Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Third Sunday of Easter, April 10, 2016

I remember my days as an editor. I was connected to my work. I had connections with the people I worked with. It took many departments to put together a magazine. I was connected to Atlanta. I was connected to my friends and family. I was connected to God. I sang in the church choir. I had a prayer life.

But then my connections were disrupted. I connected with Jesus in a primary way. Jesus blew all the stuff I had been connected with out of the water with his call away from editing into the priesthood. It was scary. It meant quitting my job and going to seminary. It mean going through a selection process I was not at all secure about. It meant connecting with the uncertainty that Jesus brought into my life, but also with the feeding and the nurturing Jesus did. And I connected with new things – seminary classes, field work, the group in my selection process, freelance work to help the cash flow. It was a wholly different set of connections. Jesus was asking me to trust him in this strange and uncertain land.

When I finished my Anglican studies year and got ordained, Jesus asked me once again to follow him on the different path. He asked me to move in the new direction he had chosen for me. He even helped me overcome my fears. I left Atlanta for Columbus, Ohio and then here. I left my friends behind. I left the city I had known and loved for 19 years. Now I am connected to this calling and this place.

Peter and Saul are connected to their realities. The disciples have seen the resurrected Jesus twice already, but they really don’t know what to do about it. They believe in the risen Lord, but do not have any action to take. They figure they are going to believe in this resurrected Messiah and maybe find a way to worship him, but their scope of work does not extend beyond that. So they return to their old familiar connections. They go fishing.

Saul is really connected with his reality. He has been zealously persecuting Christians, most recently standing by and watching the martyrdom of Stephen. Now he is headed for Damascus to round up any Christians he can find so they can be persecuted. He is “breathing threats and murder”.

Then Jesus comes to shake up their connections.

Peter and the other disciples hear Jesus calling from the lakeshore about them not catching any fish, and he advises them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. They do, and they haul in 153 fish. After this miracle, Jesus is recognized by the beloved disciple, and Peter, ever the impetuous person, jumps out of the boat to run and meet Jesus. He is so glad to see his Lord a third time. The disciples connect with Jesus. He fixes breakfast for them, feeds and nurtures them, helps them know that his presence is always with them. He again proves that his resurrection body is solid as he enjoys bread and fish with his beloved friends. The disciples are led away from their connection with fishing as an occupation to focus on Jesus as their Lord and Master, the one who gives them instructions.

Saul connects with Jesus in a more dramatic way. Confronted by a light on the road to Damascus, Paul sees and hears the risen Jesus asking why he is persecuting Christians. Saul prostrates himself before this light and when he gets up, he can’t see. He has to be led to the place where he will stay. He has to be told what to do. He has to fast and pray. Saul, who is used to being in charge of his life, needs not physical food as the disciples did, he needs spiritual food. Saul needs a lesson in humility, a lesson in not being in control, not seeing where he is going, living in uncertainty. And just as Jesus provided the disciples with physical nourishment after a hard night’s fishing, Jesus provides what Paul needs most to be a good follower of the Lord. Now Saul is disconnected from everything he knows. He is disoriented and willing to listen, so Jesus sends Ananais to lay hands on him to regain his sight.

Jesus disconnects the disciples, especially Peter since that is who our story revolves around, and Saul from the worlds they had known. The disciples live in the uncertainty of what to do about Jesus’ resurrection and so does Saul now that he believes. They are deeply committed to Jesus but they don’t know what to do about it.

Now Jesus reconnects them – this time to their new mission. He reinstates Peter as a leader of the new
“Jesus movement” by asking him three times if he loves him. It is the same number of denials Peter made about Jesus in the courtyard. Peter is invited to feed Jesus’ lambs and tend Jesus’ sheep. He is invited into active mission on behalf of Jesus to tend to the same people Jesus had attended to – the poor and the marginalized. Peter, who was a man of action, had been given actions he could do to serve Jesus. He had been called into a different way of life – to preaching and teaching and serving. He had also been reminded that his new work was not without its risks. Peter would be martyred for the cause.

Saul is also connected to his new mission. Jesus tells Ananais he will instruct Saul, also a man of action, in what he has to do – be an apostle to the Gentiles, to kings and to the people of Israel. Jesus forgives Saul and transfers his energy to other connections, so Saul goes right out and begins preaching that Jesus is the Son of God. Saul will also die for the Jesus movement

These stories did not just happen long ago and far away. These stories are happening now. Jesus is still present with us, still taking our old connections, still putting us in places of connection primarily with him and still sending us out. He still says as he said to Peter, “Follow me”. When I went through seminary and the selection process, I was unsure, ripped out of my comfort zone. By the time I was ordained I was ready to follow my new call. I didn’t disconnect and reconnect easily, and none of us does. We are all called to follow and Jesus is continuing to call. He comes to us where we are in our everyday lives – fishing or persecuting Christians or taking care of our children or volunteering or working in the garden. He asks us to disconnect from some things and invites us into a period of discernment with him as our primary focus, so we can listen to what he has to say to us. And then we are called – to make new connections, to do new things, to have new life in Christ, to be disciples in a new way, in big things and little things.

Jesus is calling our community too. We are being asked to discern what disconnections we might make to make new connections that will further strengthen our beloved community. We are being called to follow Jesus into the future – to feed his sheep by caring for the community, to preach the gospel by telling our story of faith to those modern day Gentiles who need to be discipled.

Jesus’ presence still with us is inviting us out of old ways into new ways, out of some old connections into new ones. Prayerful discernment is the way to get there. Pray about how you are being asked to follow Jesus. Pray about how we are being asked to follow Jesus. And know that Jesus’ grace will help us overcome whatever obstacles we have to going forward into our futures with a sense of hope and gladness.

AMEN

     -- Rev. Ann Barker