Sermon 10 April 2016

Easter 3, Sunday 10 April 2016, Westbourne Church

Acts 9:1-6    Revelation 5:11-14    John 21:1-19        

Last year at this time we were leading up to the launch of the diocesan strategy for growth in the church, growth in all respects, in our numbers, faithfulness and spirituality, and impact on the world. As the strategy matured each parish was asked to focus on one part of its life.  We chose to work on the ministry of each individual. The PCC resolved:

To develop and encourage the personal ministry of all the baptised in order to grow the church:

  • to increase the number of people involved in leading worship and sustaining church activities/services
  • to help individuals to identify their skills and talents, and to provide and create opportunities (ministries) that match them.  Encourage their use in meeting the needs of others, both in and out of the church.

Obviously this will take time and effort to achieve and it is everyone’s task. One person’s particular gift is not always clear to themselves and is identified by another. ‘You could to that’ should be the phrase of the year. Vocation means to call out not so much to experience an inner voice. Early signs are encouraging as an impending vacancy works to draw people out.

It is the method of God.  In the face of opposition and vested interests and power games God breaks into the faith of God’s people.  That breaking in is the birth of Jesus and goes on with how the world receives and treats him in life, death and resurrection. It was new.  The people had experienced nothing like it.  We were reminded on Good Friday that in the death of Jesus, the rage of the people against the creating and reconciling Christ of God, was the worst thing that could ever happen in the world.  God gave us the opportunity to rebuild, remake and renew, and that opportunity remains with us.

St. Paul discovered it when he was at his most vehement against this new revealing of God’s love.  It came to him in a blinding flash.  Why was he persecuting the God he said he was worshipping?  Why did he not feel that the new insights were for real and could transform the life of the world?  Perhaps he had too much to lose.

St John shows us a picture of people, probably tired and dejected, going back to what they had always done:  the excitement was over, all was disappointment.  Let’s go fishing.  Just after daybreak, they realize that they are not alone.  Jesus is standing on the shore looking out after them.  He calls them children, indicating either the sort of relationship he expects them to have or the way they are behaving. It is not that Jesus is alive but that Christ is risen. It is not a body come back to life but a life finding a new expression in the lives of those who believe, and as the gospels show us, struggle to believe.

What he says to them is that they can go on doing what they always did but they will get better results if they do it in a different way.  That is what is before us.  It is not that the things we have done for years are out of date or irrelevant to the modern world but that we have to find new ways of doing them, new language.  The world has changed around God’s holy Church and holy Church, you and me, has taken precious little notice.  Cast the net on the other side of the boat.  Peter puts on some clothes to help bring in the catch.  Putting on clothes, or taking them off, is a strong biblical image for change of character.

But the sting is yet to come.  Having cottoned on to what the risen Jesus is talking about the disciples come ashore to eat what has been prepared for them.  Then Jesus turns to Peter, the trusted but impetuous disciple and asks him those three questions about relationship and its endurance.  

The fish are being cooked on a charcoal fire.  There are two occasions when St. John mentions charcoal (or Greek anthrakia) in his gospel, here and where Peter warms himself and denies three time that he knows Jesus.  Suddenly it drops into place, the two occasions are directly linked.  Although this man, who stands at this moment for you and me, has denied his Lord, his Lord still entrusts the future to him.  You and I stand in that place entrusted to feed all those sheep out there even though we will fail and even deny our faith at times.

Next week we have our Annual Parochial Church Meeting – a grand name for two meetings end on, where we elect our churchwardens, church council, look forward to a new year; and receive accounts and reports, taking stock of the last year.  It is an important occasion in our life together which is why it has moved from a dodgy Spring evening to a bright Spring morning when the family is gathered.  Are you standing for election? It is the starting point for all our decision making and we will have some important decisions to make; not least about how we work out our main aim. We have to decide what we can do to pay for it all as well. 

A colleague once rather irreverently called this moment in St. John’s gospel a ‘beachside barbie’, it is the sort of language we have to learn to use again its imagery for generations now a long way from most of our language.  God meets and feeds us in our ups and our downs, our loyalty and our disloyalty, in our industry and in our leisure, in our worship and in our organization, in the way we have always done things and in the ways yet to be revealed.  The risen Christ lives amongst us prompting us to great things.  May we act on those promptings and take another step to change the world.


© 2016 Frank Wright

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