Converted to the Easter Gospel
I speak to you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Amen
Some weeks, when I am trying to prepare my sermon, I am faced with scripture that leaves me with the feeling of wondering where at all I could go
This is not one of those weeks…
This week, the third week of the Easter season, we are not faced with subtly to sift through to try and find a message
This week our scripture is big and bold
This week we are given three of the most referenced pieces of scripture in the whole post Easter New Testament
Each one, in their own way, reveals a layer of what it means to be people of the Easter Gospel message
Now I say Easter Gospel message for a very specific reason – and that is, the good news message of the resurrection
We are not looking to discovering some moral teaching during the life of Christ – life prior to the cross
Everything, today, has the shadow of the cross and the light of the resurrection through out it
Therefore all of today’s scripture are filled with hopeful images and stories.
In today’s psalm, David exalts God who has lifted him “out of the depths,” healed him, and brought him “up from the grave.” God turns David’s “wailing into dancing.”
In the reading from Revelation, millions of angels sing in a “loud voice.” Imagine being there and hearing the thundering beauty of such a chorus, all singing praise to God’s lamb, Jesus. And then imagine the rest of creation, “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea” joining the chorus!
Acts tells the story of Saul’s conversion – from one issuing “murderous threats” against the early Christians to one proclaiming the gospel throughout the known world.
Finally, the Gospel of John paints a beautiful picture. It’s dawn. Jesus stands on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius. Seven of the disciples had been fishing the previous night. He tells them to drop their nets one more time on the other side of the boat, and for the first time that night their nets fill to overflowing. What’s even more hopeful than the great catch, of course, is that the murdered Jesus… was alive, had been raised from the dead, and was there on the shore, roasting fish for them over an open fire.
It’s appropriate that our readings today contain such images and stories of hope. After all, we have just celebrated Easter – we are, along with Christ, raised from the dead; that we can be released from our own prisons and be made whole.
Beyond the vital message of hope - that is Easter
There is another common and important thread… it is the message that we now share because of Easter - it is the point of the cross and the resurrection - and it is the call on all our lives
It is the message that we are to Follow Jesus – that we are to be converted to His way
It is hard to speak of conversion in Christianity, without thinking of our Saul or Paul and the Damascus road
For many that is the very model to a transformed life in Christ
Saul’s blinding light and the voice of Jesus stopping him in his tracks
Stopping the persecutor of the Christians – blinding him and converting him to become the most influential of all Christians
And so for many modern Christians – particularly those with a evangelical or fundamental background - there is a tendency to believe that we all NEED to have a moment when we first became a Christian
We all need to have a Damascus road experience
Maybe you have been asked – “when did you become a Christian?”
And the person is looking for you to answer with a date and time ‘when you gave your life to Christ’
And if you answer with anything less then what they are looking for, you are made to feel, or even told, that you are not a real Christian – unless you prayed a special prayer and felt that moment of dramatic conversion, like the apostle Paul
This past week I heard of someone that experienced this exact situation of being asked “when she became a Christian?”
Now this person was raised in a family of faith and never had that dramatic moment and therefore there developed some very uncomfortable discussion and the other person would not let up
When I heard this – it got me going – fired me up
Here was a situation where the people of the God – the church – were in conflict because one felt that there was only one way to come to Christ
And to make matters worst they were sitting in judgement over everyone else that didn’t experience conversion in the way they had
To this I’ll tell you what I said to this faithful Christian
The ‘Damascus road or nothing attitude’ - is wrong
And it can be very hurtful - and in fact more uncommon then it is common
We don’t all have that major life changing moment - ‘when we were saved’ - Or ‘when we became a Christian’
In fact most of us don’t!
I mentioned that I remember reading a study which talked about conversion and compared main-line Protestants with more fundamental evangelical Christians
Where in main-line protestant Churches only 12% of the people would say that they had a Damascus road experience
And in more fundamental Christian churches, where this is more important – only 35% of the people would claim such a dramatic conversion moment
In both cases the majority of us have gradual awareness or awakening of our faith
Now it is true that Paul’s conversion story is an important story in which many of us might have experienced a similar situation
It is a model of conversion, where Paul was heading in the completely wrong direction – as the persecutor of the church and is converted and transformed to a completely different outlook on Christ
But there are many conversion stories
We have moments in both the Old and the New Testament where God transformed someone deeply
Saul heard a voice and saw a blinding light and he was transformed
Jacob wrestles with the angel and is forever changed
Abram is put into a deep sleep and God makes a dramatic covenant with Him and all his descendants while he is sleeping
And Simon Peter is met by Jesus while trying to fish on the wrong side of the boat
All are transformed even to their very name
Saul becomes Paul
Jacob becomes Israel
Abram becomes Abraham
And Simon, son of John, is made whole and is called Peter
For Paul it was dramatic – for Jacob, there was one dramatic moment and many incidents in his life to becoming Israel
Abraham was about 75 when God made the Covenant with him and then 99 when God appeared again to him and changed his name to Abraham
And Peter’s story is yet again different – more gradual - and we see Peter, the impulsive disciple – journeying in one way then flip flopping back and forth making mistakes repeatedly
I would like to focus on Peter for the balance of sermon
It all began in a boat down by the lake... the reluctant dream of an impulsive fisherman who actually believed he might be involved with someone who was going to change the world.
That dream had come hard -- indeed at first he rejected the thought. Someone like him associated with a holy man like the Carpenter from Nazareth?
Not on your life! This Jesus who had the audacity to commandeer his boat and then tell a fisherman how to fish? "...we have worked all night long but have caught nothing -- (what's another empty net in a night filled with empty nets?) -- "Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."
Then it happened! "...they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break," Luke reports. From that moment on, Simon Peter's life was defined by a dream.
There are all kinds of everyday dreamers like you and me who dream that somehow, someway, our lives might make a difference in this world. Our childhood images were filled with, "Cinderella," "The Little Train that Could," or any of a hundred other tales that fired our hearts with the notion that we could -- if we hoped, prayed and worked hard enough -- make a real difference in our world!
But there [can be] a kind of a "downside" to dreams.
They are not always fulfilled and indeed, they sometimes crash and burn.
What an incredibly painful thing it is when dreams die.
Somewhere in most of our lives there is at least one dream that fell apart.
Some broken dreams may have to do with major issues that change the direction of our lives -- others are simply a temporary inconvenience, but most of us have been there. The dream that had become the heartbeat of Peter's life was huge.
While most of us "have" dreams -- this dream "had" Peter.
[One way to fully appreciate the struggle of Peter's journey] is to examine some of the more powerful statements he made to Jesus during the course of their relationship.
By taking a closer look, we can trace, the rise and fall of Peter's [journey] in four amazing statements he made to Jesus and one he made at the end to a crowd of bystanders.
"Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"
At the very beginning when Jesus had directed Peter to a "catch" so unbelievable, Peter was confronted with awesome divinity in the person of a carpenter from Nazareth and fell to his knees.
"Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."
Spoken when a boat, full of terrified disciples, saw Jesus walking toward them on the water. Where we witness Peter's life changing desire to step out in faith.
"You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
Can you imagine Peter ever forgetting the day he identified the Messiah who then changed his name [from Simon to Peter] meaning "The Rock"?
"Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you."
Blurted out when things were coming unglued (at least in the disciple's view), Jesus has just said that all of them would desert him. Peter's vehement response was a heartfelt affirmation of loyalty.
"I do not know the man!"
These words must have stuck [like unrelenting heartburn] to Peter's soul for the rest of his life. They represent the moment Peter's dreams died! The fisherman who identified the Messiah of God and went to the mountain top with Jesus… became the disciple who denied the Lord and sunk to the depths of dreamless despair.
Peter's dream finally saw him arrive at the worst experience of his life.
Hope, joy and expectation, tentative at first, grew into full blown excitement for the "new world order" [the real one!], Jesus was bringing.
The Kingdom of God was at hand -- within reach -- the sick were being made well, crowds were discovering "the joy of the Lord" and evil was on the run.
The unknown fisherman and his friends from the North were about to be apart of ushering in God's plan for Israel.
The denial was beyond belief! Just to make sure the accusing bystanders believed him, Peter punctuated his denial with curses,
"I do not know the man!"
Then Peter's world collapsed. He wound up heartbroken and soul sick. - It is like that when dreams die.
If you have ever had a time when your fondest hopes were smashed or your most cherished dreams were dashed -- you can relate to Peter at this lowest point in his life.
Most of us have experienced the trauma of shattered dreams and broken hearts.
[So what is Peter to do in this life-shattering moment]
The most natural thing in the world… when trouble and trial come it is to go back to the beginning of our experience.
[the wonderful good news is that] Jesus meets Peter at the beginning point of their relationship.
Of course Peter would go back to fishing.
Of course we want to go "home" when something terrible hits.
The key point here is: God will meet us at the point where we first began to walk with God.
We can not find healing for our broken dreams until we open up to ("recognize" ) the presence of Christ in our circumstances.
The point of the gospel lesson is... "Christ was there when it all began -- He is present now -- even when it is difficult to recognize him.
A sure beginning step in recovery is to pray, "Lord help me to see you here and now in the midst of my difficulty."
Peter contributed to the demise of his own dream by trusting too much in his own strength.
He made the very natural mistake of saying, "Lord, I will be strong for you!"
Instead, he would later have to learn to pray, "Lord, give me strength to serve You!"
After breakfast on what must have been an incredibly joyful reunion on the Northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, there is a bit of unfinished business to take care of.
As if to take him through the three denials -- face him with his need for grace. Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love me?" And true enough -- the third time was the charm.
"Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time... 'Do you love me?'"
In other words, Jesus finally had Peter's attention and was able to help him put his life on track to finally bring him fully and wholly to conversion
Jesus' final instruction to Peter is the essence of simplicity and brilliance. "Follow me!"
The greatest thing in all the world -- the thing that can bring the greatest joy and fulfillment is the great commandment Jesus gave some time before this early morning breakfast...
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength!"
In other words, love God with all you've got and your life and you will line up with God's design for your living.
So whether you are the 12% or 35% that has been dramatically converted to the post resurrection Gospel message of Easter and can name the date and time - like the Apostle Paul
Or you are like Peter and have journeyed through ups and down – made mistakes, even really big ones like denying Jesus
Remember in God’s eyes – you are forgiven
In God’s eyes, by our Lord Jesus Christ, you share in the victory over death and all that is death
You are offered a conversion in the Easter Gospel
In God’s eyes - it’s not how you got there that matters – God will use any broken situation
God will come alongside you and bring you home – and may even meet you where you feel you are most at home – like fishing – or working – or amongst family and friends
When you have eyes to see the Risen Lord – God will be waiting there for you
Dramatically if you need drama – gradually if you need the journey
God is there on the beach – to welcome you home – to restore you to wholeness
To call you to simply – Follow Him
 http://www.lectionarysermons.com/pieces2.html - "Picking Up the Pieces - When Dreams Have Died," John Jewell, 1998.