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Sermon for Sunday 10 April 2016


1But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

PSALM Psalm 30

1I will exalt you, O Lord, because you have lifted me up and have not let my enemies triumph over me. 2O Lord my God, I cried out to you, and you restored me to health. 3You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave. 4Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness. 5For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, his favor for a lifetime. 6Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning. 7While I felt secure, I said, “I shall never be disturbed. You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.” 8Then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear. 9I cried to you, O Lord; I pleaded with the Lord, saying, 10“What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness? 11Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; O Lord, be my helper.” 12You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. 13Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.


SECOND READING Revelation 5:1-14

1Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” 6And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” 11Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.


GOSPEL John 21:1-19

1After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 2Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. 8The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. 9When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”


In a small coastal town, many years ago, a fisherman’s wife blessed her husband with twin sons. Because conception had been somewhat difficult and since pregnancy occurred a bit later than usual in life, coupled with the fact that her becoming pregnant was such a surprise, they loved the children very much. However, one thing they forgot, in their excitement, was to consider what to name the boys. Even as she was being released from the hospital, they couldn’t think of what to name them. Finally, after several days, the fisherman said, “Let’s not decide on names right now. If we wait a little while, the names will simply occur to us.”
After several weeks had passed, the fisherman and his wife noticed a peculiar fact. When left alone, one of the boys would turn toward the sea, while the other boy would face inland. It didn’t matter which way the parents positioned the children, the same child always faced the same direction. So the thought came to the fisherman: “Let’s call the boys Towards and Away.” After a bit of consideration, his wife agreed, and from that point on, the boys were simply known as Towards and Away.
Years passed and the lads grew tall and strong. Finally, the day came when the aging fisherman said to his sons, “boys, it’s time that you learned how to make a living from the sea.” So they provisioned their ship, said their goodbyes, and set sail for a three-month voyage. But things didn’t go as planned and after several months without any sign of the men, the wife began to think the worst.
Three full years passed before the grieving woman saw a lone man walking toward her house. As she looked closer she recognized the approaching man as her husband. “My goodness, she exclaimed as she ran to meet her husband! What has happened to my darling boys?” she cried. The ragged fisherman sat down at the kitchen table and began to tell his story: “We were barely one whole day out to sea when Towards hooked into a great fish. Towards fought long and hard, but the fish was more than his equal. For a whole week they wrestled upon the waves without either of them letting up. But eventually the great fish started to win the battle, and Towards was pulled over the side of our ship. I watched as he was swallowed whole, and I never saw either of them again.” “Oh dear, that must have been terrible!” said his wife. “What a huge fish that must of been! What a horrible fish.” “Yes, it was,” sighed the fisherman, “but you should have seen the one that got Away. . . .”
Yea, I know that’s a groaner. Every good fish story is. There’s a really good reason why people look suspiciously on fisherman’s tales. Something about the sport lends itself to big stories. So it makes you wonder how people reacted when Simon Peter and the other disciples returned from their fishing trip with tales of seeing the risen Jesus? You can easily imagine that folks just shook their heads and said, “Fishermen! Can’t believe a word they say!” But we also have to take into account that the disciples were just as surprised as everyone else to see Jesus. That’s the last thing they expected that night when they headed out to fish.
A visitor to a small town watched an old man fishing quietly in a shallow stream. For half an hour there was no sign of activity. Finally, the visitor walked over and said, “It doesn’t look as though there are any fish in this stream.” “Nope,” said the old fellow, “there ain’t.” “Then what’s the object of fishing here?” the visitor asked. “The object,” replied the old man, “is to show my wife I have no time to peel potatoes.”
So what was the object of the disciples going out fishing that night? We must remember that most of the disciples were originally fishermen before being called by Jesus to follow Him. Looking at a similar story in the book of Luke chapter five, we read of Jesus preaching and teaching by a lake when He joins a group of fishermen in their boats. After a disappointing night of fishing, the men were heading back to shore. But Jesus challenged them to head into deeper water and try again. They obeyed, and caught so many fish that their nets burst. These simple fishermen became Jesus’ first disciples.
Over the next three years, these fishermen saw Jesus preach, teach, perform miracles, and turn the established order upside down. Imagine their sorrow when, at the height of His ministry, Jesus is arrested and crucified. I’m sure that in their post crucifixion minds they asked themselves many times, “what are we going to do now?” Then, just as they were giving in to fear and confusion, Jesus appears to them, undeniably alive and full of power, and announces that He has conquered death! So, after this amazing turn of events, why are the disciples out fishing again? First, we need to recognize that when our world-view has been turned upside-down, when things seem completely out of control, our first reaction is to retreat into our comfort zone.
It’s not unusual under such circumstances to want to return to the familiar. Maybe the disciples needed time to clear their heads. The soothing rocking of the boat, the briny odor of sea water, the rough feel of the nets in their calloused hands–these things were comforting to Simon Peter and the others. They needed this time, in their comfort zone, to sort out their thoughts and emotions. They needed to be in a situation where they were in control, so they could think and regain perspective. The problem is that it’s tempting to stay in that comfort zone. As someone said, “The most tiring exercise in the world is carrying yesterday on your back.”
That’s what the disciples were struggling with: carrying yesterday on their backs. Each one had doubted Jesus’ words. Each one had given up hope after Christ’s crucifixion. And Simon Peter had to deal with the biggest burden of all: he had denied Jesus repeatedly. So naturally, Peter and his friends retreated to their comfort zone. But, as the Bible tells us, they weren’t going to stay there for long. Because Jesus’ call to us is always a call to leave our comfort zone. Which is the second thing we need to see on this third Sunday of Easter. Jesus always calls us from our comfort zone.
It’s like those inspirational sayings found on motivational posters. Sayings like: “No pain, no gain.” And “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” You know the ones I’m talking about. Recently I saw a list of slightly more humorous and yet honest sayings for office walls: The beatings will continue until morale improves. Hang in there, retirement is only thirty years away! When the going gets tough, the tough take a coffee break. And one of my favorite sarcastic posters, Aim Low, Reach Your Goals, Avoid Disappointment.
I think there are a lot of people who live their lives according to that last motto: “Aim Low, Reach Your Goals, Avoid Disappointment.” But the truth is, when Jesus calls us, it’s to head out into deep waters, to get out of our comfort zone, to let down our nets on the other side of the boat, to trust that He’s leading us into something greater than the life we used to know.
There’s a great story about a young man from Camden, Arkansas named David Pryor. Pryor worked as a teenager in Washington, D.C. as a Congressional page. Pryor loved the job so much that he vowed to return to Washington someday as a member of Congress. In fact, David Pryor hid a dime in a crack behind a statue in the U.S. Capitol, with the intention of retrieving it when he achieved his dream. Fifteen years later, as a newly elected member of the House of Representatives, he did just that. Today, Senator Pryor said his experience proves two things. One, that dreams in youth should never be underestimated, and two, that they don’t clean the Capitol very much.
David Pryor had a dream–a dream that required him to give his best. You don’t achieve anything significant in life without leaving your comfort zone, without stretching toward high and lofty goals, without giving your all. What we need to acknowledge is, that once we have encountered Christ, be it at Baptism, as a teenager, an adult or later in life, once we come to know Jesus, we can’t just go back to our old way of life. And this could very well be the reason many people aren’t finding joy in their walk with Christ. The problem is that too many people are trying to live the same way they lived before they became conscious of His work in their lives. The truth is, it can’t be done. When we turn over control of our lives and wills to Christ, we will then begin to seek out new ways to live out Christ’s message.
Evangelist Luis Palau once visited the prison where General Manuel Noriega, the brutal, one-time dictator of Panama was being held. Noriega became a Christian in prison. He talked excitedly with Palau about his faith. Palau asked Noriega what he would do if he were ever released from prison. Noriega explained that for years, he had been commander-in-chief of his country. He made all the major decisions. He was in control. But now he had a new commander-in-chief of his life. When he left prison, testified Manuel Noriega, he would rely on Jesus to make his decisions for him. He was turning over total control to God.
Author Joseph Campbell writes, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Jesus’ disciples had to learn this lesson. Manuel Noriega had to learn this lesson. We have to learn this lesson as well. There’s the life that we have constructed for ourselves, and then there’s the life that Jesus is calling us to. And the two are rarely the same. And so, as the disciples drift along on the sea that night, catching nothing, expecting nothing, Jesus appears to them again. This was the disciples’ golden hour, even if they didn’t realize it. This was the hour that would change their lives forever.
Artist Bill Herring loves his home state of Texas. He sees beauty in the landscape, even in the dry desert ground and the dull, green bushes that squat along the horizon. Ordinarily, this landscape is dry and ugly. But then there comes what Herring calls the “golden hour.” Sometime in the fall, these bushes bring forth gorgeous yellow flowers. Just before sunset, when the fading sunlight washes over the caramel soil and the lush yellow flowers, it lends everything a shimmering, golden glow. What once looked dull and lifeless, in the glow of the golden hour, takes on a whole new beauty. This was the disciples’ golden hour, the hour when everything would begin to fall in place for them.
This was the time when Jesus appears to them and challenges them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat–and the harvest of fish which they reaped was beyond their wildest dreams. If there’s one totally predictable theme in the Bible, it’s this: blessings follow obedience. The disciples obeyed and suddenly they caught a boatload of fish. It was in that moment that Jesus was re-calling His disciples. He was re-commissioning them to go out with renewed commitment and spread the good news. It was decision time for those rugged fishermen.
Actress Agnes De Mille once said, “No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made. Destiny is made known silently.” That’s where the disciples were. They were on the edge of returning to their old way of life. Now was the time to decide: would they return to fishing, or would they commit to being “fishers of men?”
Management consultant Peter Drucker says there are four kinds of risks. One kind of risk is the risk you simply must take. You have no other option. A second kind of risk is one you can afford to take. You calculated the cost, and it’s worth it. A third kind of risk is a risk you cannot afford to take. The results would be too disastrous. The fourth kind of risk is one that you can’t afford not to take. The truth is, that in today’s less than welcoming Christian atmosphere, it could very well be a risk to respond to Jesus’ call. But, it’s obviously a risk that the disciples can’t afford not to take.
Thankfully, they took the risk and filled with joy, they begin rowing toward shore to greet Jesus. Simon Peter, in typical fashion, didn’t even wait for the boat; he jumped into the water and swam to meet Christ. That was it! From that time forward, there would be no turning back for those disciples. No longer would they be fishermen–but now they would be fishers of men.
There’s a classic story that comes out of humorist Robert Benchley’s college days. For one of Benchley’s final examinations, he was to write an essay on fish hatcheries. He hadn’t cracked a book all semester. Undaunted, he started his final something like this: “Much wordage has been devoted to fish hatcheries. No one, however, has ever covered this subject from the point of view of the fish.” And thus he proceeded to do what is probably the most entertaining final exam in Harvard’s history.
We’ve looked at this Bible passage from the perspective of the disciples. Maybe it’s time we look at it from the point of view of the fish. The nets represent the unity of the disciples and of the church. And the fish represent all the souls who will be brought to salvation by the church’s witness. That includes you and me. If the disciples had stayed in their comfort zone, you and I would never have heard the Gospel. In reality, we are their harvest, their catch, their reward for leaving their boats to teach and preach and lead others to Christ. The question we need to be asking is, are we satisfied to stay in our comfort zone?
I hope the answer to this question is no, because if we do, there’s someone out there who will miss out on hearing the good news of God’s love for them. If you and I stay in the boat where we’re in control, someone out there will miss out on the life changing message of God’s mercy. The truth is, there’s a more satisfying life that awaits us if we’re willing to let go, to get out of our comfort zone and seek something greater. The better, more satisfying life is to be Jesus’ disciple, to be His follower, to seek to turn the world right-side-up to His glory. It’s like the commercial, it’s time for us to, Get into the zone, God’s zone.

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