What Is Normal?; John 21: 1-19; Bethesda UCC; May 1, 2022

The Psalmist said, “As the deer pants for the streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, ‘where is your God?’ These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the House of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. Why are you downcast,

O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise, my Savior and my God… I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’ Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior, and my God.”

Pray with me church: “God of grace and God of mercy hear the prayers of your people. Bless the fleeting word and the stammering tongue so your people will hear a word from you and feel your presence as you, oh God, directs your love within us, to be your people and to do your work. Send forth your light and your truth to guide us. Challenge us and motivate us, for you are our refuge and strength, an ever-present help to your people. This is your maid servant’s prayer, in the name of Jesus and we say Amen.”

In the weeks since the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, he has appeared to most of his disciples greeted them and showed them his hands and side. They were beside themselves with excitement and joy. Jesus was back! They had their friend, their teacher, their confidant, and their leader back. It did not matter the nail scarred hands or the bludgeoned side. Jesus was back! This was a different Jesus though. He said some strange things, things like, “As the Creator has sent me, I am sending you.” He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Now, Thomas was not with them when all of these things happened. Thomas wanted to see these things as well so that he could believe just like the other disciples, that Jesus had truly returned. And then it happened! Jesus came to them again. Stood in the middle of them and began to talk to them. They were once again amazed! How did Jesus enter, the doors were locked and yet here he stood? Jesus instructed Thomas to touch his hands and his side, Thomas did and like the other disciples, he believed!

Jesus had been in the midst of the disciples. They had touched his hands and side. They had talked with him. Jesus had blessed them with the Holy Spirit and had performed many other miraculous signs and they believed that he, Jesus, had been raised from the dead. After all of this, and upon seeing Jesus again, walking on the bank of the river, they did not recognize him.

The disciples were floundering and did not know what to do or what to believe. They wanted something they could hold onto too. Something normal. Something that made sense to them. Something concrete. Then Simon Peter decided to go back to what he considered normal. He decided to do what he used to do before he met Jesus. All the things that had happened during Jesus’ time with the disciples was in the past and could not sustain him where he was at the present time. The disciples had been hiding behind closed and locked doors. They were afraid to go out because people were attacking them for being part of The Way. They were being ridiculed and taunted with questions like, where is your God now? Why can’t Jesus help you now? Admit he is dead, and he conned you while he was alive. What can Jesus do for you now? You know Jesus was just a man and was not the son of God, right? It was all fake it was just a hoax.

The events leading up to the crucifixion terrified Peter and the others they were afraid to be seen as part of Jesus’ group. Those events made Peter feel as if he was standing on the edge of a cliff, ready to fall off. He was not steady on his feet. It felt as if the earth was shifting, and nothing was the same. Peter needed to go back to a happier time. A time before things went haywire. A time where he understood what was going on. A time where he knew where his place was. A time where there was order in the land. Peter was tired of not being heard and being made fun of and being locked down so, he decided to go back in time to do what poor fishermen did. He went back to fishing. Forget Jesus, he just keeps on disappearing. Forget all that, the meek shall inherit the earth stuff. Forget all that, on earth as it is in heaven stuff. Forget all that resurrection stuff, it is not real, is it? It was a mirage, wasn’t it? It was only a dream of a better life, a life with meaning and honor. But none of the counts now. I am going fishing and I want to know who is coming with me? It was hard to sustain an Easter faith and Easter joy during the days and weeks afterwards Easter.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it. The coronavirus. For two plus years, we have had mandates. Have you heard any of these statements? Have you seen any of the actions these statements invoke? Stay inside! Wear masks! Get vaccinated! Social distance! Get a booster! Get another booster! What if this is another Tuskegee Study? I am tired of feeling put upon. I am angry that fake news is blowing this all out of proportion. I am frustrated that I cannot do what I want to do when I want to do it. I will make others as miserable as I am. Why can’t the CDC and other doctors explain it so that what they are saying is understandable? I am going to interfere in others’ lives just as the government is interfering in mine. I am going back to my life, pre COVID, and there is nothing anyone can do because I have rights. We know what the best course of action is. We have seen that it works. We know the safest things to do but there are too many who refuse to do them.

So, we go from a high on Easter Sunday to another ordinary Monday and Easter feels so far away. And we think if I could just feel safe. If I could just go back. Hey Peter says, does anyone want to go fishing with me? Yeah, I will go. Count me in, says another. Pretty soon they all go down to the water, get in their boats and go out to fish. They fish and fish. Time passes by with them catching nothing. They are tired and disillusioned. And just then, this man shows up walking on the riverbank, and asks them if they have caught anything they answer no. When he tells them to throw the net on the other side of the boat and then invites them to breakfast, one of them recognizes Jesus, tells the others and a breakthrough once again has happened.

Sometimes, during this pandemic a breakthrough occurred for some, during the hospitalization of a dear friend or for others, the death of a loved one. We then realized that truth has been with us all along and we were determined not to see it or heed it. And then believers and non-believers, alike, lament over something that could have been preventable.

Jesus is speaking to us telling us to love our neighbor as ourselves. To show compassion to those who are most vulnerable. In other words, throw your net out on the other side, for you see, it is not about you but about your neighbor. It is in the recognizing that when one cares for the other you end up caring for yourself is when you can see the resurrected Jesus. And this resurrected Jesus says, I have work for you to do. I have big work for you to do.

Bethesda United Church of Christ, over the past two plus years this coronavirus pandemic has been seeking whom it can bring down, destroy, and devour. It has raged from one area of this known world to another until all have been affected in some way. We have seen the dark of evil in humanity and the light of goodness in humanity. This pandemic has produced fear, depression, grief, anger, greed, and hostility. It has also produced caring, respect, compassion, hope, courage, and goodness.

We have not been able to do the things that in the past, showed that we cared for one another. No potluck meals, no after church coffee/teatime, no in person study times, very few home visits made, very few hospital visits made. We have seen and heard many different things, some not so good, some good. Some of how we live has changed. Some of how we relate to others has changed. Some of how we minister has changed. We may be tempted, as this pandemic is transitioning, to get back to business as usual to do whatever we were doing before we encountered this pandemic. We may be tempted to do whatever we were doing before Easter happened. Jesus has come to us, and we do not recognize him. Who are you, we ask? We see but we do not recognize this new Jesus. It is a different world we live in now. It is not the pre-covid world, it is something different. It is not the pre-Easter world but something different. How do we see this Jesus, who believes we are capable of belief and discipleship? Jesus has come to us as a new world is taking form. “Can you not see it; do you not perceive it?” Maybe it is our own limited angle of vision that prohibits us from seeing clearly.

Our culture is changing, and it is culture that gives us the means through which we see the world. We can identify with the disciples in today’s gospel. Just like them, we have returned to our everyday lives. Jesus has appeared, revealed himself, given us the proof we need to believe and see. Not only do we see, but we also now have knowledge of the risen Christ.

Nancy Murphy, a theologian writes, “seeing itself is influenced by what one knows and by the language used to express that knowledge.. .One very important type of knowledge present is in seeing is knowledge of cases. Theories provide patterns within which data appear intelligible. A theory is not pieced together from observed phenomena; it is rather what makes it possible to observe phenomena as being of a certain sort and as related to other phenomena and reconstructs the world in such a way to give a new and differing reality.”

That is the way with Jesus. He continues some of the same central themes of the historical Jesus. Old Jesus yet new Jesus. He calls to us and then he sends us. Jesus has work for us to do. We are to care for the ones for whom he cares. The ones who got on our last nerve by not getting the vaccine. The ones who really made us angry by not wearing a mask. The ones who were brass and arrogant, those who only thought of themselves, those who were disrespectful and used coarse language, those who made threats of violence and carried out those threats. These are they whom we are to care for. Jesus says I have work for you to do, feed my sheep.

Bethesda United Church of Christ you cannot care for nor feed the sheep of Jesus in the way you did before. This week take some time to discern what Jesus is saying to you as you care for and feed those whom Jesus sends your way. What does this mean for you, as Jesus says, Follow me? Are we going back to normal? How will we do ministry? Are we going back to normal? How will we be Jesus’ ambassadors? Are we going back to normal? We have seen and heard the risen Lord as he said, I have work for you to do. “Follow me.” We cannot go back to normal. It is a new day and a new time. Amen and Amen.

Prayer for the offering.

Loving God, you came to champion the cause of the weak and helpless, to be among the ordinary and the outcast, the unlearned and the impoverished. We who know your resurrection power in our own lives, bring these gifts to support the breaking forth from death into life for those in the tombs of need. Bless this offering from your Easter people we pray.

God of Easter power, God of grace, we acknowledge you to be the source of all authority the giver of influence the provider of position and place

To you we turn, we who are your Easter people, the sheep of your flock, respectfully aware that the magnitude of you might exceed the understanding of even the most powerful upon this earth. We turn to you with admiration recognizing your faithfulness, your attention to the plight of those deprived of right and privilege, your preferred interest in the lowly, in the innocent, in those who are held in the grip of the death dealers. We would be your instruments of revolution, oh God, your agents of rescue for those who are tossed and turned up on the Breakers of this life. We would be your ministers of divine management, oh God standing against the manipulation of life and death, of health and wholeness, that is the experience of so many of your children in these days. We thank you that you provide the place from which we can maneuver. We thank you that you grant the authority we need in our bond of unity with the Christ. We thank you that you bestow the opportunity to serve you with our lives, in solidarity with your will, that life, not death, predominate, that love, not indifference, prevail, that resurrection, not repression, be the experience of every beloved person, however entombed, upon this earthly plane. Your activity does disrupt the “status quo.” Our worship is our delight in your control, and your divine dominion, in the perfect timing of your moves. Receive our praises as participation in your purposes. We thank you, God, that you disrupt deception with truth, disease with healing, human power with divine authority, and death with life. We thank you that there is a greater power loose in the world than that contained in doctrine or degree. We thank you that you still choose to be among ordinary people like ourselves. We thank you, O God, for resurrection freedom for those bound by political, economic, or religious limitation. We thank you, O God, that you still choose us. And now, we all join together as we pray the Lord’s prayer…


Words of Thanksgiving and Institution

“Holy God, we praise and bless you for creation and the gift of life and for your abiding love which brings us close to you, the source of all blessing. We thank you for revealing your will for us in the giving of the law and in the preaching of the prophets. We thank you especially that in both fullness of time you sent Jesus, born of Mary, to live in our midst, to share in our suffering, and to accept the pain of death at the hands of those whom Jesus loved. We rejoice that in a perfect victory over the grave you raised Christ with power to become sovereign in your realm. We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to gather your church by which your work may be done in the world and through which we share the gift of eternal life. With the faithful in every place and time, we praise with joy your holy name: Holy, holy, holy God of love and majesty, the whole universe speaks of your glory, O God Most High.”

We remember on the night of betrayal and desertion, Jesus took bread, gave you thanks, broke the bread, and gave it to the disciples saying: “This is my body which is broken for you. Do this and remembrance of me.” In the same way, Jesus also took the cup, after supper, saying: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Consecrate, therefore, by your Holy Spirit these gifts of bread and wine and bless us that as we receive them at this table, we may offer you our faith and praise, we may be united with Christ and with one another, and we may continue faithful in all things.

Through the broken bread we participate in the body of Christ. (While taking the bread and breaking it)

Through the cup of blessing, we participate in the new life Christ gives. (While pouring the wine and raising the cup.)

Sharing the elements:

Come, for all things are ready. (Those of us at the communion table will serve you by passing the bread and the cup to each of you. Please hold the bread and cup until all have been served and we will eat and drink together.)

Eat this for it is the body of Christ, broken for you. Amen

Drink this, for it is the blood of Christ, shed for you. Amen Our savior Jesus Christ keep and preserve you to everlasting life.

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