(Acts 9:1-20; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-10)
In the Gospel According to John 10:10, Jesus states, “I came that [you] may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jesus is constantly inviting us to live into greater health and wholeness so that we can have the abundant life he came to give us, and he does so based on what we each of us needs. We don’t all receive the same invitation. Jesus tailors his invitations so that each of us receives what we need to live into greater health and wholeness.
We see this in the scripture passages read today. In the Gospel According to John reading, Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples are fishing overnight in the Sea of Tiberias, but they catch nothing. In the morning, a man standing on the beach calls out to them and tells them to cast their net to the right side of the boat and they will catch fish. They do what the man suggests, and they catch so many fish they cannot haul in the net. At this point, the disciple Jesus loves realizes that the man on the beach is Jesus and tells Simon Peter, “It is the lord!” In true Peter fashion – impetuous – Peter jumps into the water to swim to the shore, while the other disciples head to the shore in the boat, dragging the net full of fish. When the disciples get on shore, they see that Jesus has built a fire and is cooking fish and warming bread on it. Jesus invites the disciples to sit and eat the breakfast he has prepared for them, and they do so.
The disciples, after going through three years of mission with Jesus, the events of Holy Week (conflict, arrest, trial, conviction, abuse, crucifixion, and burial), and the resurrection, need some nurturing, and that’s what Jesus invites them to receive from him. They accept his invitation, catch many fish, and eat the breakfast he has prepared for them, thereby living into greater health and wholeness.
Jesus then turns to Simon Peter, the one who had denied him three times after he was arrested, and invites him to make reparations for his denials by asking him three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Each time, Simon Peter answers, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” And each time, Jesus responds to Simon Peter’s answer with a command to care for his flock. He says, “Feed my lambs. . . . Tend my sheep. . . . Feed my sheep.” Peter has denied Jesus three times, but Jesus enables Peter to “undo” those denials by inviting him to proclaim his love for Jesus and receive the command to care for Jesus’ flock, thereby living into greater health and wholeness.
Now we turn to the scripture from the Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of Saul’s conversion to Paul. Saul is a zealous Jew intent on persecuting Christians. He is on his way to Damascus to find Christians, bind them, and bring them to Jerusalem. Suddenly, a light from heaven flashes around him, he falls to the ground, and he hears a voice ask, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul asks, “Who are you?” and the voice answers, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” Saul gets up and realizes that although his eyes are open, he cannot see. The men traveling with him to Damascus take him into the city, where he spends three days unable to see and not eating or drinking anything. Saul undergoes an experience similar to Jesus’ experience while buried in the tomb.
After three days, Jesus sends Ananias to Paul to lay hands on him and heal him. Ananias lays hands on Saul and says, “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.” Immediately, something like scales falls from Paul’s eyes, his sight is restored, and he is baptized. Saul is resurrected into Paul. He is transformed from zealous persecutor to zealous lover, and begins to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” Jesus, on the road to Damascus, invited Saul to become Paul, thereby inviting him to live into greater health and wholeness.
As we consider these three invitations from Jesus to live into greater health and wholeness, let us note that each of them was different based on what those receiving the invitations needed. (1) The group of disciples fishing in the Sea of Tiberias needed nurturing. They were invited to receive an abundant catch of fish and a delicious breakfast. Saying yes to this invitation was easy and tasted yummy. (2) Simon Peter needed the opportunity to make reparations for his denials of Jesus and commit to future faithfulness. He was invited to proclaim his love of Jesus and receive the command to care for Jesus’ flock three times. Saying yes to this invitation was challenging because it reminded Peter of his past, unfaithful actions and required a commitment to faithfulness in the future. (3) Saul needed a complete transformation from zealous persecutor to zealous lover. Saul was invited to surrender to three days in darkness to prepare to receive the Holy Spirit and be born anew. Saying yes to this invitation was difficult and required Saul to search his soul and seek God in prayer and fasting.
These three examples of invitations from Jesus teach us that no matter what we are going through – whether nurturing, challenging, or downright difficult – Jesus is inviting us to live into greater health and wholeness through it. We are not to ask, “Why is this happening TO me?” Rather, we are to ask, “Why is this happening FOR me?” What am I being invited to receive from whatever it is I am going through that will lead me to greater health and wholeness? (1) Sometimes, we are being invited to receive nurturing. (2) Sometimes, we are being invited to receive the opportunity to make amends for past actions and receive direction for better living in the future. (3) Sometimes, we are being invited to completely change the direction of our lives and be born anew. (4) Sometimes, we are being invited to something not reflected in the scripture passages today. Whatever it is we are going through, we are to ask, “Jesus, what are you inviting me to receive from this experience? Enlighten me, lead me, guide me to the abundant life you came to give me.”
Jesus came so that we can have life and have it abundantly. When in the midst of an experience, regardless of what it is and what it feels like, let us remember to ask Jesus, “Why is this happening FOR me? What are you inviting me to receive, Lord, so that I may live into greater health and wholeness, and experience the abundant life you came to give me?” Amen.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, May 1, 2022, the Third Sunday of Easter.
*Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay