April 19, 2010

Easter 3, Year C Preaching Weekend

You can find my five15 slideshow here.

And here is my Sunday sermon.
When I was a kid, there was a show on PBS called “Lamb Chops' Play Along” starring Shari Lewis and her rag-tag group of animal friends; Lamb Chop, Hush Puppy, Charlie Horse, who was my favorite, and several others. Honestly, I would have no reason to remember the show except for the song that played during the closing credits; “The Song that Never Ends.” This is the song that never ends. Yes, it goes on and on my friends. Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was, and they'll continue singing it forever, just because... this is the song that never ends. Yes, it goes on and on my friends.”
My sister and I would annoy each other, our parents, our selves, whoever we could, with that song. In fact, it popped back into my head on Thursday afternoon, and I've been cursing this sermon ever since. The Song that Never Ends began cycling through my brain as I pondered John's Gospel and slowly came to realize that John's Gospel is the Gospel that never ends. Yes, it goes on and on my friends.
The first time it seems to be over, or at least that's what Pilate, the Chief Priests and the Scribes thought, is at the end of chapter nineteen. Jesus was flogged, mocked, forced to carry his cross, and then crucified. He was dead. So dead that the Roman Soliders who broke bones for fun, didn't even bother with Jesus, he was long gone. So his friends, the few that stuck around, anyway, took him off the cross, wrapped him in a linen cloth and placed him hastily in a tomb. It was finished, Jesus said so himself. The End. Finite. Over. Close Scene and cue porky the pig.
Just as it fades to black, however, the story reopens. John adds a PS. Mary Magdalene headed to the tomb while it was still dark on Sunday morning. She saw that the stone had been rolled away. A flurry of activity involving Mary, Peter, and John follows culminating with Mary, alone again in the garden, crying when a man she thinks is the Gardener calls her by name and she recognizes him as Jesus, her Rabbi, her friend. Jesus instructs her to tell the disciples that he his ascending to his Father. She finds them and utters those famous words, “I have seen the Lord.” Cue the music. Fade to black. That's a Wrap. Jesus just said he was headed to the Father, nothing more to see here. Unless...
John adds a PPS. That evening, the disciples are locked in a room for fear of the Jews and Jesus miraculously appears in the midst of them. He offers them peace, breathes his Spirit upon them, and commissions them for the work ahead. Thomas, one of the twelve, wasn't there and so a week later, the disciples are still huddled in the same room, still with the door locked, and Jesus appears and shows himself to Thomas who recognizes Jesus for who he really is; “my Lord and my God.” This time, John wraps the story up quite nicely by saying “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” Twenty chapters. A great work. Send it to the printers. Done and done.
Ahhh... Not so fast. Seems the story still isn't quite finished. John has a P-P-P-S. Jesus shows himself yet a fourth time; this time on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We know from Matthew and Mark's Gospels that Jesus had told his disciples to meet him in Galilee. So dutifully they go. And they wait. And they wait. We don't know how long they had to wait for Jesus to meet them, but we can assume it was long enough for Peter to get bored. “I'm going fishing,” he says. The rest follow suit. Fishing for them was not a hobby, it was a lifestyle, so they went all out. They got the nets and the boat and began to fish. And they fished. And they fished. And suddenly they had fished all night long and managed to catch nothing. It had been three years since they had fished all night and caught nothing, so you'll have to forgive them for forgetting that what happens next had already happened to them. What happens next is that Jesus shows up.
“You kids haven't caught any fish have you?”
They don't recognize the stranger on the shore line, but his question smacks them in the face.
“No!” they reply. Tom Wright puts an exclamation point on that “no” and I think he's right. These guys are on edge. They've had a pretty wild few weeks. First they came to the Holy City with their Rabbi riding on a Donkey with shouts of Hosanna ringing in the streets. And then, BAM, he was arrested, beaten, and killed. Three days later, Mary Magdalene is saying, “I have seen the Lord,” and that night he appeared to them through a locked door. Their "no" says a whole lot more.
“No! No we haven't caught any fish stranger, and we wouldn't mind if you just left us alone to not catch fish for a little while longer. Thank you very much.”
“Why don't you try the right side. Bet you'll catch something there.” He replies having no doubt heard the bitterness in their two-letter response.
By now the memories are beginning to return. Something inside them is stirring, maybe even their hearts are burning within them as they pull the heavy nets up one more time and heave them to the other side of the boat. And the catch was huge.
“It's the Lord!”
One hundred fifty-three fish!
He takes the fish and bakes it along with some bread over a charcoal fire and suddenly, they are eating breakfast together with their Rabbi. The first breakfast of Easter. "This isn't like their last supper, the last meal of their old life together, this is the first meal of their new life together," as Barbara Brown Taylor calls it – "a resurrection breakfast, prepared by the only one who knows the recipe." The bread has its own imagery – his body broken for the world. The fish has its own imagery – the disciples are called to be fishers of men. But in the end it is about gathering together again, inviting everyone, even Peter, back to the Table, restoring everyone's faith in the Kingdom and then reminding them of their call to follow him. It is a beautiful ending. And after a few more words, John's Gospel finally fades to black.
Except for the P-P-P-P-S. This is, don't forget, the gospel that never ends. It continues on with you and with me. Jesus continues to show up in our lives. He continues to restore our relationships. He continues to call us to follow him, to feed his sheep, and tend to his lambs. The Gospel that never ends goes on and on my friends in you and in me. It goes on in the flow of our life together from confession and forgiveness to breakfast around the Table to being sent out in order to follow Jesus to that next destination, that next work of mercy, that next chance to feed his lambs and tend his sheep.
Where do you find yourself in the Gospel that never ends? Are you, like Mary, called to shout with joy, "I have seen the Lord"? Are you, like Thomas, still unsure of where and how Jesus' resurrection fits into your life? Are you, like Peter, in need of God's forgiveness? Are you, like the rest, being called by Jesus to follow him? Listen for the Lord. He's calling you. He's forgiving you. He's ready for you to serve. This is the Gospel that never ends. Yes, it goes on and on my friends. Some people started living it, hopeful for what it was, and they'll continue serving God forever, just because this is the Gospel that never ends. Won't you join in? Amen.

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