Rev. Dr. Ronald E. Braxton, Senior Pastor
Metropolitan AME Church
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Scripture: Acts 9:1-8 & John 21:1-8
In the scripture text, the disciples of Jesus must have been experiencing what we call an “emotional melt down.” After all they had been through, one can reasonably understand how and why they would be on a sensory and emotional overload.
Gary Jones, the theologian, writes in his pastoral perspective of this text, “For the disciples, the general landscape of life over the last week of Jesus’ life had been overwhelming.” Look at it: It started with the thrill and excitement of the grand entrance into Jerusalem—tension filled and emotionally draining; then that totally out of character moment of Jesus in the temple—they had never seen Jesus like that before; followed by a passionate fellowship meal around the table with the twelve disciples. That same week, the disciples experienced a “when it rains, it pours” moment—just one thing after another; then the arrest in the garden; the brutal attack by Peter on the soldier; the betrayal and denial; the mock trial; the blood thirsty mob; the capital punishment of Jesus; and, to top it off, the empty tomb and the apparent resurrection of Jesus. All this “stuff” was enough to wipe the average, ordinary person completely out.
I am convinced that, when the everyday stuff of life begins to overwhelm us, and our sensory and emotional capacity becomes overloaded, a melt down is on the way; and most of us respond to meltdowns in different ways. Some stay a little longer than usual at the “Happy Hour.” Some require more intake of food. Some need more sleep – they just can’t get up and get moving. Some can become somewhat abusive and profane to those around them; while others are less tolerant of other’s short-comings and fly off the handle more quickly or become more self-assertive. Then, there is a tendency to retreat to a more familiar and safe place in life. Peter says to his compatriots, “Look brothers I am more comfortable on the water than any place I know…we’ve been walking with Jesus, now that’s over…I think better on the water… “I am going fishing.” And the group that had gathered went with him.
Before we dump too hard on this character in scripture whom we first encounter as Saul, it ought to be made clear that Saul was a fervent Jewish believer and an ardent defender of God—as he understood his ancient biblical faith. He had no other reference to God but what he had been taught and practiced all of his life. He has dedicated his life to defending what he believed and persecuting those who threaten its precepts and foundational principles. On every occasion, at every opportunity, everyday, Saul took the initiative to “breathe out threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Here is a brother who had more than a lot to offer God and humanity. No doubt he did not have a clue as to how injurious he was to others and that his life was on the wrong path. Like Saul, too many times, our lives are on the wrong path, and we don’t even know it.
But there was more to Saul than just a defender of his faith. Clearly, Saul was out to make a name for himself. Apparently, he was blinded by his own ambition. He was an over-achiever, an “A” type personality—headstrong, stubborn, and self-centered – maybe I’m talking to myself here. If my wife were here, she’d be shaking her head in agreement. Saul became addicted to bringing down those he thought would get in his way. This was his life, and he probably did not know that, at the rate and pace he was going, he was headed for a sensory and emotional overload; possible melt down was on the way for Saul.
We may not recognize it or feel it, but everyday, our senses and emotions gear up to face the “stuff” of a brand new day. Whenever we embark on a new thing— a new day, a new job, a new position in life, a new event, a new crisis, a new encounter—our bodies and minds go on sensory and emotional alert. Alert alert alert! Get ready, get ready body! And from the time we wake up, get out the door, get behind the wheel, get to the metro station, get to and through the day, get back home and face whatever we are to face there, we are sensorily and emotionally geared up to face everyday “stuff.”
Have you ever thought about the “stuff” we live and contend with everyday of our lives? Have you ever considered the wonder of how you made it beyond an average, ordinary day—you spend less than desirable time spent behind the wheel of a car; dealing with a boss who cares nothing for you or anything other than getting to the next level; trying to parent in a mixed up and crazy society; a teen trying to find his/her place in an unwelcoming world; the person who was shot and or killed that you did not know; the bottom did not completely fall out; today was not the day that North Korea went totally crazy; and partisan politics did not bring us to a bitter end as it has the potential to. If you ever put everyday’s stuff into one package, at the end of the day, all you can do is look back and say “thank God I made it through one more day.”
This morning’s texts gave me some insights on what can help us as we live and cope with everyday stuff. Let me suggest that (1) when God puts his hand on our “everyday stuff” the course of direction for our lives becomes more discernable. Saul, like most of us, needed/need clear directions from God on the path of life we ought to be following. And most of us need periodic reaffirmation that we are on the right path.
Jesus had called the disciples to a new path and a new way of life, but they had retreated to their old ways and old, more comfortable life style: fishing. As Saul is proceeding in his everyday stuff, as the disciples have retreated to their ordinary ways and stuff, the very presence of God intervenes. God shows up and defines it for them: “Here’s new course Brethren; I have a new path for you.” Let me suggest, and you can take it or dismiss it, but if you spend some quality time with God, your path will become more and more discernable. If you spend some time reading the bible, in reflection, in public and private worship, God will tell you what you need to do, where you ought to be, what you ought to be doing, how you ought to live your life, how to live with all of the unanswered question of everyday stuff; if you spend some time with God, God will show you the path.
Sometimes, most of the time, we only think about God in terms of the “extra-ordinary. ” Remember the song “Mr. BigStuff” – that’s how we usually think of God—the God of the Red Sea, the God who walks in the fire, the God who brings down the walls of Jericho, the God who miraculously feeds over 5000 with two fish and 5 barley loaves of bread; the God who blinded Saul on the road to Damascus, the God who overloads the empty net with fish. But there is another aspect of God that we often overlook until we find ourselves on the verge of a sensory or emotional melt down.
Here is the second lesson to take from these two biblical texts. Yes, God is “Mr. BigStuff:” He says: “I am the God of the Universe, I created the heavens and the earth, I have all power in my hands! Where were you when I flung the stars into the heavens?” But there is another aspect of God: (2) More and more we ought to acknowledge God as a God of the routine and the ordinary.
When God puts his hand on the routine and ordinary stuff of everyday living, our fragmented and broken lives can find right paths for healing and wholeness. A whole lot of people are walking around broke – fragmented pieces, smiles on their faces but crying in the depths of their souls. But with God, the broken fragmented pieces come together.
Saul did not know that he was so broken, living a fragmented life—he was lost and didn’t even know it. The disciples had been through so many emotional changes; walking and living with Jesus for the last three years, and than having to go through what they had to go through in one week’s span – it must have been a mind-blowing, devastating, up and down, roller-coaster type experience. And if you haven’t ever experienced it, just keep on living, you’ll experience your own roller coaster ride.
But when God puts his hand on the routine and the ordinary—in this case, the act of fishing, there is a sense of wholeness and healing that emanates. Like Saul, God has a way of stepping in your life at the right time, and in some of the most ordinary and routine moments, and He brings with Him healing.
Coping with all of the stuff we are called to cope with, it is a wonder and a miracle that most of us don’t lose it and or just give up, or give in, or throw our hands up and say “to hell with everything!” Only the hand of God can help us pull the fragments together, pull all the broken and dismantled pieces together, and help us live full, whole, productive, and reasonably blessed lives.
It’s more than a song when we sing: “Because He lives…all fears are gone”…because He puts his hand on my getting up, my going out, and my coming in…because He puts His hand on my going to work…when I find myself about to lose it…on my children and my grandchildren…I can send them to school with a prayer on my lips and say – God watch other them. Because He puts his hand on ordinary stuff, life becomes worth living. Someone said – I don’t have any reason to live, it’s too complicated, it’s too hard; but when the God of the Universe puts His hand on your ordinary stuff, you can say: God if you go with me, I can go through anything!
Finally and here is the third lesson, (3) you will never be able to live a life of praise, honor, devotion, and service to the glory, dominion and power of God until you recognize the hand of God moving on your everyday stuff.
The scripture passage in Acts, verse 8 says, “Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing.” In the Gospel pericope, John discusses the miracles Jesus performed; how he healed the blind man, the crippled man, the woman with the issue of blood, and the periscope tells us that, “Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.” Not until they recognized Jesus; not until Saul recognized Jesus, were they able to live a life of praise, devotion and service to the glory, dominion and power of God.
I know we get up in the morning, say a little prayer; we pray at the table before a meal; but sometimes we only recognize God when there is a major event: “Lord, you brought me through this surgery, you spared my child, you left my house standing during the hurricane—sometimes we only recognize God when the “big stuff” comes. But how many times when we look back over what we went through that day do we go to our homes, close the door behind us, and say: Thank you God, you brought me through ONE MORE DAY. How many times do we get up in the morning and say: “Thank you God, you woke me up this morning; I’ve got my right mind; I’ve got food in my refrigerator; the utility bills have been paid.” It sounds small, but thank you God, for the “little stuff.” Thank you God – I got a job that I don’t like, but thank you God I still got it; thank you for blessing my life in so many strange ways. Thank you God for the small stuff, I can give you glory, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.
It may not be a lot to YOU, what he’s done for ME, but it’s everything for me. Thank God for the hand of God; when He puts His hand on your everyday stuff, you can give Him the glory. It wasn’t you getting you through that stuff; it wasn’t you in that operating room; it was God, so give HIM the glory!
Scripture: Saul’s Conversion Scripture: Acts 9:1-8 (NIV Translation)
1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus.
Scripture: Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish & John 21:1-8 (NIV Translation)
1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered.
6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.