Sunday, April 14, 2013

Preach One: Easter 3C

Preached at St. Andrew's Cathedral, Jackson, MS

Acts 9:1-20; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

What do you want to be when you grow up?  A famous actor?  A fighter pilot?  A fairy princess?  I wanted to be all these things when I was little.  But my acting career peaked around 8th grade when I played the goose in Charlotte's Web.  I took some flying lessons, but then I took physics, full of formulas I couldn't figure out.  I guess I won't ever be famous, then.  And I won't ever fly an F-18.  But a fairy princess...I'm still holding out hope!

In high school, I was voted "Most Likely to Succeed," but really wasn't certain what I would be successful at.  I was a youth minister for a little while, and then a graduate student, and then a bookseller, and briefly a stay-at-home mom before heading off to seminary.  Department of Labor statistics suggest I'm not alone - these days, people tend to change jobs or even careers between three and eleven times before they turn 40.  And we do so for all sorts of reasons.  Sometimes we're moving up a ladder.  Sometimes we're disillusioned.  Sometimes we just want to do something different.  Sometimes we have no choice.  And then sometimes, Jesus shows up and says, follow me...

What do you want to be when you grow up?  Perhaps Paul wanted to be a soldier, or Peter a scribe; in their time, though, they would probably have been voted most likely to always be a Pharisee, most likely to always be a fisherman.  Both had been born into the positions they held, and both were successful in their work.  Paul persecuted countless Christians; Peter caught countless fish.  Until Jesus showed up and said, follow me...

Peter was fishing that day, with his brother Andrew.  We don't know whether he had heard of Jesus, or was already considering a career change.  But when Jesus offered him a position fishing for people, Peter leapt at the chance.  It wasn't an easy job, though, and while Peter was eager, he often felt like he was sinking in wave after wave of mystery and misunderstanding about just who Jesus was, even after the Resurrection.  In the end, weary and overwhelmed, he hauled himself and his nets back out to sea.  But Jesus had yet one more job for him to do...tend my lambs...feed my sheep...

Paul loved his work.  He was proud of his Roman citizenship and his Hebrew heritage, both of which revolved around rules.  The Pharisees were a religious and political party within Judaism, devoted to the observance of God's commandments and demanding that others do the same; Paul's job was to round up the rule-breakers.  He was breathing threats and murder that day against the disciples in Damascus when Jesus decided to bring him under new management.  It wouldn't be easy work, but in the end, Paul couldn't see how he could do his old job anymore.

So the fisherman and the Pharisee grew up to be apostles, to talk and teach about what they had seen and heard, and to lead Christ's followers in creating a community of faith and prayer and practice - the Church.  Peter would help it sink its roots deep in the soil of salvation history; Paul would help it spread that story of God's saving love far and wide.  All who believed were together, the book of Acts tells us. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers... They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need...and day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Day by day by every single day since Jesus showed up on that shore, saying to his first disciples, follow me, lives have been changed by the inviting, transforming, and reconciling love of God.  Jesus went right to work healing the sick, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, forgiving the sinner, embracing the outcast, companioning the lonely, finding the forgotten, shepherding the lost, comforting the sorrowful, helping the poor, and putting others right to work with him, employing their hearts and hands and feet as his instruments, chosen to bring his name to all the world.

And not his name only, but new life.  For it is Jesus crucified and risen who shows up in our scriptures this day, this third Sunday of Easter.  Follow me, Jesus says to Peter once again, resurrecting the rock on which the Church would be fixed.  Where once Peter had denied knowing his dying Lord, now he would bear witness to a living Savior.  God raised him up, Peter would boldly proclaim, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in death's power.

It is Jesus crucified and risen and ascended who appears to Paul, in a flash of light first, and then in Ananias, who was surely Christ to Paul.  Jesus had appeared to Ananias, too, and put him right to work loving an enemy, tending a sheep, forgiving a sinner, praying for a yet-to-be-saint.  Christ died for our sins, Paul would later write, and was buried, and raised on the third day...and appeared to Peter, then to the twelve, then to more than five hundred brothers and sisters, then to James, then to all the apostles...last of all, he appeared also to me...

On this third Sunday of Easter, we remember that the Church began, and then began to grow, because Jesus, crucified and risen, showed up over and over and over again, day by day by day, in people's lives, and set them about the task of bearing witness to the power of his love to transform despair into hope, darkness into light, blindness into sight, death into life; the power of his love to transform an unlikely collection of followers into a community of faith.  Brother David Vryhof, SSJE, writes of that early Church, "they are not alone: countless Christians down through the ages, from every people and nation, have borne witness to their own experience of the Risen Christ.  Through him they have come to know God as love, and this love has transformed their lives," and not their lives only, but the whole world, for the best witness to Love is to love...

Jesus is still showing up.  We are every bit as likely to encounter him over breakfast or on the road as ever Peter or Paul were.  Or haven't we served Christ eggs and grits at our Tuesday morning meal for the homeless and hungry?  Or haven't we walked with him through a South Jackson neighborhood to list all the things a collaboration of church and community volunteers can do to improve it?  Or haven't we heard Christ in the voice of someone over the phone saying they just called to see how we're doing?  Or haven't we watched him teach a classroom full of students, or carefully start an IV, or paint a canvas in every color of the setting sun?  Or haven't we listened to him tell bedtime stories to a cabin full of first-time campers, or speak to someone otherwise alone, or give a speech at a fundraiser for a community center?  Where have you seen him?  In whom have you heard him?  How have you experienced the Risen Christ?

Jesus is still showing up.  And he is still saying, follow me, get up, and you will be told what you are to do.  As fishermen or Pharisees, as pilots or fairy princesses, as musicians or social workers or librarians or babysitters, as firefighters or parents or kids or chefs or CEO's or retirees or nurses, wherever it is that we work, whatever it is that we do, whether we're grown up yet or not, Jesus has a new job for each and every one of us - that we would be disciples, bearing witness, day by day, to the unconditional and transforming love of God.

It's not easy work.  The hours are long and unpredictable, for we never know when or where or in whom Christ will appear.  The pay is not good; in fact, Jesus tells us that following him costs us everything.  The products of a life of discipleship - love and grace and humility and mercy and forgiveness and vulnerability - are not everywhere well received.  And sometimes even coworkers quarrel, even Peter and Paul did.  It's not easy work, following.  But then, by definition, following means going where Christ goes first, where he leads the way, where he already is, where he's just waiting for us to show up and get right to work.

Not just on this third Sunday in Easter, but on every Sunday, and any time we gather as the Church in this place and around this table, we experience the Risen Christ, in word, in the breaking of bread, and in one another.  There is a job to be done, there is a world to be transformed by love.  May we then go out to do the work God has given us to do, to love and serve God as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Artwork: "Jesus Awaits the Disciples on the Shoreline," by Kristen Serafini.

Monday, April 01, 2013

No bunny 'til some bunny...

C3, now 13 years old, was just in preschool when it started.  Even with only a handful of Easters under his belt, he had accumulated a number of stuffed bunnies.  Every year they make an appearance around the middle of Lent (they're so adorable and soft, how can we not let them out early?) and pile up on C3's bed to await the arrival of Easter morning and (the resurrection of Jesus Christ and) another new bunny in C3's basket.

That preschool year, somewhere around Easter, my husband and I went into C3's room to say bedtime prayers and kiss goodnight.  We found him sitting on his bed surrounded by his bunnies, and as we made room for ourselves in the cozy warren, C3, with a particularly fuzzy stuffed rabbit in his hands, looked up at us and said with a precious sigh, "I love you more than bunnies."


We still say it to this day when we want to emphasize just how strongly we feel.  "I love you" is all well and good, but "I love you more than bunnies"...that's serious.

So, last year as Lent got started, I began wondering whether it was time for me my son to grow up a little, whether stuffed animals were still something he would want.  His heart has a generously sized soft spot, though, and because I wasn't ready for him to be too old because of that I decided to do just one more bunny.  Store shelves had long been filled with Easter rabbits, ducks, lambs all waiting to be chosen to sit among chocolate eggs and speckled jellybeans in some child's basket.  But if this was going to be the last bunny, I wanted it to be special.  I decided I would make it.

Knit it, of course.  I had already eyed some patterns, precious knitted toys with button noses and cotton tails.  I finally chose Sophie, by Ysolda Teague, for its long, floppy ears and sweetest face.  For you knitters reading along, I couldn't recommend the pattern more highly.  It is knit in parts, but there are no seams - beginning with the head, you simply knit, stuff, and bind off, and then pick up stitches for the next part.  I used Caron Simply Soft that I've long had in my stash

Much of the bunny was knit right in front of C3, who never asked what I was making, even when it looked a little Frankenbunny-ish as I picked up for legs or arms or ears.  I loved the project, and smiled often as it grew, just as C3 has grown.  It was ready just in time to nestle in C3's basket - the same one the very first bunny appeared in - on Easter morning.

C3 smiled, and perhaps it was just courtesy, but he kept it out when the rest of the bunnies went into liturgical hibernation at the end of the Great Fifty Days.  This year there was only a chocolate bunny in the basket.  Still, he didn't complain or roll his eyes when all those stuffed rabbits appeared outside his bedroom door, and when I looked later he had brought them into his room.

I know they'll be outgrown, and in some ways so will we as our teenager (wasn't he just that preschooler?!) continues to come into his own.  But no matter what, we'll always love him more than bunnies.