April 22nd, 2007

Where Do We Go From Here?

Acts 9: 1-20; John 21: 1-9; Revelation 5: 11-14

Pastor Peter Rigby

Businesses, sports teams--those who win and those who lose, families, students, schools, and churches ask the question, “Where do we go from here?

The question is a way to evaluate progress and make mid-course adjustments on the way to a stated goal. If you follow the NHL, teams ask: “Where do we go from here?” as the trading deadline approaches. The teams who sense that they are not going to make the playoffs may decide to get rid of high priced players. Teams who believe they have a chance to get into the playoffs will acquire one more quality defence man, or goalie, or forward—whatever player is necessary to get where they want to go.

“Where do we go from here?” is asked by an organization when it nears the completion of a project and prepares to move to the next phase. The question is often asked when an organization is in transition.

At the Kingston Standard Church, a team of people is asking, “Where do we go from here?” We have just finished a major building project. What we did together was astounding. The result is accessibility, increased ministry space and important upgrades and renovations of to thirty year old structure. We celebrated last October. We rejoice at what we were able to accomplish together. We ask: “Where do we go from here?”

We also find ourselves in transition. With Barry’s departure to become a solo pastor in another city, we ask again: “Where do we go from here?”

Before we attempt an answer, there are other questions that can be asked: Two of these are “Who is the “we?” If the “we” is “us”, why do we even need to be concerned about direction or going anywhere?

Who are the people called “we?” The “we” are the people who regard the Kingston Standard Church as their home church. It is you and I and all the others who for a variety of reasons are not with us today. So when we talked about “we,” it is us. Look around. Who do you see? We are the “we!” (Not “Wi” by the way!)

The “we” is us. So why do we need to be concerned about direction or, for that matter, going anywhere? Isn’t church just something you do on Sunday mornings? You go to church, greet people, sing some songs--some you may not even like, listen to a sermon, then go home or go to a restaurant and get on with the rest of your life. Isn’t that what church is all about? To answer these questions, maybe we need to look to the founder of the Christian church.

In Matthew 16, we hear Jesus asking his disciples about his identity. “Who do people say that I am?” Peter responds, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus is delighted. He says: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

Volumes have been written in an attempt to explain this short passage. What I want you to note is that Jesus says He will build his church. It will be an unstoppable force. And the church will have a significant role to play in the world through its God-given authority to loose and to bind.

Jesus made this statement shortly before his death and resurrection. Today’s readings, chosen for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, give us three pictures of Jesus after the resurrection. In the first picture from Revelation 5 we see the exalted Jesus seated with his heavenly Father, worshiped as the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world. In this elevated position, he serves as the head of the “church,” that is those who are his followers. The other passages of scripture, John 21 and Acts 9, provide us with two pictures of Jesus in the process of building his Church through the lives of people that can help us know the direction that he wants his church to go.

John 21 is the story of Jesus’ third resurrection appearance to his disciples. The two key figures are Jesus and Peter. Peter’s personality shines clearly in this passage.

We see that Peter is an influential but impatient leader. He has had enough sitting around. He wants action. So he announces to the others he is going fishing. The others join him. Their fishing expedition produces no results until a man on the shore tells them to throw their lines on the right side of the boat. The empty net fills with fish.

Now we see Peter’s impulsiveness. When a disciple, identified as the one Jesus loved, realizes that the man on the shore is Jesus and says so, Peter forgets about the fish. He grabs his clothes and jumps into the water and heads towards Jesus. I wonder what the other disciple thought. Peter is the reason they were out in the boat. Now that they have caught fish, he jumps out of the boat and heads toward Jesus, leaving them with a heavy net filled with fish.

Later, Peter’s impulsiveness becomes enthusiasm. Jesus says to the men in the boat, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” What does Peter do? He jumps up before anyone else can move, goes to the boat and drags the net to shore – a net filled with 153 fish. I can see Jesus smiling, “That’s my Peter! There are no half measures with him. I asked for some fish. He brings me the whole net full”

Impatient, impulsive, enthusiastic . . . but Peter can also be fearful. An underlying story to what we read this morning was Peter’s denial of Jesus. Three times, Peter in fear denied he was a follower of Jesus. In his last denial, Peter began to swear and protest that he didn’t even know Jesus. Just as Peter finished his fearful and angry denial, he heard the rooster and he remembered. . . He remembered how he had impulsively spoken up before Jesus and the other disciples and proclaimed that he would stand strong and true and courageous to the very end even if all the other disciples failed.

It was this Peter, the Peter to whom Jesus had said “Upon this ‘rock’ (Peter means rock), I will build my church.” Jesus is ready to build his church on Peter, the enthusiastic, impulsive, impatient, fearful man.

Before the other disciples, who knew well the story of Peter’s denial, Jesus enquires, “Peter do you truly love me more than these?” Jesus is not satisfied with one affirmation. Two more times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. Three times, one for each fearful denial, Peter affirms, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Each time, Jesus counters, “Feed my sheep.”

I want you to picture with me the scene. Put yourself in the place of Peter. Jesus has welcomed you back after your denial. He has made sure you are included. He has and is continuing to make sure that you know he wants you as part of his team. You are happy to be included. The self loathing you felt after your failure to be courageous and identify with Jesus was painful. Not much was said, yet guilt and shame is at work in your inner thought life.

Now in front of the disciples, you and Jesus are standing face to face. His penetrating gaze is on you. He asks you in front of everyone, “Do you love me more than these?” You say “yes” but his piercing gaze continues. A second time and then a third Jesus asks, “Do you truly love me?” Your denial of Jesus was public. Now he asks you to affirm publicly your love for him.

How do you think you would feel? Would you try to fake it? Or would you know there was no use trying to hide. Jesus, as Peter so rightly stated, knows all things. Even before Peter spoke and before we speak, he knows the state of his heart— and ours. In this brief encounter with Jesus, Peter is fully reinstated. Three times, Peter publicly affirms his love for Jesus after three times denying him. What Jesus also makes clear is that love has responsibilities. Jesus was not restoring Peter to be the big shot – the CEO of the corporation. Jesus says, “Okay, Peter you say you love me. Then FEED MY SHEEP!”

In the church that Jesus is building, leaders are called to love Jesus and feed his sheep. Leadership is not so much about a position in the church of Jesus as it is the willingness to serve his people. Near the end of Peter’s life, after he had lived out Jesus’ instructions to “feed his sheep,” Peter writes to church leaders:
I Peter 5:2-4: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

According to this picture, the Church that Jesus is building is a place where leaders serve, caring for people and helping them grow in faith.

Where do we go from here? We want to be a church where people are cared for and where opportunities are provided for people to grow in their faith. Jesus wants his sheep fed.

The second picture is the story of Paul’s conversion from Acts 9. Paul (at that time called Saul) represents enemy number one for the church. He was a witness and an accomplice to the first Christian martyr, Stephen. No one was more dangerous to Christians than the apostle Paul (Saul).

Jesus looked beyond the present actions of Saul to his future potential. Jesus saw in Saul’s radical commitment to a cause and ambitious zeal a man who he could use to expand the church. The church of Jesus cares for and feeds the people who belong. The church is also called to go and take the good news of the gospel to others. Jesus knew that Saul was the man for the job. But first a radical realignment was needed. Saul the persecutor needed to become Saul the follower. Jesus knew just what to do.

Jesus and Saul have a meeting on the Damascus road. Saul was never the same. Saul the antagonist became the devoted follower of Jesus. Saul was given a mission. In Jesus’ words to Ananias: "This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."

Saul (Paul) responded to the call of Jesus. He took the story of Jesus into new territory. Jesus used Paul’s skills, abilities and personality to build his church. The transformation Paul experienced made him a person Jesus used to build his church.

So where do we go from here? We want to be a church where people ‘go’ and make a difference for Jesus in the world around us.

What do these two stories about Peter and Paul mean for KSC (us)? First we recognize the church Jesus is building is built by people. His people are entrusted with two basic tasks. The first task is care, to “feed my sheep.” The second task is to go. The church is to take the name of Jesus everywhere.

Then take another look at the people Jesus calls. They are not perfect. Peter was a disconnected leader who needed to be reconnected. Paul was an active antagonist trying to destroy the Christian church. These stories seem dramatic yet Jesus’ call on your life will have dramatic elements. His call will be dramatic because his call on our life will demand change. As you reflect this morning, you may already know what Jesus is saying to you. Maybe he is asking, “Do you love me more than these ...?” You know what the “these” are in your life. If your answer is “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” Jesus is saying, “Become involved in feeding my sheep.” Or maybe he is saying, “I want you to be the outward focus of my church. I want you to “go in my name” and bring people into the kingdom of God.”

Lastly, look at what Jesus does for the people he calls. In the story of Saul there is a little phrase we do not want to miss. Ananias came so that Saul might regain his sight and so that he might be filled with the Holy Spirit. "Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit."

Jesus is still building his church. He is still doing it through people, people like you and me. There are still two primary tasks, to feed and to go.

The answer to the question “Where do we go from here?” is the answer to the questions “How do we make sure that His sheep are cared for and fed? and “How do make sure that we are accepting the call to go?”

Here are some questions for you to begin a conversation with God:

  1. What are you hearing Jesus call you to do?
  2. What’s your part in building his church?
  3. Will you respond positively to his call to be a person he uses to build his church?
  4. What is your next step?

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