Acts 9:1-20; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
Our texts for today invite us to look at events and people in many ways, often different ways than we saw them before. We can learn a lot by looking at texts, events, and people in new or different ways.
The people of ancient Judea had learned to fear Saul; suddenly, he is one of them. The first time we meet Saul, he is a young person, present at the stoning of Steven. As time goes on, he grows passionate about keeping the Jewish faith pure and ridding it of the followers of this new cult. He even has paperwork from the chief priest allowing him to find and arrest anyone claiming to follow Jesus.
Then one day, Jesus invites him to look at the other side of the cult. At the same time, Jesus appears to Ananias and invites him to look at the other side of Saul. Saul meets Ananias and the disciples who are in the area and learns a lot about Jesus. Saul becomes passionate about sharing the good news of God’s grace, founding congregations and keeping in touch with them through letters.
In class we discussed how Saul’s name became Paul. A lot of people think that his name changed when he became Christian, but the book of Acts records Saul meeting with the disciples several times. In Acts 13, Saul agrees to focus on the Greek-speaking world, and the Gentiles, while Peter and others focus on the Aramaic and Hebrew-speaking world, and the Jews. From this time on, Saul is called Paul, because it helps him identify better with the Gentiles he is trying to reach. We have looked on the other side of Paul/Saul and found a passionate follower of Jesus, who will do whatever he can to reach more people for Jesus.
… John of Patmos used the praises normally given to Caesar to praise Jesus as more powerful than the emperor. A Caesar was praised with words something like this: “Worthy is Caesar to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" John has revised this message to place Jesus higher than any Caesar. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"
John’s Revelation was written at a time of persecution and oppression of anyone who would not worship the Caesar as a god. John finds the emperor less powerful, less worthy of honor and praise, than Jesus, his Lord.
To understand how risky this was, imagine being a Christian in North Korea today. Long-time ruler Kim Jong-Il required everyone to treat him as their god, calling him “Dear Leader.” As poor as most of the people were and still are, they were forced to give credit to Dear Leader for giving them whatever they had. Any resistance to his power was met with violence, imprisonment, and death. Today, under Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un, things seem no different.
It was in such a world that the book of Revelation circulated, encouraging, urging, the followers of Jesus to remain faithful. Most of the stories are in code – the number 666, for example, is the numerological symbol for Caesar Nero. The visions represent the battle between good and evil, between the political and the divine.
The point of Revelation and all the violent visions is to prove that only Jesus is Lord, only Jesus has the power to defeat all enemies of God’s people. Jesus is more powerful than any Caesar, any “Dear Leader,” and those who look on the other side of the political claims will discover that Jesus will triumph. It is foolish to trust in anyone or anything other than Jesus.
… Peter and the group had been out all night, casting out the nets and hauling them in empty. They must have tried all their favorite spots and a few others. Nothing! With the sunrise, they give up and head for shore and home.
As they approach the shore, they notice a man standing there, but they are too far away to know who the man is. He says, put the nets down on the right side of the boat. They figure the man can see something they cannot see, so they do as the man suggests. They let down the nets and quickly discover that they are so full, they need all hands to pull the nets in.
As they get closer to the shore, they can see that the man is Jesus. Peter – impetuous as always – jumped into the water to rush to be with Jesus. The other disciples are left to finish hauling in the catch. Once they are ashore, Jesus invites them all to a fish breakfast.
After they had eaten, Jesus and Peter have this curious conversation. “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” The repetition seems to be symbolic of the three times Peter denied knowing Jesus. Jesus is inviting Peter to look on the other side of the cross, on the other side of his feelings of guilt.
Jesus wants Peter to understand that he is fully forgiven and charged with moving forward with the mission Jesus started – taking care of those who need care. From this time onward, Peter is no longer Peter the bumbler, but Peter the rock on whom Jesus will build the church. Peter, on the other side of the boat, will go from empty nets to an abundant harvest. Peter, on the other side of the cross, will constantly be fishing for people and growing the church.
… As a congregation, we have been casting our nets on the left side for a long time, with small catches as the result. Recently, we have dangled a few lines on the right side, with some success. We have begun to focus on the mission in our neighborhood. We have begun to think about what our neighbors are looking for, in worship, in service to others, in the sense of community we have here.
What is next? What would it mean for us to cast not just single lines but whole nets on the right side of the boat? How do we do that? What are the nets made of? What kind of fish will we catch?
In our lives as individuals, how and where do we need to look on the other side? Where and what IS the other side? Do we need to forgive someone? Do we need to empty the garage of ancient treasures? Do we need to accept that we need more help than we used to? Do we need to put Jesus higher on our priority list? Do we need to find more time to help others?
Looking on the other side can be risky. It means change, and that can cause fear. But it can also bring great delight. Saul/Paul became Jesus’ biggest fan. Most believers survived the persecutions, and the persecutions ended when Emperor Constantine became a believer in Jesus. Today, the catch of fish numbers not just 153 but about 2 billion believers.
Please pray with me. Jesus, you taught Peter to fish for people, and he taught others, who taught others, who taught others, including us. Help us to continue fishing for people, even though it means looking on the other side of what we are doing now. Help us in our own lives to see the other side and the joys that can be found when we look there through your eyes. Amen