First Reading Acts 9:1-22
1Saul, 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.”
THE AH_HA MOMENT
A mother took her three-year-old daughter to church for the first time. The church was having a special candlelight service. The church lights were lowered; then the choir came down the aisle, carrying lighted candles. All was quiet until this three-year-old started to sing in a loud voice, “Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you . . .”
A man was reading the morning paper and said to his wife, “Hey, listen to this. The bank president is wanted for embezzling some $50 million from the Credit Union we belong to. This is terrible, all our money is there, and it says here that the bank wasn’t fully insured! We could be in real trouble: our bills are due this week. “My, that’s awful,” said his wife. “I wonder who we’ll get to teach his Sunday School class next week?”
We’ve all had ah-ha moments in life. Some are subtle, some are life changing. I had two this week while studying our lectionary readings with the other pastors on Tuesday. For as long as I can remember, when reading our gospel lesson for today, I’ve always focused on Jesus’ three questions to Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Of course, Peter is hesitant to fully answer Jesus in the way Jesus wants him to. Jesus is asking do you love me with a sacrificial love and Peter is answering with I love you with a more casual love. We’ve all heard preachers explain the difference between Agape love and Phileo love. This is of course important to understand and from this discussion, we can tell that Peter is simply not getting it. He still hasn’t had his ah-ha moment.
The point of this discussion is that Jesus calls us to love Him in a sacrificial way. We’re called to love and put God above all else. This is the only way we can truly keep the First Commandment, “you shall have no other gods before me.” All of this has been preached repeatedly, and each year when we hear this lesson read it’s a good reminder for us. But this isn’t the epiphanies I’m talking about. My epiphany, or ah-ha moment, came when I started to piece together the setting and Peter’s response, when John tells him it’s the Lord on the seashore.
We heard the lesson read a few minutes ago: Peter tells five of the other disciples that he wants to go fishing and all six head out to the Sea of Tiberias. Now the first thing we need to understand is that the other name for this body of water is the Sea of Galilee. Keep this in mind because this will be important as we move forward. All six of Jesus’ followers head back to the sea where they return to what they know, fishing. Now let’s put this story into context.
In the very first verse of our reading we read that this was the third time Jesus had revealed Himself to the disciples after His resurrection. Last week we read about the first two occurrences. The first was in the evening of the Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus comes among the disciples who were hiding for fear of the Jews. Of course, as we came to understand, Thomas was absent. So, eight days later, Jesus again reveals Himself to the disciples and this time Thomas was with them. Now at this point you would think the disciples would fully understand what has happened, what’s going on and what’s being expected of them. Add to this that Jesus breathed on them and said, “receive the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus has shown them His wounds, He has done many other signs which were not written in [John’s gospel], but the ones recorded were done so that we might believe (John 20:19-31). He has given them the Holy Spirit, convinced even Thomas that He is indeed risen and has given them their mission; “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (20:21b). At this point you would think that the disciples would fully understand, that they would have had their ah-ha moment. Apparently not, because in today’s reading, we find that they have now returned to their previous trade, fishing.
Now before we begin to criticize the disciples for their lack of understanding, I think we need to consider the people in the church today who may or may not have had their own ah-ha moment in their lives as a disciple. I’m comfortable in saying that there are a great number of people who attend church week in and week out and have never come to fully understand what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus.
Now I want to be clear here, I’m not being critical with my next statement, but a good many of our Baptist as well as other non-liturgical Christian friends have a habit of asking a question; “when were you saved.” Now I understand what they’re asking, they want to know when you had your first ah-ha moment: that moment when you realized that God has extended His grace to you, that your sins were forgiven and that you are now a child of God. Like I said, I understand what they’re asking, but they don’t understand that the question is wrong. The correct answer to the question. “when were you saved”, is over 2000 years ago on a hill outside of Jerusalem.
The moment Jesus took our sins upon Himself, the moment He forgave from the Cross, the moment He breather His last, is the moment you and I were saved. Salvation is all God’s work that we receive in faith; by faith alone. There are times when a person comes to this realization, to God’s saving grace received through faith, after living a sinful self-centered life. There are times when a person comes to this epiphany at the end of their life, a death-bed conversion as it were. However, there are times when a person grows up in the church and has never really come to that ah-ha moment of what it means to answer the question, Simon, do you love me unconditionally, sacrificially, more than everyone or everything else?
There is a problem in many churches, especially liturgical churches; we teach that God’s grace is received in Baptism. This is a true statement. God’s mercy is extended in Baptism, God adopts us into His family, and we receive the Holy Spirit. However, what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus is something the parents and the church is expected to teach. Remember the vows you made to God when you brought your child to be Baptized? “You should, therefore, faithfully bring [your child] to the services of God’s house, and teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. As they grows in years, you should place in their hands the Holy Scriptures and provide for their instruction in the Christian faith, that, living in the covenant of their Baptism and in communion with the Church, they may lead a godly life until the day of Jesus Christ. Do you promise to fulfill these obligations? The hope is that at some point in the child’s life, hopefully at some point around Confirmation, the child will have their own ah-ha moment, the moment they begin to answer Jesus’ question, “do you love me more than these, tend my sheep.” Sadly, this doesn’t always happen.
Consider our first lesson for today. Saul was, as he described, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless (Phil. 3:5-6). Paul grew up in a faithful Hebrew family and in the church. He was trained by the best, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Yet, Paul had not had his ah-ha moment until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. For Paul to have his ah-ha moment he had to come face to face with Jesus and be blinded. It wasn’t until the scales fell off that he came to terms with what answering Jesus’ question would mean. In Paul’s case, Jesus was going to reveal to him how he was to suffer for the work of the kingdom (Acts 9:16).
Just because you’ve grown up in the church, just because you’ve been baptized, just because you live in a Christian home, doesn’t mean you’ve ever answered Jesus’ question, “do you love me more than these,” that you’ve had that ah-ha moment. Sometimes it means that God has to take us back to the beginning, back to our original call. This is what Peter and the other five disciples needed. Because they still hadn’t fully comprehended what God had called them to do, to be fishers of men. So they decided to return to where they were 3 years prior, fisherman. So, they headed back to their boats.
In Luke chapter 5 we read of Peter, James and John’s original call to be disciples. Jesus, according to Luke, was teaching on the shore of Lake Gennesaret. And by the way, another name for Lake Gennesaret, is the Sea of Galilee. And because the crowd had Jesus backed up to the water, He gets into Simon Peter’s boat and proceeds to teach from there. When He was done, Jesus instructs Peter and the other fisherman with him to put out and cast their nets again. The result, so many fish they were almost unable to manage the catch. In our gospel reading for today, what was Jesus’ question and instruction?
From the shore, in today’s reading Jesus asks, children do you have any fish?” When the disciples answered No, Jesus instructed them to cast their nets on the other side. The result? A catch so big it should have torn the nets. It was at this point that John, described in the reading as “that disciple that Jesus loved” finally has an ah-ha moment and tells Peter it’s the Lord. On hearing this Peter gets dressed and jumps into the water.
Here was the second epiphany moment for me in this reading. If you were to turn to Matthew chapter 14, you’d read of another occasion when Peter went into the water to meet Jesus. This is the story of Peter walking on the water. You remember the details, Jesus comes in the night, they think He’s a ghost and Peter says, in essence, if you are who you say you are then let me walk on the water as well. Jesus says, I am, and come. So long as Peter keeps his eyes on Jesus, he was fine, and Peter walked on the water. And as a by the by, that also was on the Sea of Galilee. You would think with everything that had happened, you would think that after three years of studying with Jesus, you would think that after having watched Jesus crucified and having seen Him alive, three times now, that Peter and the others would get it. Just because there are obvious signs, doesn’t mean a person always gets it. It doesn’t mean that they’ve had that ah-ha moment.
Many years ago, the town drunk was in the corner of the frontier town saloon and passed out. In the morning, not realizing that the owner of the saloon had given the church permission to hold services there while a church was being constructed, woke up to see folks filing into the establishment. “Aha,” said the drunk as the pastor stepped up to lead the service,” A new bartender.” Next, the choir stepped forward to sing. “Oh, great,” he thought, “a new floor show.” Then he peered out at the congregation: “Heck! same old customers.” Just because something seems obvious, that doesn’t mean a person actually gets it.
It also doesn’t mean that just because a person has been in church all their life, that they have come to the saving faith of Jesus Christ. As with Paul, there are people who have spent their lives in church, they may be zealous for the law, a Lutheran of Lutherans, righteousness and based on the law, faultless, yet have never ever answered the question, “do you love me more than these.” As someone once commented, going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore more than being in the garage makes you an automobile. Attending church, being in this building week in and week out, isn’t what saves you. Only by truly confessing our sins, only by God’s grace, accepted by faith, will you be saved. But that’s step one. Step two is answering the question, do you love me more than these. This is the difference between salvation and sanctification.
Salvation came 2000+ years ago on a hill outside Jerusalem. We receive that forgiveness in the waters of baptism and anytime we confess our sins, when we receive it through faith. Sanctification, on the other hand, is a life long process. Paul said I die daily (1 Cor. 15:31). What Paul is saying is, he examined his life, confessed his sins and then reaffirmed his faith in God’s mercy each day and then answered the question, Paul, do you love me more than these? Paul understood the day the scales fell away that to be a follower of Jesus was to deny himself and take up his cross each day.
Paul understood that to die to self and to rise for God was to truly observe the First Commandment and place God first in his life. Paul understood that he would need to deny his desires and goals and seek to do God’s will, even in the face of ridicule, prison and hardship. Paul’s ah-ha moment came when the scales fell away and he answered yes, I love you more than these.
So what about us? Have we had our ah-ha moment? Have the scales of satan’s deceit fallen away and can we truly answer Jesus, yes, I love you more than these? Just because we attend church doesn’t make us a Christian, only God’s grace received in faith and a life lived for God makes that happen. If Jesus were to ask you this all-important question, do you love me more than these? How would we answer?