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THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER – YEAR C – 10.4.16

The Collect
O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The First Lesson
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” [The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “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.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”]
The Response
Psalm 30
Exaltabo te, Domine
1 I will exalt you, O Lord,
because you have lifted me up *
and have not let my enemies triumph over me .
2 O Lord my God, I cried out to you, *
and you restored me to health .
3 You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; *
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave .
4 Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; *
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness .
5 For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, *
his favor for a lifetime .
6 Weeping may spend the night, *
but joy comes in the morning .
7 While I felt secure, I said,
”I shall never be disturbed. *
You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”
8 Then you hid your face, *
and I was filled with fear .
9 I cried to you, O Lord; *
I pleaded with the Lord, saying,
10 “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? *
will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?
11 Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; *
O Lord, be my helper.”
12 You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy .
13 Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever .
The Epistle
Revelation 5:11-14
I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
The Gospel
John 21:1-19
Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
SERMON FOR THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT – YEAR C – 10.4.16

May I speak in the name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This is the second sermon in our series on the Lord’s Prayer. Last week we considered the meaning and implications of addressing our God as our Father. This week we’ll be looking at the meaning and implications of asking for God’s kingdom to come – on earth as in heaven. I won’t be referring to today’s scripture directly, but I do invite you to read the passages again during the week in the light of what I am about to say.

On earth – that’s the first jolt in this familiar phrase. We are not asking for God’s kingdom to happen in the afterlife, up in heaven. We are asking for it today, now, here. Whatever it is, it’s not just a concept, which we can worry about later. Asking for it in this way means we have to accept that it will suffuse today, now, here – and will therefore make rather a significant difference to our lives. And asking for it implies that we want that.

So just what are we asking for? What is this kingdom? Before Jesus, the prophetic message was about repentance, and turning to God as King. Without this turning, God would not return to his people and bring in the consolation of Israel. But not all prophets were the same. The great chapters of Isaiah which talk about God’s kingdom and the special servant who would usher it in set the scene for Jesus’ understanding both of the kingdom and of his own rôle. The Suffering Servant is no King David – he’s nothing special, indeed he’s weak, and scorned by all. And Isaiah’s God is just as much a shepherd as a thunderer.

So although most Jews expected and desperately desired the Messiah to produce political change and use the power of God’s mighty arm, there was already a thread of different understanding. Just as, after major life upsets, we learn that we are not all-powerful, that we cannot pretend to control events, so the events of exile, the misery of a humdrum return and God’s apparent desertion of his people had taught the Jews a less self-important wisdom. This meant that some of them would be ready to hear the good news. They would need all the strength their wisdom gave them, because the good news would continue to shock. In taking on Isaiah’s idea of the Suffering Servant, Jesus also made crucial changes to the concepts of consolation and victory. These would lead to the scandal of the cross.
And that’s the second shock. The chain of faith that leads Jesus to teach us to ask for the kingdom to come, is also inexorably linked to the cross.
Jesus is recorded talking about the kingdom in all four gospels, and usually after he has healed someone: “the kingdom of God has come near you,” he says. Today, now, here. In most cases, the person healed has not repented their sins – but they have shown faith. Jesus tells them they are also forgiven, but this is not what they have asked for. (Any of you with children will know that true repentance usually follows forgiveness, rather than the other way about.) In asking for the kingdom to come near, we are asking not for a concept, not for something far-off, but for something close, personal, unpredictable.

Then of course there’s the question of which people Jesus healed and forgave. The kingdom of God we are asking for is likely to entail the company of all the wrong people. And this is to happen today, now, here – so my everyday life is going to have to take in everyone, including all the wrong people, if I want to be part of the coming of the kingdom. Another jolt.

The disciples who first heard the prayer and continued to pray it after Jesus’ death and resurrection, knew that there was still sin and pain in the world. But they understood that Jesus had changed the meaning of sin and pain forever. His resurrection had filled every gap, every weakness, every misunderstanding, every betrayal, with the possibility of light. It had transformed the wrong people into the right people, including themselves. His life and death had shown them how such resurrection is achieved. The chain of faith that leads from kingdom to cross leads also to resurrection.

The possibility of asking that God’s kingdom should come near is rendered conceivable to us because God has come near us already in the person of Jesus Christ. But we should be clear that the implications of asking for this to happen in our own lives include all the implications that Jesus faced: the humdrum everyday; the being loved; the being heard; the being betrayed; the being crucified; the being raised and glorified. And none of it as we expected.

Amen.