Sunday, May 19, 2019
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C

Prayer of the Day
O Lord God, you teach us that without love, our actions gain nothing. Pour into our hearts your most excellent gift of love, that, made alive by your Spirit, we may know goodness and peace, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Acts 11:1-18 Peter’s vision: God give the Gentiles repentance that leads to life
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6 New heaven, new earth: springs of living water in the new Jerusalem
John 13:31-35 Jesus gives a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you

 Sermon
Title:  Peter’s Easter Journey

Alleluia, Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia.

What a season.  No, I’m not talking Games of Thrones.  And please, no spoilers like I heard on the radio the other day.  With no warning!!  You know I tweeted that show.  No, I’m talking about the Easter season that Peter is having.  If we could get him here, I think the first thing that he would say is: Wow, what a season.

Of course, his post-resurrection journey is accentuated by the fact that he started in such a low place. A failed attempt at an armed resistance when Jesus was arrested in the garden.  Just a wounded ear of a slave and Jesus telling him to back off. Too little, too late. This failure was followed by the total failure of all the followers to continue following when the going got tough.  Only to be out done by the ultimate failure committed by Peter, the denial.  Yes, Peter started this Easter season about as low and anyone could be.

But then Easter morning dawns, and (as we read in Luke four weeks ago) the women see angels.  The women proclaim the good news. But when Peter goes to the tomb, he sees none of that.  And he is left to accept the women’s witness or question it.

But finally, the journey upward out of the pit of death and failure, doubt and despair, begins in that upper room when the risen Jesus finally appears to the disciples – showing his wounds and breathing the Holy Spirit on them.  Bringing them peace beyond understanding.

But then in a sort of déjà vu moment, we saw what looked like a replay of the day that it all started.  Just like the first time they met Jesus, in the midst of their hard work-filled life, they were back to fishing and he came invading once again.  And he tells them to try something new.  No success fishing on that side of the boat?  Try fishing of the other side of the boat.  And there is success.  Because they were willing to try something new.

And resurrected Jesus, the ultimate symbol of second chances, of new life in the face of defeat and death, gives Peter a second chance to faithfully follow.  To not just seek his own discipleship, but to reach out to others and bring them into the flock, and once included, Jesus called Peter to feed those sheep, to care for them.

But this Easter season adventure of Peter’s does not end there.  Does not culminate with a few post-resurrection encounters with Jesus.  In fact, this is really where Peter’s resurrected, new life begins.  For something amazingly transformative must have happened to Peter on that resurrection day and the days that followed.  Because he does not go back to fishing his way into retirement.  He doesn’t stay hidden in a room fearing for his life.  And he certain doesn’t sit in a pool of shame and regret reliving and re-punishing himself for his past failures.

No, we have seen Peter preaching so boldly and courageously that it got him arrested.  And he makes the public trial an opportunity to speak the good news of the gospel that was now shaping his life.  No denials here.

Perhaps he amazed even himself when he raised that young seamstress back to life.  Maybe he wasn’t amazed at all because he knew it was not him who did it but it was the work of the God who had raised Jesus.

And yet, in spite of the conduit of the resurrecting power of God that Peter was becoming, he still had some learning to do regarding how earth changing this resurrection witness was; how culture shifting this ministry of Jesus was and would be; how world inverting the incarnation of God’s word in Christ was.  And his lack of understanding put him right in the middle of the young church’s first great debate. (Some of you have heard this story before.)  On one side of the fracture were the folks in Jerusalem, led by James, who thought Jesus’ message was for the Jewish people and if you wanted to be a part of this movement that Jesus started, you had to be Jewish – circumcision, dietary law, the whole nine yards.  On the other side was this upstart Paul. Came out of nowhere, went from murderer of the followers to missionary recruiting new followers.  Peter didn’t know what to do.  He waffled back and forth.  Until a vision, (The one that we heard him speak of tin this morning’s first reading.) this vision taught him about the inclusive nature and welcome of the God of all creation.  Adding to the impact of this vision, then there was the work of the Holy Spirit, in the waters of baptism, in the household of Cornelius, taught him what we heard him proclaim on Easter morning:  God shows no partiality.

Yes, it has been quite an Easter season for good ol’ Peter.  But what about you?  What has shaped your journey since discovering that empty tomb on Easter morning?  Were you able to hear the witness of the resurrection?  Was it able to break through whatever was keeping you locked behind locked door – be it hopelessness, gloom, confusion, or doubt?  Maybe it was all of the above. It hasn’t been easy to rise up.  The world’s powers have been doing everything they can to keep us down – shootings in schools and places of worship, natural disasters devastating large populations of vulnerable people, our own nation’s challenging political struggles that seem to just keep us dizzy with their spinning and not moving forward.  Have the alleluias been able to break through? Are you experiencing the peace that the risen Christ brings us?

In these days of renewing grace, have you grown in your awareness of the full pardon, the full pardon of your sins?  That pardon, restoration, and renewal that seeks to lift you out of every despair-filled-pit that you feel your failures have put you in?

Last Sunday we were blessed to witness Mia Bella’s baptism.  We were able to hear again the promises God makes to us in those waters.  Showing no partiality.  Showering down the Holy Spirit on all.  On Mia.  On us.  I am happy to share with you that Mia’s family certainly heard this good news.  They contacted me this past week to schedule the baptisms of Mia’s three brothers.

Over the past three days Carmen, David, Joe and I certainly witnessed resurrection and new life as our synod gathered in assembly and elected a new bishop.  After a difficult and challenging 15 months, there was new hope in that gathering.  There was witness of God’s Spirit leading us forward, raising us up from despair and failure.

And we were encouraged to take this Spirit into our congregations, into our ministry settings.  To try fishing in new ways when the old ways are unproductive.  I am happy to say that some of what was recommended and encouraged around stewardship of building resources is already in motion here at St. John’s.  We were also encouraged to address the challenge of climate change.

We are an Easter people.  Loved by God into new life, encountering Christ at the table and in one another, filled with the Holy Spirit for the sake of the world.  And while the Easter journey may be filled with joy and hope, peace and grace, it is not an easy journey.  We see it in Peter and all the saints who are sinners who have come before us.  It is not easy because resurrection transforms us, and change is never easy.  But, with the assurance of the God who makes all things new, we die to self so as to rise in Christ for the sake of the world.  For the sake of bringing new life where there is death.  For bringing words of welcome and inclusion where there are walls of exclusion and isolation.

Peter didn’t know where this Easter journey would take him next, but he did know that it was the risen Christ who was leading.  And so, it is with us.  No matter what the season, or what the landscape, our journey is always formed and fueled by the love of God made known in the resurrected Christ.  There is our hope and our peace, our most fulfilling portion and our most challenging purpose.  As we begin to look to celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, may we seek the power of the Spirit that is necessary for journeying forward, proclaiming with love for one another the transforming message that…

Alleluia, Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

 

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