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Sermon 4/14/13- Jesus keeps Hanging Around

click here for audio

 

Sermon Preached by The Rev. Fulton Porter, III

April 14, 2013, Easter III

St. Thomas Church, Chicago.

 John 21:1-14; Revelation 5:6-14

 

Jesus Keeps On Hanging Around

 

 

When I read this passage of Scripture I am struck by the number of appearances that Jesus made as the resurrected Christ of faith and the triumphant Lord of history before his ascension to his Father and our God.  One could raise the question as to why he hung around so long. After all, he had done that which he came to do. He had preached the Good News of God's steadfast love and provision for those who were economically and/or spiritually poor. He had brought release to those who were held captive to a religious legalism that neither saved nor satisfied.  He had brought sight to those who had never seen, and returned vision to those who had lost it. He had given those who were oppressed the liberating assurance of their own self-worth. He had announced that the kingdom of heaven was at hand and had transformed a bleak present to the acceptable year of the Lord. He had healed the sick, raised the dead, and cast out demons.  He had made the ultimate sacrifice by allowing humans to misuse him, abuse him, and crucify him so that they could be redeemed. On the cross of Calvary, in his dying hour, Jesus had pronounced his work "finished."

 

One would expect, then, that after some initial appearances to establish his victory over death, hell, and the grave, Jesus would have immediately ascended to his Father. One would expect Jesus to be anxious about his imminent return and be in a hurry to leave this sinful world with its fickle humans and their cruel acts and return to the joy peace, and glory of heaven. However, according to our text, Jesus took his time about his ascension. He seemed in no hurry to leave this terrestrial plain.  He appeared to  Peter, and then to the Twelve. He was seen by more than five hundred believers at one time. James saw him, as did the other apostles. Last of all, long after the others, he was seen by Paul as one born almost too late. Jesus just simply kept hanging around.

 

He appeared to his good friend Peter, who, before the others, had recognized him as the Christ, the Son, the incarnate embodiment of the living God. He appeared to Peter who had pledged eternal devotion, but who, in his hour of testing, seemed to be more a broken reed than a rock man. He hung around long enough to restore a fallen saint, to lift the spirits of a downcast friend, to forgive the denial of a trusted follower, and to reclaim as his very own one whose faith Satan had tried to break and whose soul the Evil One desired to sift like wheat.  Jesus always hangs around for us saints who stumble. When others criticize us for stumbling, when our weaknesses and failures seem to mock our faith, when our adversaries seem to have gotten the victory, and when our consciences have beaten and shamed us, Jesus hangs around long enough to let us know that he loves us just the same. Regardless of our broken promises and shattered resolves, he still claims us as his own. Jesus hangs around long enough to let us know that, though our sins be as scarlet, his blood can still make the foulest clean, that we are forgiven,  and can still walk in the newness of life. Jesus keeps hanging around.

 

Jesus hung around long enough to appear to the Twelve. He appeared to those whom he had called by name to drop their nets, leave tax collecting tables, and give up all to become itinerant heralds of the dawning kingdom. Theirs was a unique place in the emergence of the faith. No other humans before or after them would have the privilege of knowing the Master in such an intimate and personal way.  It had been their privilege to see and hear things that the prophets and others gone before had longed to behold. They were the leadership nucleus of the movement.

Coming generations would depend upon the accuracy of their recollections and writings for the appropriation and distillation of the faith.  The movement would expand or dissipate, live or die, based upon their efforts.  Because much had been given unto them, much would be required. Because they were the leaders, they would be the first to die when the church was persecuted. They would be used as examples of what could happen to a person who openly confessed Christ as Lord.  When the Master was crucified, each of them had been gripped by a deep and painful sense of personal loss and tragedy. However, before his ascension, Jesus hung around long enough to appear to the Twelve.

 

Let us never forget that Jesus always hangs around for those from whom much is required. There are always those who bear more than what seems their fair share of burdens, who experience more than their share of suffering, and who carry more than their share of responsibility. There are those whose lives have more than their share of setbacks, problems, tragedies, or misfortunes. There are those whose bodies endure more than their share of frustrating sickness and demoralizing pain. There are those upon whose shoulders the mantles of leadership and responsibility rests like a heavy yoke.  They have enough responsibility for two or three persons.

As children, they must grow up faster and assume adult responsibilities for providing and caring for the rest of the family. As single persons, they have to be both mother and father to children;

both husband and wife to hold homes together; both son and daughter for aged parents and other lonely persons. Sometimes their shoulders begin to ache from the weight of the crosses upon their backs, and they begin to wonder if they can bear up, how long they can stand the strain of leadership and responsibility for self, for family, for livelihood, for bills, for trying to stand for right.  The message of the text, however, is that Jesus hangs around to comfort, empower, and preserve those from whom much is required.  If we go on in Jesus name, according to his Word, we will never walk alone.  Jesus is always with them and us—he just keeps hanging around.

 

Jesus hung around long enough to appear to five hundred believing Christians. Jesus kept hanging around until he was seen by the church as a whole. He did not simply appear to the leadership cadre, or those who held special positions or offices, those who were ordained to certain orders, or to those who had been endowed with special gifts.  He was seen by the whole church.  Jesus understood that it takes more than the leadership to do the work of the kingdom—it takes the whole church.  In his appearance before the five hundred, Jesus demonstrated his lordship, ownership, care, and commitment to the whole church. Jesus was not simply Peter's Lord or Lord of the Twelve, but Lord of the whole church.  Jesus is not simply Lord of those who belong to a certain clique or club—he is Lord of the whole church.  Jesus is not simply Lord for those whose names are always being called or just for those whose names and families go back to the beginning—he is Lord of the whole church.  Jesus is not simply Lord of those who give the most or talk the most—he is Lord of the whole church.

 

We believe in the priesthood of all believers.  We believe that the same gifts that are bestowed upon some, the same spiritual experiences which happen to some, the same spiritual depths achieved by some, are available to all. We believe that God is no respecter of persons and that each of us carries within ourselves a believing heart, a faith line that reaches the throne of grace.

 

Consequently, the presence of the risen Lord is as available to the so-called newcomer as he is to the so-called "church pillar."  Jesus is as available to the poorest as he is to the most prosperous, to the disabled as well as the healthy of body and mind,  to women as well as men.  Jesus' appearance before five hundred believing Christians demonstrates the truth that wherever God's children are doing the work of the kingdom and calling on the name of the Lord, Jesus will be there—hanging around, reclaiming the lapsed, strengthening the weak,  confirming the faith of those who doubt, and anointing anew.  When it comes to the life and well-being of God's church—not ours but God's—Jesus keeps hanging around.

 

If we read further in the scriptures we see that Jesus hung around long enough to appear to his brother, James.  One of the most discouraging and painful experiences of Jesus' life must have centered around the coolness, disbelief, and rejection from many in his family toward his mission.

When Jesus went back to Nazareth, after doing mighty works in Capernaum and other places and met the hostility, mockery, and disbelief of his home community, his comment that a prophet is not without honor except in his own land and among his own kinsmen was not just a reference to neighbors and distant relations, but also a reference to his own brothers and sisters. Family, friends, and those closest to us can hurt us in a way that no one else can.  Jesus' family didn't understand him. To some, he was as crazy and as eccentric as his cousin, John the Baptist.  To others he was an embarrassment and to still others he was a mystery.  Sometimes, when God begins to move in our lives in special ways, those closest to us will not understand. However, we cannot afford to sacrifice our convictions or the joy of the Lord because of the lack of understanding, or hang¬ups, or lack of vision of others. We must be prepared to let nothing, including the approval or disapproval of those whom we love, separate us from the love of God.

However, sometimes we can accomplish in death what we cannot achieve in life. Sometimes it's only in the afterglow of a sainted life that has passed from our midst that we can appreciate all that that person stood for and all that they tried to teach us. Often we would love to have told that person how grateful we were for his or her life and how much he or she really meant to us, but by then it is too late.

 

Perhaps James had been one of those who had rejected Jesus when he went back home to Nazareth.  However, as time passed, perhaps toward the close of the Master's ministry, James began to understand the nature of the kingdom that his older brother had been talking about.

James had marveled at how his brother had prayed for the forgiveness of his enemies when he was on the cross.  James may have regretted that he hadn't done more to support Jesus while he lived and now that his brother was dead, he may have felt it was too late—his opportunities for service had passed him by.  But according to the Scriptures, Jesus hung around long enough for James to see him, giving James the assurance that it wasn't too late.  Jesus keeps hanging around to let us know that it's never too late. Even now, at our ages and stations in life—regardless of what we've done or failed to do—it's not too late. As long as there is breath in our bodies and we can call on the name of Jesus, it's not too late. Now is still the acceptable time. Now is still the day of salvation.  This day can be the first day of the rest of your life because Jesus is still hanging around.

 

Not only did Jesus hang around for Peter and the Twelve, for the five hundred, and for James,

but he hung around long enough for a young Pharisee whose name was Saul to meet him.  This young man wasn't around when the Lord called Peter and the others to follow him.  He wasn't around when Christ appeared to the five hundred.  He didn't have the privilege of growing up with Jesus from childhood like James.  It was long after the others had encountered the risen Christ that one day, while he was on the Damascus Road on his way to wreak havoc on the church, Saul discovered that Jesus was still hanging around.  At midday he saw a blinding light and heard a voice from heaven that called him by name and asked, "Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?" When Saul asked, "Who are you Lord?" the voice replied, "I am Jesus of Nazareth, the once dead but now living and exalted Lord. And it is not good for you to fight the work of the kingdom."

 

From that day, Paul's life took on a new direction. That same Jesus who spoke to Paul is still hanging around.  Jesus' grace is still sufficient; his strength is still perfected in our weakness, his arm of compassion has not been shortened, his love has not abated, his mercy is still from everlasting to everlasting, his blood still sanctifies, and his spirit still sets free. Jesus' forgiveness is still stronger than sin, his joy is mightier than the ocean, his peace still passes understanding,

and his salvation is still stronger than death.

 

I know Jesus is still hanging around.

 

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