Toorak Uniting Church

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Transforming Encounters

Acts 9: 1 – 19   John 21: 1 – 19
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
18 April 2010

In today’s scripture readings we hear of the life of three people being transformed. This seems to be the characteristic of what happens to people after Easter: They meet with the unexpected, they are touched in ways they never imagined possible and put onto tracks they couldn’t have dreamed would be there for them.

On Easter morning we met with the three Mary’s for whom the closed door of the tomb of Jesus becomes a new and unexpected journey into the future with Christ beside and ahead of them.

Today we meet Peter who has seen the empty tomb and the discarded linen that contained Jesus’ body, but who hasn’t, so far, been able to move from his old life into the new reality of Easter. He has gone back to fishing. Which probably seemed like the only sensible thing to do. Keep going, doing what you know, with a heavy heart perhaps lightened with a glimmer of hope, but nothing all too exciting so far.
After all: Even if the tomb was empty and Jesus was somehow going to be part of their lives again, where does that leave Peter? The friend who fell asleep in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was so scared he was sweating blood, the friend who fled from the scene when Roman soldiers came for Jesus, and who denied him three times because he was afraid of being arrested too.
Much better to go back to work than linger with the guilt and fear he must have been carrying around with him, afraid the others would find out just how shallow his love for Jesus had proven to be, and perhaps even afraid that the women were right and that an encounter with the living Christ might be in store for him.

Peter?

It is funny how in these stories it is invariably the voice of Jesus that rattles the closed doors of the tomb. A call, a name, and in this case a name that says it all: Rock, you on whom I am going to build my community, you, let down your net on the other side and see what happens.....

Nets full to bursting and Peter wading to shore, leaving guilt and fear behind in the water as he is joins his friend for a meal.

Jesus calls Peter to feed his sheep, to look after those who will follow him in this new after Easter life. He entrusts what is most precious to him to Peter. Not because Peter is perfect, on the contrary, but because Peter is not perfect and knows he isn’t. Not the perfect disciple but the marred one is given the commission to lead, the one who needed liberation and forgiveness before he could come to the table and look his master in the eye again is called to a place of utmost importance.

And then there is Saul, who later changed his name to Paul. Fanatic, confident, full of self righteousness, blazing with the ardour to, if necessary, kill all that contests what he feels is right and proper. On his way to wreak more havoc in the fledgling Christian community. In his mind Jesus was just a trouble maker whose following needed to be stamped out as soon as possible.

Saul?

Again that voice. This time wholly unexpected. Where Peter may have been waiting or dreading to hear it, Paul was certainly not expecting anything like it. A voice and a light.
Anyone who has heard that voice will know it is an experience that will leave you trembling with awe and fear. An experience that will change you forever, want it or not.

Saul, what are you doing? A question that stops him in his tracks and holds up a mirror right in front of his face. What do you think you are doing? A question that leaves Paul blinded for the first couple of days and will then leave him to reconsider his beliefs and life direction for about 10 or 15 years before he is ready to take up his ministry. The voice and the light may have had an immediate impact, the transformation takes a long time to completely materialise. The transformation from Saul the Christ slayer to Paul one of the greatest apostles.

Last but not least we meet Ananias. Who is called to enter the lion’s den on no more than a voice coming to him in a dream. Go, I want you to knock on the door of the house your deadliest foe is staying at and help the guy. I don’t know about you, but if I had been Ananias I think I may have ignored that message! But no, Ananias goes, lays on hands (he actually brings himself to touch this evil doer!) and restores sight to the blind Saul.
Here again the waters of baptism flow. Paul is invited to leave his guilt and shame behind in the font, dying with Christ and rising again to a new life.
And you know what? And how could it be any different? They then share some food before Paul regains his strength.
Although Ananias’ transformation is perhaps not the most spectacular of the three, it may be the most significant for people like us.

Here is a man leading a good Christian life, doing his Christian duties, saying his prayers and meeting up with other Christians when the time is there. For him there is no surprise encounter on the lakeshore with a miraculous catch of fish. For him no Star track light beams and voices from heaven. For him there is just the dream and a voice telling him to go where every fibre in his body must have been warning him not to go. He is called to trust that somehow the call he has heard in his mind is real, that the touch of his hands, a baptismal bath and a meal are going to change a violent pursuer into a friend. As many or most of you know there aren’t many things more difficult than to open your heart to someone who has hurt you or your friends and trust them without reserve. I believe most of us would need more than the couple of hours it took Ananias. To go, to risk our life in doing so, to touch, to heal, to love, to forgive, to share a communion meal with them.

Yet that is exactly what we are asked to do again and again. To hear the voice call our name and unreservedly respond. Leave whatever it is that holds us captive behind like Peter and accept whatever responsibility we may be entrusted with. Or wrestle with the impact of that voice disturbing our well ordered certainties until we can clearly see like Paul. Or be prepared to go against our better judgement if it comes to opening the future for another like Ananias.

Along the way we may know the Lord close. Waiting for us on the shore, preparing a meal, looking out for us on the road, helping us to see, preparing a meal, visiting us in our dreams, filling our hearts with a love that conquers fear and brings healing and peace to a raging world.
Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2010


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