Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 28 April 2019.
On a sea passage from Argyll to St Kilda I was on deck (we all were) at around 1.00 in the morning. The sails were hoisted and set but there was very little wind. It was a cloudless night and the northwestern summer sky was still glowing with the faint embers of the day now past.
And yet softly, gently, silently and without any kind of fanfare the kind and quality of the light changed. The northwest continued to lose its colour and give way to the night, but in the northeast there was a change.
It was a lightening and a softening of the sky. The dark of the night was not quite so dark. It took on a timbre and a subtlety as the first hints of day began to appear. In a few minutes, yesterday was changed into today, and this was far more than a ticking of the clock. It was a new light in the sky, or perhaps the same light in a different part of the sky.
What was became what is, and we would approach the Village Bay of St Kilda in full daylight and indeed in the height of a summer heatwave.
But the magical, other-worldly moment was as the light in the sky changed and things were going to be new, with new possibilities and encounters.
Saul of Tarsus, currently in Jerusalem, had obtained letters of authority to arrest and deport Christians in Damascus and he was determined to do just that. He was a zealous persecutor of the new cult and would do everything to stamp it out.
And then a new kind of light appeared and a new kind of reality entered his life. The God whom he knew from books and from the custom of his people had now burst into his life. Whatever he had known would be changed by this new reality. He no longer knew about God – for he was speaking to Him and instead of ordering others around Saul was now taking orders himself.
Saul had seen and heard and his heart had been arrested and moved into a new dimension. He would have a story to tell alright, but this one would be about the sovereignty and the mercy of God and it would cost him dear.
It would lead him away from the comforts of his life, his friends and home and standing in the counsels of Israel. He would be confronted and abused, beaten and imprisoned and finally he would be executed.
For all his learning Saul would become a student again, this time for life.
Then there was Peter, who still led and inspired the disciples. He had seen Jesus in Jerusalem and had gone to Galilee, as also instructed. Now he was in his own comfort zone, in a boat, fishing. Even if he caught nothing. But he was doing what he knew and with people he trusted.
A hail from the shore – ‘Caught anything?’ – ‘No.’ ‘Then shoot your nets out to starboard.’ They had been through something like this before and John recognized the voice and discerned the presence of Jesus.
This time Peter was galvanized into action and apart from shooting and recovering the net, he jumped overboard and swam to the shore. He would do everything he could, without really knowing what to do.
And it was when Peter had finally calmed down that Jesus was able to get a word in edgeways. Only then, when Peter had run out of words and energy. In the calm of the morning, as he and the others again basked in Jesus’ presence.
No histrionics or drama. Just some simple questions to settle Peter as he thought again about things and faced what he had done to Jesus.
No condemnation or reproaches, no angry looks or scowls, just some simple questions. Not ‘Do you know Me?’ but ‘Do you love Me?’
Jesus called him by his own name, Simon son of John – and allowed him to speak for himself. But the question was there: do you love Me more than these others around us? Do you love Me more than the things of the world? And Peter affirmed his love for Jesus.
For his threefold denial Peter was given a threefold ministry. He was to feed the lambs, give them full and solid teaching before it was cast into doubt to temptation or opposition or doubt or suffering.
He was to tend the sheep – the older members of the flock with pastoral care and indeed the same love as Jesus had for them. And then he was to feed the sheep and not allow them to grow soft and idle with the teaching they had had at the beginning of their faith.
Now they would face the challenges of their faith as they lived it in the face of the world with all its cynicism and bad faith, all its excuses for unbelief and disobedience.
For us as times move on we also are challenged to enter new areas of service and new depths of believing and trusting. We are challenged by a world which is both hurting and hopeful. Its hurts are those of its own doubts and rebellions yet its hope is to see and know the things of God and to enter that kind of freedom that we already enjoy. So it tears itself apart while venting its anger at those who do believe.
But a new dawn may be coming and the Lord wants us ready and waiting when it does.