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  • The Rev. Arianne Rice

Christ in You

Paul on the Road to Damascus

There certainly is a lot of scripture this morning. Two incredible stories of very different men discovering who they really are – well 3 men, actually if you count Ananias. And we should. Ananias is very brave in trusting God. Trusting God over his own common sense – because he knows that Saul/Paul does far worse than just breathe threats of murder against those who follow The Way (Christianity's original name!)

Saul kills them, stones them, imprisons them so it makes sense that Ananias would balk at God’s suggestion he go and put himself in harms way by helping to heal someone like that. But just as God tells Ananias that Saul is an instrument of divine love – so is he. And for whatever reason Ananias is aware enough of who he is – and whose he is that he gives himself in service to a greater purpose. Trust – he steps out in faith.

The gospel story which closes the gospel of John is the third resurrection appearance to the disciples – and the fourth, if you include what Mary Magdalene saw in the garden outside the tomb.

Have you had the experience where something similar needs to happen in your life a couple of times before you finally see it? Do you know what I mean – you find yourself, almost by chance, although you come to see it isn’t by chance at all – that you are not as quick as you want to believe in understanding an aspect about yourself – because the same thing happens over and over? Until finally you start to see a pattern. And then you start to get it.

We learn though patterns – its literally how our brains work. Our brains use patterns to make sense of all the information we take in – its why if you read a paragraph quickly that is missing the connecting, little words – like “the” – your brain will fill them in – because we know the pattern of speech.

But when it comes to understanding ourselves for some reason – its kind of the work of a lifetime, understanding our own patterns. Know thyself – something we all believe we do. And yet if we have to desire to “follow” as Christ asks us to – we come to see that we really don’t know ourselves, until we let go / deny our self – and ask God to reveal the patterns that keep us from being who God created us to be.

Pretty early in John’s gospel – Peter claims he gets it. He doesn’t speak until Chapter 6 – a chapter that begins with Jesus feeding the 5,000 then calming the storm and allaying the fears of the disciples on the water. Then Jesus gives a little lecture – a discourse on the statement I am the Bread of Life. Quickest way to remember it is that popular hymn - I am the Bread of Life – you know this? And it goes on to talk about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. It is a challenging teaching indeed.

This idea that God is literally inside of us – enmeshed with our being, integrated with our bodies as well as our soul – which is the reason for the ritual, right? The reason we take in the body of Christ, again and again – is a pattern meant to remind us always that Christ abides in us, literally.

But it is a challenging teaching and we read that it caused many of his disciples to turn back, and then there were 12. And Jesus looks at them and says, “Do you also wish to go away.” (isn’t it great how we are always given a choice?)

And Peter speaks up, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” See, Peter gets it. Intellectually, cognitively he gets it – he knows the right words. This is something we can relate to – because all of us also know the right words. Doesn't mean we always do the right thing.

You know this morning’s story – this resurrection appearance on the beach. The part that “jumps” out at me – is when Peter jumps into the water from this fishing boat. And my interpretation of why he does that has always been – Peter jumps into the water, because he’s scared. He spoke up, he said the words that showed he got it – but when it came time to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, what did Peter do?

“Aren’t you also one his disciples?” that servant girls asks three times in the courtyard before the trial. To which Peter replies, “I am not.”

So to me, Peter dives in that water because he is scared. This is the third time Jesus has appeared, Peter gets that pattern by now. So he thinks this is it! This is the appearance where Jesus is going to remind Peter of his denial – his denial of who he is, and whose he is.

But guess what, sometimes even priests need to break out of their patterned interpretations. Because a commentary I came across this week – suggested, matter of fact-ly, that Peter jumps in that water because he is so eager and excited to see Jesus. He is longing to greet the risen Lord – maybe that was your interpretation all along.

You see it teaches me something about myself – this is what scripture can do – that my first and consistent read was that Peter is scared of getting in trouble, scared of judgment – even if he knows God is all-forgiving.

But Jesus doesn’t even reference Peter’s failure. Because he doesn’t have to. “Do you love me?” He asks Peter “Why do you persecute me?” He asks Paul

In both stories Jesus directs the gaze of each person back into their own hearts. Because that is how we discover – that is where we really “get it”. Our call, Peter’s call and Paul’s call – is to follow Jesus, by living the Christ-pattern in our own unique way, as our own instruments of divine love.

When Mary recognizes Jesus in the garden she grabs hold of his feet – and Jesus says, “Stop clinging to me.” Be the instrument of witness that God intends you to be, Jesus says to Mary – go, tell.

“Feed my sheep.” – Jesus says to Peter. Be the shepherd that God intends you to be Peter – live that real life – that eternal life - which you said you know.

All the scripture stories are unique – but the pattern is the same. People want to believe in something – a person, a teaching, a commandment and law. Then God holds up a mirror and says, believe in yourself for God is within you, trust that.

It took Paul to be struck speechless and blind and dependent on someone he categorized as a lawbreaker – before he broke out of his negative, not-life-giving pattern of living.

It took Peter to deny the God part of himself – to deny his relationship, he betrayed himself – stepping away from his integrity, what he knew to be true – because he was scared. That’s something we can all relate to.

The work of a lifetime is constantly rediscovering the “you” within us – that Christ calls to. To use the faith we get and we know – in new ways because we always being born again to new possibilities. Because we are resurrection people who live in a good Friday world. We know the pattern. May God help us let go of fear – so that Christ can move and live and grow in us. Amen.

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