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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lectionary Scriptures: Acts 9:1-20, Psalm 30:1-12, Revelation 5:11-14, John 21:1-19

To celebrate the Resurrection is to celebrate new beginnings.  We once had two copies of Beginnings Without End by Sam Keen in our household.  Now we can find neither.  I don’t know what that says about second and third and fourth chances---beginning again, but one of Sam Keen’s musings has stuck with me for over thirty years.  “I have learned one thing in life---how to begin again.”

It’s the nature of the compassionate, loving, forgiving God I serve to give us new chances---or some of you may want to acknowledge nothing more than the opportunities to start over which are part of the very fabric of existence.  In some Christian traditions new beginnings are understood as sudden, dramatic conversions, but new chances may be a subtle as the dawning of the new day.  As one member of our breakfast lectionary group said, “Each night I pray that I may awake tomorrow morning to new opportunities with the troubles and missteps of this day wiped clean.”

The lectionary readings for this Sunday offer some perspectives on such new beginnings.

Acts, chapter nine gives us the story of Saul’s dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus.  Saul, before he became known as Paul, missionary and pioneer in the early church, was a persecutor of those who followed the way of Jesus.  He was a representative of the high priest who saw Jesus as a threat to the traditional ways of the Jews and particularly to those who held power among the Jews.  (Acts 9:1-2)  In an experience that stretches our credulity, he meets Jesus in a flashing light and voice from heaven.  (vss. 3-6)  Even those who were present “stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one.”  (vs. 7)  Saul was blinded. (vss. 8-9)

Then something equally stunning occurs.  One of the Christians, Ananias, whom Saul was on his way to persecute, receives a vision calling him to go “and lay his hands on” this persecutor, “so that he might regain his sight.”  (vss. 10-12)  Understandably Ananias doesn’t respond with immediate enthusiasm to the idea.  (vss. 13-14)  It would be as if God came to us and told us to welcome a terrorist into our home.   

New beginnings may come with some cooperation from those who call themselves followers of Jesus.  God may not be able to offer new chances unless we also are willing to welcome those we thought were enemies.  I know that the United Church of Christ says, “Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome,” but does that include my enemies?

Our God is a God of new chances, but that means he calls us also to be a people of new chances.  In this story from Acts, Ananias and the early Christians rose to the challenge.  They took Saul in and “for several days he was with” them in Damascus.  (vss.  17-19)  He set off a new man on a new mission.  (vs. 20)

Psalm 30, which we’ve had fairly recently as a lectionary reading, is also about a new beginning.  The writer speaks of arising from dark days, a time of near death, and having been “restored” to life.  (Psalm 30:1-3)  The images that most frequently catch my eye in this Psalm are those of weeping turning to joy and mourning into dancing.  “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning . . . You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy . . .”  (vss. 5 & 11)  It may be no consolation when we’re in the middle of dark hole, but most of us who have lived a few years can remember coming out on the other side of such depths and recovering our ability to laugh and enjoy life.  It is a resurrection of sorts.  Beyond our weeping, God offers a new chance.

The Book of Revelation is always difficult to interpret.  It’s about a new beginning grandiose beyond imagining.  It paints a dream like process (with nightmare elements) which brings into being a new heaven and a new earth.  At its heart, it is a reminder of the kingdom in which believers (in this case, under persecution) live.  It is one in which Jesus reigns, depicted in glorious images in the lectionary reading for Sunday.  “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and honor and glory and blessing! . . . To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessings and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”  (Revelation 5:12-13)

These are resurrection images.  We can project them into the future, which many have done.  We can see in them images of the powers bearing down upon the early churches, which some have done.  We can also remember that Jesus spoke of his kingdom being in our midst.  This brief reading can call us to think about who, and what causes and values, we serve.  New beginnings often occur when we choose to follow a new leader, make new values central in our journey through life, adopt a new mission.  Sometimes we may overdramatize the changes that may come with new beginnings, but paying attention to our core values and commitments may open new chances, new roads, new kingdoms?, before us.

Finally, the Gospel lesson, which tells about a post-Resurrection encounter between Jesus and his disciples along the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, showing us some of the simple things that can happen among a group of scattered and disillusioned people.  (John 21:1-2)  They’ve seen the one they had loved, and in whom they had found hope, crucified on a cross.  They’ve heard that he is somehow still alive, but they are mostly skeptical about it. 

They’ve gone back to their basic means of livelihood: fishing.  They’ve fished all night when Jesus appears on the beach and tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat.  Their net is suddenly so full that “they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.”  (vss. 3-6)  Sometimes when given a new chance, one can do best by starting in a new place---again focusing oneself in a new direction.

Somebody even counted the fish---153 of them.  (vs. 11)  Probably the number is used to signify inclusiveness---153 being the number of species thought to exist in those days.  The “fish” who are drawn into God’s kingdom include all known varieties---of human beings as well as fish.  New beginnings, perhaps, connect us in ways we had not previously imagined.  We have a whole world of brothers and sisters and cousins.

 In the meantime, Peter recognized Jesus, jumped into the water, and made his way to the shore.  (vss. 7-8)  New chances may fill us with this kind of enthusiasm and perhaps a willingness to “take chances”---a leap of faith, so to speak.

Jesus begins to make breakfast and serves it in a scene reminiscent of the Communion Meal (only with bread and fish instead of bread and a cup).  “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.” (vss. 10-13)  We might dwell on Jesus’ servant role here, the preparer of the meal.  What I see is another instance in which gathering in community, having the support of a community, sharing with one another what sustains body and soul, are important to new beginnings.

The Gospel reading ends with a clear invitation to Peter to begin again.  He has denied Jesus three times.  Now he is given three opportunities to declare his commitment anew to Jesus’ mission.  Each time he is asked whether he loves Jesus.  When he declares that he does, Peter is told to “Feed my sheep.”  We could dwell on the variations (“Feed my lambs.”  “Tend my sheep.”  Feed my sheep.”), but for now my focus is upon the mission into which those who loved Jesus are called.  (vss. 15-17)  It is a mission of feeding.  New beginnings often require us to turn outward toward others.  Only in service of others do we find fullness and meaning in life.  Jesus’ drives the point home with the words, “Follow me.”  (vs. 19)

When we partake of the Resurrection, we never quite know what new chances and new beginnings may come our way!

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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