3rd Sunday of Easter, year C, 2016
first reading: Acts 9:1-20
second reading: Revelation 5:11-14
gospel reading: John 21:1-19
In today’s readings, one of the overarching themes we find is that of RECOGNITION.
Each of our readings show us many ways of recognizing the Lord, and seeing Jesus in one another and in community.
In our first reading there’s A LOT of recognizing going on. Saul (who will later become the great St. Paul) hears a voice, but initially doesn’t know who it is. When he says, “Lord” in verse 5, he doesn’t mean “Lord God,” he’s using the title more to mean “sir.”
But he learns soon enough. This recognition is harsh. Jesus blinds Saul, so that Saul can finally SEE who Jesus really is.
Then there’s Ananias. Ananias know the Lord, and knows OF Saul. He recognizes Saul’s reputation as a persecutor and recognizes the danger of meeting him. But Ananias also recognizes the Lord’s power and authority. And because he recognized that power and authority he was able to TRUST. “Okay Lord, whatever you say.”
In fact, Ananias trusted the Lord’s words SO much that when he finally meets Saul, the first word out of his mouth is “brother.” Ananias recognizes that the Lord has brought them together – these two men who were once enemies.
Our reading from Revelation is recognition from start to finish. The whole book is about recognizing who God is – and here we have God praised in song!
God’s place on the throne is recognized, God’s sacrifice for us is recognized; God’s character of power, wealth, wisdom, and might are recognized. And OUR place, and the place of every creature in heaven and on earth is recognized: our place is to fall and worship.
Interesting fact: almost 100 hymns in our hymnal get their inspiration from the book of Revelation. It may be a confusing book for many of us, but the hymn-writers get it. It tells us who God is.
Our gospel reading continues this theme of recognition plainly. The disciples didn’t recognize Jesus, but when he performed a miracle of fish, the beloved disciple got it. “It is the Lord!” And then Peter gets to “undo” his earlier three denials – when he had refused to recognize Jesus – and proclaim three times, “I love you.”
Recognition. I recognize you – on one level, as someone I know – and on another level, as someone I value. And you recognize me.
If we consider ourselves followers of the Lord Jesus, we recognize him. But since he won’t be helping us catch any fish anytime soon, or blinding us with light, we have to work a little harder to “see” him.
If we can’t recognize Jesus, then our relationship with him will be pretty empty. It’s hard to have a relationship with someone you never hear from or see.
So, how do we, here in the 21st century recognize Jesus?
We recognize him where he promises to be. And where is that?
“This is my body,” isn’t some platitude. We don’t completely understand it all, but in a mysterious holy way Jesus Christ IS here – in the water and the meal.
Jesus also promises that he is with us in worship. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matt. 18:20)
This is why gathering for worship is so important in our lives as Christians. Through our baptism Jesus puts us in a community. We become part of the “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” – singing together, recognizing the Lord is HERE. Right now. There’s no substitute for it.
I’m not saying we can’t have God with us when we’re alone but there’s a value Jesus places in the community that is unparalleled, as flawed as we are.
And this is the other primary way we recognize Jesus – IN ONE ANOTHER.
Jesus tells us that he is IN us (John 14:20), and if he is in us, then how can we NOT recognize him in one another?
It’s not always easy. We get tired. Burned out. Angry. Frustrated. Ours is an imperfect community. As I said a few moments ago – we are flawed. It’s hard to recognize Jesus in the noisy toddler or the pre-occupied teenager, or the stern elder. It’s hard to recognize Jesus in the person we don’t like or in the one who doesn’t like us. But Jesus told us, LOVE your enemies, and to pray for those who curse you. (Matt 5:44)
Not only that, but with this recognition of the Lord comes a mission. In our gospel reading he tells Peter to feed and tend his sheep (JESUS’ sheep, not PETER’S!) – and “Follow me.”
Nowhere does Jesus promise us that discipleship would be easy.
So why do this thing? Why do we follow? We do we choose to try and recognize Jesus? Why am I here? Why are YOU here?
I can only speak for myself.
I’m here because Jesus loves me – and you. I’m here because I recognize and acknowledge that love. His love for me, despite all my failures, gives me strength to get up another day. I’m here because, even though community is a challenge, and I’ve had moments of disappointment, it is IN community that I have also received incredible support in joy and sorrow.
And as hard as it can be to recognize Jesus, especially in others, the alternative – to be turned inward, only thinking of myself – is just too destructive. It isn’t the easy road, but it’s the best one.
I encourage each of you in love, as you recognize Jesus in your own life, to answer this question of “Why?” Because in the process of doing so, you’ll perhaps find renewed purpose and focus – for your life in the Church – AND in the world.
I must give some credit to my Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, who in her April column for the ELCA’s magazine, “Living Lutheran,” posed the question “Why?”