Sermon: May 5, 2019

Easter III 2019: Reconciling in Christ

by The Reverend Jeffrey C. Johnson

Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]

The Conversion of Saul

Meanwhile 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.
10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 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, 12 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.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 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; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 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.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”


John 21:1-19 

21 After these things 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[b] off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 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. 12 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. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 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.” 16 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.” 17 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. 18 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.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Grace and Peace to you from the Risen Christ.  

18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored.  Regarding specifically today’s passage, most of us have heard this line somewhere before in our collective memory or we have heard this or we’ve heard it as sort of a metaphor or fanciful way of saying something.  And this line, the scaly line, with sight restored, is a launching place for us today. But First!

As a former theatrical director, I am compelled to set the scene, name the characters of this story, and name their motivations.  

We have three characters in this Acts story: Saul/Paul, the LORD JESUS or the Voice of the LORD JESUS, and Ananias.  

Our main character, of course, is Saul/Paul: Briefly, Saul/Paul has an extraordinary experience of conversion that not only involved blinding light but results in a name change, his baptism, and the beginnings of the Body of Christ, the Church.  That’s a lot and that’s why he’s so central to the Early Church. We have the voice of Jesus who really counteracts our main characters and creates much needed dramatic tension.

Let me get to one of my favorite biblical characters: Ananias.  He has a dream, much like many Biblical characters, in which God instructs him to rescue Saul/Paul.  Also, like many of us, Ananias is hesitant to engage Saul/Paul. Ananias knows Saul’s murderous hot ways.  Ananias is so very human and just like us. But Ananias takes a risk, that four lettered word so important in following Jesus.   

Ananias takes the newly-blind Saul in, takes care of him, and welcomes him, baptizes him with water and Spirit into a new way of living. In a way, Ananias is the first known welcoming presence in the newly-formed church. Imagine him being on our Forward Leadership Teams! Imagine the welcoming statement that Ananias would craft and compose:  “We welcome those who have persecuted.”

Given this incredible story, what really stays with me is that amazing line uttered by Saul-Paul:  18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. After Saul’s spiritual cataracts disappear, he is baptized and changed forever.  

With this experience of eyesight, I do have something in common with Paul.  In January and February 2018, I had cataract surgery. My eye surgeon kept saying to me…you’re not going to believe this when you get your new lenses.  I really didn’t know what to expect. However, when, the scales came off my eyes the morning after the surgery, I saw the world in Technicolor where it had been lost before. It was almost overwhelming as to what I had not seen before and now vision for me is not only spiritual, but deeply physical.

Because of this, hold on to that notion of scales falling off our eyes and our vision restored and made anew.  I think that’s an important, key element in being Church right now.

This past week has been quite memorable for me.  It has been exhausting, exhilarating and frankly, I just want to join Jesus on the beach for a cookout as we heard in this gospel reading today.  

Sunday a week ago, I was not the preacher in my own pulpit, much like today.  The Pastors Jeff have swapped today. However, my replacement last Sunday was The Most Reverend Michael Curry, the Primate and Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.  This the bishop of royal wedding fame of last year’s wedding in Windsor Castle Chapel.

Bishop Curry is an exciting preacher: full of Amen choruses and revival styled preaching. His sermon began with an old saying thought to originate with Mark Twain but brought to us more recently by iconic rock musician, Jimi Hendrix: “It will be a great world when we recognize the power of love rather than the love power.  We will know the peace of the Risen Christ when we experience the power of love rather than the love of power.”

Obviously, the love of power is what executed Our Lord and part of that menacing political structure was the Apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, a zealous Jewish authority with a penchant for eliminating the followers of that blasphemer, Jesus of Nazareth.  

Saul’s love of power comes to a screeching halt here in this Acts passage.  Saul is so very set in his ways that he has to be blinded in order to see. He’s so set in his zealous ways that he begs, solicits the Jewish religious authorities to allow him to bring back the follows of Jesus in bondage.  We know the action line of this story but I am left with these questions at the end of this Acts passage: When do we have to be blinded in order to see? When do the scales fall off our eyes? When do we recognize the power of love rather than the love of power?

After last week’s amazing guest preacher, like a lot of pastors I needed a day off.  Luckily, then I took a few days off and went to an old stomping ground of mine, New York, specifically Manhattan.  In my former life I was a musician and worked in theatre, so I go back to New York to revive, receive inspiration, and to go to the church called the Theatre.

I really do look at the theatre as church and church is where the scales fall off our eyes and where the truth is spoken.  

I lucked into some free tickets for the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogue of the Carmelites.  This 20th century opera is set in the French Revolution and is about an order of Carmelite nuns who are accused by the French Revolutionary Government of sedition, treason, treachery, and preventing the liberty of the citizens of France. If you know anything about the Carmelite order, and its practices of contemplation and silence, a Taize service would be raucous for them.

History teaches us that the French Revolution also known as the Reign of Terror is where oppressed becomes oppressor and a blind eye was turns away from justice.  Much like the hysteria surrounding Saul and the Jewish authorities here, the same hysteria rules Revolutionary France. The opera ends tragically with the entire order of innocent nuns going to the guillotine.  Sadly, only after their tragic death and through great composers and their compositional art do the scales comes off our eyes.

When I go to the Met, after the show predictably I end up in the Met Gift Shop which is a store for opera nerds.  I had two free tickets to the opera that day and had no one to give one of the tickets to. When I arrived at Lincoln Center that morning a middle aged woman approached me to see if I had an extra ticket.  Paying it forward, I gave my extra ticket to woman named Marion.

After the show, Marion magically met me in the Met Gift Shop.  When I’m on vacation, I always consider myself off the clock. It’s a sad misconception on my part and the Holy Spirit always laughs at me when I assume this.  Anyway, Marion was exceedingly grateful and really wanted to engage me in conversation. I admitted to Marion that I previously had been a musician and theatre type.  Marion really wanted to know what I did now. So, I outed myself.

So, Pastor, what did you think of this show?  So, here I am at the Met Gift shop having a theological discussion on a Wednesday afternoon.  It’s a New York story. The Holy Spirit gives me a brief moment of clarity. I looked at Marion and said, “What Dialogue of the Carmelites asks us is this: Are we witnesses to our Faith and to what point will we witness?”   

Of course, at the Met Gift Shop and even here, I don’t have the answer to that.  Marion didn’t have an answer either. However, we both agreed that the world needs to see theatre, see art, hear music that inspires and encourages us to consider, to think about the world around us, and to allow the scales to fall off our eyes.

In fall 2018, your pastor and I happened to run into each other at Camp Calumet and I shared with him my church’s upcoming Reconciling in Christ congregational vote. Our RIC vote was coming up on Sunday, October 28, Reformation Sunday.  I was anxious. I needed the Peace that the Risen Christ offers the terrified disciples. I needed the peace that was given Ananias by the Holy Spirit.

My forward leadership team had worked over a year in preparation for this vote.  By happenstance, at a FLC event in 2017 here at GS, my team stumbled upon your welcome statement and I was met with the question…”what is Reconciling in Christ?”  I immediately said to the FL team: “It’s not a bumper sticker. It is a way doing church. It is risk taking. It is power of love in action. It is being knocked off your church donkey…the donkey of complacency, the donkey of “we’ve always done it this way.”  In the RIC process and its education, the scales come off your eyes.

The vote passes by an extraordinary margin and we have a new vision.  The scales fell off our eyes and well, here I am. And your Pastor Jeff is with my community.

I thank you all on behalf of FLC for your witness, to the power of Love in the world around you.  In the opera Dialogue of the Carmelites, the nuns take a monastic vow of martyrdom.  Pastor Valerie will correct my Greek, but the Greek translation of the word “martyr” means witness.  And that’s where we, both Good Shepherd and FLC, go from here…how do we witness to the power of love and not the love of power? How do we prevent the cataracts reforming on our Eyes now that they have fallen off?  Notice that I have not advocated the corruption of the word martyr, meaning someone dying for a cause, but someone who witnesses to a call.

Throughout the Book of Acts we know of Paul’s new vision.  We know historically, how that story turns out. But now for our story:  How do we turn this important corner in our church’s histories, how do receive the vision so needed?  

As trite as it sounds we have a great deal of work ahead of us.  The world, especially these days, appears to revert back to the comfortable arena and fear and distrust of one’s neighbor of those who challenge the status quo, and those who will challenge the statement, “We’ve always done it that way.”  

This year we begin living into the world of our RIC welcoming statement.  If we don’t, it’s a rather idle and meaningless statement. Indeed, what a waste of our time.  So, we begin this journey from complacency with conversations like this where the Pastors Jeff swap.  We have forums at FLC later this year. I frankly don’t know what you’re up to, but I am excited that we’re starting to do something.

For those of us who are overwhelmed and a little exhausted by what’s ahead of us I remind you that today’s gospel is not the Acts reading from which this sermon comes.  It is rather this wonderful John gospel. More and more I take Jesus’ words at face value and the questions and the directives that Jesus gives us in this reading. It is both and invitation and a command.  Jesus’ invitation is for everyone to feed, tend, feed, and finally follow. However, all of this is over a meal on a beach hosted by the Resurrected Christ at daybreak. If you notice in this long narrative story, the disciples’ scales fall off their eyes too as they begin to dine with the Risen Lord.  

May we come now to the meal made for us by Jesus here.  May we be filled with the love spread out for us at this table of the Lord.  Let us go from this table to feed, tend, and follow. AMEN.

Grace and Peace to you from the Risen Christ.

18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Regarding specifically today’s passage, most of us have heard this line somewhere before in our collective memory or we have heard this or we’ve heard it as sort of a metaphor or fanciful way of saying something. And this line, the scaly line, with sight restored, is a launching place for us today. But First!
As a former theatrical director, I am compelled to set the scene, name the characters of this story, and name their motivations.
We have three characters in this Acts story: Saul/Paul, the LORD JESUS or the Voice of the LORD JESUS, and Ananias.

Our main character, of course, is Saul/Paul: Briefly, Saul/Paul has an extraordinary experience of conversion that not only involved blinding light but results in a name change, his baptism, and the beginnings of the Body of Christ, the Church. That’s a lot and that’s why he’s so central to the Early Church. We have the voice of Jesus who really counteracts our main characters and creates much needed dramatic tension.

Let me get to one of my favorite biblical characters: Ananias. He has a dream, much like many Biblical characters, in which God instructs him to rescue Saul/Paul. Also, like many of us, Ananias is hesitant to engage Saul/Paul. Ananias knows Saul’s murderous hot ways. Ananias is so very human and just like us. But Ananias takes a risk, that four lettered word so important in following Jesus.

Ananias takes the newly-blind Saul in, takes care of him, and welcomes him, baptizes him with water and Spirit into a new way of living. In a way, Ananias is the first known welcoming presence in the newly-formed church. Imagine him being on our Forward Leadership Teams! Imagine the welcoming statement that Ananias would craft and compose: “We welcome those who have persecuted.”

Given this incredible story, what really stays with me is that amazing line uttered by Saul/Paul: “18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored.” After Saul’s spiritual cataracts disappear, he is baptized and changed forever.
With this experience of eyesight, I do have something in common with Paul. In January and February 2018, I had cataract surgery. My eye surgeon kept saying to me…you’re not going to believe this when you get your new lenses. I really didn’t know what to expect. However, when, the scales came off my eyes the morning after the surgery, I saw the world in Technicolor where it had been lost before. It was almost overwhelming as to what I had not seen before and now. Vision for me is not only spiritual but deeply physical.
Because of this, hold on to that notion of scales falling off our eyes and our vision restored and made anew. I think that’s an important, key element in being Church right now.

This past week has been quite memorable for me. It has been exhausting, exhilarating and frankly, I just want to join Jesus on the beach for a cookout as we heard in this gospel reading today.

Sunday a week ago, I was not the preacher in my own pulpit, much like today. The Pastors Jeff have swapped today. However, my replacement last Sunday was The Most Reverend Michael Curry, the Primate and Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. This the bishop of royal wedding fame of last year’s wedding in Windsor Castle Chapel.

Bishop Curry is an exciting preacher: full of Amen choruses and revival styled preaching. His sermon began with an old saying thought to originate with Mark Twain but brought to us more recently by iconic rock musician, Jimi Hendrix: “It will be a great world when we recognize the power of love rather than the love of power. We will know the peace of the Risen Christ when we experience the power of love rather than the love of power.”

Obviously, the love of power is what executed Our Lord and part of that menacing political structure was the Apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, a zealous Jewish authority with a penchant for eliminating the followers of that blasphemer, Jesus of Nazareth.
Saul’s love of power comes to a screeching halt here in this Acts passage. Saul is so very set in his ways that he has to be blinded in order to see. He’s so set in his zealous ways that he begs, solicits the Jewish religious authorities to allow him to bring back the follows of Jesus in bondage. We know the action line of this story but I am left with these questions at the end of this Acts passage: When do we have to be blinded in order to see? When do the scales fall off our eyes? When do we recognize the power of love rather than the love of power?

After last week’s amazing guest preacher, like a lot of pastors, I needed a day off. Luckily, then I took a few days off and went to an old stomping ground of mine, New York, specifically Manhattan. In my former life, I was a musician and worked in theatre, so I go back to New York to revive, receive inspiration, and to go to the church called the Theatre.

I really do look at the theatre as church and church is where the scales fall off our eyes and where the truth is spoken.

I lucked into some free tickets for the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogue of the Carmelites. This 20th-century opera is set in the French Revolution and is about an order of Carmelite nuns who are accused by the French Revolutionary Government of sedition, treason, treachery, and preventing the liberty of the citizens of France. If you know anything about the Carmelite order, and its practices of contemplation and silence, a Taize service would be raucous for them.

History teaches us that the French Revolution also known as the Reign of Terror is where the oppressed became the oppressor and a blind eye was turned away from justice. Much like the hysteria surrounding Saul and the Jewish authorities here, the same hysteria rules Revolutionary France. The opera ends tragically with the entire order of innocent nuns going to the guillotine. Sadly, only after their tragic death and through great composers and their compositional art do the scales comes off our eyes.

When I go to the Met, after the show, predictably I end up in the Met Gift Shop which is a store for opera nerds. I had two free tickets to the opera that day and had no one to give one of the tickets to. When I arrived at Lincoln Center that morning a middle-aged woman approached me to see if I had an extra ticket. Paying it forward, I gave my extra ticket to a woman named Marion.

After the show, Marion magically met me in the Met Gift Shop. When I’m on vacation, I always consider myself off the clock. It’s a sad misconception on my part and the Holy Spirit always laughs at me when I assume this. Anyway, Marion was exceedingly grateful and really wanted to engage me in conversation. I admitted to Marion that I previously had been a musician and theatre type. Marion really wanted to know what I did now. So, I outed myself.

So, Pastor, what did you think of this show? So, here I am at the Met Gift shop having a theological discussion on a Wednesday afternoon. It’s a New York story. The Holy Spirit gives me a brief moment of clarity. I looked at Marion and said, “What Dialogue of the Carmelites asks us is this: Are we witnesses to our Faith and to what point will we witness?”

Of course, at the Met Gift Shop and even here, I don’t have the answer to that. Marion didn’t have an answer either. However, we both agreed that the world needs to see theatre, see art, hear music that inspires and encourages us to consider, to think about the world around us, and to allow the scales to fall off our eyes.

In fall 2018, your pastor and I happened to run into each other at Camp Calumet and I shared with him my church’s upcoming Reconciling in Christ congregational vote. Our RIC vote was coming up on Sunday, October 28, Reformation Sunday. I was anxious. I needed the Peace that the Risen Christ offers the terrified disciples. I needed the peace that was given Ananias by the Holy Spirit.
My forward leadership team had worked over a year in preparation for this vote. By happenstance, at an FLC event in 2017 here at GS, my team stumbled upon your welcome statement and I was met with the question…”What is Reconciling in Christ?” I immediately said to the FL team: “It’s not a bumper sticker. It is a way of doing church. It is risk taking. It is the power of love in action. It is being knocked off your church donkey…the donkey of complacency, the donkey of “we’ve always done it this way.” In the RIC process and its education, the scales come off your eyes.

The vote passes by an extraordinary margin and we have a new vision. The scales fell off our eyes and well, here I am. And your Pastor Jeff is with my community.

I thank you all on behalf of FLC for your witness, to the power of Love in the world around you. In the opera Dialogue of the Carmelites, the nuns take a monastic vow of martyrdom. Pastor Valerie will correct my Greek, but the Greek translation of the word “martyr” means witness. And that’s where we, both Good Shepherd and FLC, go from here…how do we witness to the power of love and not the love of power? How do we prevent the cataracts reforming on our Eyes now that they have fallen off? Notice that I have not advocated the corruption of the word martyr, meaning someone dying for a cause, but someone who witnesses to a call.

Throughout the Book of Acts, we know of Paul’s new vision. We know historically, how that story turns out. But now for our story: How do we turn this important corner in our church’s histories, how do receive the vision so needed?

As trite as it sounds we have a great deal of work ahead of us. The world, especially these days, appears to revert back to the comfortable arena and fear and distrust of one’s neighbor, of those who challenge the status quo, and those who will challenge the statement, “We’ve always done it that way.”

This year we begin living into the world of our RIC welcoming statement. If we don’t, it’s a rather idle and meaningless statement. Indeed, what a waste of our time. So, we begin this journey from complacency with conversations like this where the Pastors Jeff swap. We have forums at FLC later this year. I frankly don’t know what you’re up to, but I am excited that we’re starting to do something.
For those of us who are overwhelmed and a little exhausted by what’s ahead of us, I remind you that today’s gospel is not the Acts reading from which this sermon comes. It is rather this wonderful John gospel. More and more I take Jesus’ words at face value and the questions and the directives that Jesus gives us in this reading. It is both an invitation and a command. Jesus’ invitation is for everyone to feed, tend, feed, and finally follow. However, all of this is over a meal on a beach hosted by the Resurrected Christ at daybreak. If you notice in this long narrative story, the disciples’ scales fall off their eyes too as they begin to dine with the Risen Lord.

May we come now to the meal made for us by Jesus here. May we be filled with the love spread out for us at this table of the Lord. Let us go from this table to feed, tend, and follow. AMEN.

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