The Ordinary to the Extraordinary

Br Michael preached the following to the congregation of St Peter’s, Llanwenarth Citra on Sunday, April 10th.

May the words of my lips and the meditations of my heart, be alway acceptable in Thy sight, O God, my strength and my redeemer. Amen

Our readings today give a prospective preacher quite a lot to think about. A Gospel reading that seems to contain about three mini-stories and an Epistle that contains one of the most well known conversion narratives in the Bible.

As we read earlier in our Psalm:

O Lord, my God, I will give thanks unto Thee for ever.

Sometimes, when I read an excerpt from the Bible, I struggle to understand quite why the people do the things they do. Other times, however, their actions make perfect sense. Perhaps, in some way, I am a little like St Peter, because in our Gospel reading this morning, it appears that Peter gets a bit bored, sat around with the others, and decides he needs to get up and do something. My brothers and sisters in the Community will, I am sure, agree that this is something that I am prone to – not liking to sit still for any longer than I have to.

Fidgety Peter, along with some other taggers on, gets into his boat and sails out onto the water. After spending quite a long time fishing (something I don’t suppose I’d be much good at – sitting still again!), they haven’t caught anything and happen to look to the horizon where they see a man, calling to them. The first interesting point is that they don’t seem to recognise Jesus. I have often found this odd – considering this man has been the centre of attention for the past few weeks, it does strike me as odd that they didn’t recognise him, but we will pass over that for now. This unknown man calls out to them, asking if they have caught anything. ‘No’, comes the reply. ‘Well’, he says, ‘cast your nets over to the right’. It appears that, without any doubt entering their hearts, they do as they are told and cast their nets to the other side. Their catch on that side is so great that they struggle to haul the nets in – quite a parallel. It appears that trust, on this occasion, has been well placed – the stranger appears to know about fishing. Then, something bizarre happens. The unnamed disciple, the one that ‘reclined on Jesus’ breast’ at the last supper, looks up again and realises that the unknown stranger is in fact Jesus. ‘It is the Lord’, he cries out. Again, without any reports of doubt, Peter quickly dresses and jumps into the lake in order to reach Him. Peter exhibits two qualities that Christians everywhere should exhibit: trust and an eager longing to be with God. The others appear to take a more sedate route, sailing back into shore.

O Lord, my God, I will give thanks unto Thee for ever.

When the other disciples return to the shore, they are met by Jesus and a hearty breakfast of fish. Jesus, in their absence, has been preparing for their return. There are obvious parallels here with the promise that Jesus made when he was coming towards his Passion – He told us that He would ‘go and prepare a place’ for us. I expect that could include breakfast.

The inclusion of the breakfast in the narrative has other implications too. As well as being a good story, a true account, of Jesus meeting again with His friends, it is also proof. Proof that Jesus indeed was alive. The person on the shore must have been Jesus, because the ‘disciple whom He loved’ recognised him as such; and Jesus must have been alive, not a ghost or figment, as he ate a simple meal of fish.

Without lifting a finger, Jesus has turned the ordinary: going fishing and catching nothing, into the extraordinary: catching more than they can manage and proving His resurrection by eating with his disciples.

We now turn to our Epistle. In it, we hear of Saul who was ‘breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord’. A zealous Jew, a Pharisee, Saul had committed himself to stamping out the new religion. He had obtained permission from the Chief Priests to go to yet another temple to seek and destroy the bands of Christians that were collecting there. Although a true zealot, Saul would have thought he was doing nothing out of the ordinary for a Pharisee – he would have thought his actions were quite normal – quite ordinary. Saul is driving to Damascus when he experiences the original Damascene moment –  a revelation from Jesus, often depicted by artists, of a shining light coming from Heaven and a voice, Jesus’ own voice, asking why Saul is persecuting Him. At this, Saul asks a question, quite a reasonable question under the circumstances: ‘Who are you, Lord?’. It is clear that, unlike ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ and the others who sat around on the lake side with Him, Saul did not recognise Jesus, even though he was persecuting Jesus’ followers.

We all, I daresay, know the rest of the Damascene story. Having been told by Jesus to enter the city, Saul is visited by a man named Ananias, a resident of Damascus who tells ‘Brother Saul’ that he will receive the Holy Spirit. This too must have come as something of a shock. The shock not only of being called ‘Brother Saul’ – ‘Brother’ still being a title I am struggling to getting used to, even after six months; but of being told he would receive the Holy Spirit, the very thing that, if it existed, he was trying to stamp out. Yet, with all the shock, all the confusion, Saul did not run away, he did not hide, instead he embraced the Lord and was truly grateful.

As we read in our Psalm this morning: Thou hast turned my lamentation into dancing: Thou hast put off my sackcloth and girded me about with gladness. Therefore shall my heart sing of thy praise without ceasing: O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto Thee for ever.

We cannot, of course, be certain as to what the two groups of people were thinking, just as we cannot ever really know what each other are thinking, but there is one thing we can be almost certain of. Both groups of people would have known the Psalms and Psalm 30 would have been well known by them. Saul could probably have recited it to you. I suspect that, even if not in so many words, both parties were probably saying similar things to God for the things they had experienced:

O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto Thee for ever.

As we continue in our journey through the Christian year, we may begin to feel slightly less enthusiastic. The major feasts, Christmas and Easter have, after all, both passed now. We must not think this way – we must take the message of Easter – the message of resurrection, the message of hope, the message of God’s love, we must take it for ourselves, we must ponder on it and we must be thankful for it, for it is the greatest message we can ever hope to receive.

O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto Thee for ever.

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

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