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Third Sunday of Easter April 25, 2004.

Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]

Psalm 30

Revelation 5:11-14

John 21:1-19

On the Third Sunday of Easter, we tend to rub our eyes a little in order to clear our vision. Last Sunday made much of not seeing and yet believing. Today we wonder, Did I just see what I thought I saw? Barbara Rossing reminds us that the word apocalyptic means a pulling away of a curtain. What is being revealed here about our God? How do we see and proclaim Christ alive in the world and church this Third Sunday of Easter? Things aren't always as they appear.

First Reading

While we commonly think about Saul/Paul's Damascus Road vision as the ultimate conversion experience, biblical scholars point out that it reads with the convention of a call story. Saul seemed to know what to expect in terms of a call from God, but is surprised--stunned, maybe--to discover that the voice he hears is that of the risen Jesus, whom he has been unable to see in Jesus' followers. Ananias also has a hard time trusting his vision. It doesn't match up with what he's heard from others about Saul. Ananias is just checking! Maybe that's why we actually get to hear this story three times in the book of Acts.

And you've got to love that the reversal in Saul/Paul's life is so over-the-top complete. More than getting reformed, Paul gets promoted from persecutor to chief missionary. You've got to see Jesus alive in the news that Paul is the instrument God has chosen to proclaim the good news to such as kings, Israelites, and--especially noteworthy for someone so zealous for the Jewish tradition--to the outsider Gentile community. The text group reflected on how much courage it takes to make these kind of reversals in life, to buck what people in our community "see" in you because of what they think they know about who you are and what you've done, and how that militates against life-changing calls sticking. We question what we see ... the people God may be leading to lead us, and our roles in healing and restoring vision to our own new leaders.

Our hearing and vision also get tested in the reading from Revelation. Despite appearances to the contrary, Rome is not the great eternal power worthy of worship but just a wizard from Kansas making a show with lots of scary noise. While John weeps that no one will be worthy to open the scroll revealing God's plan for the future, he hears that the Lion of Judah has triumphed and is able to reveal the plan. But rather than a lion, John sees a lamb. A lamb without any signs of triumph, only the marks of slaughter.

I wonder what our group will make of this radical dissonance, and they see themselves in the picture perfectly: "We're the people who stand around Sunday after Sunday and sing praise to a wounded Lamb, a crucified King, in defiance of everything the world tells us about power and how to get ahead." They see a need to move from singing praises to proclaiming this news that "God's plan, Christ alive in our world today, is revealed in Jesus' life, death and resurrection."

The group takes comfort in Peter's denial in the courtyard, recalled in his three-fold confession in John 21. "Peter's like us--when it comes to evangelism, we scatter!" They take heart from the story's second chances ... from Peter's reclothing himself in a baptismal robe and plunge, from the indication that the mission will be broad and the net full and that Jesus recommissions even failures. But they are also troubled. "What's this bit with not recognizing Jesus? We're all looking, but maybe our eyes aren't open to see."

Pastoral Reflection

I knew it was the Lord, just because it was so wacky. A woman named Mary called in the middle of the afternoon, wondering if our congregation would throw a 30th wedding anniversary celebration for her and Floyd. Two weeks from now. She could help with the food. She had a vision for potato salad and ham buns and wondered if the ladies would make it. I suggested coffee and cake. She didn't budge. She asked about having it at the Senior's Center and I had a moment of relief, since we're actually not in charge of the building. I could pass her on to Norma. When she said Norma was a friend of hers, I heaved another sigh of relief. Norma would interpret it for me.

But Norma called me first thing in the morning, as floored as I was. She wasn't a friend, she'd only been kind to Mary when she'd come to visit her mother at the nursing home. But she did know Floyd and Mary and reminded me that they'd come to our Community Thanksgiving Dinner in October. (Don't ask.) They'd been the first arrivals at our free turkey-and-trimmings feast. So that made sense. I could see why they thought we were the kind of church that would throw them an anniversary party; we'd pretty much said we were. Norma confirmed my suspicion that Mary and Floyd really didn't have the resources, on any level, to put something together themselves. They needed help. Could we pull off just cake and coffee? The phone grew heavy with our burden.

"Can't we just say No?" Norma asked. I was tempted, and felt free for a moment just before I took the plunge. "No," I replied, "I don't think we can. I think this is Jesus. It's so wacky. Has to be." "Ya think? I guess I can see your point," Norma conceded. "But even if we did it, who would come? We can't even get anyone to stay for coffee after Confirmation." "Well" (I got on my high horse), "if people coming straight from the altar rail where we've shared our Lord's body and blood given and shed for us can't even be bothered to spend ten minutes sharing coffee and cake with strangers welcoming us to their marriage feast, I've got serious questions about what we're doing!" "Yeah," she said, "I hear you. I'll put the word out."

So we had the party. I broke it to Mary that it would be coffee and a really nice cake. I even asked what flavor and color. We ordered corsages. We got out a punch bowl. They renewed their vows after we sang "Standing on the Promises." It blessed everyone, and everyone who wasn't already skipping church to go out hunting came. We had a good time. We saw Jesus. "You put out the net, you're going to get all kinds," someone marveled.

But Mary and Floyd didn't seem that bowled over. The cake was nice, but it turned out Floyd was diabetic. That's why Mary had been insistent about real food. And while the picture I put in the paper came out great, Mary had been disappointed that there hadn't been more information about them, how they'd been married by some pastor in the Methodist church. Truthfully, I had gone heavy on the "Bethany Lutheran Church" for the caption. So, if it really was Jesus, I can see how we didn't go near far enough. It was pretty much about us. We're waiting for another chance.
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Title Annotation:Preaching Helps
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Date:Apr 1, 2004
Previous Article:Second Sunday of Easter April 18, 2004.
Next Article:Fourth Sunday of Easter May 2, 2004.

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