Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Third Sunday of Easter Year C

Third Sunday of Easter Year C April 10, 2016 Do we really still believe in transformation, in conversion? Our stories from Acts and John for today are stories of transformation and conversion, but they almost seem like fairy tales in the light of current events—an acrimonious national political landscape, Christians arguing in this state over religious discrimination versus the rights of business owners, all sorts of negative national media attention and boycotts for our beloved state. I will confess that this week, it has been hard for me to believe in transformation, in conversion. In the reading from Acts, we see a pivotal moment in the life of the Christian church. Saul of Tarsus, who is responsible for leading the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is “still breathing threats and murder” against the followers of the Way, and he sets out to go find more Christians in Damascus that he can bring to justice. But on the way to Damascus, something happens. Saul is knocked to the ground by a flash of blinding light and he hears the voice of the Resurrected Jesus asking Saul why he is persecuting Jesus. Saul never really answers the question, but he does what the Lord instructs and heads to Damascus where he blindly waits for three days. Now, I don’t know anybody who reads this lesson and identifies with Saul of Tarsus. He’s the bad guy of the story at this point, the one breathing threats and murder against our forefathers and mothers. We all would much rather identify with the persecuted followers of Jesus who are faithfully following the Way and doing what they are supposed to be doing. But, my dear friends, what we must remember today is that each of us, at one time or another in our lives, we have each been Saul. In fact, deep down in our hearts even now, each and every one of us is Saul! Each of us has been so convinced of our own righteous behavior that we have been unable to see what is right in front of us. Each of us has been so intent on “breathing threats and murder” against our opponents that we forget that they too are God’s children, our brothers and sisters. Each of us have zealously followed wrong paths blindly in a way that was injurious to those around us—driven by our ambition, our self-destructive habits, our selfish ways, our self-righteousness. Every one of us is Saul. But there is another conversion in this story. The Resurrected Jesus also appears to Annaias, a faithful disciple who is living in Damascus, and he tells Annaias to go seek out Saul and lay hands on him so he would regain his sight. But Annaias says to the Lord, “Look Lord, I know you may not know this, but I’ve heard about this Saul guy, and he’s a real jerk! I don’t really think that I should get tangled up with him—he’s really messed up a lot of our people already.” But Jesus tells him to go, that Saul will become an instrument for the Lord’s purposes. So Annaias is converted, and he goes and does what the Lord tells him, even though Saul is the enemy, even though he puts himself at great personal risk by going. So too, each one of us is Annaias, being converted to the way of the Lord despite our own judgements and pre-conceived notions, reaching out to our neighbors who are dangerous and threatening on the basis of sheer faith. Each and every one of us is Annaias. And then there’s Peter. Peter who in the midst of hope and confusion and shame (from his previous denial) at Jesus’s resurrection decides that he is going to go fishing to try to clear his head, and the other disciples go with him. But when Peter sees that the Lord is present, he jumps into the water and makes a mad dash toward him. And then he sits across the fire from Jesus, in a scene that is poignantly reminiscent of the story of the feeding of the five thousand with nothing but a few loaves and some fish, and Jesus offers him forgiveness, and purpose and belonging by a three-fold wiping of the slate from Peter’s previous denial by his invitation to a three-fold annunciation. Yes, Lord, I do love you, even though I forsake you before! Each one of us has been like Peter—longing for belonging and affirmation in a community, longing for forgiveness for our wrongs, and then receiving it all at the hands of Jesus while breaking bread and eating with him. Each and every one of us is Peter. What these almost fairy-tale like stories give us this week is a reminder that we are all in need of transformation, of conversion. They remind us that when we are open to the dream of God, then amazing things happen in lives and in our world. They remind us that with God all things are possible, and that God does not give up on any one of us—not Peter, not Annaias, not even Saul. This past week I read a poem and a true story posted by my mentor Parker Palmer on his Onbeing blog. The poem is Loaves and Fishes by David Whyte and it reads: Loaves and Fishes by David Whyte, from The House of Belonging This is not the age of information. This is NOT the age of information. Forget the news and the radio and the blurred screen. This is the time of loaves and fishes. People are hungry and one good word is bread for a thousand. After sharing this poem, Palmer writes about a recent experience he had in air travel. He boarded a 6 am flight that was delayed because the coffee service was also delayed. Eventually, the flight crew decided to go ahead and make the flight without the coffee, newspapers, or other food and beverages. As Parker sat at the front of the plane with the other “road warriors”—he notices that this already somewhat surly tribe began to get more and more disgruntled at the prospect of the early morning flight without their accustomed amenities. When the flight attendant came on the intercom, she gave her prepared spiel which was accompanied by much griping, eye rolling, and scorn from the road warriors, but then she did something unexpected. She said, “ ‘Now that I have your attention... I know you're upset about the coffee. Well, get over it! Start sharing stuff with your seatmates. That bag of five peanuts you got on your last flight and put in your pocket? Tear it open and pass them around! Got gum or mints? Share them! You can't read all the sections of your paper at once. Offer them to each other! Show off the pictures of kids and grandkids you have in your wallets!’" As she went on in that vein, people began laughing and doing what she had told them to do. A surly scene turned into summer camp!” An hour later, when Parker thanked her for her words, she “leaned down and whispered, ‘The loaves and fishes are not dead.’" Do we really still believe in transformation, in conversion? My dear ones, do not lose heart. "People are hungry / and one good word is bread / for a thousand."