Monday, April 19, 2010

Rescued from Ourselves

Sermon for 4.18.10, 3rd Sunday of Easter
Psalm 30; Acts 9:1-20; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

Please pray with me: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

From today’s New Testament reading: “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

This week I was introduced to two families. The first consists of an elderly brother and sister. The sister has Alzheimer’s. One of her grown nephews lives with them. They are known to be very poor and if the condition of their modest house is any indication, this is probably the case. They have been reported for the outside appearance of their property and have made some attempts to neaten it, but they long for a railing on the porch that extends from the second story, so that they can go out on it without fear of falling. I learned that some members of the family had attended Trinity Methodist Church before it closed and then had come here briefly.

I also learned that the brother, now 83, works at the Esopus Dog Shelter where he is known for his extreme kindness to the strays who must make that their home. People give him cans and bottles to redeem, perhaps for his own needs. He spends every penny from them for the dogs, buying them extra food or toys or blankets. The hot dogs he brings may not be good for them and he may be misguided in thinking that they need more protein, but he is loved for his generosity and love for his poor kennel friends.

The other family consists of a mother and son. The son has a dog who is his best buddy. The house in which they have always lived has just been condemned. The mother, who has a number of serious health issues, has been sent to live with a daughter in another town and the son with his dog has been placed in The Capri. Their plight was uncovered in January when it was discovered that they had neither heat nor running water. The mother has asked to be allowed to reenter the house to save some little objects that are precious to her; when I asked whether anyone else could help, I was told the building was too unstable to enter.

I am describing residents of Esopus, people who have lived here all their lives. They have not drifted here from Kingston or elsewhere. I had heard something of these people, but learned more as I searched for work for Faith in Action, the project that had been suggested by our District for next Sunday.

Once I learned—only this week—that the Clean Sweep was going to take place on Saturday, I felt momentary panic, wondering what on earth we’d do to fulfill our obligation to the District! As I called the Town Hall yet once more, I began looking for something personal, more one-on-one. The Faith in Action proposal has gotten me thinking deeply about how our faith might take action, beyond the many ways in which it already does in this church. I’m not a believer in quick fixes, and I suspect that right now we could start planning an action for a “Faith in Action” next April.

One of the people I’ve described has been coming to our Food Pantry and so that is good. But perhaps there will be other ways in which we’ll be able at least to touch families or people in need in a meaningful way and in a way that they will perceive as caring and God-sent. I am not dreaming that we can fix everything or even very much of what is broken. That would be foolish as well as arrogant. But this week we have been given a much fuller vision of the possibilities. No matter what we do—or chose not to do or realize we are unable to do—we have, in fact, been given a larger view. We’ve been invited to see some of the neighbors we hadn’t seen. There are concerns and joys to be awakened and they lie all around us.

Is this so unlike what happened both to Saul (alias Paul) and to Peter? The wonderful thing about comparing our lives to Scripture is that Scripture does not mince words about God’s role. Scripture makes it clear that God intervenes. Saul, an earnest and educated man, had clearly been on the wrong path, thinking that sweeping up dirty Christians was the best service he could offer his faith. He had just been present at the stoning of Stephen, the first to die in the name of Christ, and now Saul is breathing murder against other disciples as well. But Stephen had begged God not to hold the sin of killing him against those who were throwing stones, and what shortly afterwards happens to Saul is clearly God’s doing. God’s perspective was that Saul was a forgiven man—and, moreover, a useful man, too good to waste. And so God works to change his life. When God tells Ananias to heal Saul, the poor man is afraid that maybe even God is confused. “Surely not Saul,” he says. But Saul is precisely the one.

Saul’s story is as dramatic as his crimes. Maybe we think God is only present when there are flashing lights and a provocative question from on high. But we’ve all been on the wrong path and God doesn’t have favorite sinners to convert. God turns me around too, even at my most normal and boring. Since God is the primary agent of change, God can transform even the most ordinary. The fact is that God isn’t done with any of us yet, nor does God consider any of our actions as merely a private affair. In our collective foolishness, rottenness, or brokenness, we are never too damaged for God to use. Or for God to combine together for the common good.

And so Christ appears to Peter and to the others on the seashore, after they have gone back to their former livelihood of fishing. This is the Resurrected Christ but remember the powerful description in Revelation this morning. This one is also the Lamb, the totally weak creature who was slaughtered, but who then is praised by the united singing of every single creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. There are no divisions, no rejections, no shunnings here. This lamb in his weakness revealed the power of God that moves and unites the world—and so certainly God will move us and those around us.

And so to the total amazement of Peter and to the others on the seashore, Christ appears, cooking them a sacred meal, showing that he will continue to bless and feed them. For Peter, who had let Christ down so badly, there is the additional blessing of forgiveness and self-forgiveness, followed by an invitation to start doing. Just as Peter denied Jesus three times, so Christ leads Peter in affirming his love for him three times, followed by the command that will shape the rest of Peter’s life: “‘Simon son of John, 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.’”

In both these Scriptural accounts—as well as in our own story here this week—we are reminded that it is in God’s light that we see light and that it is by God’s love that we discern our path. Remembering this will allow hope and trust to arise when we feel we have gone down into the Pit. When things go well, we love to say “I know what I’m doing, I’ve got it all figured out,” but when we crash, we need not burn. We do need to confess that it is God who will save us because we certainly cannot do it alone. In trusting and waiting, in praying and praising, we are allowing God to direct our lives.

Let us pray: Dearest Lord, take our brokenness and that of others and make it into your victory. Let us know that we are too good to waste. May our steps be guided by you and may our sight be opened by your Holy Spirit. May our hearts and lives be a worthy witness to your goodness and glory and may we remember to give you our unending thanks and praise. Amen.

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