Summary: Jesus' grace transforms us
May 5, 2019
Pastor Mary Erickson
Hope Lutheran Church
Holy Disturbances and Easter Grace
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
If you head down Highway 93 south of Eleva, you’ll run into the town of Independence. And there, on the left side of the highway you’ll see a magnificent, red brick Catholic Church. The Polish immigrants who built this church named it Saints Peter and Paul. The church’s name appears in their native Polish over the main entrance.
The outside of the church is very beautiful, but the inside of the church is simply breathtaking! You want to drop to your knees. The filigree and hand painted detail is from another century. The ceiling mural over the altar depicts the resurrected Christ ascending into the heavens. You know you are in a holy place!
Saints Peter and Paul. In the first-generation church, these two individuals did more for the spread and establishment of Christianity than anyone else. But each of these two men began their faith journeys on tenuous footings. This morning we hear their stories.
Paul (who at that time, was still known as Saul), was a man filled with zealous hatred. Luke tells us he was “breathing threats and murder.” It’s such a striking image! Breathing in threats; breathing out murder. Breathing in threats; breathing out murder. His whole being was possessed by hatred towards the followers of this new Way. He was present at the stoning of Stephen when he was murdered. And now, in his zeal, he wants to take his religious cleansing on the road. He heads to Damascus.
But as he approached the city, his laser focus was disrupted by Jesus: a blinding light and a thundering voice from heaven. Paul is knocked off his feet. “Saul! Saul! Why are your persecuting me?” Paul is rendered blind. He’s led stumbling into the city. There he stays for three days, eating no food or water.
In our gospel story, Peter and several other disciples go fishing on Lake Galilee. They fish all night long with no luck. In the morning, a man on the shore suggests that they cast their net to the other side of the boat. They do and they pull in a monstrous catch. The disciples realize now that this man is the risen Jesus.
By the time they come to the shore, Jesus has breakfast ready for them. And then after the breakfast, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times he asks him! And it’s not lost on Peter, for he had denied knowing Jesus three times. When Jesus was at his most vulnerable and lonely, Peter had denied knowing him. “Peter, do you love me?” Peter was no less devastated by Jesus’ question than Paul on the Damascus road.
Jesus comes to both Peter and Paul with a holy disruption. His encounter with them topples their equilibrium. Jesus asks each man a question. And his questions act much like a physician probing a wound. He intends to probe precisely where they are most broken. For Peter, it’s his remorse over his past actions of desertion. For Paul, it’s his raging hatred. It consumes him.
About hatred: We certainly see plenty of that in our world today! Hate crimes are on the rise. Shootings in synagogues, shootings in mosques. People display hatred towards women, to men, to LGBTQ individuals. Hatred is spewed on people of color, on immigrants.
Hatred cleaves an artificial separation into humanity. It divides people into us and them. Hatred creates distance between us. We perceive that the people we hate are substantially different than we are. Consumed by contempt, they appear as less than human. They become demonized and despised. And when we have so emotionally vilified them in our hearts, then it’s just a small step to justify their destruction. They need to be squashed out. Like Paul, we breathe threats and murder.
But hatred is not of God, for God is love. As people of faith, we stand opposed to the rage and violence of hatred. We pray with St. Francis, where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Jesus’ questions probe the hearts of Peter and Paul. He doesn’t probe them to cause pain. He doesn’t intend to shame them. He probes their brokenness because he is the Great Physician.
Paul and Peter haven’t been visited by just any Jesus. This is the resurrected Jesus! He is making all things new! Jesus the Risen Healer comes to them with the power of his resurrection. He touches them with his resurrection energy. Jesus knows the plans he has for Paul and Peter. But so long as they’re bound by their brokenness, they can’t step into their bright future. His questioning is a holy disruption. He touches them with resurrection grace. He frees Peter from his aching remorse. He releases Paul from his hatred.