St. Thomas’ Church, Whitemarsh
Easter 3, Year C, 2016
May the words I speak and the words you hear be God’s alone. Amen.
Today we are presented with two examples of call stories. In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear the powerful story of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. When the curtain opens, Saul, who we know more commonly as Paul, is “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples” and other Christians (Acts 9:1). We know that this hot-headed young man has been fervently persecuting the disciples of Jesus—he is not only present at the stoning of Stephen, but stands watch over the coats of the people doing the stoning. Saul is actively seeking out ways to put an end to the movement known as “The Way” because he believes that they are teaching lies about God. People in that time are not as flippant about faith as many people tend to be these days—for him teaching incorrectly about God is a grave sin and a matter of life and death. And so one of the biggest enemies of the earliest Christians, who still consider themselves Jews at that point in time, is a fellow Jew. And his purpose for traveling to Damascus is to capture these people he perceives to be enemies of the faith.
In the Gospel, we see Jesus calling Peter to leadership over his sheep, God’s people. This comes on the heels of Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus during Jesus’ trial. Think of the events of the past few weeks: Jesus enters into Jerusalem to cheering crowds, but by the end of the week their cheering has turned to jeering. There’s the meal in the upper room where Peter first refuses to have his feet washed by Jesus, and then overcompensates and wants his whole body washed when Jesus insists that he must be washed in order to remain one of Jesus’ disciples (John 13:1-10). Then soldiers come to arrest Jesus while they are praying in the garden of Gethsemane and Peter draws a sword and cuts off the ear of a servant, despite hearing Jesus teach about loving one’s enemies (John 18:10-11). Next Peter denies he is a follower of Jesus, not once, but three separate times (John 18:15-18, 25-27; Mark 14:66-72). Peter is nowhere to be found when Jesus is crucified, and it takes women followers and a secret disciple who is not one of the twelve/eleven to bury him because they have seemingly all abandoned Jesus (John 19:38). Then after three days people begin to see Jesus appear again. It’s a lot to process, and so to make sense of it all, Peter goes back to do what he knows best: fishing.
We may wonder why Jesus calls such bumbling people, in the case of Peter—or in Saul’s case, violent people—to do God’s will, but this is not a new thing; the Bible is full of stories of imperfect people being called to do the work of God.
God chooses Sarah, a barren woman way past the age of childbearing, to become the mother of many nations (Gen 17, 18). Her immediate response is to laugh at the thought, and yet she bears a son named Isaac, the first child of what becomes God’s chosen people.
When God needs someone to rescue the Israelites from slavery at the hands of the Egyptians, God calls Moses, a Jew raised by the Egyptian royal family, who has killed one of the guards for beating a Hebrew slave (Exodus 2:11-15). When God approaches Moses in the burning bush, Moses protests that he cannot be a great leader because he has a stutter (Exodus 4:10). And yet God uses this murderer with a speech impediment to lead God’s chosen people to the promised land.
The most famous and beloved king of Israel is David, who begins as the youngest son of a shepherd until God chooses him to succeed Saul on the throne (1 Samuel 16:11-13). Once in power David has an affair with a married woman and has her husband killed, although he later repents of his wrongdoing (2 Samuel 11). This adulterous man with a humble birth ends up being the greatest king of all Israel, and his son Solomon, the wisest one.
When God becomes incarnate and takes on human flesh, God chooses a poor young woman to bear and to raise Jesus, the Son of God, as her son. And Jesus, in turn, chooses simple fishermen, hated tax collectors, and other lowly people to be the ones to follow in his footsteps and spread the message of God’s love through Jesus Christ.
Peter, one of the innermost disciples who denies Jesus three times, is offered a threefold redemption—three chances to say yes to Jesus where he has previously said no. And Peter goes on to become an incredible preacher, converting 3,000 people to Christianity in a single day, and eventually becomes known as the first pope (Acts 2:41).
God also chooses Saul, Christian persecutor extraordinaire, and converts him to Christianity where he begins going by the name he is better known by, Paul, the apostle to the nations. God takes one of the most vehement opponents of Christianity and instead of just moving him out of the way, turns him into arguably the most influential person in the Christian faith, other than Jesus himself.
God can use us, too.
The Kingdom of God has not yet been fully realized on earth. That’s where you and I come in. Look, we all have flaws, but even if we don’t think we have much to contribute, God is able to use us to further God’s work in the world. Work like caring for the sick, the homeless, those in prison; the marginalized. Work like promoting peace and justice and respecting the dignity of every human being. Work like learning about our faith and coming together to worship this God who loves us so completely and unabashedly.
And as we have seen countless times throughout the Bible, “God doesn’t call the equipped; God equips the called” (Rick Yancey, The Fifth Wave). Even God’s Chosen People are chosen not for their virtues or by their own merit, but because God loves them.
We are not enough on our own, but God makes us enough. Don’t think that God can’t use you. God is calling us. All we have to do is say yes.