A New Life

April 7, 2013   Acts 9: 1-6   John 21: 1—14

Rev. Catherine Purves

     Do you know what an ‘app’ is?  I’m not entirely sure I do.  But I gather it is something that you add to your smart phone.  I don’t have a smart phone, so I don’t have ‘apps’.  But apparently, you can get an ‘app’ for just about anything.  And they will allow you (and your phone) to do all sorts of amazing additional things.  Since I only own a ‘dumb’ phone, just about any ‘app’ is impressive to me.  Did you know that you can get ‘apps’ for business, music, news, sports, social networking, travel, and games?  There is even an ‘app’ that will help you locate your phone if you lose it (I could use that one!).  If you look up the internet ad for ‘apps’ that are available for an iPhone, you’ll see that you are promised “Hundreds of Thousands of Endless Opportunities.”

     ‘App’ is shorthand for ‘application.’  It is something that you can download onto your phone, if your phone functions like a mini-computer.  Many ‘apps’ are free or nearly free.  So you can keep on adding them to your phone to your heart’s content.  Each ‘app’ opens a new door to “Hundreds of Thousands of Endless Opportunities.”  Need a map?  Download an ‘app’.  Want to listen to a particular tune?  Download an ‘app’.  Looking for a soul-mate?  Apparently, there is an ‘app’ for that too.  You can add just about anything to your life, it seems.  All you need is another ‘app’.

     Here is a mistake that people frequently make.  Maybe it’s because our lives are starting to look, more and more, like a patchwork quilt of ‘apps’.  Maybe we think of our lives too much in terms of possible add-ons.  Maybe we’ve stopped expecting that anything could or should completely change and dominate our lives, so that all of our priorities, all of our definitions, all of our commitments, and all of our perspectives are radically re-aligned by just one thing.  This is what we call conversion.  And it is completely different from an ‘app’.

     Easter is a season when we celebrate the total change of a new life in Christ.  You see, faith in the risen Lord Jesus is never an add-on.  It is nothing like an ‘app’.  It could never simply be one of “Hundreds of thousands of endless opportunities.”  It is a singular opportunity that changes everything else.  This is how we must think of it.  This is how we must live with it.  The fact that we have an Easter faith in Jesus is the first and foremost thing we must say about ourselves.  In our readings for this morning, the disciples and Saul discovered this the hard way.

     When we left the disciples last week, they were gathered in a house where Jesus had appeared to them on two successive Sundays.  Jesus gave them proof of who he was.  He blessed them with his peace.  He shared the Holy Spirit with them.  And, on the second occasion, Thomas made the most complete affirmation of faith in Jesus recorded in the Gospels when he said, “My Lord and my God!”  “After these things,” our reading resumes this morning, after these things the disciples decide to go fishing.  It’s not completely clear whether they had decided to return to their former profession as fishermen, or whether they simply had nothing better to do.  It sounds like it was a spur of the moment decision on Peter’s part and that the others just decided to tag along.

     I’m suddenly reminded of those advertisements that featured a highly successful sports celebrity or someone who has just had an amazing thing happen in their lives.  An interviewer says something like, “You’ve just won the Super Bowl! What are you going to do now?”  In other words, “What could top this?”  And the fortunate individual responds, “I’m going to Disney World.” 

     Somehow, I find it difficult to fathom how, after meeting the risen Jesus, experiencing his peace, receiving the Holy Spirit, and affirming your faith in him, you would answer the question, “What are you going to do now?” by saying, “I’m going fishing.”   To me, that sounds as if that whole Jesus interlude was just an ‘app’, a temporary add-on.  Time to get back to real life now.  Time to make a living and to do the things they knew how to do.

     Well, they thought they knew how to do it, but that night Peter and the disciples caught nothing, not a single fish.  Jesus was obliging enough to point that out to them the next morning.  “Children,” he shouted from the shore, “you have no fish have you?”  For all of their slaving away in the dark hours of the night, they had nothing to show for their efforts.  Was this, perhaps, a lesson that they needed to learn:  that nothing was as it had been, that they couldn’t just go back to their lives as pre-Jesus fishermen.  From now on, everything must be done in the company of Jesus, and nothing would be accomplished without him.  They couldn’t just “download” Easter faith, adding it onto a previous life without radically changing that life. 

     The fact that they immediately hauled in a miraculous catch of fish once they were again focused on Jesus and obeying his word is an indication of how their future lives would be different.  From then on, they would participate in what Jesus was doing.  Their newfound Easter faith was not like an ‘app’ that could be added to their old life and identity as fishermen.  They were not just supposed to be fishermen who happened to believe in Jesus.  They were meant to be disciples who only sought to honor and serve their Lord.  And, in the power of his resurrection, they would become fishers of men.

     This fact, that an Easter faith would change everything, was even more starkly portrayed in the conversion of Saul.  Talk about a complete about face.  After his life-changing encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, not even Saul’s name remained the same.  He became the Apostle Paul.  He began as a hater of Christ; he became a lover of Jesus.  He began as one totally in control of his own life; he became someone who was entirely dependent upon the risen Christ.  He began “breathing threats and murder against the disciples”; he became the premier theologian of the church.  He began by imprisoning followers of Jesus; he became himself a prisoner and a martyr for Christ.  John Calvin describes Saul’s transformation in this way:  “God’s wonderful hand was clearly seen in that the cruel wolf was not only turned into a sheep but also assumed the character of a shepherd.” (p. 149, Commentary on Acts) 

     A whole new life is what Saul was given.  This is the result of an Easter faith.   There is a “stop” and “start” character to this transformation, as we have seen.  He had to stop being Saul and start being Paul.  This is true of anyone who holds an Easter faith.  Paul himself would later write these familiar words in his second letter to the Corinthian church:  “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:  everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  If you are not aware of such a total change in your life as a result of your Easter faith, then maybe you are treating your faith like an ‘app’, rather than recognizing that an Easter faith must result in the new and complete re-creation of your life.

     When I was reading the new textbook for our adult class this week, a few of Richard Foster’s introductory comments caught my attention because they emphasize this same truth.  Foster wrote, “Our God is not a God of half measures.  Nothing short of absolute commitment will do.”  A little later he points out that, “Our discipleship to Jesus Christ costs nothing less than everything.”  Nothing less than everything! 

     But don’t let that put you off.  What he’s basically saying is that the only way to get into the pool is to jump into the pool.  You can’t sit on the side of the pool dangling your legs, just getting your feet wet.  That is not swimming, and that is not the way it is with faith.  I’ve always been a master of slow immersion.  I’d rather ease myself into a pool gradually, starting at the shallow end and slowly moving toward the deep end.  This is actually the harder way to do it, and eventually you just have to submerge yourself anyway, if you’re going to do anything other than wade in the shallows.

     If we can go by the examples of the disciples and Paul, then diving in is probably the best approach.  Take a flying leap at the water.  ‘All in’ is the way to go.  It’s actually not as scary as it sounds, because embracing an Easter faith means that you no longer live by your own wits or ingenuity, energy, love, or determination.  When you fully embrace an Easter faith, you live in Christ, and it is the living Christ who changes your life for the better.  This is what happened to Paul.  This is what happened to the disciples.  New life was a gift, whole and entire.  Christ made Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles.  Jesus made the disciples fishers of men.

     Easter is all about life – a new life, a transformed life, a whole life lived in Christ.  Trust in the resurrected Jesus, and dive in!