Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sermon: Conversion and Abundance

There were three sons going back home for the 60th anniversary of their church in New Jersey.
        The first, was driving from Pennsylvania, and got as far as Minnesota before he stopped, and made a U-Turn.
        The second, was driving in from Chicago, was heading through Ohio, but took a wrong turn here and there, jagging north then south, each time he veered off course his GPS would say “Re-calculating.”
        The third, was driving from Virginia, and once he got off the Garden State Parkway, he had to pull over and look at his map to make sure he knew the particular place in New Jersey he was going.
        One made a U-turn, one had a GPS that consistently Re-calculated to keep him on track, and the third pulled over to ensure he got to his particular goal.
        One flipped directions, one got there in fits and starts, and the third just needed to focus on his goal.
        I tell this story, not to make sure you all show up a week from today to celebrate our anniversary and hear the Bishop, but in order to talk about the Flips, fits and starts, and focusing of conversion.

        Flips, Fits and Starts, and Focusing. All, valid experiences of Conversion.

        Look at Paul, Mr. Conversion Extraordinaire, look at how he flips
—does a 180 degree turn.
        He was a very strict Jew
—a Fundamentalist we might call him today
—He knew his scripture,
he knew Deuteronomy 21:23,
he knew that those who die upon a tree are accursed,
yet these “Followers of the Way
--These Earliest Christians
were claiming a man who died on a cross
—on a tree
—was the Messiah,
was God’s Blessed One!
        He knew his Bible and he knew that was blasphemy,
was an abomination,
was a threat to the good order of faith!
        And he approved of the murder of St. Stephen,
and was using any authority he could find, and some ill gotten authority too more likely than not
 to fight against these liars,
these Christians,
these people on the Wrong Way.
        Seething mad he goes along the Way to Damascus
—and there,
he’s turned around,
within a couple of weeks he goes from persecution to preaching,
from declaring the Way to be blasphemy,
to following along the Way himself,
following after Jesus
—being his disciple!

        And this is good to remember—especially when you face those most recalcitrant of people,
folk who, to your eyes, are beyond redemption
—sometimes, now I’m not saying always
—but sometimes, they’re folk who are going to flip,
who God will turn around,
who will make a U-turn in life and find themselves as good as they once were bad,
wolves into lambs,
sinners into saints.
        For that matter, sometimes you too will find yourself on the wolf end of the stick,
and its good to know that the Good Shepherd can flip you around, even then!

Then there is Peter
—what a guy,
never a more back and forth, fits and starts, man than he,
“Don’t wash my feet Jesus!
…wash all of me.”
“You are the Messiah, the Son of God…
…Hold up now guy, who do you think you are saying the Messiah has got to be crucified… I don’t think you know what you’re doing Lord!”
And more to the point, today, “I’ll never deny you…
… woops, I denied you three times.”
Three times there by a charcoal fire, three times denied his discipleship.

        Seriously, this guy!
Every step a side step,
every time he takes a drive the GPS goes crazy recalculating.
        And today, there by the charcoal fire, this breakfast of fish
three times,
three times he affirms he’s Jesus’ disciple,
three times he says “I love you!” To Jesus.
        If Peter didn’t exist, we’d have had to make him up, because he’s all of us.
His kind of conversion, so often our own,
a daily return to Baptism,
a daily struggle to be faithful,
a daily reminder that we are children of God, even when we don’t feel like it.
Yes, us Sinner/Saints,
us Peter people.
Maybe not the fireworks of Paul, but a struggle still!

        Then there is brave Ananias, his conversion, an act of focusing. Like Mary, he doesn’t ask a Why question, but a How question
—how can I follow you
—how can I minister to this Paul character,
How when he wants to kill us?
Yet, he follows and goes where God calls him to go.
        God points him to a concrete needy nasty, warts and all person, and he goes.

        This too should be our question:
How can I be a faithful disciple in this particular time and this particular place
not generalities, but the particular personal ground upon which I stand?
What tasks will you callous my hands with O’ Lord?
This is so important—we can easily get lost in the clouds, or point too often to acts in the past, but now,
how is God calling us?
How is God calling you?!?
Yes, sometimes conversion is about seeing more clearly and acting more particularly.

        Flips, Fits and Starts, and Focusing. All valid experiences of Conversion.
        Each of them is a way God acts in our life.
Each is part of the life of faith, all our lives.
We can’t denigrate those who’ve come so far to get where they are,
or dismiss those who struggle with the pull and tug of their heart and seem to stay in one place,
or allow the down in the dirt challenges of particulars to disappear from our midst!
        All of them, real experiences of God acting in our life!
        And ALSO, all of them are signs of God’s abundance!
        God’s abundance fueling the journey along the way,
and God’s abundance the goal of the journey!

        Those cars, making U-turns, Jagging back and forth Re-calculating, and idling while the map comes out of the glove box
—they’re all fueled by the desire to get to that anniversary.
        Those cars, their flipping, fits and starts, and focusing,
--For all of them, their goal? Arriving at that anniversary.

        Think about it
—Peter, fed an abundance of fish
—more than you should be able to catch in one go—
just as wine flowed at the Wedding of Cana at the start of John’s Gospel,
here at the end food of the sea falls like manna from heaven for him, for us!
        Think about it—
Paul and Ananias, by the end of their spiritual cat and mouse game, are fed with the fullness of their unlikely brotherhood,
—Healing, Baptism, Food, Community, Proclamation
—these things can feed you forever!
        And they’re all heading to the abundance that is the very presence of God!
All heading toward the Throne of God, where we’ll sing praises together as sister and brother, where we will dwell with our Risen Lord!
        The ends and the means of our conversion,
be we like Ananias, Peter, or Paul,
Faithful Focusing, Fits and Starts, or Flipping
Pulled over, Re-calculating, or making a U-turn
The ends and means are both God’s providence for us,
God’s very real presence with us through Christ our Lord!