320 E College Street, Iowa City, Iowa 52240 Sunday Worship, 7:45am, 9:00am, 11:00am

3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C

Ben WEbbPreacher: Rev. Benjamin S. Webb

Acts 9:1-6 (7-20); Ps 30; Rev 5:11-14; John 21:1-19


Sometimes in our lives, we just have to admit that the way we’ve been living or doing things just isn’t working anymore.  We start to wonder, “What do we do now?”  “What do we do next?”  Somehow, by choice or catastrophe, we have to wake up to a new reality and open ourselves to change and transformation.

Today we have two great stories of human transformation, that of Peter and Paul, which we associate with Easter and the post-resurrection appearances and power of the risen Jesus, who just has an uncanny way of turning us in a new direction and summoning our energies for the greatest possible good.

Let’s look first at Peter’s transformation, told as part of John’s account of the third post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples.

Wondering what to do now, what to do next as their life beginsturning upside down, the disciples accept Peter’s invitation to go out fishing all night, casting their nets repeatedly but catching nothing.  Until daybreak, when a person on the beach called out and suggested they cast their nets on the other side of the boat.  When they did, and filled their nets with fish, Peter suddenly recognized in this sign of plenty that the one coaching them from shore on how to fish the right way was Jesus.  Peter was so excited to see Jesus for the third time that he leapt out of the boat and swam the hundred yards to the beach where Jesus was waiting with a charcoal fire, fish, and bread.

So there is Jesus with Peter beside the charcoal fire on the beach.  You’ll recall that the last time Peter crouched by a charcoal fire, as Jesus was being interrogated by the authorities before his crucifixion, Peter had just publicly denied for the third time having any knowledge or love of Jesus, and the cock suddenly crowed.  Peter was an intimate friend, but engaged in real betrayal. He’s the one we can all identify with, for he makes such grand claims about his love for Jesus one moment, and the next is doing something altogether contrary. Now alive again, Jesus comes to Peter by thefire with a question Jesus repeats three times, “Peter, do you love me?”  Now let’s be sure this time Peter.  And each time Peter, who may feel he’s the one being interrogated, affirms that he really does love Jesus.  To each of Peter’s affirmations, Jesus then says, “Tend and feed my sheep.”

Despite all his folly, Peter knows what it feels like to experience the unmerited divine love of God.  And God certainly knows how to work with such lives as Peter”s.  Through Christ, Peter is continually being transformed…from a common sort of fish first caught in Christ”s net, to a very wobbly and inconstant disciple, to a maker of disciples who truly understands God shows no partiality and that all are welcomed in Christ, to a saint himself.  All are acceptable.  From folks like Peter and his motley crew to the first boatload of fish Jesus helped them catch as a sign of the numerous disciples to come, our God of love is out to net the world and transform lives in boats like ours, each one an inverted ship of fools for Christ.  Turning us all upside down, transforming everyone who climbs aboard.

Consider the conversion and transformation of Paul, once called Saul, known not for his personal denial and betrayal as was Peter, but for his persecution of the early Church and his evil towards the saints.  Having earlier lent his support to the stoning of Stephen, he was now traveling to Damascus to bind and silence yet more of Jesus” disciples.  But instead it was Saul who was thwarted by the risen Lord, who was bound and silenced for three days of soul searching, until the scales fell from his eyes and Saul experienced a radical conversion to faith in Jesus and todiscipleship.  He was utterly transformed.  In the hands of the risen Christ, Saul became an instrument whom God chose to bring the name ofJesus before Gentiles and kings.  God only knows how he did it, but look at what Paul did to help take the Good News to the Jews and beyond to the Gentiles, to all peoples, tribes and nations.  Working his way throughout the Mediterranean world, he and his crew cast net after net, catching new disciples and establishing new churches — new boats — where those fisher folk were also fed and then sent forth to fish for more disciples. The transformative effect of Paul’s life was truly amazing!  He cast the net far and wide, and left a legacy of enduring wisdom for us in his Epistles to the early churches.

We at Trinity represent another great haul of fish who”ve beenmiraculously netted in Christ”s saving embrace best online casino by other fisher folk, in a pattern first set in motion by Jesus on the morning of his third appearance, and by disciples who”ve been fishing for more disciples ever since.  And here we are, hauled up on this shore in nets of amazing strength, some 225 of us on average each Sunday for the last decade.  Look at us!  We’re a boatload of fisher folk sheltered inside the “upside down” keel of this church.  Every Sunday at daybreak since the 1850s we recreate a little spiritual fire with Jesus at the center to warm us, along with some good stories and good soul food for the journey.  That’s what we do.  We feed, strengthen and send.

But when Jesus asked Peter whether Peter really loved him, and then told Peter to “Feed my sheep” in affirmation of that love, Jesus was speaking to more than just Peter, more than the Apostles, more than us priests.  Jesus was speaking to each of us who really love him, to all the baptized. He is speaking to the whole village of Christians.

The Church is the continuing presence of the risen Christ in the world.  We are the only hands and feet he has…yours, mine, and many others.  And all of us who have been baptized in his name must remember that we have already been ordained and charged to continue Jesus” unfinished work in the world, and that we”ve vowed to do it.  Because life is now different for the disciples, for us fisher folk, for us Easter people.  A change has come over us, much as it did over Peter andPaul.  We’re transitioning and undergoing transformation as a parish, too.

I’ve just read a draft of your new parish profile.  It appears to me to be pretty comprehensive and honest.  I was particularly glad to see some acknowledgement that Trinity is a “transitional” church.  In this case that doesn’t mean living through a transition from one rector to another.  In the field of congregational studies it refers to a church of a particular size and set of dynamics.

In our case it means that Trinity’s average Sunday attendance has been hovering around 225 for the past decade, as though there were a ceiling we keep bumping into that prevents further growth or allows us to become a full-fledged “program” church.  Maintaining a church of our particular size is especially stressful for clergy and lay leaders and stretches church and staff resources.  Its unique complications and challenges cannot be overcome without a real commitment to change and transformation.  At the heart of this change are your perceptions about the kind of leadership style you want from your future rector, and the extent to which you are prepared to become a disciple-empowered congregation rather than a clergy-centered congregation, together with the organizational structures that facilitate and sustain this transformation.

To use a metaphor from our gospel, unless we start fishing from the other side of the boat to achieve better results (by reaching and supporting more disciples as leaders, in part through clergy who see themselves as ministry developers), we won’t achieve more growth in numbers or spirit.

To break through this pattern and become a more manageable andbetter resourced program-sized church requires some real commitment on behalf of parish leadership, real commitment from each of you.

This really returns us in spirit to the early church, as we see in today’s readings.  It’s all about the ministry of the baptized, which was certainly what Jesus was focused on as well as the first generation disciples like Peter and Paul who lived for the sake of empowering others!  But sometimes we just have to wake up, as the disciples did after the resurrection, and open ourselves to change and transformation, and let Jesus lead the way.

If you’re wondering, “What do we do now?  What do we do next?”  I’d suggest calling the church office to join the Trinity team attending the “Baptismal Living” event in Des Moines with Fredrica Harris Thompsett on Saturday, May 4 (as noted in your bulletin).  There we will all be fishing from the other side of the boat.  AMEN


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