Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 1 May 2022.
• First Reading: Acts 9: 1-6 (The conversion of Paul – ‘Why are you persecuting Me?’)
• Psalm 30
• Second Reading: Revelation 5: 11-14 (Worship in heaven – ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain’)
• Gospel: John 21: 1-19 (Peter restored: ‘Feed My lambs’)
Most of us will remember the song by Frank Sinatra – ‘I did it my way’ – a defiant statement of personal independence and commitment.
What it lacks in musical range it makes up in sheer passion and commitment. And it definitely tells of a determination to continue in one’s chosen path, whatever it is.
But the fire and the drive in our lessons come from a wholly different direction.
That from Revelation is a picture of the worship of heaven in which every being there is utterly taken up with the Lordship and the majesty of Jesus.
The One who was stripped, flogged and crucified as a dangerous criminal is now front and centre in the whole of creation. He is there by right and nobody is going to deny or question that right.
It is not as if there is no variety in heaven – more that the unity is one of purpose and of loyalty. If any do not accept the central place of Jesus in heaven then what are they doing there anyway?
If there is a piece of music that reflects this theme it is not the Sinatran ‘My Way’ but the final chorus from Handel’s Messiah ‘Blessing and honour and glory and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb.’
Anyone who has been present when a congregation is singing in the Spirit will know this.
And this is the context for us to look at both the reinstatement of Peter and the conversion of Paul.
In both cases it is Jesus who takes the initiative in drawing back into the fold Peter who had denied Him and in converting Paul who as Jesus says, had been persecuting Him.
First Peter: the leader and spokesman for the disciples who often spoke out, but who could speak wrongly, and yet who would leap out of a boat in a storm fully trusting Jesus to save him.
But this was also the Peter who if anything could be only just too aware of his surroundings. The one who preferred to warm himself by a fire and made himself vulnerable to the taunts and even the innocent questions of the bystanders.
This was the one who would trim himself to the prevailing tide of opinion, whatever that tide of opinion might be and save himself from embarrassment.
It is difficult to criticize Peter when we are so alike. When we also trim ourselves to the spirit of the age and repeat the cliches of our time.
And it does not mater what those cliches are – and we are in the midst of an election campaign when they are being thrown around with little thought of just what they mean or commit us to – so long as they sound as if they might attract support then they are justified.
And yet in reinstating Peter, Jesus not only asks of his love for Himself but Jesus also commissions him to His church. Jesus says that these are My Lambs, My Sheep. On one else’s. Mine.
These are the ones for whom Jesus had already given Himself, in a World opinion that was not only skeptical but wholly hostile. Jesus is not without sympathy for Peter’s actions but they had to be brought back into a right relationship with Himself.
And so it proved, even if Peter might yet waver when confronted with the demands of those who wanted him to compromise on the standing of the law for those already freed by the gospel. Again, so easy to conform to the temporary spirit of the age.
But then there was Paul, or Saul. This was different. He had been scandalized by the impact of the church on Israel and on her laws. He was so wholly dedicated to the law and structures of Judaism that any amount of persecution of those seen as its enemies was justified.
And so, equipped with letters of authority he had set out.
And here too Saul met the Lord, directly and personally. Here he had met the One whom he was persecuting and was asked to stop. There would be no going back from this.
Saul had met Jesus and now was a changed man. Life would never be the same. Jesus’ agenda would lead his life, even to imprisonment and death.
He would have time to get to know Jesus in the depths of his life and he would proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified regardless of the time or place.
For us the temptations are to soft-pedal the gospel and to make it sensitive, appropriate, and accommodating to the spirit of the age. More than that, there is the whole structure of the church waiting to be infiltrated and turned to a new purpose. Its offices and hierarchies, its ceremonies and buildings are just begging to be put to new uses in support of the prevailing doctrine.
And when that prevailing doctrine changes then, having already changed the church can easily be repurposed and redirected.
Not many will have similar experiences of direct revelation to those of Paul or even Peter. For most, the conviction of personal faith may be a long and slow realization brought to a climax by some personal event.
But Jesus has personal agenda for each of us – and He looks to us to follow Him before all others and all else. When we do then our approaches to the world and its issues will be His – and not ours, to be pursued ‘My Way’.