2518 April 2004                                                                       St. Athanasius Lutheran Church

Easter 23                                                                                                                      Vienna, VA

 

 

Jesu Juva

 

Fired or Forgiven?

Text: John 21:1-14 (Acts 9:1-20; Revelation 5:11-14)John 20:19-31

 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

If Jesus’ disciples had been contestants on the TV show “The Apprentice,” they would have all been fired long ago!  Not good enough.  Not smart enough.  Not talented enough.  Look who we find gathered together in the Holy Gospel we heard today.  There is Peter, the denier; Thomas, the doubter; Nathanael, the one who, when first told of Jesus, responded “Nazareth!  Can anything good come out of Nazareth! And then there are the sons of Zebedee, James and John.  They’re the one who asked Jesus for the seats of honor on His right and left.  . . .  If these guys had applied to be Jesus’ disciples, His apprentices, they would never have been hired.  In the Divine Board Room, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would have tested them, and found them wanting, and sent them packing.

 

But Jesus is no Donald Trump.  His kingdom is not of this world, and His ways are not the ways of this world.  Jesus does not hire and fire on the basis of what we do or don’t do.  On the basis of our merits or worthiness.  If fact, we do not even ask or apply to be His disciples.  We do not choose Him, He chooses us.  And choosing us, He does not make us earn the right to stay in His kingdom, or prove ourselves.  No, He brings us into His kingdom and changes us.  Discipleship is not something we do, it is something He does.  He calls us.  He enlightens us.  He sanctifies us.  He keeps us.  And rather than being fired for our sins, for our shortcomings, for our doubts and fears, our Saviour calls us in order to forgive us and transform us.

 

And that’s what we see in the Holy Gospel for today.  We see disciples who have been changed and transformed.  . . .  Now, I grant you, that on the surface it doesn’t look that way!  But it is when we compare this story that we heard today, to another, similar story that happened before, that we can see the change in the disciples.  Then we can see their Easter transformation – how Jesus has worked in their hearts.

 

For remember when this miraculous catch of fish business had happened before?  It was back at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus was preaching by the Sea of Galilee (which is the same sea as the Sea of Tiberius we heard of today – just a different name).  And while Jesus is preaching, Peter, James, and John are cleaning their nets after fishing all night and, just like we heard today, catching nothing.  Jesus tells them, like today, to try again, and when they do, they catch so many fish that their nets begin to break and both their boats begin to sink.  And when Peter realizes what has just happened, the miracle and the power of God he has just witnessed, he falls on his knees and says, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Lk 5:8)

 

But in today’s reading, Peter is a changed, a transformed, man.  After this miraculous catch of fish, John says to Peter “It is the Lord!” and this time, Peter is not afraid.  This time, in fact, he can’t wait to get to Jesus!  He puts on his outer garment and before the other disciples know it, Peter’s jumping out of the boat and into the water to swim and get to Jesus as fast as he can.  Before Easter, Peter knew only the weight of his sin.  Before Easter, Peter is afraid to be in the presence of God.  Before Easter, Peter tells Jesus to leave.  But now, after Easter and the peace that Jesus gave (as we heard last week), Peter knows the forgiveness of Jesus.  He is no longer afraid.  He was not fired.  He was transformed.

 

And then, also, what about Saul?  Saul, the persecutor of the Church.  Saul, the arrester of Christians.  Saul, the last guy anyone would pick to be an apostle.  And yet he is chosen, and transformed.

 

And what has happened hereto the disciples, and to Saul, and to usis that the kingdom of God has come to us.  This is what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer when we say “Thy kingdom come.”  With those words we’re not just praying for God’s kingdom of glory, Heaven, to come and the world to end.  No, we’re praying for His kingdom of grace to come to us here and now.  His kingdom of grace that came, right there, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee that day.  His kingdom of grace that came to Paul on the road to Damascus.  And His kingdom of grace that comes to us here today.  His kingdom of grace that comes as the Lord comes to us, unworthy as we are, and makes us His own.  When He does not fire us, but forgives us.

 

I think most of the time, when we pray “Thy kingdom come,” we think only of Heaven.  We think only of the scene we heard about in the Epistle, with the angels and thrones and all of that.  But that’s too narrow.  God’s kingdom is bigger than that.  Our Lord isn’t just waiting for us to get to Heaven, cheering us on from afar and hoping that we get there!  No, He is active and with us here and now.  Active in all our various vocations and walks of life.  Active as we raise our families, as we work, even as we go fishing.  And most importantly, active for us as He comes to us in His Word and Sacraments, giving us faith, forgiving us, and transforming us.  Making us unworthy, frightened, sinners . . . into disciples.

 

And so Easter means that our resurrected Lord is still coming to us today having paid the price for our sins on the cross, having defeated death and the grave, and having hammered His foot down upon the serpent’s head and comes and calls us His children.  . . .  That’s one of the interesting things about the Holy Gospel that we heard today.  When Jesus calls to these guys from the shore, He says, Children, do you have any fish?”  Did you notice that?  Jesus calls these big, burly, fully grown fishermen “children!”  But that is what they are.  And that is what we are.  We’re not contestants.  We’re not apprentices.  We’re not temporary hires who have to constantly prove ourselves worthy of God’s love and care and forgiveness, or be fired.  We’re His children, because His kingdom has come to us.

 

But its hard to live as children.  As we grow older, our minds tell us to be adults.  And we try approach God like adults, don’t we?  Like going to the Board Room.  And we defend ourselves and try to justify ourselves and try to show God all the good things we have done and all that we’ve accomplished.  But you know what our Saviour will say to us?  “Children, do you have any fish?”  . . .  Oh, God uses what we do on this earth.  He told His disciples by the Sea that day to bring some of the fish they had caught.  And He is using you and what you do to take care of others and to provide for them.  How you live and what you do in your life matters.  It matters very much!  . . .  But it doesn’t save you in the Heavenly Board Room.  What matters there is only grace – grace that has given us faith in Jesus as our Saviour, grace which has forgiven our sins, and grace that has made us children of God.

 

And so Peter jumps out of the boat and swims to the shore.  He can’t wait to get to Jesus.  But look at him when he gets there!  Clothes, hair, maybe even shoes, soaking wet, from head to toe!  . . .  But you know, that’s what we’ll look like when we get to Jesus, too.  Soaking wet from living in the water of our baptism.  Soaking wet from jumping into those waters every day, as everyday we confess our sin and receive our Lord’s forgiveness.  As everyday we are born again as children of God.  As everyday we remember that in that water, the kingdom of God has come to us.

 

And having lived in God’s kingdom of grace here on earth, when we are called to His kingdom of glory in Heaven, it will not be a Board Room we enter, but a banquet hall.  A banquet hall with a feast for us to enjoy as the guests of honor, just like by the shore that day as Jesus told His disciples to “Come and eat.”  . . .  That feast is here also, on this altar / table.  For although we are not in Heaven yet, Jesus has brought Heaven down to us.  And already, here and now, we are the guests of honor. For here Jesus is our host, and feeds us with Himself, His own body and blood.  And like Peter and Saul and the rest, we are forgiven and transformed.

 

Which is a good thing, because look at whose gathered here today!  A bunch of people just like those disciples, who aren’t good enough, or smart enough, or talented enough – including the guy in the pulpit.  At least, this is so by the world’s standards.  But that’s not how our Saviour looks at us.  No, here He sees only His children.  Children He died for.  Children He lives for.  Children He prays for.  And children He comes for.  And so you have nothing to fear.  You’re not fired; you’re forgiven.

 

The disciples were in turmoil.  They were confused.  They were scared.  They didn’t know what to do.  They didn’t know what to think.  The women had seen the empty tomb.  So had Peter and John.  Perhaps it was true.  Perhaps Jesus had risen from the dead.  . . .  But if He had, where was He?  The Jews – they were still out there!  And surely, confident and energized by their victory over Jesus, surely once the Passover Festival was over, they would be coming after the disciples next!  . . .  And so the disciples had no peace.  Even behind locked doors, they had no peace.  Every time they heard a voice, or some strange sound, or the march of feet or horses’ hoofs – they thought the worst.  And fear fed upon fear, and the longer it went, the worse it got.

 

But it was not only from things outside themselves that the disciples had no peace; it was not only from things outside themselves that the disciples were hiding – they were, I think, also trying to hide from themselves.  They had let their Lord down.  They had abandoned Him right when He needed them.  They had pledged themselves to Him and were not able to follow through.  They thought they could, but they could not.  And so the voices from within would also give them no rest, no peace.  Their sin, their conscience, their weakness, weighing heavy on them; condemning them.

 

And we know how they felt.  For who among us has not felt them same?  There is so much in this world, outside of us, that robs us of peace, and that causes us fear.  Criminals that we can see; diseases that we cannot see.  Terrorism that comes upon us so swiftly and unexpectedly; accidents than seem so random.  Gone are the days when we could leave our doors unlocked at night.  But even locking our doors does not help.  That does not give us the peace that we are seeking.  For also, like the disciples, there is the battle for peace that we fight within ourselves.  For we too have let our Lord down.  We too are sometimes too ashamed or too afraid to speak.  We too have pledged ourselves to Him and are not able to follow through.  We sin, and continue in sin, and even like some of our sins.  But our sin, our conscience, our weakness, also weighs heavy on us; and robs us of our peace. 

 

If only we could get away from it all!  And hide from it all.  Then we would have peace, right?

 

Well actually, no.  Because despite what we may think, it is not anything outside of us or inside of us that has robbed us of our peace.  For I have seen people at peace who are dying with cancer in its final stages.  I have seen people at peace even after horrible accidents.  No, peace is not taken from us by troubles, nor is it given to us by a lack of troubles.  No, what robs us of our peace is, in fact, unbelief.  It is a lack of faith.  It is the thought that these things that are happening around us and in us are more powerful than God.  That God cannot or will not protect us from them, or deliver us from them, or use them for His good.  It is the thought that it is just me against them . . . and I am so little and weak, and they are so big and strong.  . . .  And therefore, without faith and trust, we are just like the disciples:  we worry, we have anxiety, we fear.  Fear that cripples us, and threatens to consume us.

 

But then, Jesus comes.  Jesus comes to His frightened, cowering disciples.  He comes, not as a spirit, but in His body.  His resurrected body.  And He gives to them what they so desperately need:  peace.  He comes and says, “Peace be with you.  And His Word does what it says.  The disciples are at peace, because with His Word and His presence, their faith was restored.  Did they fear the Jews?  Did they fear death?  These need not be feared – see, Jesus has conquered them!  And did they fear their sins?  Did they fear what Jesus would think of them?  These need not be feared either – see, Jesus does not hold these things against them.  They are forgiven.  He makes no mention their sins, or shortcomings, or fear.  He brings only peace.  And they have peace, for they now know that there is nothing to fear.  They are not alone.  They are not on their own.  They believe.

 

But there is one who is still in turmoil.  Still confused.  Still scared.  Who still didn’t know what to do, or what to think.  Thomas.  And so his brothers, now filled with faith, go searching for him.  And when they find him, they tell him the good news, but he cannot believe it.  His fear, his despair, his doubt, is too much for him.  . . .  And so they re-create the scene, for Thomas.  They are again behind those locked doors – this time not, we are told, in fear of the Jews, but for Thomas.  And Jesus comes again.  A “second coming,” if you will.  In flesh and blood.  And again He does not condemn.  He gives peace.  He offers His body to Thomas.  And because of His Word and His presence, Thomas’ faith is restored.  He believes.

 

And for the same reason, Jesus comes to us today.  To you and I, who are afraid, who worry, who wonder, who doubt.  He comes with His Word and His presence.  His Word, which does what it says, and His presence – His real body and blood – to give us what we so desperately need:  peace.  For although we do not see and feel the wounds of Christ, the Lamb of God, as Thomas did, those wounds are here for us.  We may not be able to put our fingers into the holes in Jesus’ hands and feet, or our hand into His side – but we do have His body put on our tongues, and His blood poured on our lips.  The same body and blood that Thomas touched.  The same body and blood that hung on the cross and laid in the grave.  The same body and blood, here, to give us peace.  And so this is what we say in the liturgy.  This is what we confess to be true.  Right before you come forward to receive this body and blood, you hear of this peace: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”  And then again, right after you receive this body and blood, you hear: “Depart in peace.”  Depart in this peace.  The peace of the Lord.  The peace of sins forgiven.  And you reply: “Amen.”  And with that word you are confessing, “Yes, this is true.  Yes, I am forgiven.  Yes, I believe.  Yes, I have nothing to fear.  Yes, my Lord and my God.”  For if my Saviour is here for me; if He has conquered all my enemies; if sin and death and Satan and hell could not hold Him; what have I to fear?  What will He not give me?  What will He not do for me? 

 

And our faith is restored.  We believe.  Now that doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen – they will.  But it does mean that even in the face of these things, you can have peace.  For things are not out of control.  Your Saviour has conquered all.  There is nothing more powerful, on the earth, or under the earth, or above the earth; nothing in all of creation, that can separate you from your Saviour.  He is here for you – in His body and blood – to give you peace.  To give you faith.  To give you hope and confidence.

 

And to give this peace to all Jesus now also sends His disciples, armed with His peace-giving forgiveness.  The forgiveness He earned through His cross and Easter resurrection. 

To forgive and give peace to those who are in turmoil, who are confused and scared and doubting; and to withhold forgiveness from those secure in their sins, that they may come to realize their sins and repent, and so receive His peace and forgiveness.

 

And so this is what the Church now does. 

 

 

 

They go find their brother Thomas. 

 

 

 

The apostles went out and found not only their brother Thomas, but went out to all – filled with peace, not fear. 

 

 

 

 

But there is one who is still in turmoil.  Still confused.  Still scared.  Who still didn’t know what to do, or what to think.  Thomas.  And so his brothers, now filled with faith, go searching for him.  And when they find him, they tell him the good news, but he cannot believe it.  His fear, his despair, his doubt, is too much for him.  . . .  And so they re-create the scene, for Thomas.  They are again behind those locked doors – this time not, we are told, in fear of the Jews, but for Thomas.  And Jesus comes again.  A “second coming,” if you will.  In flesh and blood.  And again He does not condemn.  He gives peace.  He offers His body to Thomas.  And because of His Word and His presence, Thomas’ faith is restored.  He believes.

 

 

 

And so Jesus has given not only His peace to His disciples, but also the means to give this peace forever.  He gives His apostles, His Church, His keys.  To forgive.  To continue to forgive.  That this peace may not just be for some, but for all!

 

 

 

 

 

Did they receive this peace?

Just look at the reading from Acts!  How else could they have stood up to the authorities that they had feared before, hiding behind locked doors!

 

Did they need this peace?

Just look at Thomas and His reaction!

 

Do we need this peace?

Just look at yourself!

 

 

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.