Year C, EASTER 3

 

John 21: 1-19              (Sermon 1: “The Rise and Fall of Simon Jones”)

                                                (Sermon 2: “Breakfast is Served”)

 

Revelation 5: 11-14

Acts 9: 1-6

Psalm 30

 

PREPARATION

 

 

Our gathering here today is another wave of the one, mighty, resurrection event.

       We are convened by the living Christ.

Let us delight in his Presence, and reaffirm our love and commitment.

       We love because Christ has first loved us.

 

Christ is risen!

       He is risen indeed!

 

To the One who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb,

       be blessing and honour and glory and might

       for ever and ever

 

OR -

 

The joy of the living Christ be with you all.

And also with you.

 

The Lord has lifted up our soul from dark caverns of death,

and has restored our life from the deep pit of despair.

God has turned our weeping into dancing,

and has removed the rags of sorrow and clothed us with happiness.

 

To the One who sits upon the throne

and to the Lamb of God,

be blessing and honour, and glory and might,

for ever and ever.

Amen!

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

God of things made utterly new, as we gather here in the name of the risen Christ,

uplift us with his continuing Easter joy..

Extend our worship beyond habit, higher than loving duty,

and deeper into that universe of the spirit

 where delight and praise flow more freely than the air we breathe.

To the glory of your name.

Amen.

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

With confidence in Christ’s work for the healing and liberation of humanity, let us open our hearts to his inflowing grace.

 

Let us pray.

 

Loving God, Saviour of the weak and the foolish, and also the Saviour of the strong and the sophisticated, we confess that we, without exception, have sinned and fallen short of the glory of Christ Jesus.

 

We have rushed in where we should have gone gently, we have stood back on the sidelines when we should have got involved. For our successes we have looked for too much praise, and in our failures we have accepted too little responsibility.

 

We have grabbed for shallow happiness at the expense of others, and have clamped down on those generous impulses which would have cost us much yet fostered profound happiness. We who should be best friends with ourselves, are often our own worse enemies.

 

Now we turn to you for reproof, forgiveness, correction and courage. Please have mercy upon us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

ABSOLUTION

 

Children of God, the Gospel has not offered you more anxiety and shame, but grace, peace, and joy.  Accept the gifts of God, and live with the freedom and resilience of those who are destined for the highest service.

Amen! Thanks be to God!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            Getting Excited

 

Dear God,

we get excited about special things,

like new friends, birthdays and parties,

Christmas and summer holidays.

 

Would you please help us to stay excited

about Jesus rising from the grave?

Not just at Easter and at church,

but through every day of our lives.

 

Please?

Amen!

 

PSALM: 30: 4-12

 

Sing praises to God, you who are saved by grace,

give thanks to God’s holy Name.

God’s rebuke lasts but a brief moment,

but Divine grace extends for a lifetime.

Weeping may go on in the night,

but joy returns with the sunrise.

 

When everything was going well I boasted:

“I am surely set up for life,

I must be a favourite of God,

immovable as a mountain”.

So you hid your face from me,

and I was dumbfounded.

 

I cried out and pleaded with you, God,

I made my complaints heard:

“What gain is there in my death,

if I am lowered into the grave?

Can a body returned to dust serve you?

Would I be any good to you then?

 

Please hear me, and give me another chance.

Only you, God, can get me out of this.”

Now you have turned my sorrow into dancing,

cast off the hair shirt and clothed me with joy.

I shall never again take you for granted.

God my true Love, I will thank you for ever!

                                                                                                ©  B.D. Prewer 1998

 

DO YOU LOVE ME?

 

 

Do I love him? That’s the question

which he asks beside the sea.

Do I love him? That’s a big ask

for a clayfoot thing like me.

 

Yes I like him, and admire him,

and most want to be his friend.

But dare I say I’ll love him

till my life comes to its end?

 

Yet if a fool can be fickle

yet remain in love as well,

then I swear that I’ll love him

to the other side of hell!

                        ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

COLLECT

 

God our most holy Friend, you have given us a rare bread. Through Jesus you feed us, just as he humbly fed his disciples by lake Galilee long ago. Like John and Peter and the other disciples at that daybreak breakfast, may we trust all Christ offers us, and pledge  him a love which though never perfect, will always be genuine. In his name and to your endless glory.

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: THE FALL AND RISE OF SIMON JONES

 

The story of Simon Jones is one you may have heard before. It is for me, one which never ceases to fire my imagination and faith.

 

Simon Jones was brought up in a country town by the sea, where his parents were well known and respected. Simon was a handful as a child, and became involved in many pranks, most of them harmless. However there were some episodes that caused his parents considerable anxiety.

 

You see, Simon was too readily influenced by others. The group around him could easily con him into doing something stupid and dangerous.. With his mates he would get into mischief in ways he never would have done when alone. “Too easily led,” said his Dad, shaking his head in frustration.

 

On the other hand he was a popular lad, he could have been a natural leader except for his fear of what others thought. Simon had boundless enthusiasm for life. He would rush into new activities and give them everything he had. There were no half measures.  When such enthusiasms were on the side of the angels, it was a joy to see. But when he was tempted into the darker territory, his enthusiasms could result in a sorry mess.

 

But all in all, the Jones parents were proud of their son Simon. As is still common in rural areas, Simon’s father took it for granted that his first son would learn and finally take over the family business. Simon did in fact learn the business with typical enthusiasm. It involved much outdoor work and he loved the outdoors.  He was so good at his work that by his early twenties, his Dad took a back seat and let Simon run the business with the help of his young brother Andy.

 

Simon married early, with the same typical, impulsive enthusiasm. Although, because of his work,  he was absent from home a lot, Simon was a good and loving husband. He looked forward to becoming a father and having a son to take over the business some day.

 

A GURU COMES TO TOWN

 

However, something happened which drastically changed the situation. It started on that fateful day when a travelling guru, a religious bloke with a new angle on things, arrived in town. This guru was only a few years older than Simon, with an engaging personality and dangerously eloquent..  At first Simon’s young brother Andy came home full of praise for the newcomer. Then, to his parents unease, Simon, curious as always, went along to one of the guru’s meetings.

 

Simon was caught up in the guru’s hype, hook line and sinker. He became an enthusiastic convert. Although at first his wife was dismayed, and his dad was scornful, Simon started to actually practice what the guru preached. His mum began to admit that maybe the stranger had something. Dad stood aloof; the old religion was good enough for him. But Mum though it would be nice to ask the young guru around for some meals. She found she rather like this raven-eyed guru and his message. Before long she and Simon’s young wife were also converts.

 

“No good will come of this”, muttered Simon’s father. “Easily led as always! What’s going to happen to the business now? After all my work building it up for them?”

 

You see, the trouble was that Simon and his young brother Andy were often missing from work, for days at a time. Dad had to take it all over again, or valuable customers would be lost  to other businesses.

 

On the day that the guru announced it was time to move on and teach his stuff far afield, Simon Jones, looking a bit sheepish, came to the old man and said that he and Andy were going to join the guru’s mission. They would travel with him full time, and be trained to become his offsiders; sort of junior gurus.

 

Dad reckoned that after a while, Simon would get tired of this religious phase, maybe find some new gig to get enthusiastic about. Just give the young fool time.

 

So, after he had snorted his displeasure, Dad said: “If you are determined to go with this sect, then go and give it a try. I won’t stand in your way. You have always got some bee in your bonnet. Go and get it out of your system. It won’t last, you know; you’ll be back.”

 

But Simon’s Dad was wrong.

 

Simon went off and stuck with the young guru and his team. They travelled to many towns and cities. The guru was very popular among crowds of ordinary people; the mission went from success to success. Though there were always some who hated his guts. Simon was on the road for months at a time. His young wife, who loved him dearly, decided that if she were going to see anything of her husband, she had better travel with him. She did. It became a fixed pattern of her life after that.

 

Simon and his brother would call in home from time to time. If the guru (whom Simon called “the Boss”)  was staying a while in their town, Simon would try his hand for a few days at his old work. Dad hoped each time that Simon might stay on. But the eldest son knew he had moved beyond work as the reason and goal of existence. Simon was glad that two younger brothers were showing a keen interest in the family business; his Dad would not have to take the responsibility for much longer.

 

WHEN THINGS TURNED SOUR

 

After a couple of years of stunning popularity, things started to turn sour for Simon’s Boss. Some of the camp followers became impatient with the gentle approach of this guru. They reckoned he should become more self assertive. More politically involved maybe? More like the militant zealots, the terrorists of that time.

 

Ironically, some of the leaders of the mainline churches thought that the guru was already far too assertive. The heads of churches got together to see what could be done to minimise the damage the guru and his sect was doing. They gave press releases which cast dark aspersions on the character, and even the sanity, of the guru.

 

From then on, some towns would not permit the guru to use any public place for his meetings. They hassled him and, on a few occasions, had the police escort the team out of town. More followers began to drop off.   Simon Jones did not worry; he always looked on the bright side and was sure things would start soon start booming again. When the guru himself seemed to grow pessimistic, and suggest that worse troubles lay ahead, Simon even presumed to lecture him about “looking on the bright side.”

 

“Don’t worry, Boss,” the Jones boy said, “It’s just a temporary setback. People will come around to seeing it your way again. You’re a winner.”

 

The Jones boy was never more wrong. First the authorities stepped up the negative propaganda about the sect, then they got the lawyers involved. The legal eagles came up with some laws and statutes that , they claimed, the guru was breaking.  Some even got ASIO involved with the bait that the guru was really a secret terrorist, plotting a coup.  They provided some cleverly edited transcripts of things the guru had said, which made his political ambition appear most dangerous.

 

Through all this, Simon Jones still refused to face facts. Nothing bad could possibly happen. Things were okay. Nothing could stop this new spiritual movement. God would not let it. The Boss and the sect were unstoppable.

 

DISASTER NIGHT

 

The Jones boy was with the Boss on the dark night when the forces swooped and arrested the guru. Simon blustered a bit, and threw a right uppercut, but he was totally shocked and useless. His whole morale fell apart. He had bluffed himself so often with the idea that nothing could harm the guru, that he was emotionally defenceless when it happened. As the scuffles of the arrest were going on, Simon Jones slipped away in the darkness like a frightened cur.

 

Later, grimly getting his act together, he pulled his jacket around his face and attached himself to a group of reporters waiting inside the foyer of the police station,  warming their hands at a charcoal heater. He was hoping to get news of what was happening. One of the women, a young and very attractive cadet reporter, thought she recognised Simon Jones.

 

“Hey, you, big guy! You were with this religious nut, weren’t you?” she asked.

 

He saw all the eyes of the reporters turn on him.  His old weakness of being too easily influenced,  the fear of what others thought of him, weakened his resolve. Simon Jones swore black and blue that he had never met the stupid guru. Three times he spat the dummy! Three times a denial. Just then some cops came out leading the guru (now with cuts and bruises) towards a paddy wagon.

 

All eyes turned towards the guru. His dark eyes, now just small slits peering through contusions, seemed to rest on Simon. Simon felt like vomiting. He turned and went around the corner, and threw up in the gutter. (As you may well know, it is indeed a most nauseating experience to think you have the courage of your convictions, only to find that in a testing moment, you are as weak as any other coward.)

 

What happened the next day only increased Simon’s burden of shame.

 

BREAKFAST ON THE BEACH

 

Now, not to make this story too long, I will cut and go ahead some days. I will tell you about what happened to Simon Jones after the guru, in spite of atrocious mistreatment, was vindicated and set free by a much Higher Authority.

 

The Jones boy had gone back to his home town. He waited there with Andy. He did not know what for.  They just waited. He decided the best thing would be to do some work and try to forget the disaster. The family business always involved a lot of night work  The custom had grown up that sometimes the night shift would have a barbecue breakfast together.

 

But this night the fish were elusive. They caught nothing.  As Simon, Andy and the gang finished work and headed for a barbie, they found it already burning with prawns sizzling and the billy-can boiling.

 

Unbelievably the chef was the young guru. Simon stood with his mouth gaping!  “It’s you, Boss!” he called out. “It’s really you!” The grinning chef called: “Come and get it, you guys. She’s ready !”  The other workers were excited, slapped the guru on the shoulder and said: “Hey, god-guy, good to see you back. Gave the cops the slip did ya?”

 

The guru laughed and said : “Something like that. You wouldn’t believe it if I told you!”

 

Simon, without a word, went  and picked up some food, then sat down on a rock near the fire. The guru, also without a word, came and sat beside him. They ate in silence.  Simon, remembering his cowardice, found it hard to make the food go down his gullet.

 

After the longest 10 minutes in Simon’s  life, the guru put his hand on Simon’s shoulder and softly asked:   “Simon Jones, do you love me above everything else?”

 

Simon remembered how he had run away, and then caved in when a pretty cadet reporter in a mini skirt hassled him. Without looking up from the ground he muttered: “Boss, you know I am your mate.”

 

The guru repeated the question. Simon, kicking the ground in frustration, repeated the same answer: “You know I am your mate.”

 

The guru bent low and looked up into Simon’s eyes. Slowly and deliberately he said: “Simon Jones, are you really my mate?”.

 

Simon felt hurt. He looked back at the guru, both misery and hope in his eyes; he was upset that the guru had asked three times, just like he had chickened out three time. He said: “Boss, you know the lot. All of it. And you know I am your friend.”

 

From that moment, Simon Jones was once again a member of the guru’s team, with a very important but difficult part to play, detailed to him by the guru himself. 

 

FROM THAT DAY ON

 

I would like to be able to report that from that day on, Simon was a model follower, unswerving in his loyalty to the guru. But that would not be completely true.

 

Most of the time he pursued his missionary work for the guru with his new confidence and courage. But every now and then, he was too influenced by those around him and his faithfulness wobbled. Even at the end of his life he had a moment of panic and cowardice.  But this final time he soon got his courage back and turned to face the challenge.

 

This happened in a another country, where other religions were not easily tolerated, and capital punishment was common, and was popular as entertainment for the common people. (Something like some of the Middle East nations where beheading is a weakly event watched and cheered by the public). When trouble broke out, Simon at first fled from the city, fearing arrest.  But then he stopped, turned, and went back to die in the same way as his guru had been killed.

 

There was however one difference. At the last, Simon Jones  told his executioners he was not fit to die the same way as the Boss. Would they please kill him upside down. And that is exactly how he died, crucified upside down.

 

After that, as happened with the guru, a Higher Authority took over who had something much better in store for Simon. the son of John (later knows as Peter the rock) just as the same Higher Authority has something better in store for you and for me.

 

 

SERMON 2: BREAKFAST IS SERVED

 

John 21: 9 & 12.

 

Coming  ashore they found a charcoal fire, with fish lying on it, and some bread, and  Jesus.

 He said: “Come and have breakfast.”                                    John 21: 9 & 12.

 

It is a holy delight to read of Jesus, the risen, exalted Christ, cooking and serving  breakfast for his friends on the shores of Lake Galilee.  Daybreak, a camp fire, the aroma of grilled, fish, Jesus and some of his fishermen disciples.  They breakfasted there together in wonderment.

 

TWO SPECIAL OCCASIONS

 

That scene triggers off in my memory two special, though ordinary, occasions in my life.

 

The first was an evening meal on a beach. It was on small King Island, stuck out there in the middle of Bass Strait where the roaring seas roll all the way from South America.

 

My wife Marie with infant son David, and my visiting brother Ray and I, were quests of a most generous farming family named the Bowlings. Mid afternoon they took us down to a small inlet on their property called Surprise Bay, where the black-back salmon were said to be running. For a couple of hours the sons took us out in a dingy with outboard motor while Ray and I caught fish like we never had before (or since!) until our arms were utterly exhausted.  At evening we came ashore to where the Bowlings had a camp fire and a 2 very large frying pans. There we enjoyed a copious meal of freshly caught and cooked fish, served with salad and home-made bread.  De....lic....ious! My brother said it was the best fish he had ever tasted.

 

The second incident was by Lake Galilee not long after dawn. Marie and I rose early from the small hospice where we had slept and walked down to sit on the bank of a pebbly beach.  It was a calm, pristine morning. We thought of Jesus as we sat and listened to the waves lapping the shore of the legendry lake. Fishermen were busy about 80 metres off shore, casting their nets in traditional fashion. But they were catching nothing. Yet from our higher vantage point as we descended \towards the water , we could see a school of fish on the opposite side of the boat. If we could have spoken Arabic, we could have called out “Cast the net on the other side of the boat and you will have some.”

 

These two memories and associated feelings assist me to build a picture, and capture some of the atmosphere, of that early morning long ago when the risen Jesus again met with disciples, to share a breakfast of freshly caught fish. Maybe my memories will also help you enter into the lake-side scene  and sense the “vibes.”

 

Peter and John and a few other confused disciples had fished all night without taking anything. Just at daylight a man from the shore called out and directed them, in Aramaic, where to throw their nets. The resulting catch was immense. Then “Coming  ashore they found a charcoal fire, with fish lying on it, and some bread, and  Jesus. He said: “Come and have breakfast.” There is something commonplace yet truly awesome about this remarkable incident. It has mood and truth. It encapsulates the profound nature of the God we worship.

 

EMPEROR JESUS?

 

It seems to me that many Christians have two different pictures of Jesus in their minds.

 

Firstly, there is the Jesus before his death. Humble, compassionate, friend of ordinary citizens, dinner guest of “tax collectors and sinners,” the man who chats with children, talks about wild lilies and ravens, asks a Samaritan woman for a drink, washes thee feet of his followers and forgives his enemies.

 

Then there is the second Jesus: The Christus Victor. Christ victorious. Triumphant over evil and death. This is the king all-powerful majestic, fearsome in power, all seeing, all judging, aloof from the common crowd , impatient with his enemies ever “victorious, happy and glorious, long to reign over us” and who, at the end, will come to judge the living and the dead.

 

Maybe this worldly-majestic Lord evolved from the attempt by the first Christians to express the wonder and awe of seeing their crucified friend, now deathlessly alive and irrepressible, and definitely on the “godward side of reality.” But even more, this lofty, and often unapproachable, Christ, evolved when the faith was adopted by the Emperor Constantine and became the “established church.” He then became seen as the Emperor of emperors, with absolute power and authority. If a common citizen came in the presence of Caesar on his knees and trembling, how much more should Christians come in fear and trembling before the Emperor of emperors.

      

[I find it no co-incidence that the veneration of the Mother of our Lord by the masses, grew rapidly in that 4thC era when her son became thought of as the super-emperor]

 

COME AND HAVE BREAKFAST

 

Emperor of emperors? Caste your mind back to the beach on Galilee. See the man on shore building a fire and gutting fish, grilling them and serving them to his adoring disciples. The resurrection is the victory of the man who loved the common people and who refused to put on airs!

 

There on the shore, the Christus Victor says: “Come and have breakfast.” The disciples experienced awe, they grew quiet and at first felt awkward in his presence. But not terror. It is natural to feel awe when one is present with the risen Christ. Awe is a healthy reaction to the holy Friend whom death cannot hold in its tomb. A unique Friend in whom one finds God awesomely present, is bound to bring a hush and a wonder.

 

Yet it is the same Jesus. Not a different model. Have you ever gutted scaled and cooked fish on an open fire? It is impossible to do that without getting your hands smelly and grimy. That’s how it was with the risen Jesus. Our wonderful Christus Victor is a Lord with smelly hands, and maybe smudges of charcoal on his face, who waits for his friends to join him for breakfast.

 

The God who comes to us in Christ is always this kind of God. Ours is a -down-to-earth God, a humble God.  Not a lofty God who, for appearances sake, acts a humble part from time to time, yet is glad to sneak off and clean up in secret, and get back to pomp and ceremony as soon as possible! But a God who loves getting hands dirty and is being totally in character when serving others.

 

The resurrection does not render incarnation void. The God we find in the risen and triumphant Christ is the same God who stays always “down to earth.”  The God who is that loving “Other” whom you will meet in the most common, and menial, and sometimes painful events of daily life.

 

CLOWNS OF GOD

 

Some years back  (in the 1980’s), the Australian author Morris West produced another insightful thriller called “Clowns of God.” In it he featured the highly loving Jean Marie, the Pope who abdicates to maintain his spiritual integrity .

Late in the story Jean Marie suffers a stroke, and is at first mentally and physically handicapped. At times he is patronised by doctors and nurses, talked down to like a small child. But he is much helped by a quiet but remarkable physiotherapist named Mr Atha. Nothing is too much trouble, nothing too humble a task. The therapist slowly but surely leads Jean Marie out of handicap and times despair. Later, speaking with a friend, Carl, about Mr Atha, Jean Marie says:

 

 “He’s very vague about himself - and a lot of other things as well. He says he comes from the Middle East. He was brought up in the Jewish tradition and he’s a non-believer. But, Carl, he’s a unique man.  He’s young, as you can see. He can’t be older than the mid-thirties. Yet he has so much maturity, so much inner endurance. When I was at my lowest, I clung to him like a drowning man......He slipped so easily into my life it was as if I had known him forever.”

 

Finally the true identity of Mr Atha is disclosed. He is Christ, come again among his people. A “non-believer” because he fully  knows!  A humble man helping people. Not some terrifying Being, trailing banners of fierce light, but a unique therapist, caring for broken bodies and souls.

 

Morris West has got it right! That is the Easter Christ whom we celebrate. The same Lord who got his hands dirty and fed his disciples by a camp fire on the shores of Galilee. Resurrection, and what we call “the parousia” (the coming or the arrival of Christ) shows us the same Jesus, and through him the same God.

 

Glory be to the down-to-earth God!

Involved with us here and now!

With us and for us!

Glory be to his Christ, our Lord and Saviour,

who invites  even us

 today to share his resurrection breakfast!

 

 

THANKSGIVING

 

Wonderful are you, God of Christ Jesus,

your love does not weary nor does your patience wear thin.

 

We thank you for understanding how difficult for us to always keep faithful

        to you in testing situations.

 

We thank you for going out of your way to get alongside us and giving us

        the chance to honestly face ourselves.

 

We thank you for forgiving mistakes and restoring us to full communion

       in the fellowship of your church.

 

`We thank you for trusting those who have failed you badly

       with new opportunities and responsibilities.

 

Wonderful are you, God of Christ Jesus,  your mercies are past numbering

       and your saving initiatives are never exhausted.

 

Thanks, praise and glory belongs to you from all the ends of the earth.

Amen!

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

We pray for courageous political figures who maintain their early ideals,

and those who have surrendered them in a thousand compromises.

 

We pray for the quiet, reliable citizens, whose firm integrity steadies the community,

and for well meaning but fickle people, who let down those who depend on them.

 

We pray for patient church members, who work unflustered towards long term goals,

and for the impetuous souls who want more instant success than Jesus had.

 

We pray for experienced believers who have served Christ from childhood to old age,

and for recent converts who may be  in danger of slipping backwards into indifference.

 

We pray for handicapped and sick people whose experience deepens their compassion,

and for lucky people with perfect health who may tend to be thoughtless and impatient.

 

We pray for the bereaved who are courageously trying to put their lives together again,

and for those who have never known sorrow yet expect  the sad to get over it quickly.

 

Most loving God, to journey with Christ is to warmly live, to fall away is to grow cold and slowly die,

help us who have prayed for other people, to recognise our own weaknesses

and to trust your Spirit to supply the kind of help which we most aptly need.

For your purpose and praise.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

 

SENDING OUT

 

Christ asks if we love him?

If we say yes, he says; “Then care for one another.”

This is our opportunity to make a difference, to live lovingly

on the frontiers of his bright new world.

 

We cannot promise to do it perfectly, but we can give it a go,

relying on his abundant wisdom to take our small love,

and fit it into a larger pattern of good for all creation.

 

May God bless the world in which you move,

and bless your home and bless your friends.

May God bless the eyes with which you see,

and bless the ears with which you listen.

May God bless the way you use your hands,

bless the way you employ your tongues.

                                                                        ( From a Celtic prayer)

 

As a bonus from the living God in Christ Jesus,

grace mercy and peace will be yours, today and always.

Amen!