... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Easter 3 Year C
Message April 14, 2013

Epiphanies and Human Change

Text: John 21:1-19

The third Sunday of Easter may justly be called the little Epiphany Sunday or the Sunday of many revelations as all four readings testify to moments of God’s self-disclosures and responses of clarity within human understanding thereby altering human lives. No matter it be the dramatic road to Damascus experience of Saul or the dream-like vision of John of Patmos, the encounter along the Galilean shores or the arising from the throes of grief, God reveals a divine truth to those who are open to appreciate that truth and willing to alter their course of life to walk along the path of righteousness.

From the everyday to the extraordinary we heard this morning how God reveals to humans an element of divine knowledge. The psalmist who might have been a very pillar of strength and wealth had been stricken by some calamity – either sickness or adversity. In that moment there was a realization of the very essence of what is important to life – not wealth, not prosperity, not social standing, but a relationship with God. From the very brink of the grave the author has been lifted up, healed or restored and given insight into that which is the true joy. The psalm moves from the present to the past to the future and back to the present, and in that movement testifies to the change which has taken place – God has been revealed as the Holy One and the psalmist’s life takes on a new course.

John in his vision in Revelation Chapter 5 sees the scroll of life in God’s hand sealed by seven seals and unopenable by anyone save the kin of the tribe of Judah. In a sudden flash of realization he is made aware that the lamb, which had been as though slaughtered, was, in fact, the kin of Judah. The epiphany is the start of an understanding of Jesus’ role as the Messiah and the universal impact of His life ministry and crucifixion. More than apocalyptic prophecy, John’s vision becomes a divine history giving meaning to all mortal life and the reason for the existence of every living creature.

The encounter with the risen Lord on the shores of Galilee by the grieving apostles is another testimony of God’s self-revelation and a moment of awakening for those who can understand. Filled with grief, anxiety, and despair, Peter returns to the thing which he hopes will take his mind off his situation: Fishing! All night and they got nothing! Then as dawn approaches a stranger tells them to cast their net one more time and lo! An unnatural catch! At that moment they recognize the stranger as the Lord, and their mourning has been changed to joy. However there is much more than just joy – there is a change into a life altering path of discipleship. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” and three times Jesus directs him in a mission – feed by lambs, tend my sheep, and feed my sheep.

The three-fold call to Peter is an obvious counter to the three-fold denial Peter gave at the courts of the chief priest to those around him, and as such is perhaps a balanced account of God in Christ altering Peter’s life to become the disciple he was meant to be – the one who would lead support and uphold the others in their ministries and carry on Jesus’ ministry to bring the knowledge of God and God’s Kingdom to the entire world.

In much the same dramatic fashion is the story of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. A staunch Jew, a zealous Pharisee and a committed anti-Christian Saul has been commissioned to go to Damascus, round up all the heretical Jews who were following the Way (the name the early Christians called their movement) and take them back to Jerusalem to face the Sanhedrin. Along this road a flashing light surrounds him, knocks him to the ground and causes him to go blind. To 21st century ears this might sound unbelievable or something out of a science fiction movie. Yet to those at the time this was a miraculous event. It might have occurred as described by Luke, or it might have been a natural phenomenon such as lightening. Whatever the exact physical occurrence it caused a moment of clarity wherein Saul suddenly realized what God in Christ had been doing, had accomplished and what he (Saul) had been opposing. The details concerning Saul’s healing gives secondary witness to the reality of the change in Saul’s person. Ananias knowing Saul’s reputation would certainly have feared an encounter with him. Yet by God’s command he goes, ministers to the injured Saul and testifies to the change which God has made manifest in him. At the meeting Ananias greets him a Brother Saul, a term used to denote recognition among those following the Way. Saul’s response given a few days later is to declare Jesus as “the Son of God”.

While all these accounts might seem bolder than reality and stuck in a time frame some 2000 years or more in the past, similar testimonies have been reported in the intervening years. There are the stories and witnesses of such notables at St. Francis, St. Benedict, Martin Luther, Charles and John Wesley, Joan of Arc, Theresa of Avila or Mother Theresa. All have a very familiar theme – a dramatic turn from a path leading to destruction to one leading to righteousness. Whereas these notable giants of the faith might seem unique their stories can be seen in many not as famous.

All of us at some point have been on the wrong path. We have all been headstrong, stubborn selfish ambitious or caught in a self-spiralling cycle of destruction such as an addiction to drugs, work money or pleasures without any concern as to the consequences to self or others. And examples abound:

~ the doctor so bent on looking after his or her patients that the family is ignored and the marriage is lost

~ the teenager caught up in a world of drugs oblivious to all else

~ the child who is unable to cope with the loss of a parent

~ the parent who is unable to forgive a child or to display the attribute of forgiveness

~ the spouse so revengeful who is unable to see beyond hurt

~ the self-made individual whose only goal is to accumulate more and more materials

~ the self-driven athlete who is willing to do whatever it takes to win including doping etc.

But something happens – and it usually does – there is an awareness of the way and a time of remorse. Sometimes it is a sudden realization and at others it is a gradual awakening and like Scrooge in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” a change occurs and the individual finds redemption. Some might say that this change was just a natural course of events or as a result of the intervention by others. Yet we might ask the deeper question, who was behind this self-awareness or who caused the intervention by another?

The answer to this lies steeped in the Biblical witness – God: and the object of the divine affection has always been humanity. As creatures fashioned from the dust we are no different than the other creatures; self-centered and imbued with a sense of self-preservation. However, as children of God, we have been given a spark of the divine which enables us to glimpse beyond the veil with a sense of clarity so as to see some of the aspects of divine love, to be open to God’s gentle, and sometimes no-so-gentle, intervention in our lives and to be directed to the path of righteousness.

May we all see those moments of revelation and respond in the proper way.