A sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Easter at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete, May 5, 2019 11:00 am.
Readings for this Sunday: The Hebrew Bible Reading is Zephaniah 3.14-20. Psalm 30, Acts 9.1-20, and John 21:1-1 may be found here.
Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Are we a people of joy? Are we a people of dancing? From what I saw at our Orthodox Sunday church dinner last week at Κρητική Γωνιά, the answer has to yes, right?
So with Zephaniah, we
Sing aloud; shout! Rejoice and exult with all your heart.
With the psalmist, we observe that
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
and we say to God,
You have turned our mourning into dancing;
you have taken off our sackcloth
and clothed us with joy,
so that our throats may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord our God, we will give thanks to you for ever.
So, yes, we are a people of joy!
But then there are the two stories today about calls. The call to Paul to be an apostle, and the call to Peter (more of a re-call, actually). What was their response? We do not know, except that they did respond to the call. But where those calls led are ominous.
Paul gives up everything he has – his standing among the elite of the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem. Over the years of his evangelism he suffers much, and then goes to Rome to die.
Peter seems exasperated when Jesus asks him repeatedly, “Do you love me?” But, of course, the three-fold affirmation of love is to undo the three-fold denial on Good Friday morning. Then these words:
Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger,
you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished.
But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will fasten a belt around you
and take you where you do not wish to go.’
(He said this to indicate the kind of death
by which he would glorify God.)
After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
There is a paradoxical tension. We are filled with joy and exaltation at what God has done in Christ our Lord. But at the same time, following Jesus has its costs. We become like him as we point to justice, we suffer as Jesus did when the powerful are called out, and we are attacked when we point to the power and glory of God in the one who died on the cross. We are taken to places we do not wish to go, we are blinded by the light, and weighed down by the responsibilities we carry.
And yet, we dance, and we sing praises, and we proclaim Christ as our Lord
Because, as Desmond Tutu said,
Good is stronger than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours, through him who loves us.
When I go around visiting people I notice that many of you watch television news. I do not watch the news much, but I do read the papers, online. And, of course, the media will print and broadcast things that catch our attention. “If it bleeds it leads,” is the supposed maxim of low quality journalism, and so we hear about the latest knifing, the big fire, yet another gun attack in the States, a flood here, a cyclone there. Many of us become cynical about the self-serving and childish qualities of our political leaders. We begin to doubt the way things are going in the world.
And yet, we know that in Christ there is victory, and that in God all things work to God’s purposes. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, in a 1954 sermon – very early in his civil rights work – said,
All I’m trying to say is, our world hinges on moral foundations.
God has made it so!
God has made the universe to be based on a moral law.
So long as man disobeys it he is revolting against God.
That’s what we need in the world today
—people who will stand for right and goodness.
But we’ve got to know the simple disciplines,
of being honest and loving and just with all humanity.
If we don’t learn it,
we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own powers.
This universe hinges on moral foundations. There is something in this universe that justifies [Thomas] Carlyle in saying,
No lie can live forever.
There is something in this universe that justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying,
Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.
There is something in this universe that justifies James Russell Lowell in saying,
Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne.
With that scaffold sways the future.
Behind the dim unknown stands God,
Within the shadow keeping watch above his own.
So let us dance! Let us rejoice in the resurrection. Let is sing God’s praises. And then, let us be prepared to be taken to where we might not want to go. Let us follow Jesus.