Acts 9:1-20

John 21:1-19

Called To Love. Called To Follow.

Easter 3

May 5 2019

Peter and Paul were both leaders in the early church. They were both powerful spokesmen of the resurrection of Christ, and they both went into the world proclaiming the new life offered through the risen Lord. Indeed, they were both strong in their faith in and witness to the risen Christ.

Neither of them, however, started off as strong witnesses to the risen Christ!  They are both examples of how the risen Christ can change lives when people respond to Christ’s call to love Him and love others, and follow Him in showing His love to those around them. In fact, the change the risen Christ made in the lives of Peter and Paul can be seen as a challenge to each of us to hear Jesus’s call to love Him and others and follow Him by showing His love to those around us.  

The Gospel lesson from John 21 before us today tells the story of how Peter has his life completely changed by Jesus.

Imagine with me that you are Peter. You have followed Jesus for 3 years. For 3 years you have been listening to Jesus, watching Jesus, and learning from Jesus. You have given your life to following Jesus and at times have been extremely committed to following Him. You have even made a dramatic confession that Jesus is the Son of God.

            But all that changed. Jesus was arrested and you are scared. You do not feel that you can risk being identified with Jesus and you try to hide.  At the house of the High Priest, three different people try to identify you as a follower of Jesus and each time you vehemently deny it. But as soon as you do this, you panic.

How could you have done such a thing? Where is your commitment to Jesus when Jesus needs you the most? The next day Jesus is crucified, and you feel that you are an utter failure. You feel that everything you have lived for, everything that you have given your life for is gone, and it is somehow your fault. All your claims of love seem to be nothing as you think of how you have denied Jesus. If only you could hide.

            The story then begins to spread that Jesus has risen. You see for yourself the empty tomb, you even see Jesus, but you are still ashamed and confused. You are not sure what to do, so you return to Galilee and to what you did before you began following Jesus. You return to the life of a fisherman. Then, Jesus appears. You panic. You don’t know what to say or do. You want to apologize, but don’t know how. You are mad at yourself, ashamed, and embarrassed for having denied Jesus, and feel you just can’t face Him now.  The tension rises within you as Jesus speaks.

“Do you love me?” Jesus asks. “Lord — you know I love you!” you respond.

            “Do you love me?” Jesus again questions. 

            “Lord — you know I love you!” you again respond.

            “Do you love me?” Jesus asks a third time.

            “Lord — you know everything — you know that I love you!” you respond again –with more emphasis this time. .

            Jesus then looks at you, and in that look you know that all has been forgiven. You realize that your three denials have been replaced by three affirmations of love. You realize that Jesus loves you enough to die for you, and to forgive and restore you to His work. You receive a new zeal and enthusiasm for loving and serving the now risen Jesus. You realize that Jesus loves you, has forgiven you, and calls you to love Him and to follow Him by showing His love to others. You quickly become an outspoken leader in the early church, boldly proclaiming that Jesus, whom you have once denied, is Savior and Lord. You also follow Jesus by showing His love to others. For the rest of your life you proclaim that Jesus is Lord and show the love of Christ to others.  In fact, you are so adamant about loving and following Jesus that you, who once feared confessing Jesus for fear of what the Jews would do to you, now boldly profess Jesus, even though it finally does bring your death. 

Wow!  Your life is completely changed by an experience with the risen Christ! The risen Christ has changed your life. You realize that Jesus has called you to love Him and love others, and to do His work in the world by following Him and showing His love to others. You realize that, as a follower of the risen Christ, you are called to love Him and others, and to follow Him by showing His love to others.   

So that’s Peter’s story. But — what about Paul? The passage in Acts 9 before us today tells how Paul, who here is named Saul, has his life completely changed by the risen Christ. Imagine with me now that you are Saul. You are a leader in the Hebrew world. You studied the Hebrew laws under that famed Gamaliel, a great Rabbi and teacher. You have climbed the ranks of religious officials to become a leader. You take your religion seriously, and you wish everyone did. But this man Jesus of Nazareth, who was teaching, healing, and gathering quite a following around Him, concerned you. Jesus talked about God and God’s will for the world, but seemed to understand God and God’s will differently than you and the other religious officials. He seemed to be turning the people away from your leadership, and even seemed to question your leadership. He even said that He and God were one and the same. How could he make such claims? you wondered. It’s blasphemy! Too many people were following Him, and He was a threat to your beliefs about God and your power, so you and the other leaders decided that this Jesus must be done away with! But it now seems you cannot get rid of Him or His followers. After Pilate had Him crucified His followers began to claim that He was the Messiah and that He had risen from the dead and He gave all people a chance to live new lives before God. Now you and the other leader decide that something must be done to silence Jesus’ followers, and you and begin killing and persecuting Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem. Some of His followers flee Jerusalem, ending up in Damascus, and you decide that you must follow them and bring them to justice, one way or another.

            Then everything changes for you. You are on the way to Damascus when suddenly a blinding light hits you with such force that you fall to the ground.  Jesus speaks to you and tells you that you must change your life. The experience leaves you blind, and in your blindness you begin to think about this Jesus.  Could He really be the Messiah?  You begin to think so, and as soon as Ananias comes and touches you and you receive your sight, you are filled with the Holy Spirit and you begin proclaiming that this Jesus you had persecuted just days before is indeed the Lord.

            For the rest of your life you live a life of loving Christ and others, and you follow Christ by proclaiming His Lordship and showing His love to those around you. In fact, you are finally killed because you are so adamant about your love for Christ and your commitment to following Him, just like those you had tried to kill.

Wow! Your life is completely changed by an experience with the risen Christ! You are changed from someone who tries to kill believers in the risen Christ into someone who is committed to loving and following the risen Christ! You realize that Jesus has called you to love Him and love others, and to do His work in the world by following Him and showing His love to others. You realize that, as a follower of the risen Christ, you are called to love Him and others, and to follow Him by showing His love to others. 

            Peter and Paul were leaders in the early church, but they were also people who experienced the risen Christ in a way that changed their lives. Peter and Paul were two men who experienced Christ, His call to love Him and others, and follow Him in showing His love to others. They realized that, if they were going to be followers of the risen Christ, they were going to have to be committed to loving Him and others, and committed to following Him by showing His love to the world. They were called by the risen Christ to love and to follow.

            Called to love.  Called to follow.

            Peter and Paul understood that the risen Christ was calling them to love Him and love others, and to follow Him in His work of love and salvation in the world.  We need to understand that also.  We need to understand that, if we are going to be disciples of the risen Christ, we need to love Him and others, and follow Him in showing His love to others. Like Peter, Paul, and all who have followed the risen Christ, we are called to love and called to follow.

      Followers of the risen Christ have responded to His call to love Him and others and follow Him in showing His love to the world throughout the centuries.  You and I need to do the same.

      First of all, we need to respond to Christ’s call to love and follow Him by providing for the spiritual needs of those around us. As we conduct services of worship and times for learning we are expressing our love for Christ, and providing others the opportunity to come to know Christ and His love for them.

      Friends, love and follow Christ. Commit yourself to being people who express your love for Christ by worshipping Him and learning more about Him. Commit yourself to loving ad following Christ by inviting others to come to worship and study times also, particularly those who are members here but no longer attend or those who are not attending a church.

      Secondly, we need to respond to Christ’s call to love Him and others and follow Him by reaching out to others with His love.  Christ showed love and compassion to those who were in need.  As followers of the risen Christ, we need to do the same. As followers of the risen Christ, we need to love Him and show others His love by attending to people’s physical needs.  Jesus spent much of His ministry healing the blind, touching lepers, getting a crippled man back on his feet.  We need to follow His example.  Loving and following the risen Christ means helping provide for people’s physical needs. It means feeding the hungry and housing the homeless.  It also means making sure that people who are in desperate need have adequate food and housing. 

      There are numerous opportunities for you to respond to the risen Christ’s call to love Him and others and to follow Him in showing love to others. Visits to those who are sick or in Nursing Homes are very practical ways to show them the love of the risen Christ.  Phone calls are very practical ways to reach out to others. Some other very practical opportunities to follow the risen Christ in showing love to others include donating to or volunteering at CUOC. God will show you all kinds of ways you can do this.

      We are called to love Christ and love others, and to follow Him in showing His love to the world, beginning with where we are.  Let us all commit ourselves to attending to our spiritual needs and the spiritual needs of others, and to showing the love of our risen Christ to those around us in specific actions of love and compassion.

      Like Peter and Paul, we are called to have our lives changed by the risen Christ.  We are called to love Christ and others, and to follow Him in showing love to others. 

      We are called to love. We are called to follow.

      Three times the risen Christ asked Peter if love Him, and three times Peter affirmed his love for Christ. Jesus then told Peter: “Follow me”.

      Today the risen Christ is asking you if you love Him. If you say to Him: “Yes, Lord, I do love you” He then says “Follow me”.

      As disciples of the risen Christ, we are called to love and called to follow. Amen.