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Posts Tagged ‘Paul’

          Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest  2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.  3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 

             7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one.  8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.  9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 

             10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.”  11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying,  12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”  13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem;  14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.”  15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel;  16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “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.”  18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus,  20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” – Acts 9:1-20

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          After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.  2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.  3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 

          4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.”  6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.  7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.  8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 

          9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.  10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”  11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.  12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.  13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.  14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 

          15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”  17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “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.  18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”  19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” – John 21:1-19

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Saul Sees Light

Our scripture readings today, on this third week of Easter, talk about something very close to the heart of God; and as we explore these things we also can draw very close to the heart of God.

God tells us all through scripture that he loves us, that God made people in his image, that God is a loving Father to us, his children. We are taught that love is, in a way, what God is made of: a loving Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, intertwined in a dance of love that goes on for eternity. Scripture tells us God’s plan is to have us join in that dance of love, through the Holy Spirit; that we would find ourselves drawn into God’s eternal family.

But Scripture also tells us something went wrong with this plan. In the book of Genesis, deceived by an evil being, humanity joined in a rebellion against God, and things have been wrong with our world ever since. So God sent Jesus on a rescue mission. And his rescue takes the form of forgiveness and restoration for God’s children through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

forgiven

The good news of Easter is that in and through Jesus we can be forgiven. We can be restored to a loving relationship with God. Jesus has fulfilled the law and the prophets in a way that no human being could. We can enter into this hope through faith in the one who walked out of the grave alive.

That’s a lot of deep theology: hundreds of books have been written to try to describe exactly what Jesus did for us on the cross, and how it works, and what it means to us as people and as a church.  Thank God when God gave us the Bible, God gave us stories of people – real people with all the good and bad things that come with being human.

In our Bible Study on Wednesday nights we’ve just finished reading Genesis and one of the frequent comments has been along the lines of “these guys back then weren’t always very nice – and they were the foundation of our faith?”  It’s encouraging to know if they can make it, we can make it.

And speaking of people who sometimes doubted if they could make it…

Peter and Paul

(Saints Peter & Paul)

In and around the time of Jesus’ resurrection, there were two people who let Jesus down very badly: Peter and Paul. As we look at their stories today we are walking on holy ground. We are given the chance to see how God’s love works in the hearts of sinners – people who love God and want to honor God in spite of their human flaws. And we see the lengths Jesus goes to, to forgive them and restore them. These are Restoration Stories: This Old House for human beings.

So moving to our scriptures for today, we’ll start with Peter’s story.

Peter had denied Jesus three times. When Peter saw Jesus was arrested, he was scared. Granted, he had more courage than some: Peter followed the soldiers who arrested Jesus at a distance to see what would happen – which was more than many of the other disciples did. But when his Northern accent gave him away to the Southern bystanders, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Peter, who had said to Jesus “even if I have to die with you I will never disown you” (Matt 26:35) called a curse down on himself and swore “I don’t know the man”.

Jesus had predicted this. And after it happened, it must have hung over Peter’s heart and soul like the darkest of clouds. But Jesus had also added, “I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32)

After Jesus’ death, Peter stayed with the disciples. He was with them on Easter morning. He was one of the first people to see the empty tomb. Jesus’ prayer was answered: Peter did not give up. Peter didn’t lose faith. He hung in there with the rest of the believers.

As we come to today’s reading from John we see Peter and the disciples, together again. They have returned to Galilee, where Jesus had said he would meet them. And one night, not quite sure what to do with themselves, seven of the eleven remaining disciples decided to go fishing. Fishing was familiar; it’s what they knew; it was like old home week. But the night ended in frustration: they didn’t catch a single fish!

Fishing

As the sun was rising, and they were heading back in to shore, they saw a man on the beach, who asked if they’d caught any fish that night. They said, “no”.  The man said: “let down your net on the right side of the boat and you’ll find some.” And they did – and the nets were so full of fish they couldn’t haul the catch into the boat. They had to drag them to the shore with the net still in the water. (Thank goodness they were only about a football-field’s length away from the shore at that point.)

As they were doing this, their minds went back to another fishing trip where they had caught nothing, and someone had told them where to find the fish. Memory clicks in, and John turns to Peter and says “it’s the Lord!” – and Peter gets dressed and leaps into the water to swim to Jesus while the rest of the disciples are hauling the fish in.

When they all got on land, Jesus had a fire going on the beach. And he had fish ready, with bread (fish sandwiches, anyone?). And Jesus tells them to bring along some of the fish they’ve caught, and he’ll throw those on the fire too. “Come and eat!” He says. And they do.

In his gospel John says “nobody asked Jesus who he was, because they knew it was him” – and this is an odd statement. Comparing this story to the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it seems that Jesus’ new resurrected body was somehow different from his original body. Because even people who knew him well didn’t recognize him right away, and yet still they knew it was him. They must have recognized his personality, his spirit, his joy… and so they didn’t need to ask.

Jesus takes the bread and gives it to them, and some of the fish… bringing to memory the feeding of the five thousand, and in some ways bringing to memory the Last Supper, where he had broken the bread and given it to them. And Jesus reminds them that the disciples are called to be ‘fishers of men’, sharing the good news and bringing people into God’s kingdom. Jesus renews that call for all of them.

After breakfast, Jesus takes Peter aside: they have some unfinished business to discuss. Peter’s denial still hangs between them… and Jesus loves Peter too much to let anything stand between them. So Jesus asks Peter – three times, once for each denial – “Do you love me?”  And three times Peter answers, “Yes Lord, you know I love you.”

Do You Love Me

Jesus didn’t ask three times in order to shame Peter, but rather in order to help Peter be aware that he himself really does love Jesus. To help Peter see himself as Jesus sees him. To help Peter understand and know the way Jesus knows. The third time Jesus asks the question, it cuts Peter to the heart and he says, “Lord you know everything – you know that I love you.” And three times, Jesus says to Peter: “Feed my sheep. Tend my flock.”

Peter is right: Jesus does know how much Peter loves him. Peter is not just forgiven: Peter is understood, accepted, and honored with a fresh sending, a fresh commission for his service. Jesus tells Peter that following him will require everything Peter has to give, including his life. But Peter won’t fail Jesus again: he will live up to the nickname Jesus gave him. Peter’s name had been Simon; Jesus changed it to Peter, which means “rock” – and he said: “on this rock I will build my church.” That is, on the rock of Peter’s faithful witness and on the rock of Peter’s love for Jesus.

Jesus’ new assignment for Peter is to be shepherd to his people. Interestingly, it is not a call to be an evangelist or to “grow the church”. Peter’s assignment has more to do with meeting peoples’ needs: feeding them, protecting them, guiding them… that’s what a shepherd does. It’s a call to love and care for God’s people in everyday ways.

Jesus not only forgives Peter, but Jesus restores Peter to his place as a disciple and as an apostle. That’s Restoration #1.

The second restoration involves the apostle Paul, who at that time went by the name of ‘Saul’.  It’s interesting how often Jesus – or God – changes peoples’ names in the Bible. Often the new name reflects the character of who this person is becoming.

At the beginning of the Book of Acts, Saul is an up-and-coming Pharisee. He is a student of Gamaliel, one of the greatest theologians of the time. As a theology student himself, Saul is the best of the best. He’s a true believer in Judaism and the Torah and the Law of Moses. Saul has devoted his whole life to learning God’s way and living God’s way. When we first meet Saul in the Book of Acts, he is standing guard over the personal belongings of a group of Pharisees who are stoning a man named Stephen to death. (Stephen was the first Christian martyr.) Stephen’s crime was being a member of a religious group called “The Way” – which is what people called Christians before the word ‘Christian’ was invented.

Members of The Way were Jewish believers in Jesus as the Messiah. As Jewish people, they were still members of their synagogues for a number of decades after Jesus’ resurrection. But their beliefs put Jesus on the same level as God, which deeply troubled the Jewish leaders, especially the Pharisees. Saul, like many of his fellow Pharisees, thought the people of The Way were teaching a false god – which, in ancient Israel, could get you arrested or killed. Why?

OneGod

Because it was a violation of Commandment #1: “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.” Throughout their history, whenever the nation of Israel started worshiping false gods, they ended up being conquered, exiled, or worse. Basically, worshiping a false god was the same thing as treason in that society – and treason is still a capital crime today.

Saul was a patriot. Saul was a true believer in God. Saul sincerely believed that putting an end to The Way was serving God. Paul went to the Sanhedrin (the religious council) and got letters from them to the synagogues in Damascus saying that, if he found any followers of The Way in Damascus he could (and would) arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem for trial.

But on his way to Damascus, Saul had an encounter with Jesus. This man, who has been an accessory to Stephen’s murder – and who is planning to do violence to God’s people in Damascus – has already been forgiven by Jesus, who is about to give him a second chance.

On the road, Saul sees a blinding light and falls to the ground. And he hears a voice asking, “why are you persecuting me?” (Notice its not “why are you persecuting my people?” – Jesus identifies so strongly with us that to hurt us is to hurt him. To hurt even just one of us is to hurt Jesus.)

Saul replies, “Who are you, Lord?” – calling Jesus by the name kyrie.  Jesus answers: “I am Jesus, who you are persecuting. But get up and go into Damascus and you will learn what you need to do.” And his fellow travelers led Saul, now blind, into the city.

Not much later Jesus appeared to Ananias, a disciple who lived in Damascus. Jesus told him “go find Saul of Tarsus who is staying at Judas’ house on Straight Street. He is praying and has seen a vision of you, laying hands on him to restore his sight.”

Ananias is understandably troubled by this and says “Lord… this man has done so much evil to your people in Jerusalem, and now he’s coming here to stir up trouble.” But Jesus reassures Ananias. Jesus has chosen Saul – soon to be renamed Paul – “to bring his name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel… and he will suffer for my name,” Jesus says.

Ananias obeys. Saul is healed, baptized, and immediately starts preaching and proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues. Can you imagine how surprised they were in those synagogues in Damascus? Literally overnight, Saul had become a member of the very movement he was trying to stamp out. Verse 20 of Acts 9 says: “immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’”

Saul’s experience may inspire us to think about how we look at our world: today’s groups, today’s righteous causes. I think most of us are aware that in Russia right now, the Russian people are being told that Ukraine is their enemy and the war there is a righteous cause blessed by the church. That’s just one example of patriotism gone wrong – and it’s not the only example I could give.

Theologian James Boyce comments, ““The story of Saul and Ananias invites us to [think about] how we… look at our own world… and [where] God [might] take our “no” and transform [it] to a “yes.”

And all of this – all of this – begins with God’s forgiveness.

In today’s readings we see Jesus building the foundation of his church with the help of two very flawed human beings. Peter will be the apostle to Israel and to the Jews. Paul will be the apostle to the Gentiles. Between the two of them they will write the majority of the New Testament letters.

All this happens because Jesus’ death and resurrection unleashes God’s Holy Spirit and God’s forgiveness to sinners. It makes possible a call to service for deeply flawed human beings.

Jesus was able to forgive Paul – and not just forgive, but create miracles to bring about his salvation. And Jesus was able to forgive Peter. Jesus reminded Peter of the depth and the breadth of their friendship and of their love for each other.

Ransomed Healed

This is what Easter is all about: joy, restoration, and forgiveness made possible by Jesus’ resurrection. And restoration is always followed by a fresh commission. These conversations with Jesus are not conclusions but new beginnings.

And it can be the same for us today. If we have ever failed to live up to God’s standards – and who hasn’t? – we can be confident if we return to Jesus with our whole hearts, and be honest about what we’ve done, we will be forgiven. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus! (Romans 8:38)  And if we ever get the wrong end of the stick, like Saul did, and find ourselves excluding people that Jesus intends to include, Jesus will help us start over.

The bottom line of all these stories today is this: God loves us. God wants to see his children restored and forgiven. Jesus wants to reconcile us to God… because God loves us, and so does Jesus. Don’t ever doubt that.

And once we are forgiven, we are able to share the good news with others.

  • Peter went from denial in fear to being a strong foundation for the church.
  • Saul went from being an executioner to an evangelist named Paul.
  • And even Ananias went from fear to encouragement and courage.

God can work in us as well. Let this be our prayer. AMEN.

 

Easter 3 – “The Restorations of Paul and Peter”

Preached at Carnegie United Methodist Church and Hill Top United Methodist Church, May 1 2022

 

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