Sunday, April 10, 2016

Get up I’ve got something for you to do

From the reredos of the Cathedral of St. Paul the Apostle, Fond du Lac, WI

Sermon for Easter 3, Year C, 
St. Thomas, Menasha; April 10, 2016

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
(The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia1)

If it’s true it changes everything. 

If it’s not true, we might as well get on with business as usual.

Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. Still. He hadn’t yet realized that everything had changed. He was still operating under the old way. The old way is that when what is good and right and true is threatened you meet that threat with counter-threats. What Saul knew to be good and right and true was threatened by these crazy people of “the Way” – the way of Jesus who had recently been executed as a security threat. But the threat had continued with his followers. They had to be stopped. And Saul was going to stop them.

But, on his way, Saul himself was stopped. Surrounded by a flash of light, he fell on the ground. He had been sure Jesus was the enemy of God and of all that was good. But now he is confronted by that same Jesus back from the dead. Under the old way, the way of the world, Saul knew what to expect – he was toast! But, Jesus does not fry Saul. Instead, he forgives him, just as he had asked his Father to forgive those who crucified him. And he says, “Get up. I’ve got something for you to do.”

Try to appreciate how mind-blowing this is. Saul, who had been sure that what he was doing was right and pleasing to God, discovers he is doing exactly the opposite. Instead of doing the good he wants, he is doing the evil he did not want to do. He is opposing God! How wretched. No wonder everything went black. No wonder a chastened Saul, now Paul, would later write, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21). It is a statement of humility that he learned the hard way – by dying to his own comfort and certainty. It is the wisdom of humility we would all do well to take to heart.

But there is more. Saul’s falling on the ground is not just an act of fear, it is an act of humble repentance and conversion. Then, amazingly, in spite of Saul's finding himself, contrary to his best intentions, to be the enemy of God, Jesus reconciles him and says, “Get up. I’ve got something for you to do.” I hope you are able to hear the good news, the grace, in that. I hope it shapes the way you understand God. And yourself. I hope you are able to hear Jesus saying the same to you when you find yourself to have been opposing God in one way or another. “Yes, you’ve blown it. Yes, you are in the wrong. You are right to repent. Just the same, get up. I’ve got something for you to do.”

What Saul had not realized was that with the death and resurrection of Jesus everything had changed. Like a Japanese soldier hiding in the jungle long after peace had been declared, Saul was still breathing threats and murder after God had declared the war over  offering amnesty to all comers. The Lamb that was slaughtered is now the sign of "power and wealth and wisdom and honor and glory and blessing." If the Lamb that was slaughtered is now the sign of such things they mean something different. Not power as the world exercises it. Not wealth as the world measures it. Not wisdom as the world understands it. Not honor or glory or blessing as the world recognizes those things. Not the way of the world. No more business as usual. Those things  and all other things – are now measured by the love and forgiveness, reconciliation and peace, humility and gentleness of Jesus. Now that Saul believed in the resurrection, he dared to live the new Way.

“Get up. I’ve got something for you to do.”

Saul’s conversion was sudden and dramatic. Ananias’ was more of a process. He was already a Jesus follower. He knew that Jesus was the Way. But he still needed to live into the Way Jesus is. He had every reason to reject Saul or at least to suspect his sincerity. Saul was one of the bad guys – someone to be suspected and rejected as an enemy. His threats should be met with counter-threats and retaliation. Or at least avoidance. But that is still thinking the old way. That is business as usual. The Way Jesus is is a way in which there are no real enemies, but only potential brothers and sisters. As Augustine preached, “Most of the time, when you think you are hating your enemy, you are hating your brother without knowing it.” That is the Way of Jesus. That is the Way of the Lamb that was slaughtered to absorb all our violence and hate, all our sin and suffering, and transform it into reconciliation, mercy, and grace. Jesus called Ananias to live that way. And because Ananias knew that Jesus was risen, he dared to do it.

Get up. I’ve got something for you to do.

Peter had a similar experience. Like Saul he had done exactly what he did not want to do. He had denied Jesus, not just once but three times. Again, under the old rules Peter had every reason to expect that when Jesus showed up raised from the dead he would be angry, threatening retribution. Peter – and the other disciples – should have been toast. That would be business as usual. But that is not the way of the Lamb that was slaughtered. Instead, Jesus fixes them breakfast – toast included. And he speaks directly to Peter. He addresses the three denials by inviting Peter to affirm his love three times. And he gives him something to do, “Feed my sheep.” And he did it. He did it even after Jesus told him it would get him killed. Because Peter knew Christ was risen, he dared to do it.

Get up I’ve got something for you to do.

We worship the slaughtered Lamb. If we really believe the Lamb that was slaughtered is also risen and at the heart of it all, how might that change the way we live? It seems harder to meet threats to my security, or to things I hold dear, with counter-threats and violence. If the way of the One who is the Way is the way of self-emptying, self-sacrificing love, the way of the Lamb that is slaughtered, do we want to still be about business as usual? If, like Saul, we know ourselves to have received mercy and grace, shouldn’t we be humble agents of that mercy and grace? If, like Ananias, we can see enemies as potential brothers and sisters, shouldn’t we seek reconciliation? If, like Peter, we know Jesus loves us in spite of everything, shouldn’t we love him and, for his sake, love and feed and tend all his sheep? If we believe the Lord is risen can we dare to follow in the way of the Lamb that was slaughtered? Can we dare to live the radical way of love?

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
(The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Everything has changed. No more business as usual.

Get up. I’ve got something for you to do.

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