Sunday First May 2022

Welcome
In 1969 NASA made an epic comeback from the disaster of 1967and achieved their goal of landing a man on the moon. Tiger Woods must be one of the most famous comeback kings in sports history overcoming personal problems and injuries on numerous occasions. Will Smith I am sure is hoping for a comeback of his own after his public meltdown at the Oscars. What about you, do you need a comeback?

Call to Worship: Psalm 30:4-5

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
    and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment;
    his favour is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

HYMN 423 I know that my Redeemer lives

Prayer:

Eternal and generous God,
thank You for Your many gifts to us –
not least the gift of Your Son
who in turn gave His own life for the life of the world.

Help us we pray to live as generously:
ready to offer time,
energy
and all we have and are,
for Your kingdom’s sake.

Risen Lord,
present with us here,
feed us by Your Spirit,
that we may go from here to tend Your sheep
and to do so
in Your name and for Your sake.

Lord Jesus Christ,
when we forget that You are alive…
when we act as though You cannot speak for Yourself:
forgive us, we pray.

When we’re slow to ask for Your advice and to look for Your guidance;
when we think we know best and forge ahead regardless,
because we are sure we know Your mind,
again, please forgive us.

Remind us in firm but gentle ways of how close and active You always are –
You who are the ever-living,
Lord of all creation.

Lord Jesus,
set God’s Spirit free to move among us here and now, we pray.
Give us the courage to let that Spirit renew and inspire us
as through Your Word, Your people and Your world,
You speak to us of hope and faith and love
and challenge us to live lives that are faithful to Your cause
of justice and peace.

Hear us now, as together with all Your people
we pray the words You taught Your friends, saying:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

Scriptures:

Acts 9:1-9
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ The men who were travelling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so, they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

John 21:1-19
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ 6He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So, they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. 8But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ 16A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ 17He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

HYMN 172 Sing for God’s Glory

Reflection:

Have you ever spent hours reading a book or watching a movie and you are left thinking “It can’t end like that!” It does not make any sense, it does not follow the plot, the build-up and the train of thought. An unwelcome ending often challenges the Disney promise “and they all lived happily ever after”. John chapter twenty-one, some feel is one of those endings. There is much debate about if it fits as it seems to have been added later. Surely, a fitting ending is chapter twenty: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30,31). That just sounds right, new life, a different path in Jesus’s name. It does not make sense, does it that after experiencing Jesus in the upper room alive and the disciples seeing him on many other occasions post resurrection preforming miracles that they would go back to their old lives? Jesus had told them to go back to Galilee and wait for the Holy Spirit so that they would be empowered to continue the work he had begun. In Jesus’s first appearance post resurrection he declared “Peace” and commissioned them saying “…As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). But in John chapter twenty-one, Peter takes the disciples back to what they had left behind. Back to the lake, back to the boats and fishing, something they were all familiar with, it was easy and comfortable. Jesus had found them here, called them here and told them that from now on they would catch men. Is John chapter twenty-one possible or even probable? Is it possible after all that Peter had been through that he would go back to fishing? You, know it is because you have been there! You have had the breakthrough in understanding or in some attitude or addiction. You have walked a different path experienced the joy of purpose and the peace of God’s presence, only to go back to the comfortable, the tried and tested, the familiar. We are creatures of habit and we seek and strive for what is comfortable, the familiar even when we have had the revelation of a different way and even perhaps experienced it. Take our recent experience of 2020. During the initial lockdown many had deep revelations about our existence. Frailties and priorities were exposed; some choose to make better health choices, relational choices and even career choices. Many were declaring that we must take to heart the lessons learned. But slowly, slowly as life gets back to normal the good habits that we started have been crowded out by our old familiar ways, the comfortable.

To be clear John chapter twenty-one is about Peter. Spontaneous, I have got this, I can be trusted, I will die for you, all or nothing Peter. Peter who Jesus declared would be the cornerstone to his new movement was back fishing. Why do we go back? Is it just habit or perhaps we do not believe we are capable and worthy of real progress and purpose? The disciples who had seen all Jesus’s miracles, heard all his teachings, go back. The disciples who had seen Jesus resurrected after crucifixion are back in their home town, back in their boat fishing for fish. “Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’” (John 21:4-5). All night in the dark and they got nothing. I wonder at what point some starting thinking: what are we doing here? This was not a good idea! Then there is someone on the beach asking if they have any fish and he asks in such a way as if he knows the boat is empty. It is like your mother or Dr Phil on his talk show asking: “How is that working for you?” Is your fishing bringing you the security, satisfaction and significance you were seeking? Is your toiling and striving bringing meaning and healing? The text says they answered: “No”.

“He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.” (John 21:6) This must have been a Dejavu moment, taking them back to when they first followed! (Luke 5) You got to love John writing that He thought it was the Lord. I am sure they were all thinking that. Peter true to form dives in; again trying to get to Jesus first, trying to prove his loyalty and devotion. “When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’” (John 21:9-10) This must have been another Dejavu moment taking them back, to when Jesus had fed over five thousand with a few fish and loves. Had they gone fishing because they were concerned God would not provide for them? Had they gone fishing because fishing for men seemed impossible? Take a moment to smell the bread and the fish. Perhaps Jesus was showing them that it is never about what you can do for me but it is as you follow me that you will find security and be satisfied. Put yourself in Peter’s shoes. Imagine how Peter is feeling sitting round that fire. The only other time the word, “coals” is used in John’s gospel is that moment of complete failure when Peter had denied he even knew Jesus, not once, not twice but three times. I am sure all the other disciples are feeling uncomfortable, they too had denied Jesus with their actions of desertion, they too are back fishing. Peter is in that place. You have experienced it when you want to be there but you don’t because you know what needs to be said but it’s so uncomfortable and difficult that you would rather avoid it. There is an Elephant on the beach, can you picture them around the fire everyone avoiding the topic? Then Jesus asks them to bring some fish from the catch and Peter is the one rushing off and dragging the net in. Is Peter trying to avoid something or is he trying to prove, I can do it Jesus? They had gone back to fishing for fish when Jesus had called them to fish for men and had commissioned them to do as he had been doing. Yet Jesus does not question them or condemn them he gives them an object lesson of his provision, breakfast. Jesus shows them that they need to continue to follow his lead if they wish to be satisfied.

You know it. I know it. Most know that sharing a meal with someone creates a space where there can be an opening up, in a real sense the defences come down. Something else that opens one up for deeper conversation is walking or some other form of exercise. It is relaxing and takes your mind off in other directions. If we read between the lines Jesus takes Peter for a walk after the meal and breaks the ice by asking a vital question: “Do you love me more than these?” He could have been referring to the disciples, the boat and fish or he could have been asking do you Love me more than the other disciples love me. Remember Peter when you said even though all the others would fall away you would not? Remember at the Passover Peter when you wanted to follow me even though I said you could not now but you insisted that you would lay down your life, give it all up for me? Jesus could have said so much but he did not. He did not need to. You know, your friends know, your spouse, your children, generally we all know when we have failed and let someone down. We know when we have gone back on our promise and backed down from a commitment. It does not need to be mentioned they feel bad enough already.

In this context, Jesus asks three times, “Do you love me?” and three times Peter responds, “You know I love you”. “17He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17) What amazing grace. Jesus has the most uncomfortable conversation with Peter in such a way that Peter knows he is not only forgiven but that Jesus still has the same profound purpose for him – to build the Church. I do not know what promises you have made and gone back on. I do know however that Jesus has already forgiven you and when you think he cannot use you, your purpose remains the same. There may be an uncomfortable moment needed where you not only are reconciled in relationship but realise afresh your purpose and God’s provision. After every question and answer an instruction is given by Jesus to “Feed my lambs, “Take care of my sheep” and “Feed my sheep”. Jesus in his conversation with Peter dissolves any distinction between loving Jesus and serving others. The only way our love for God is truly authenticated and demonstrated is by loving one another. We cannot say we love God and hate our brother. We cannot say we Love God and not be actively fishing for men, drawing people to God through our words and witness. We cannot say we love God and not be actively involved in discipling others, feeding sheep. In this story we have the first two marks of mission as defined by the Church of Scotland namely: “To proclaim the Good News of the kingdom” and “To teach, baptise and nurture new believers”. Jesus in this story not only questions why they have gone back to fishing when he had called them to follow but he also reminds them that following implies fishing for men and feeding sheep. Now that is uncomfortable for all of us. When last have you and I, drawn someone closer to God? When last have you had a conversation about faith? If you do not profess to love God you are off the hook. This is for those who are following Jesus and who love God. This is for those who look to the cross for forgiveness and have experienced new life in Christ. When last have you spent time sharing with a friend or family member what you have learned from the scriptures? It could be just sharing a few thoughts from the sermon on Sunday that encouraged or challenged you. Does that make you feel challenged or uncomfortable?

I started by questioning the possibility that this is the ending, that Peter goes back after all he had experienced. In my own experience, we turn back for three main reasons. Firstly, we think the task is beyond us and so we do not even try. Secondly, we try really hard and we do not seem to get anywhere except feeling challenged and uncomfortable. Thirdly, we give it our all and still we fail and, in that moment, we may feel unworthy, guilty and incapable all at the same time and so we escape back to the familiar the tried and tested. In that moment you concluded that you cannot do what God is expecting you to do so you might as well go back to your familiar and comfortable. The Church of Scotland finds itself in a difficult place at the moment. Many are asking: is this how the story ends? You may be in a difficult place at the moment questioning what truly brings security, satisfaction and significance? I am sorry to say but the Peter and Jesus conversation does not get easier, it gets even more uncomfortable. “18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” (John 21:18-19) Most commentators agree that this is crucifixion language. Tradition indicates that Peter’s death was through crucifixion upside down because he felt unworthy to die like his Saviour. Peter did not know what hung in the balance as he sacrificed comfort for purpose, as he chose to follow and trust Jesus even in the face of the difficult and the uncomfortable. As you follow Peter’s life through the book of Acts, he literally lays down His life, his preferences and prejudices. I am sure at times it was extremely uncomfortable and costly but at the same time Peter experienced God’s purpose fulfilled through him. Following Jesus will often lead us to crossroads, places of crucifixion, where there are choices to make to lay down our lives, our privileges, preferences and prejudices. It may even hurt at times, it is uncomfortable but it always leads to peace, purpose and a greater presence of God in our lives.

In a world that is obsessed with comfort, where most turn back to the familiar and comfortable when faced with failure and hardships will you continue to follow Jesus? Will you be willing to have the uncomfortable conversations knowing that Jesus will provide the words and wisdom for each situation? Will you leave behind that habit, relationship or attitude that Jesus has saved you from? Will you follow knowing that you will fail but that God will never fail you and that His grace, power and presence is all the security you need? Will you fish for men and women and will you feed sheep knowing that saving the world does not rest on you but on him? Peter needed to know he could not rely on himself but he also needed to know that he could rely on God. Jesus then encourages and challenges Peter with the very thing that he said Peter could not do earlier, “Follow me!”

HYMN 363 We have a gospel to proclaim

Prayers:

Lord Jesus Christ, risen to live forever,
Thank You for continuing to entrust us with Your good news.
Thank you for continuing to stand by us even when we let You down
and thank You for never faltering in Your care for us
and Your love for us,
even when we hurt and betray You.

May we in return, stand by You…
care for You….
love You…
and above all, may we work with You in feeding Your sheep.
Give us, we pray,
the courage as individuals and as communities of Your people,
the courage to listen for Your voice,
the courage to pick up the nets of old habits,
to follow You to different waters.

And when we fear where that might lead us,
when we hesitate, pulled by the safe and familiar,
reassure us of being held in Your arms,
remind us that uncomfortable places are often
places of growth and embolden us simply to follow.

Ever with us Lord,
we bring to You a world You care for deeply.
Into those places where violence is rife,
bring Your peace, we pray.
Into those places where hatred and suspicion grow,
encourage understanding, we pray
and sow and nurture the seeds of love and respect.
Where poverty and disease make life miserable for people,
don’t let us turn away.
Instead,
Help us to be Your hands:
Your heart,
Your feet,
Your voice.

May we not only give generously from Your blessings
but may we also through Your wisdom and power,
challenge courageously those structures and powers
that intimidate and hold the vulnerable in cycles of
fear and poverty.

May we thank the Creator for all creation
and know and value our own part in it.
All these prayers we offer in Jesus’ name,
the Living God,
who sees so much more than we could ever think or know,
and who chooses to invite us to join in the divine mission
to bring love and life and light to this world.

Glory be to Creator, Son and Spirit –
One Living God,
forever. Amen

HYMN 458 At the name of Jesus

Benediction

“Now may the Lord of Peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. the Lord be with all of you.” (2 Thess. 3:16)

Acknowledgements:
Bible Quotations taken from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

English translations of The Lord’s Prayer, © 1998, English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC), and used by permission. www.englishtexts.org
Prayers and final blessing adapted from Church of Scotland Weekly Worship for 1 May 2022.