A crazy last few and upcoming next days—not sure how they help me prepare a sermon, but life is what it is right now. Starting cardio rehab for the next three months, working on getting a new finances software setup in place for Chaplains on the Harbor, working on a couple of church finances/audit reviews, watching finally the start this week of the bathrooms project for Chaplains at their Westport building, working on the Diocesan budget planning for 2017—just a few things that take my focus and time these days.
I’ve gotten to our weekly Bible study sort of randomly since I have gotten back home from surgery—too many appointments with doctors and now cardio rehab starting up for several days each week.
One thing we discussed recently at Bible study was the idea of whether the events occurring from the resurrection until the ascension of Christ involving his disciples and followers seeing Jesus were real, or just some visions or stories. Well, today’s readings from Acts and the Gospel of John are two of the most clearly written and well known events of interactions of God and Jesus with his (to be) or already followers. Let’s look more closely at these written accounts, and what they help us understand more about God.
Earlier in Acts you can read about the horrible treatment of the Jewish leader Saul against those who were found to be followers of Jesus. In our Acts reading today we find out about how Saul, on his way to Damascus was struck blind from a light from heaven, and was called out by God for his evil deeds against those who believed in Jesus. (Interesting that those traveling with Saul could hear the voice too but not see the bright light from above.) A helpless Saul was told to go on to Damascus and await instructions.
After three days (sort of Saul’s own death and resurrection) God told Ananias, a follower of Jesus. through a vision, to go to Saul and heal him, telling Ananias that Saul was at that same time praying to God and seeing a vision of Ananias coming to heal him. (God interacting with two people at the same time for the purpose of them coming together to fulfill God’s plan for them.) Ananias, although protesting about the awful deeds of Saul,, did what he was told, healed Saul, and Saul regained his sight and his strength and met with the disciples in Damascus and proclaimed Jesus as the son of God.
In our Gospel of John reading we learn about the sighting of Jesus by several of his original disciples along the shore of the Sea of Galilee (although they did not recognize him at first!). They had struggled to catch any fish that night, and as daylight broke, a stranger pointed out they had caught no fish and to lower their nets on the other side of the boat. They caught so many fish (153 of them!) they could not haul them in. The young disciple John told Peter that this was Jesus who was talking to them, and Peter put on clothes and jumped into the water to come to Jesus. The rest brought the boat to shore with the full nets and found that Jesus had set up a fire and had bread ready and asked them to join him for a meal. Jesus then addressed Peter pointedly, helping him understand in front of the group that he was expected to lead and watch over his followers
What do these writings tell us. First, are they real? Yes, I believe they are, because they involve more than one person and are not just some dreams by someone grieving the death of a loved one or leader. Along with the other writings in the Gospels and earlier in Acts it’s clear to me that it would have to have been an elaborate hoax devised by a large group of people for it all to be fake. Second, how do we see God at work in these accounts? Jesus sees his followers in chaos following his death and resurrection and directs them in how to carry out His call for them—to get out there, even though it will be dangerous, and spread the word about Jesus. He even takes a well known persecutor of the Jesus’ followers and turns him around to be his most skilled and dedicated evangelist.
Our Diocesan Canon for Stewardship Lance Ousley looks at it this way: “Jesus challenges Peter and us to let go of what we have known and to focus on the ministry to which we have been called - to help others see Jesus through loving him and taking care of who are his. Holding onto our own ideas, only doing that with which we are familiar can limit our own recognition of Jesus in our lives and our ability to help others "come and see" who Jesus really is. And it can limit our experience of the richness of life God desires for each of us, and it is reflective of the love we really have for Jesus.
Jesus calls out to each of us to move from the worldly perspective to cast our lives into the heavenly perspective and experience the fullness of life in Christ. It is when we let go of our control and surrender to God's will that we more fully "see" Jesus and live more Eucharistic lives in the world.”
So, what can we do during these 50 days of Easter season? We knew about and did some organized things for the season of Lent to prepare for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But few see Easter season as one to read about events written about the early times following Jesus’ resurrection and the forming of the early church, with the idea to prepare for when the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost. I think Bible study helps anyone with a quest to understand how God works, group efforts allow us to share thoughts and ideas about what we read. The Forward Day-by Day brochures allow a discipline for this, too, and take only about 15 minutes to read and reflect and pray about how we can better follow Him. Just taking short breaks alone of quiet to think about how God works in our lives can help too.
How will we more fully recognize Jesus in our lives this Easter season and live in thanksgiving for all we experience in Christ's presence? And how will we let go of our control, focusing instead on Christ's mission so you may help others to "see" Jesus? AMEN