Easter 3C – May 5, 2019

Has God ever tried to get your attention?  Has God ever whispered your name? Maybe God sort of nudged you to change your ways, and you were not really interested in responding? Maybe you thought you could just disregard the whole matter all together?       And then God had to speak a little louder? I know with me, sometimes that happens. At first I kind of get the gentle elbow to wake me up a bit, and then I seem to get a bigger prompt, a bigger bump.  Sometimes, more often than not, this jolt is a rather unwelcomed prod. In our First Reading today Saul, gets a big wake up call from God.   God needs Saul to do a 180.  God needs him to turn his ways around and be transformed. 

If you like stories of bad guys, Paul was a ruthless guy for the early church, the epitome of the antichurch, and the followers of Jesus feared him, and for good reason; he did terrible, evil things; he was an enemy of the church, persecuting innocent followers of the faith.    But Paul was transformed and became not only a follower of Jesus but also a leader for the church. God gave him a second chance.  And God gives all of us second chances. 

You heard in the first reading, Acts 9:4, “He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’”  Did you observe how the one speaking (Jesus) used his name twice?  

Have you ever noticed that when people want to get someone’s attention, they will frequently use their name twice?  Maybe you have heard your name being called twice?  It is an attention getter.      I recall quite vividly my young son desperate to get my husband’s attention with some exciting news, “Dad! Dad!”  He did this as a little tyke and he does this now as a big fellow, as well,  “Dad! Dad!”  My son wants to be sure that his dad is fully locked in on what he is going to say.

Even a couple of our Biblical patriarchs received similar treatment.  Remember in Genesis [Genesis 22: 11-12] when Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And Abraham said, “Here I am.”  And then later on in Genesis [46] God wanted Jacob to not be afraid to go to Egypt.  So what does God say to him? God said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And Jacob said, “Here I am.” Moses, another important player in the Old Testament received a similar attention-getter from God.  In Exodus [3:2-5] God came to Moses in the burning bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”  And do you remember how young Samuel thought Eli was calling him but it was actually God? God called,  “Samuel! Samuel!” and Samuel said, “Here I am.” 

So Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel and Saul (who became Paul) all received the double name-treatment.  The attention-getter.  God needed to make certain that God had these individuals’ full attention.

Peter, too, also received an attention getter.  His was a different kind.  In our gospel reading today we heard that three times Jesus asked Peter if Peter loved him.  That would get someone’s attention!  

This next part is subtle, and you might not have picked up on it during the reading, but you may recall that when the disciples made it to shore, there was a charcoal fire going.     Hmm.  Interesting point.  If you are familiar with this text from John, you may have always read this with the lens that the fire served the function of cooking the fish, which, I am sure it did.   But, if we go back to an earlier reading in John [John 18:18] there was another charcoal fire, it was the charcoal fire that Peter used to warm himself as he was denying his discipleship with Jesus.  Peter was standing behind enemy lines (trying to blend in) warming himself by their charcoal fire, and when asked if he was one of the disciples, he declared, “I am not. I am not” And a third time, Peter denied it.  The only times that charcoal fire is mentioned in the entire New Testament is here in these two stories.  A charcoal fire has a certain smell to it, doesn’t it?   You know this smell.  And the sense of smell has a keen memory.  What is the chance that Jesus used this charcoal fire on the beach to get Peter’s attention, helping Peter see a connection between the fire when he denied Jesus and this occasion now with Jesus, after a massive catch of fish?   Three times Peter denies Jesus and three times Jesus allows Peter to declare his love to Jesus.  Jesus wants Peter to know what it means to be a disciple: by tending the sheep, finding the lost – caring for God’s people.

Jesus shows grace, abundant grace.  Throughout Jesus’ ministry Jesus has demonstrated abundance, and in this Gospel reading we see this, even still.   Jesus’ ministry in John began with the wedding at Cana where he turned water into an abundant amount of wine, the best wine!  And here, in the final account in John, Jesus provides an abundant amount of fish, large fish, 153 of them!     Let’s have some fun and visualize what this scene may have looked like.       Jesus and Peter were talking and the other disciples were not a part of this conversation.  So what do these other disciples do? They are well fed, happy, and they are having fun.  They sit down amongst all the fish and are giddy counting this tremendous catch of their lives!  1 fish, 2 fish, 48, 49, 102, 103… laughing the whole time. 

          Jesus offers an abundance of grace for Paul, for Peter, for all of us.  Some of us may have felt a nudge to change in little ways.  Some of us may have felt a bigger push to have a bigger transformation. And for probably all of us, it takes courage to shift when nudged.   God gives us all second and third and fourth chances, as many as it takes.  At the same time, God also gives us all the faith, courage, and strength we need to go in the direction God directs.  God loves us so much and offers us abundant, abundant grace.  Amen. 

St John’s Lutheran Church Phoenixville