Finding Easter: Called (Again)
How many of you have seen the Bill Murray 1993 movie Groundhog Day – gosh, did that really come out 20 years ago? The premise is this: Bill Murray’s character, Phil, isn’t really enjoying life. He’s a news reporter, and he has to report on Punxutawney Phil, and whether or not he sees his shadow on Groundhog Day. The day doesn’t go very well as a whole. He’s kind of a jerk all day long. He finally goes to sleep, wakes up in the morning – and instead of being the next day, it’s the same day all over again. He finds, for some reason, he has to keep living the same day over and over. And at first, he doesn’t really try to do anything differently. Presented with the same day, Phil does basically the same thing. Eventually, eventually, dissatisfied with the life he is experiencing, dissatisfied with the way he’s spent this day, again, and again, he starts to make changes. Finally, when he’s changed his life, inside and outside, he wakes up to February 3rd and a new beginning.
What would you think of such an occurrence? If you repeated a day over and over again, until you got it right, would you think of that as a blessing, or a curse? There’ve been days in my life when I’ve wished I could get a “do over.” But then I wonder: we might not have the opportunity to repeat a particular day. But we have the opportunity on each new day to try again in many of the tasks we desire to complete, in many of the ways we wish to live. We might not be able to undo that chocolate cake, but we can not eat so much cake the next day. We might not make it to the gym today, but we can tomorrow. Maybe we said or did something hurtful today. But tomorrow, not only can we not do something hurtful, but we can apologize for what we have done the day before, and seek to make amends. If we failed to pray or spend time with God or spend time reading the scriptures today, the next day is open to us. Do we take the opportunity to make change? Or are we living our lives as if we are caught in a perpetual Groundhog Day, even though each day comes to us brand new?
Today, when our gospel lesson opens, we find that Simon Peter has decided to go fishing, along with a group of the disciples – Thomas, James and John, sons of Zebedee, and two others unnamed. They go fishing all night and catch nothing. At daybreak, Jesus stands on the beach, but they don’t recognize him. He points out that they’ve caught no fish, and he tells them to try casting out to the other side. They do, and then their nets are so full of fish they are not able to haul them all in. Peter exclaims, like Mary did on Easter morning, “It is the Lord!” He swims to shore, the other disciples following behind with the boat.
Up until this point in the narrative, if things sound familiar to you, they should. Because this scenario is very near to the scene where Jesus first calls to the disciples. There, too, they are fishing. There, too, they catch nothing. There, too, Jesus redirect them to try another way of fishing. There, too, the result is a miraculous catch of fish. There, too, Peter responds, moved by Jesus’ demonstration of authority.
Our text could have ended there. The disciples all gone back to fishing, despite Jesus being resurrected. Maybe it was even tempting. It certainly seems to take a while for the new reality of the risen Christ to hit them. I wonder, how easy, how tempting would it be for the disciples to go back to a life of fishing, what they knew, just occasionally reminiscing about the good old days, when Jesus was around?
This time, though, something different happens next. Jesus and the twelve share some breakfast on the beach. And when they are done, Jesus says to Simon, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” The “these” in that sentence is open to interpretation, but I take it to mean “more than all else.” Peter answers that he does. Jesus responds, “feed my lambs.” And then this exchange repeats twice more: Jesus asking if Peter loves him, and Peter affirming. The second time Jesus says, “Tend my sheep.” The third time, Peter is hurt, thinking Jesus is unconvinced by his responses. “Lord,” he says, “you know everything. You know that I love you.” And Jesus tells him again, “Feed my sheep.” He continues on to tell Peter that his discipleship will bring Peter suffering. But, Jesus concludes nonetheless, “Follow me.” A few verses later, and John’s gospel is at a close.
The two scenes – when Jesus first calls the disciples, and now after his resurrection – are so similar in their set up. But something has changed: before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter denied knowing Jesus, being associated with him, three times. And now, thanks to Jesus, he has the opportunity three times to recommit himself as a disciple. Each time he tells Jesus he loves him and agrees to serve him, he’s making the choice, choosing the path he was too afraid to take before. Karoline Lewis writes that Peter’s response this time around is not so much an act of forgiveness by Jesus for Peter – Peter is already forgiven by Jesus. Rather, it is a second chance for Peter to respond to the invitation. When he denied knowing Christ, he didn’t deny who Jesus was, but rather who he, Peter, was – a called disciple. This time, Peter accepts the invitation again to participate in the mission of Jesus, and he doesn’t turn back. (1)
The season of Easter concludes when we reach Pentecost, the day that we celebrate the birthday of the church universal, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples in the form of tongues of fire and rushing winds. We’ll celebrate here by participating in the confirmation of some of our young people, who will complete this part of their faith journey, and begin their journey of faith as full members of our community. Fifty days stretch between Easter morning and the day the disciples finally start preaching and teaching and carrying out the work that Jesus has been equipping them for and training them for and calling them to do. That might seem like a long time for them to get moving after all they’ve experienced. But slowly, with a little more help from Jesus, they turn the page on their years waiting for direction, and they start actually living as disciples, carrying their crosses, on fire with the Spirit, committed to live each day as people changed by the life and work of Jesus. How long do we need between Christ impacting our lives and we, in turn, carrying out the work of Christ to reach others?
God calls to us, each in our own way. To serve. To love. To share. To risk boldly. To offer Christ and grace. To pour out our lives for others. To follow. How that call comes to us is different for each one, but we are called. How many times have you pushed off answering the call til tomorrow, only to find that tomorrow never quite arrives? In my experience, God will renew that call again and again until we answer. God’s call doesn’t expire. We don’t age out. We can’t disqualify ourselves. How we’re called might be shaped around the seasons of our lives. But I’ve found that God is quite relentless when there is something that God wants you to do. What is it God wants you to do?
I don’t know about you, friends, but I am tired of living in my very own version of Groundhog Day. I am tired of saying I want God to make all things new in my life, but then refusing to live in a new way each day. All the while, Jesus is asking me, is asking you: “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? Feed my lambs! Tend my sheep! Feed my sheep!” I want to stop living like I can’t quite make out what Jesus is saying! I think we’re called to stop living like our life in Christ and because of Christ must be the same tomorrow as it is today. It took the disciples fifty days – but eventually, they decided to turn the page, and change the world in Jesus’ name. If we need to, if we insist, God gives us endless new beginnings. But instead, with God’s help, let’s choose to not live the same day in our faith journey over for fifty years.
What’s on your calendar for tomorrow? Something new? Something more? Amen.
(1) Karoline Lewis http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4583