Threats & Murder

Ananias, a disciple of Christ, also had a vision. He was asked to go to Saul, a man who had the power to arrest Ananias, in order to give Saul his sight and a message from the Lord. God intended to use this Saul (whom we now call Paul) to being the good news to the gentile world. With great trepidation, Ananias went to see this murderous menace he has heard about – and laid on hands of healing to help Saul regain his sight.

But sight is not always sought, let alone regained, by those intent on their own way – whose evil intentions remain on accomplishing threats and murder. We wonder what kind of world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. We hear much fear of the many possibilities there are for evil and destruction to cross the paths of our loved ones, disrupting their lives.

In today’s Gospel reading we have a glimpse into the lives of the disciples following Jesus betrayal and brutal death. They went back to Galilee, and not knowing what else to do, they go back to what they knew – taking care of themselves, they return to fishing. They go back to the familiar. As recounted in John, they catch nothing. It seems that even in their old trade they do not find success. A stranger on the beach suggests they cast the net on the other side of the boat. And they get an astounding catch – so great, that they are astonished that the net was not torn. Jesus was recognized, and Peter rushed to shore to be with him. Jesus was prepared for them, a meal was ready to share.

This Gospel describes a very typical human reaction following great trauma and upset: the disciples returned to the familiar. They wanted to regain some sense of normalcy, and of moving on with their lives. They tried to go back to the way things were before. As if we can ever get back to what was ‘before.’

Jesus addresses Peter – the disciple who not only ran away, but also three times denied even knowing Jesus – and says ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ Peter says “Yes! You know that I love you.” Jesus says “Feed my lambs.” Jesus asks twice more, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ After each affirmation Peter is told “Feed my sheep.” In doing this, Jesus not only helps Peter forgive the betrayal but also points him in a direction – that of doing what a shepherd does, but doing it for God’s people.
The focus on the Easter Season is new life, abundant life, life lived in the resurrected Christ. This is the kind of life God desires for us, as well as the kind of life the church wishes for its members, and parents wish for their children.

Jesus asked, ‘Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.’
These are nice words. But they will just remain only nice words if we do not understand what Jesus was teaching Peter.

‘Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.’ Jesus, who knows that Peter loves him, was asking Peter about more than the status of their relationship. Jesus is telling Peter that love is not a feeling or a thing but is essentially an action. It is not enough for Peter to feel good about Jesus, Peter must actively work to feed and nourish God’s people in order to live out the love and forgiveness that Jesus has shown him.

As part of our baptismal promises and confirmation vows, we have pledged to live out in the world the love and forgiveness God has given us – in tangible ways, through specific actions. Actions in Christian community, actions at the work place, actions at home.

Ananias, who knew of Saul’s evil reputation, went to lay hands on Saul as the Lord asked him to do. After he was healed, Saul spent several days with the followers of Christ in Damascus, and ‘immediately began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” This 180° turn in attitude was followed by dramatic action.

What action need we, who are follower in the Way of Christ, take? The Baptismal Covenant asks:
* Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News?
* Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons?
* Will you strive for justice and peace among all people?
A number of projects undertaken by members of our current congregation show forth this sort of action: Food is donated to a food pantry where several of our members are volunteers. School children receive extra reading help;
Offerings, made while sharing thanksgiving and prayer concerns, are collected for use in mission projects through the United Thank Offering; Clark County CARES work on addiction issues is enabled, City Pride enhances the livability of our city. The list goes on and on…

After Jesus addressed Peter for the third time, telling him to “feed my sheep,” he told Peter what would happen in his old age. “Someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go” – an indication of the kind of death by which he would glorify God.

We know that many Christians of the first few centuries, as well as some today, face persecution for their beliefs. They risk their lives to proclaim “Jesus is Lord.” They stand in the face of evil, and hold on to their God. They do not go back to ‘business as usual’ – they use their particular gifts to take their part in changing the world one bit at a time. Not everyone can stop evil perpetrated by others, but Christians can seek the light of Christ by which to choose their actions, in order to respond to Jesus’ call to “feed my sheep.”

When Jesus finished speaking with the disciples, he simply said, “follow me.”

Where was God during the shooting in North Carolina? God was present in the actions of Riley Howell a student who tackled the shooter saving the lives of many others. God was present in the midst of that chaos in the person of students and faculty who looked out for others, who helped one another, who enfolded others, comforted others. God is in the people reaching out to others in sorrow and love. God is present in the medical professionals who treated the survivors. We will hear many stories of the presence of God in time of trouble if we listen to the stories of the people of God.

These apostles in the reading today – Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, and the sons of Zebedee, and Saul (renamed Paul) – did indeed follow Jesus. They left their fishing nets, and made the choice to follow the Way of Christ. They entered unfamiliar territory; they used their gifts to serve others and to continue God’s work in the world. We know this because it is recorded in our sacred scripture, and in stories and legends that is part of the legacy of followers in the way.

Their stories have been handed onto us, as has this same ministry of Christ. While it may not seem, for example, that being involved in making Easter baskets for the Youth Shelter or providing food for the food pantry is a direct answer to those who breathe threats and murder, it is!

These are examples of a few simple ways through which we share the new life and love we find in Christ, and of proclaiming by our actions as well as our words, the Good News of God in Christ.

When Jesus finished speaking with the disciples, he simply said, “Follow me.”

Alleluia, Amen!

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