating? It's what happened with Peter, and it's also what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus. As he went to arrest and imprison the fledging church, he finds out of the blinding brightness not death, not retribution, a retribution justly deserved, but a call to discipleship. Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? Isn't that odd? It's at the point when Peter was feeling most sinful when Saul was feeling the least worthy - that they are called.

I have to say as a person preparing for the ordained ministry these passages are a little frightening, because they remind us that God didn't call Peter because he was pure. He didn't call Saul because he was worthy. The implication is that he doesn't call me because I'm qualified. Part of that calling is recognition deep in the bones that I'm not being called because of who and what I am - instead, we are called because of who he is. Now, I hate to say it, but I'm not the only person here who is being called tonight. And don't think I'm saying that because Pastor Dahl is sitting back here. You see, tonight we are here to celebrate the start of a calling. A call is going to begin here and now. In a little while we're going to have the privilege of baptizing this baby in these waters and that will begin God's call on his life. Because each one of us, as we come dripping out of these waters, comes out with a calling from God. Each one of us baptized into the body of Christ comes out of these waters with a mission: A mission to be fishers of men; a mission to be shepherds tending to our brothers and sisters; a mission to feed the hungry, to visit the sick and imprisoned, to proclaim the good news of God's love and reign. But tonight we are reminded who and what we proclaim. We can't proclaim our own success, and we can't proclaim our own strength. If anything, like the converted Saul, Paul, in his letters, we must boast about what we can't do about our weakness: A weakness that lets the power of the cross shine through. Peter the denier, was not pure enough. Paul the persecutor was not righteous enough. But those weaknesses are what made them witnesses, not to themselves, but to the power of Christ who lived in them and who lives in us today. Amen.

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