Rev. Dr. Scott Herr

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PLEASE READ: John 21:1-19 and Revelation 5:9-14

I’m sure you’ve all heard about Mayor Bertrand Delanoë’s “eco-grazing” initiative. For almost a month now, there are Black Sheep grazing the lawns of the Paris Archive. Apparently Archive officials wanted to experiment with this new methodology but had asked for a donkey.[1] Instead, they got four black sheep. This is another example of French bureaucracy at its finest, but one wonders what the administrators of the Paris Archive were thinking in the first place when they asked for a donkey? … Obviously they’ve never tried to mow a lawn with a donkey!

The Black Sheep have been a source of sarcastic comments elsewhere, but I maintain that this is another reason God loves the French. God loves black sheep of all kinds. Isn’t one summary of the gospel simply Jesus came to rescue Black Sheep? Sinners? Misfits? Strangers and stragglers? Outsiders and oddballs alike?

In a recent book on the life of Billy Graham, William Martin says that the primary reason for Dr. Graham’s lifelong, phenomenal success and worldwide affection is that Graham has consistently preached “the transforming power of another chance.”[2]  Graham’s own life has demonstrated the very change he preached to others in his dramatic changes of heart on nuclear armament, communism, and racism.  Billy Graham has consistently preached, as the one hope for all ills in personal and social life, the transforming power of Jesus Christ.         

Martin notes the well-substantiated charge that the majority of the hundreds of thousands of inquirers who came forward at Graham’s crusades were not really first-time converts, but re-dedicators. Yet this is hardly a criticism of Graham.  Is a re-dedication to the love of Jesus any less momentous than a 1st time conversion?

          Another chance, early or late in life, is no small thing, as the disciple Peter learned well.  He had been so sure of himself, so confident in his own strength and courage.  Peter had been proud to be the first disciple to openly acknowledge that Jesus was the Christ.  And as Jesus was facing his final hour, Peter was bold to proclaim his loyalty even unto death.  What happened after that we know only too well. Peter denied Jesus three times as the cock crowed. He watched as they arrested, mocked, and tortured Jesus, then hid as they took him to the cross and killed him.

          Peter once thought he knew all the right answers about God, about big, important ideas, and big, significant people, but was eventually brought face to face with his own weakness, insufficiency, black sheep blindness of heart. 

          But Peter was sought out by the Risen Lord, led, transformed, healed, and called to serve the very ones he thought he was above.  Here is a strange path of enlightenment in which we progress by regression and go forward by falling backward. There is confusion, hunger, questioning, and yearning for more light.

          The first obvious point of our gospel text is that like Mary on the first morning of Easter, the disciples don’t recognize Jesus immediately, even though this is the third time he appeared to them…  They’re back to fishing, and Jesus calls to them from the shore. John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” has to tell Peter, “It is the Lord!” at which Peter puts some clothes on and swims to shore to be with Jesus… I always thought that was a pretty funny scene: Put on some clothes and jump in the lake. There is also that interesting detail of Jesus telling them to put the nets on the right side of the boat… Nowhere in the gospel accounts is there record of the disciples catching any fish without the help of Jesus… But as they do what Jesus commands them, they have a huge catch of fish.

          Jesus must have been smiling knowingly, because here like during the feeding of the five thousand, he shares bread and fish with them. They enjoy breakfast together… But this is a sacred and highly symbolic meal. The sign of the fish in both Jewish and Christian literature points to the eschatological banquet when the kingdom promises are fulfilled… It’s fascinating that here John is signaling that when we dine with Christ, we are at table in the Kingdom of God. It’s here and now… Remember that over the entrance to the sanctuary is the sign of the fish, a reminder that we are called to be a community that not only points to but realizes the Kingdom of God…

          So there is work to be done, and it begins with Jesus.  After breakfast, Jesus asks Peter again to reaffirm that which he had denied, reversing the betrayal in full measure,  “Do you love me; do you love me; do you love me?”  And after being given another chance, Peter who was tempted to go back to his nets is given a new mission in life: “Feed my sheep.”   Share the message that our God is a God of grace, of mercy and steadfast love.  Ours is a God of another chance!

In taking another chance in life, there must be detachment from the old certainties and securities, with the accompanying experience of dislocation and disorientation, some reorganization and reordering.  Peter had made his way back to the nets again, apparently questioning whether or not he should stick with fishing.

That’s the part of the faith experience which we don’t like. We want to be big, in control, calling the shots.  We want to take sure steps toward the world, taking the right steps on the right road, having letters of introduction, or at least a reputable diploma hanging on our wall. Wanting to control all of life’s moves, we don’t make too many big moves. But life, being what it is, may take us on some circuitous routes, some of them leading in a way which we do not want to go.  All of a sudden that job which seemed so secure is gone. The spouse that was so perfect leaves you for another. The health you enjoyed for so long is jeopardized by a relentless and debilitating illness.  Your loved one is dead...

The fact is, sometimes the wheels come off, the bottom falls out in life, leading you into very dark and desperate situations. The question is, must you be totally blinded before you see the light?  Must you experience belittlement before you can actually grow up? Must life cave in around you like a sinkhole before you choose a solid foundation?

Getting another chance, early or late in life, is not cheap.  We can never enter his kingdom, Jesus once said, except as a little child; with humble and purified hearts.

That’s why our Revelation text portrays Jesus, the Lamb of God, surrounded by all creatures as the object of worship and praise. Here, interestingly, is another small sheep: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” The Crucified Risen Lord is worthy of our unlimited adoration and worship because he has given everything to show us the fullness of God’s forgiveness, mercy and healing love…

I am so thankful that we can worship today with our friends from the AFCU, and colleagues and former members from our sister churches in Berlin and Vienna. I am thankful that we can honor all of you who have given so generously to the continuing service of worship and witness of this congregation. Some of our guests here today have given tremendous wealth to honor Christ.

They are like Arthur Curtiss James. Do you know who he is? Let’s put it this way… Without him, we wouldn’t be a beacon on the Seine. We literally wouldn’t have a beacon on the Seine. We have a Spire because of Arthur Curtiss James. Over the entrance door to the sanctuary, you’ll see a fish, but over the archway leading to the Church House, you’ll see a very subtle ACJ. Mr. James gave anonymously, but the Spire is a lasting reminder to his great generosity. God knows how generously ACJ gave of his wealth to show honor and glory and blessing to the Lord…

Most of us can’t give like Arthur Curtiss James gave. But each of us have something to offer the Lord in worship and honor. The Revelation text says that “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea was singing to the Lamb, “blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

I invite you to consider for yourself on this second Sunday after Easter: What chance has the Lord given you to turn back to the Easter way of life, to show his love, to speak his truth, to forgive, to serve, to encourage, to make peace, to heal and reconcile...to offer your life as a service of worship to the living God?  The fact is, the Easter message that we need to hear again is that our God loves us and this broken world so much that he seeks to give us another chance.  Precisely when you have hit bottom or found yourself holding the empty bag of all your pursuits of this life,  God is there to give you another chance.

Although you may be inclined to run away and hide, our God calls you to decline yourself again at the foot of the cross, to seek him out again in the tomb of your worst imaginings, and there discover that his power of life has conquered the death of this world, his light shall forever pierce the darkness.  Brothers and sisters, friends, honored guests, and any black sheep out there: the Good News is that our God is the God of another chance. The question is, will you take it?

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.



[1] Scott Sayare, “Paris Employs a Few Black Sheep to Tend, and Eat, a City Field,” The International Herald Tribune, April 3, 2013. Referenced on April 10, 2013: http://www.nytimes.com/ 2013/04/04/world /europe/sheep- tend-lawn-outside-city-archives-in-paris.html?_r=0

[2] William Martin, A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story (Zondervan, 2010).