Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:1-20 and John 21:1-19
In the name of risen Christ. Amen.
The conversion of St. Paul, presented in our first reading this morning from Acts, is one of my favorite stories of scripture. It is dramatic and it is powerful. It involves a blinding light, a skeptical helper, and the promise of God.
The restoration of St. Peter, presented in our Gospel reading this morning, is becoming one of my favorite stories of scripture. It is poignant and moving. It involves a touching three-step process of restoration.
These stories are call stories. They are the unique and personal ways the resurrected Jesus Christ encountered sinners Peter and Paul and called them into public ministry. While they are specifically tailored to the two very different men, they also contain two powerful and important similarities that I would like to focus on today.
The two similarities in these call stories are important, because in them we see not only how the risen Christ called Peter and Paul, we also see how Christ calls sinners into ministry today. The two similarities are these:
- both stories start with forgiveness.
- both calls are calls serving the wider community.
As a first step in calling Paul and Peter, Jesus had to forgive them. There could have been no call, without forgiveness.
Saul, not only breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord … asked for letters, so that if he found any who followed Jesus they could be arrested, bound, and taken to Jerusalem. Saul was an active enemy of the followers of Jesus actively working to eliminate them.
Jesus could only call Paul to serve the church if Jesus forgave Paul. In this forgiveness, Jesus did not condone Paul’s behavior, he didn’t forgive Paul in order for Paul to continuing persecuting the church. Rather, Jesus forgave Paul’s past behavior, in order to invite Paul into a new and imagined future in the power of the resurrection.
Peter had to be restored. I can’t imagine the depths of sorrow Peter experienced after the cock crowed, and Peter realized he had turned his back on the one he had so proudly boasted he would follow.
Jesus could only call Peter to serve the church if Jesus forgave Peter. In this forgiveness, Jesus did not condone Peter’s behavior, he didn’t forgive Peter in order for Peter to continue denying Jesus. Rather, Jesus forgave Peter’s past behavior, in order to invite Peter into a new and imagined future in the power of the resurrection.
Jesus didn’t call Peter and Paul because they were perfect. They both had some significant blemishes on their resumes. But, forgiving their past, Jesus called these saints into the resurrection, joining them to a future with hope and possibility.
Second, the call is public.
The other important similarity in both of these calls, is that both Peter and Paul were called into public ministry and public service. They were called to serve the Lord by impacting others.
The Lord described Paul’s call in this way … Acts 9:15: Paul was called “to bring the Lord’s name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.” The call Paul received, was not an individual call to right his wrongs, it was a public call to serve the nations.
In his threefold call to Peter, Jesus used these words to commission Peter: “Feed my lambs … Tend my sheep … Feed my sheep.” The call Peter received, was not a private absolution, it was a public call to serve the flock of Christ.
Jesus didn’t call Peter and Paul onto private faith journeys of personal spirituality and enrichment. Their call had nothing to do with them as individuals. They were called to serve the flock of Christ and to serve the nations.
This was not about them and Jesus, it was about them and the people of God. Receiving forgiveness, the risen Christ called Peter and Paul to serve God’s children on earth.
Friends in Christ, like Paul and Peter, we are called today in these same two ways. We are called today both as individuals, and as the people of Trinity Church. We are proclaimed forgiven, in order to serve the whole people of God.
Maybe you didn’t think you were coming to church this morning to receive a call! Maybe you didn’t want to be commissioned today! Well, you can relate to Paul who was going on his own way to work against the church – but then, experienced the resurrected Christ who changed his life.
Here today, not in a blinding light on the road to Damascus, but here today, here every Sunday and on Wednesday nights too, here in bread and cup of the Eucharist, here the risen Jesus Christ speaks and calls!
In the meal we are forgiven and called!
In this meal is forgiveness. Faith recognizes that in this meal, we taste and see Jesus Christ forgiving our sins, forgiving our pasts. This meal of forgiveness is the first meal of the rest of our lives.
In this meal is our call to serve the world. The Eucharistic is not just a little nibble for us as individuals, or a little ceremony we do for our sakes, this is a feast set before community, for the sake of community.
Faith recognizes that in this meal we become what we eat. In this meal we become the body of Christ in the world. We are what we eat.
You’ve heard that before, right? Eat a diet rich in sugar and full of calories …and our bodies will reflect that. Eat a diet high in fiber and protein … and our bodies will reflect that diet, too.
Feast on the living Christ who announces forgiveness and came to serve, we become a people of forgiveness living to serve others. Feasting on the presence of the living Christ, we become the living body of Christ in the world!
Today, we celebrate that Sophia, Peter & Finn, and Annabelle, will receive their first Holy Communion. In welcoming them to the table today, we celebrate that the table is open to the youngest among us. Here, in the expansive grace and mercy of God, here today Jesus announces forgiveness and relationship with the youngest among us.
Today, we bless Eucharistic Ministers who take this meal to the oldest among us, or those not able to gather with us for whatever reason. In celebrating the work of Eucharist Ministers taking this meal outward, we celebrate that IN US the table goes out to those in need. Here, in the expansive grace and mercy of God, in the sending of this meal to the homebound, here IN US is Jesus announcing forgiveness and relationship with those who desire this meal, but cannot get to this meal.
In these ways, as we push participation in this meal ever wider, we recognize there is no admission fee collected, no distinction by class or ability to pay, no privileged insiders who receive different loaves or better wine. Christ’s table is open to all. Fed with Christ, we go forth from the table as the body of Christ, commissioned to work for peace, justice, and equality!
Yes, friends, with Peter and Paul we are called today.
In this meal, Jesus forgives our sins.
In this meal, we are called like Peter to feed the flock. We are called like Paul to proclaim Christ to the nations.
Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, in faith, may we receive our call today. In faith, may we go forth as a people of forgiveness: forgive one another with the same radical forgiveness by which you are forgiven. In faith, may we go forth as the body of Christ in the world: in the midst of the violent and evil ways of Empire, be the mercy and healing of Jesus Christ for the scapegoated, the excluded, the marginalized.
Alleluia! Christ is risen.