Saturday, April 13, 2013

John 21:1-14 -- The Lord's Generosity

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,

       This morning’s readings bring us a picture of the fullness of God – the extent of his creation and his generosity. John, the author of Revelation, describes the thousands and thousands of angels encircling the throne of grace singing and rejoicing and praising God. Just before this passage, John mentions a great multitude of resurrected believers, too numerous for anyone but God to count, standing before the throne and the lamb, crying in loud voices in praise of God.
       The Lord is not a miser; heaven will be full on the Day of Judgement. He fills the world with love, and creation responds in praise. He spreads the gospel lavishly. Absolutely everyone who believes in Christ is saved. All sins are forgiven. Jesus’ blood washes us clean. The Father’s loving arms are wide open. He breaks down barriers, too, so that reluctant hearts and sluggish minds can take hold of him with the joy of faith.
       We see God’s generosity, as well, in his concern for earthly things. He provides abundantly. The disciples had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. The Lord knew about their struggles and provided more fish than they could have hoped for. He rewards effort. He blesses folks who strive in faith. He frequently makes us wait, but he does provide, and often with surprising abundance.
       We should remember, as well, that he has been generous toward his church in this world of turmoil. He has kept the church going, even though she has numerous critics and despite the many flaws of the faithful that result from sinful flesh and contact with the turbulent world that surrounds God’s kingdom. He provides servants, and St. Peter’s has a few of those. He brings together people from various backgrounds and with different personalities and he makes us into a community. He changes us and stretches us. We see three examples in our readings this morning.
       Paul, for one, was a dynamo, a greatly gifted man. He had a powerful brain; he knew how to discipline himself. He wasn’t afraid of work or sacrifice or unpopularity. If he didn’t serve the church, he would have been as productive public servant, a cabinet minister, say, who did a lot for his country. But the Lord gave him a new personality and the ability to devote his talents to the gospel. He turned him into a gift to the church.
       Peter was a different sort of person, strong and impulsive. He worked by intuition and liked to get his way. He knew how to look out for himself and loved to be at the center of things. Somebody said about Peter that his impulses were generous, but he followed them as much because they were his own feelings as they were generous ones. He chose his own path and walked wherever he wanted. This would change, though, as the years passed, so the Lord said to him, “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will…bring you where you do not wish to go.” This is often the way. We’re free when we’re young, but responsibilities mount with the years and God’s people find that we make a sacrifice of ourselves and live for others. Peter became this kind of servant. – a gift from the Lord to the church. Like the Lord, according to church tradition, Peter, too, was crucified. An old story tells how Peter escaped from his prison in Rome the night before his death. As he was coming along one of the Roman roads, a familiar figure bearing as cross came to him. “Lord, where are you going?” Peter asked.
       “I’m going to Rome to be crucified again.”
       Peter turned and went back to his prison. The guards found him in his cell when they came for him the next morning. So an old church legend tells us that the Savior used Peter and gave him a new self, but he didn’t change Peter’s nature. He battled with sin and selfishness just like the rest of us. Peter is a source of encouragement, then. His weaknesses were obvious, but the Lord claimed him as a friend and servant and gave him a position of leadership in the kingdom. By his generosity, God doesn’t despise the imperfect, but he molds us and uses us as vessels of his glory. We each in our own way are gifts to the church.
       John’s story was unique, too. Where Peter and Paul would have done well at whatever they turned to, John’s qualities could shine only in the church, for his great gift was the capacity to love. He was an expert at loving. He loved the Lord and his fellow believers; he loved the Christian community. “Beloved, let us love one another,” he wrote, “for love is from God. And everyone who loves is born of God and knows God…In this is love, not that we love God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us…God is love and the one who abides in love abides in God.”
       John was especially sensitive to the value of love among Christians, for when we love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we imitate God’s love. The love in the Christian family is a sign to outsiders that God is working among us. John recorded this saying of our Lord’s, “By this, all men will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”
       All the apostles, like our Savior, emphasize the importance of Christian love, but for John it’s a special quality, the direction of his soul. He knew how to subordinate his own self, to bury his ego, in service to the Lord. For John, Christ was great and he was very small. Church tradition has it that John worked at Ephesus in Turkey for many decades and that he lived to be very old. Near the end of his days, he needed to be carried to worship and even then he could say again and again, almost like a motto, “Little children, love one another.” The more we Christians love each other, the stronger our community becomes. As John suggested, the love among Christians acts like a magnet. It draws seekers to the church and causes people to wonder about what we have and how they can claim it for themselves.
       Anyway, the church is God’s community, where different kinds of people are brought together to flourish and find their destinies. Christians aren’t all the same. We each have our own talents and our own contributions to make. The church uses many kinds of people. Jesus uses everyone he draws to him in faith. There’s more freedom in the church than in the materialistic society that surrounds us. The church has room for all of us.
        God is generous. St. Peter’s people respond with praise and thanksgiving. We’re something like Paul in our loyalty to God’s word and our willingness to bring the gospel to others. We’re like Peter in persistence and our ability, under God, to look out for ourselves. And we’re also like John, loyal to the truth, who possessed the gift that is unique to the church – the art of Christian love. He surrendered his will to the Saviour and lived in love.
        Somebody said that Christians show their love for unbelievers by spreading the gospel in works of evangelism and by patiently enduring misunderstanding and ignorance. The love among sisters and brothers in Christ is different. Christians encourage one another and offer moral support. We’re kind and forbearing and unselfish. We don’t remember wrongs. The Holy Spirit forms us into a community where sinners may lay down their burdens at the foot of the cross and receive the hope to carry on. We help one another to follow the Lord.
       A time is coming when we’ll join millions of other believers at the throne of grace singing eternal praises to our God. Right now, though, we live in the same uncertain world as the disciples, who fished all night without catching anything – and probably not for the first time. We know what it means to be unsure about employment. We know about illness, loss, the misbehavior of others. We know what it means to sin and need forgiveness. We know the blessed relief of absolution. Whatever it means to be human, both good and bad, sin and righteousness touches us. We have the advantage of faith and the trust that the Savior will provide abundantly. He sent the disciples 153 fish, many more than they needed, and then invited them to breakfast. He fed them from a single fish burning on charcoal, just as he once turned a few loaves and fish into enough food for many thousands. How often he provides for us! His promise to keep on providing is an invitation to be content and at peace. His generosity won’t fail.
       One of the things he generously provides is the fellowship of our worshipping community. As we meet the world each day, it makes a difference to us that we have a community of Christian friends, who think as we do about God and the world, who want the best for us and who encourage us to strive for what’s good and who offer moral support, not just in good times but day after day.
       What a blessing it is to know other Christians who can offer us an understanding shoulder t lean on or a piece of advice at a timely moment. Our Heavenly Father, out of the fullness of his generosity, plans it that way. St. Peter’s is a result of his wise provision.
       The love among Christians, sturdy, faithful, not drawing attention to itself, is a foretaste of the joys of heaven. The Lord prepares us now for greater joys to come. We thank him for his generosity toward us. We rejoice that he includes us, along with his first disciples, among his beloved people. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.      

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