Saying Yes to Jesus
I’m a huge baseball fan. In fact, a bunch of the other children’s ministry dads were giving me a hard time at Walk Through Holy Week because I wore my Atlanta Braves baseball cap. Apparently, Dallas also has a baseball team, but I just can’t quit the Braves. I’ve enjoyed baseball for a long time because it is game of skill and calculation. It is a game of patience. A fellow baseball fan once told me the story of a pitcher in a tight game facing a fantastic hitter. The pitcher shook off all the pitches called for by the catcher. The catcher then became visibly frustrated and finally approached the mound and said, “I have called on every pitch in the world. What do you want to do?” To which the fearful pitcher replied, “I just want to hold onto the ball as long as I possibly can.”
On this second Sunday after Easter, the excitement has died down and everything is slowly going back to normal. Many of us wonder if it is too difficult to be a transformed resurrection people. And so, we simply want to slink back to our old lives, our old ways, and our old habits. But Easter is that big interruption when everything changes and we can’t go back to the way things were. God interrupted history to change the world. And when God interrupts our lives it is our job to say yes to Jesus and to follow.
And we too are like many of the first followers before the resurrected Jesus appeared to them. We like to be comfortable in our safe spaces, holding the baseball tightly hoping that the moment will pass. We like to retreat into the comfort of what we have known and in what we do so well, as opposed to being challenged to grow and to follow. As the grandness of Easter is in the rearview mirror, we are tempted to go back to our jobs, our homes, and our families. We are tempted to go back to our habits, our distractions, our excuses, in order to hide from the beckoning call of Jesus to follow. And I know that life is overwhelming and the possibility of shouldering one more change feels like too much to bear. I know that we want to cover up our commission and our calling and hope that Jesus doesn’t find us in the dark night of our loneliness or in our post-Easter blindness.
But we can’t escape Easter. If you didn’t already know it, Easter is a whole season. It isn’t just one day. We are in the season of Eastertide. We are still bedecked in white paraments and we are still celebrating the risen Christ. This season of Easter extends our energy and passion for life-changing resurrection deeper into the Christian year. And I think that is a good thing, because we need to be Easter people, resurrection people, now more than ever. We need to continue to find ways to bring people from the graves and tombs and hells of their lives into the radical mercy and justice and hope of transformation.
And one way we can remember that we are in the Easter season is through these lectionary texts for today. Both the Gospel lesson and the lesson in Acts which Reann read, reveal the importance of transformation and new life. Last year I preached on the Gospel lesson about how Peter and the disciples had gone back to their normal lives, began fishing again, and simply wanted to escape the hurt and the heartache of Jesus’ death. Peter, especially, was tired and exhausted and embarrassed, and just wanted things to back to the way they were before. Yet, Jesus wasn’t done with Peter. Peter was still a follower and because he followed Jesus everything had to change. Peter needed to live a new life of transformation.
So, Jesus appeared to Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after he had been fishing all night long. And not only did the risen Christ show up to Peter on that beach, but Jesus also prepared a meal for Peter and the other disciples, a meal of fish and bread. Not really the kind of breakfast I would want, but it was more symbolic than anything else. Do you remember the last time Jesus had fish and bread ready for the disciples? It was during the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus had transformed hunger into fullness. Jesus had transformed poverty into plenty. Jesus had transformed fear into faith. Jesus did a miracle to show that God was a God of justice for all people, all people hungry for faith, hungry for love.
Rachel Held Evans, a deeply influential Christian blogger and author, died yesterday at the age of 37, leaving behind a husband and two young children. She spent her entire life saying yes to the Jesus of love and inclusion. And that is the Jesus that people are hungry for. Evans said, “This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.”
And there was room for more… there was room for Peter. Jesus showed up to Peter even after he had denied him three different times. And Peter probably felt like Jesus should’ve hated and abandoned him. But Jesus came to Peter nonetheless. And for every time that Peter denied Jesus, the risen Jesus asked Peter on that beach, “Do you love me? Then feed my sheep.” Jesus asked that of Peter three times! So, even though Peter was scared and chose to desert Jesus, Jesus didn’t abandon Peter. Jesus showed up to defeated disciples and nourished them. Jesus gave Peter another opportunity to say yes to him. Jesus gave Peter another opportunity to say yes to following Jesus out into the world to take care of and feed Jesus’ sheep, all of God’s people. And that’s what it means to say yes to Jesus.
For our Scripture reading on this Third Sunday of Easter from the book of Acts, we find room for someone else, someone else in this season of new life, someone else who was transformed by the risen Christ… Saul. Saul was a zealot who held the coats of the murderers when the Christ-follower Stephen was stoned. He was someone who persecuted Christians and was feared throughout the bourgeoning Christian community. Saul, who wanted nothing to do with the “Jesus Way,” and in fact, was traveling on the road to Damascus to jail these new Christians, experienced the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Jesus showed up to Saul. And although Saul’s spiritual eyes were opened that day, he was struck physically blind. And in that blindness, Ananias of Damascus, the disciple of Jesus, went to this praying and fasting Saul, laid his hands on him, and Saul regained his sight. Saul then ate, gained strength, and was baptized.
That old self, Saul, the one who had not only refused to accept Jesus but outright fought against Jesus and his followers, this Saul had a change of heart and a change of name. He became Paul and sought to bring others onto the Jesus Way. Paul followed his calling from Jesus by doing what Jesus did for Peter on that beach and what Jesus did for him on that road to Damascus. Paul became someone who would provide nourishment, spiritual nourishment, to churches and other followers of Christ.
And that’s the thing, nourishment comes in many different forms. Jesus nourished Peter by showing up and providing a hearty breakfast. Peter nourished the Christian community by pledging to Jesus that he would love God’s sheep, all of Jesus’ followers, by feeding them, giving them spiritual nourishment. And Paul, after he was transformed by Jesus had a calling to go out into the world and nourish the new churches, helping them to grow healthy and strong. And Paul’s transformation was so very important because during the three days when he was blinded by the glory of God, he fasted from food and drink. He knew what it felt like to be malnourished, to yearn for the physical sustenance of God as well as spiritual and emotional nourishment too.
And I think that is important for all of us as believers in Christ who say yes to Jesus’ call to follow. We are called to not only go out and bring spiritual nourishment to the world, but we are meant to bring physical nourishment as well. Jesus told Peter to feed his flock. Sure, that means to love people and deliver mercy and justice, but it also means we must physically take care of people too. Rev. Mary Newbern-Williams of Princeton Theological Seminary tells of her experience with saying yes to Jesus. “During my time as an intern with a homeless shelter, I conducted Bible study, led Sunday worship services, and met individually with our clients. Most of them had grown up in churches or other religious entities and were more than open to prayer, study, and inspirational dialogue. The spiritual aspect of the work was as important as the food we provided. When one’s physical hunger has been satisfied, opportunities to satisfy spiritual hunger are better accepted.”
And that’s what Jesus did for Peter on that beach. His physical hunger was satisfied by the fish that Jesus cooked and that nourishment made Peter more able to say yes to Jesus’ call to go out and love the world. Peter had the energy, both physically and spiritually, to go out and transform people’s lives. The same was true for Paul. Paul’s spiritual hunger was satisfied and he was able to preach and teach to the many new churches that were forming. We should be like Peter and Paul and say yes to Jesus. Our work is to continue that encouragement, that love, and that hope even when our faith falters and our spirits are saddened. We must say yes to Jesus and go out and satisfy people’s physical needs and spiritual yearnings. For if we do, we are following Christ’s example.
Because if we say yes, we must realize that the love we are meant to show to the world is a love that requires action. It is love as courage, love as risk, love as not wavering, regardless of what we are called to do. Christ called Peter and Paul and us, as individuals and as a community of faith, to follow him even where we might not want to go. This isn’t the time to return to what we are used to. This isn’t the time to ignore our blindness and neglect our transformation. No, this is the time to call for the best love for God, friends, neighbors, and enemies that we can muster. Or, better still, this time after Easter is for us to cry out for an active kind of love meant to bring life and resurrection and green pastures and still waters to all, every single one, of God’s children.
And so, during the post-Easter season, we need to remember that we are and will always be resurrection people, not just on Easter Sunday, but constantly transformed people following Jesus each and every day. Saying yes to Jesus means that in all ways, physical, mental, and spiritual, we should bring life to our city and to our world. And it is my hope that on this communion Sunday, we will remember Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection through this bread and through this cup, this physical and spiritual nourishment at the Lord’s Table. Because it is at this table that we will be physically fed, so that we can have the strength in body and in spirit to say yes to Jesus, to go out and, in turn, feed the world. Is that you this morning? Are you ready to say yes to Jesus?