Acts 9:1-20                              Psalm 30                                  Revelation 5: 11-14                                John 21: 1-19

Do you ever wish you hadn’t signed up for this whole Christian trip?  I mean, do you ever wonder what you give up in order to be a disciple?   To help you consider that line of thought,   here’s the top ten reasons to avoid being a Christian.   Now, I didn’t make these up – most of them came from a social media page for women clergy.  Just so’s you know. 

1.     You won’t miss the beginning of the game on Sunday.

2.     There will be no particular reason to dread changing to Daylight Savings Time.

3.     Math avoidance – you can pass on the whole ‘forgiving 70 times 70’ thing.

4.     Never struggling to explain to a confused little person the difference between Santa Claus and Jesus. Or the Easter Bunny and Jesus.

5.     Just think of the money you’ll save!

6.     You can cuss like a pirate in public, and nobody will be freaked out. 

7.     You can sing at the top of your lungs in the shower or the car, and nobody will either suggest you join the choir, or quieten down.

8.     New acquaintances won’t automatically assume you are judgmental, anti-gay, holier-than-thou, or just plain mean.

9.     Saturday night dates don’t have to end by 10 PM so you can get up for church.

10. You can pick and choose who your neighbor is.      

See what I mean??  There’s a whole host of opportunities out there, if we only had not decided to follow Jesus.   And for some of us, that was a near thing.

Take St. Paul, for example.

St. Paul had to be one of the most unlikely candidates for conversion that ever lived.  He was a Pharisee, commissioned by the Temple authorities to root out the heresies among the Jews that were beginning to circulate from that new sect, the Christians.  The first time we encountered Paul, he was still using his Jewish name ‘Saul’, and was holding the coats and cloaks for an angry mob so they could stone Stephen, the first deacon martyr, to death for faith in Jesus as the Messiah.   Saul actually had letters authorizing him to arrest any of these so-called Christians, to bind and drag them to Jerusalem for a trial and summary punishment.

Bear in mind, Saul didn’t think he was doing anything wrong.  He was going to cleanse his religion of heresy, and make the people safe from wrong teaching, even if he had to murder to do it.  Saul saw himself as the champion of God, the hero of the faith, and in his zeal to purify that faith he was empowered to use any means necessary, including torture or murder.  

Then in a blinding flash of light, Saul encountered Jesus.    ‘Saul, Saul!  Why do you persecute Me?’    I imagine that Saul’s initial reaction was ‘Who, me??’   I doubt he pictured himself in the role of persecutor.  His job probably sounded better described in the terms that Saul had been using; defender of the faith, maybe, that sort of thing.  Saul had a few days to consider his trajectory in life before Ananias was sent to heal his blindness.   With that healing, his life as Saul ended and the Apostle Paul was born. Everything changed.  Saul was an inquisitor, but Paul was subjected to the same ill treatment that he had dealt out to others.  Arrested.  Imprisoned.  Flogged and left for dead.  Shipwrecked.  Eventually executed by the state. 

Paul had decided to follow Jesus.   It would have been easier to pass.

St. Peter had a similar start.  In our readings during Holy Week, we heard how St. Peter swore faithfulness to Jesus during the Last Supper, but the LORD sadly told Peter that he would betray his vows three times before daylight.  Peter indignantly rejected Jesus’s words, but of course that’s exactly what happened.  Three times, Peter was asked if he was a disciple of Jesus, and three times he vehemently denied being a follower.   Then Peter cried bitter tears when he realized he’d done exactly what he promised NOT to do – he had disowned Jesus, over and over and over. 

In today’s reading, Jesus has been resurrected and has appeared to the disciples after a long night of unsuccessful fishing.  After helping them earn some money and feeding them breakfast, it was time for the hard conversation.   Many of us could tell you from childhood experience that it was serious, because Jesus used Peter’s FULL name, all three times. (we know it’s serious when a parent or loved one calls us down by our full name.)  Simon bar-Jonah, do you love me?   Simon, son of John, do you love Me?   Do you love Me?  And with each repetition, the command ‘Feed my sheep.’

Peter couldn’t figure out why Jesus kept asking him that.   We’ve struggled with it too.  Was it just a way of making sure Peter was serious this time, before his eventual reinstatement as a disciple?  Or perhaps it was what needed to happen for reconciliation between the teacher and the student, the Lord and the servant?  Perhaps Jesus needed to forgive Peter, and make sure Peter knew and accepted that he was forgiven.  Maybe it was just Jesus drumming into Peter’s head that something of huge significance was being decided between them.  

I don’t think it was any of those reasons.  Instead, I think it was that Peter was claiming his identity as a follower of Jesus.  A Christian, to use the later terms.  Peter decided to publicly declare that he was following Jesus.  Like St. Paul’s choice, it was a costly decision.  Peter was eventually martyred in Rome, under the Emperor Nero.  Christianity was a hard, expensive choice.   Death by upside down crucifixion is a significantly more serious consequence than missing the first quarter of an NFL game.   Peter could have kept saying No.  He would have lived longer.

So why did they do it?  Why should WE do it?  Why not just sleep in, get in the brunch line first, keep our money and our time all to ourselves?  It’s not dangerous now, at least here in the US (it’s plenty dangerous in some parts of the world)  but it’s at least inconvenient.  I hope you have asked yourself that question before.  If not, I urge you to ask yourself now.    What would you say, if somebody asked you why you bother with following Jesus?

If somebody asked me, here are some of the things I might say;

Christians believe that by Christ’s death and resurrection, He has conquered the power of death.  We will still die, but we will someday be resurrected because Jesus was resurrected. 

Christians believe that God the Father sent Jesus to save us – not just to pay a blood sacrifice for our sins (although some of us might see it that way), but to show us how to live.  God’s intention in sending Jesus was to create God’s Kingdom on earth.  Christianity isn’t simply about going heaven when you die, but about building a world of justice and peace here NOW, while we’re alive.  And we believe that Jesus will return to finally set right all the things that we COULDN’T set right, but in the meantime, doing as much as we can is our work.

Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is the presence of God that infuses and surrounds us.  God isn’t some distant, disinterested deity out in the far reaches of space; Our Creator is as close as our next heartbeat, and is constantly prompting us to prayer and directing our impulses.  The Holy Spirit is our guide, our advocate, and our comforter.  

We believe that though we may suffer in this life, we are never alone in our suffering – God is always with us.  And God always redeems our suffering by grace.

We believe that Christians are the very hands and feet of Christ in the world.  Until Jesus comes again, we are to be tireless, relentless, and fearless in sharing the Good News, and fighting back the evils that lead to poverty, suffering, and untimely death. Yes, it can be political.  If you follow a Lord who was executed as an enemy of the state, that can happen.

We believe that when believers come together to work for good in this world, that evil can and will be overcome.  When Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against his church, He was talking about ALL believers, every one of those disciples down through the centuries who have worked and prayed and struggled, and done the right thing when it wasn’t the easy thing.

We believe.  We do all the tedious little chores.  We donate money and sweat and time.  We acknowledge publicly that we believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior, or at least we try to live our life so that belief is implicit.  And we do it all because we know that the LORD loves us beyond measure.  That Jesus lived, died, and rose from the grave - for us.

So, are you one of Jesus’s disciples?  Do you love Him?  Can you say that for sure, come what may, good days or dark days?  There are sheep to be fed, and Jesus is waiting for an answer.

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