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Transforming Encounters

Acts 9 1-20
John 21:1-19

 
Easter season continues to unfold. Today we meet three people who have transforming encounters with the Risen Christ.

As you listen to these stories, and look for the marks of resurrection living we find in them, I invite you to think about your own experiences of transformation- times when you were able to pick up and begin again after a major loss or crisis in your life; times when you were brought to a new way of being; times when you came alive in places you thought were dead; times when the unexpected turned your life upside-down; times when you were nurtured into a healed place so that you could see your future in a new way; times when you felt called upon to do what seemed impossible, and discovered the strength and power to do it. Notice if you find yourself in any of these stories. Resurrection living takes on many forms, but it is always about experiencing new life.

In Acts we meet Saul who had been breathing threats of murder against Christ followers. A piller of the political and religious system of his day-educated, with strong religious convictions, he was driven by a national security mentality to wipe out this dangerous sect called “The Way”. There was no room for doubt in Saul. He knew he was on God’s side, defending the orthodox faith of his ancestors against dangerous new teachings.

We have people like Saul still in every religious tradition today – and they are dangerous. They continue to harass, exclude, violate, or in the extreme, murder people who think differently from them, all in the name of true faith. Frankly I’d prefer a doubting Thomas anyday to one of these ideologues.

Saul is heading to Damascus from Jerusalem, where he had just witnessed the stoning of Stephen. According to the writer of Acts, it was on that journey that he experienced a blinding light; then a voice confronts the persecutor Saul, “why are you doing this?” Then a voice with a question that cuts through to the core of Saul…. “why are you doing this?” How the world longs for this kind of confrontation of oppressors (Liberian Women) Saul fell to the ground, dumfounded and blind.

This strong leader accustomed to power has to now depend on an ordinary person in the Christian community of Damascus called Ananias for his healing. He needs to ask for help from those he has been hurting. Used to giving the orders, he had to follow in blind trust. This must have been very new to the man who became Paul.

Saul was the kind of person who needed this kind of breaking down before he could be open to transformation. Sometimes resurrection power begins in breaking down to create possibility for new life. Ever had that happen to you or seen it in another?

Paul went on to found key Christian communities all over Asia minor.

But the story of Ananias is no less transforming. The risen Christ tells him to lay hands on Saul of Tarsus to heal him. Now Ananias is no fool. He has heard about Saul. He knows that Saul hunts out and kills Christians and not only that, he has the local and national authorities behind him. The very sound of Saul’s name chills his blood, with good reason.

But despite the resistance and the fear, he acts. With assurance from Christ, he risks his life to go to meet the dreaded official Saul. His courage to take on his power to heal in the face of potential danger is as much a sign of the transforming power of resurrection as was Saul’s fall from authority and his consequent transformation into an apostle. Although we hear no more of Ananias in scripture, his life must have been changed as much as Paul’s.

Is there any of Ananias’ experience in your story…Learning to take on your power, finding courage to face into danger.

In the John reading, we meet another key leader of the early church, a despondent Simon Peter in grief and in failure. In the troubles in Jerusalem, when Jesus had been crucified , he had denied even knowing Jesus three times afaid of arrest. After the chaos in Jerusalem, some disciples had returned to Galilee trying to go back to what used to make sense. It’s what we do in trauma..Look for something familiar to ground us.

They thought Jesus would meet them –there, and they waited and waited — but nothing happened. It’s hard to go back to where you’ve come from after you have begun the journey of transformation. These disciples couldn’t clearly see the path ahead and felt too overwhelmed to try anything new; So they go fishing, same old boats, same old nets, same old Galilean lake. But it wasn’t working. They were coming up empty despite the hard work of heaving and hauling nets all through the night. We’ve all been in those places where we expend lots of energy, and effort, but seem to have no results..But we just keep on going, because we don’t know what else to do.

Then comes the transforming moment. The experience that so often comes from that numinous between place, from the edge . At the very edge of the day, as dawn breaks, at the very edge of the lake where water meets land, at the very edge of life and death as they later discover, comes the stranger , who tells them to put their nets out on the other side of the boat and they will find fish. Now who’d expect them to pay attention to thistranger? I’m sure they crabbed and complained to one another. Who does this person think he is? We were raised on this lake? But someone must have decided there was nothing to lose. So they do as the stanger asks.

And when they do their nets are filled to overflowing. They can barely bring them to shore. They dare of do something a different way. Fishing on the other side. Shocking abundance! Imagine fishing where the fish actually are, rather than where you think they should be!

It’s interesting, and maybe even comforting to note, in this paradigm story of the Breakfast Party, that it is only when they were out engaged in life, even if it is unproductively, that the transformative voice of Jesus comes to them. He did not come to them until they had set out into the night sea journey, until they were engaging the journey themselves, and had risked at least some beginning.

God seems to meet us when we are out there slogging, not when we are sitting around in the kind of study that just results in inertia and never gets us off the shore. If we need to cover off absolutely all of the possible things that could go wrong before we set out, we would never get off the shore. At some point we have to just risk setting out.

My friend Jami Scott tells a story he heard from Rene Fumeleau about a Native elder up in Dene country in the north. The elder had been at a meeting on a cold winter night with Rene who was his priest. They had been talking about being church in the north. It was late already and they had a long journey to make through mountainous roads before they got back home.

They got into the truck, and the elder just sat silent for a while. Then he said, The church is kind of like this isn’t it Rene. “What” Rene wanted to know. Well, he said. We could just sit here afraid to start out because where we want to go is way over there somewhere. We can’t see it. We’ve got an idea of where we are going but that’s all.

But we have to get in the truck and turn the key and we’ve got to trust that that when we turn the key that will get the engine turning over. And that that engine will take us all the way home. And then while its still dark, and we can’t see where we are going then we have to turn on our lights and trust that they will give us a little bit of light. We still don’t have all the light to see all the way to where we are going, but we have to set out in the light that we have, and trust that the light will keep going ahead of us to show us where we go next, till we get to the end of the journey. The church is kind of like that” said the elder.

We have to start out when it is still dark, Setting out in the light that we have.

Some things to think about as we move into this transition time…

Fishing on the other side of the boat is done at the command of the one whom they eventually recognized as Jesus. Fishing on the other side of the boat is being faithful to the Christ.

It wasn’t that the fish weren’t there. What the disciples longed for was right under their noses … but they needed to approach it from a different point of view … to come at things from the other side …

And these disciples had to listen to this stranger before they knew he was worth listening to. They had to listen to a voice from the edge.

But there is another part …The tender story of Jesus preparing a breakfast barbeque for the worn out disciples. You can almost smell the coals; Jesus cooking for them, feeding them.

Jesus takes Simon aside and three times asks “Do you love me” He gives Simon Peter 3 times to state his love and allegiance . After the time denial by the fire in Jerusalem, Peter welcomes the chance to respond “yes, you know that I love you.” Each time Jesus says “feed my lambs”. Peter is confused and even hurt by the repetition of the question. Surely Jesus knows he loves him.

-He was giving Peter the time to realize that it is time to put aside the self-condemnation and blame he was feeling after he had denied Jesus, that it is time to claim his recovery and to become a resource to the others to take on the leadership he has been called to. Peter is being offered and challenged to a new beginning.- and to a life of ministry.

 

In all of these instances, as different as the stories may be, there is a call to life and transforming encounter. A Saul who sees too clearly but with the wrong eyes is confronted with the evil he is doing and through a period of blindness finds the path to new life. He transforms his gifts and passion into building up what he had been destroying. Ananias, who felt inadequate and afraid is given the courage to reach out with healing to an enemy. He offers hope and welcome to one he feared. Peter, restored from the self-blame and powerlessness that was paralyzing him, is challenged to take on leadership and nurture of a community. Different movements of resurrection living.

 
Resurrection is real in us when we allow that power for new life, for transformed living to flow through us. -when we dare to believe in, and to watch for the signs of the new life that God is giving us. Where is the resurrecting God at work in you and in life around you? Where do you see the resurrecting God at work in our congregation in these times of transition?

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