Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on April 10, 2016
[sermon begins after two chunky Bible stories from John and Acts]
John 21:1-19 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 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.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Acts 9:1-20 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
Picture a dinner table. My husband Rob and my almost 17-year-old daughter Taryn are eating and chatting. I get to talking about how I’ve been thinking about redemption lately. (I’m pretty fun at a dinner table, let me tell you.) I talk a little about wondering what redemption means today and what redemption stories make sense to people across groups. And then I say, “So I’ve been thinking about Darth Vader.” Without even a pause to blink, Taryn turns to her dad and says, “I thought she was going to say something about Jesus.” Much hilarity ensues.
But she wasn’t far off in her assumption. I’d been pondering the upcoming Bible verses that we heard read in worship today. I’ve known they’ve been coming for a few weeks. Deciding what to preach on Good Friday from Jesus’ Passion came from looking ahead to see when this story about Peter and Jesus would be told. There it was, scheduled for today.
The Good Friday sermon just before Easter Sunday emphasized the part of the Passion story when Peter denies knowing Jesus three times. Peter is one of the original twelve disciples. He knows Jesus very well. Peter’s pledge of allegiance to the death was still warm when he started telling people he didn’t know Jesus. Peter’s denials happen in the dark of night, over a charcoal fire, during Jesus’ crucifixion trial. He chooses camouflage over courage and saying the easy thing over the right thing. His denials of Jesus are an epic fail. And Peter knows it.
In the Bible verses today, there’s Jesus standing on the beach just after daybreak. Having apparently worked up quite the appetite after his resurrection, he cooks breakfast over a charcoal fire. He passes around loaves and fish. Everyone eats. Then Jesus and Peter have their moment that includes questions, love, and ways to make amends.
Three denials from Peter before the crucifixion. Three pledges of love following the resurrection. And Jesus in between those denials and pledges. Jesus opens up a moment of redemption for Peter. Interesting that Peter didn’t instigate this moment. He didn’t launch into explanation or confession or ask for forgiveness. Interesting that he’s hurt when Jesus keeps asking about the love. Although Jesus would have at least three reasons to doubt what a profession of love from Peter means on the ground. And, still, redemption comes whether or not Peter instigates it or understands it.
Saul’s story from the Acts reading is also one of redemption. This man known as Saul zealously guards the faith of his ancestors to the point of attending the stoning of Jesus followers. He watches the coats of the witnesses during the stoning and approves of the killing. He was hunting “anyone who belong to the Way, men or women,” so that “he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Saul is frightening and poses real threat to people who don’t agree with him. He is blinded on his way to do terrible things and Ananias is sent to him to heal him.
Ananias has no interest in being with the man who very recently was part of butchering Jesus followers. Who can blame him? But Ananias goes and does what is asked of him. Saul immediately became a preacher. Saul is “also known as Paul.” He ends up starting churches of Jesus followers and encouraging them with his visits and the letters we now read as part of the New Testament. He is, in short, a man redeemed.
What is it about redemption? People doing horrible things and seeming beyond all help. Something happens. And they are on a new course. Relating differently to the people around them. I wasn’t kidding when I said that I’d been thinking about Darth Vader. The story of Star Wars is a long arc to Vader’s redemption. (I’m not addressing the 7th film in this statement). Audiences cheer it. Fans argue about it. There’s something about redemption that captures our imagination.
For Peter and Paul, and one could argue Vader, there are people involved in these redemption stories. For Peter, there is Jesus in his resurrected body. For Paul, there is Ananias who is fearful and faithful. For Vader, there is Luke. Bottom line: There are other people involved in the redemption.
As part of my work at the women’s prison, I met a woman we’ll call Jane. During the Bible Study before Friday evening worship, the group of women and I were discussing the Ten Commandments found in the book of Exodus. Jane eventually raised her hand and said that she had broken every one of the commandments. She looked at the Bible verses again, nodded, and said, “Yup, every one.” She talked about Jesus’ love and the church in which she heard about it, not believing it could be for her. Until, one day, she did.
I attended a parole hearing for Jane who was to serve a life sentence for murdering her lover’s wife. The family of the woman who was murdered was outraged that the hearing was even happening. Jane did not receive parole at that time. She did eventually. Jane’s story is not an easy one. There is carnage in her history. Her redemption is messy, fragile, and uncomfortable – for her victim’s family and, therefore, for her. You can’t pretty it up with a bow or a Hollywood movie or a sermon.
What about those of us who may not have as big of a story as Jane, Peter, or Paul? What about redemption stories that simmer quietly and are still in their “before” moment? Some of us know what I’m talking about. Whether it’s quiet addictions that are slowly breaking relationships – a favored chemical or porn or incessant gaming. Or behind-the-scenes behavior that can be masked in public – rage and abuse that is verbal or violent or sexual. Or public behavior that is deemed acceptable but destroys people – jonesing after power by way of gossip or ridicule or racism.
Redemption doesn’t erase the reality or consequence of what we’ve done. Redemption allows for a different way of living moving forward – consequences and all. After Jane’s parole was denied, her reaction was disappointment and also some clarity that ministry does and will continue to happen in the prison. Her conversion did not negate the reality of the murder she committed. The woman she murdered is still dead and missed by her family. Neither did Saul’s conversion negate what he did. Thomas, the Jesus follower, was still dead by stoning.
How do you suppose Peter took the news that Jesus came back? Given his denial of Jesus during the trial, Peter’s initial thoughts about resurrection likely included some fear. But there was Jesus. Offering redemption and a way to make amends.
Amends are often insufficient and suspect, especially for the people who are hurt by our behavior. But there’s Jesus, giving Peter something to do in the face of what he has done. Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
Jesus’ offer is on the table for you. Even though you haven’t asked for it and maybe aren’t ready for it. Do you think because you screwed up that you don’t deserve a second chance? Forgiveness is the “gracious irritant” that leads to redemption. Notice again that redemption isn’t self-made and it doesn’t happen in the dark. Other people are involved. It happens in the light of day. There is honesty. There are consequences. There is also freedom.
Amen and alleluia.
 George Lucas. Star Wars I-VI. http://lucasfilm.com/star-wars
 ELCA Lutherans, as a general rule, follow the Revised Common Lectionary that schedules scripture readings over a three year cycle. Read about the RCL at http://www.elca.org/Lectionary
 John 18:15-27
 John 13:37 Peter said to [Jesus], “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
 Acts 7: 558 and 8:1 “Then they dragged [Thomas] out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul…And Saul approved of their killing him.”
 Acts 13:9
 Exodus 20:1-17
 Diablo Cody. Ricki and the Flash. (Clinica Estetico, LStar Capital, and TriStar Pictures, 2015). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3623726/companycredits?ref_=tt_ql_dt_5
 L. Gregory Jones. Embodying Forgiveness. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1995), xvi.