Change

By the  Rev.  Adolfo Moronta

Today’s lessons are filled with images of change. Paul, Peter and Jesus, three rocks of the church, all teach us about how, if we listen, we are invited to change. Change is a sometimes slow, sometime could be difficult task and other time could seem more natural. Although change happens all around and even happens to us, are we actively involved in the kind of change that Jesus wants for us?

In our short lives, we have experienced a lot of changes, from immobile babies, to crawling to walking. We saw changes in our school setting and in our bodies through growth and maturation. And then there is nature. Spring brings us many changes—growing flowers and green leaves.

What is change? Change is to undergo alteration, transformation, transition, to go for one phase to another. Change is entering the unknown, sometimes its uncomfortable, and perhaps can require of you to put things down that you love or really want.

Sometimes change comes by itself to our lives and other times when we need or want particular changes it requires a lot of effort from us as part of the process. Imagine wanting a vegetable garden. You could pray for years that God would make vegetables grow in your backyard. When nothing happens, you might even decide to be angry with God for not hearing your prayers. However, the reality is that while God can make vegetables grow, we must prepare the soil, plant the seeds, water and weed, and wait. This gives the best chance that there will be an abundance of vegetables to harvest. In the same way, individuals who want to experience changes in their lives must do a lot of work as part of the process.

Today’s lessons are filled with images of change. Paul, Peter and Jesus, three rocks of the church, all teach us about how, if we listen, we are invited to change, even this very day. In the story of Acts we hear about Saul. Saul is portrayed as a crusader. He determines himself to be a righteous man, but his righteousness put him in direct conflict with the followers of Jesus. You see, as a devout Jew, Saul, who would later change his name to Paul, believed that Jesus and his followers just did not get it. Jews were supposed to devote themselves to the faith, not dilute the faith by inviting non-Jews into their houses, which is what the early Christians were doing.

Before his change, Paul persecuted Christians. Why was he so angry at Christians? Because they refused to follow the Jewish faith. And as much as he disliked the Romans and others who became followers of Jesus he probably hated the Jews who turned away from the family and choose to water down the Jewish people even more.

After his encounter with Jesus He became a Christian and changed his name to Paul. He miraculously went from killing Christians to proclaiming that Jesus is Lord. We know about this change, and it must have been significant to Paul, because he mentions it more than once in his writings. There is at least one more mention of this conversion experience in his letter to the Galatians. He was changed and his change profound.

In our Gospel this morning Jesus appears to the disciples while they are fishing. Jesus calls to them from the shore, but they do not recognize him. So he tells them to cast their nets to other side and suddenly they are filled. Then the “disciple who Jesus loved” recognizes him and asks Simon Peter if this man is their Lord. Suddenly, almost as if his eyes were opened, Peter realizes this is Jesus and he dives out of the boat and swims ashore.

It begs the question. Had the resurrected Jesus changed so much that his own followers did not recognize him? Or had the disciples been so changed and traumatized by the recent events that they did not recognize him?

I think it is possible that Jesus might have wanted his disciples to have to rediscover who he was, so he put them into familiar situations. To some he broke bread in order to reveal himself. Others he showed his hands and side and in this instance he tells the disciples who are struggling to fish to recast their nets. This is a reenactment of a similar story in the beginning of the Gospel of John.

Maybe Jesus changed his appearance or maybe the disciples had scales on their eyes or were traumatized and couldn’t recognize Jesus, but these reenactments reminded His followers of who He was.

Once the disciples are on the beach Jesus feeds them and then he starts a conversation with Peter. Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. Three times. Sound familiar? Three times Peter denies Jesus as he suffers on the cross and now Jesus asks Peter 3 times, if he loves him. We know that this makes Peter feel hurt by the questioning, but I do not think that it was either a mistake or coincidence.

I believe Jesus wants to let Peter know that he is forgiven for his sins and so he asks him three times to mirror the 3 denials. No real act of change or turning of our hearts is complete without penance.

And so by asking him 3 times, Jesus lets him know that they are okay. Yes, Peter messed up, but he can change and still be a great leader in the church. We know Jesus still sent him out to be a cornerstone in the church. Jesus will send him out to lead the disciples.

In our texts this morning, we have examples of two great leaders who helped establish the early church. Even though they loved Jesus and Jesus loved them, they were not perfect. In fact, these two men were both in need of making major changes in their lives. Paul persecuted Christians before a visit from Jesus changed his heart and changed the direction of his life.

Peter denied Jesus and often allowed his own ego to get in the way of listening to or following Jesus. But Jesus knew that Peter could lead his disciples. Part of his change included being penitent and receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness. And after both of their inward changes, they also changed their names. After Saul was converted, he became Paul and Simon, became Peter.

Another interesting point—neither one of these were changed instantly. For some a conversion might happen in a single instant. Paul’s change seemed to happen more quickly. He encountered Jesus and then 3 days later scales came off of his eyes and he could see. But even Paul continued to struggle. Part of his struggle were contemporary issues of the day—slavery, sexual morality, how to treat others and deal with fighting in the early church. He even had something he referred to as a “thorn in his flesh”, which hounded him his whole life and reminded him of his human frailty. Peter also continued to bumble up until the crucifixion and beyond. Change usually happens more gradually. The same is true for us.

Just because they were Christians and made major changes in their lives, does not mean their lives were perfect. This is also true for us. So, although change is really natural. It happens all around and even happens to us, are we actively involved in the kind of change that Jesus wants for us? It’s an honest question.

Are you doing what God wants you to do in your life? And if not, are you working to change those parts of your life that you need to change?

It is easy to look at Peter and Paul and think that these great leaders of the church, who were called by God, had to undergo change and repentance. We are called to nothing less. Their stories are our stories. We are called to be leaders in this church. And we all need to change and repent. Only you know what challenges are getting in your way. God wants to remove the scales from your eyes. He wants to forgive you for denying three or even 300 hundred times. In short, God wants you to change.

Institutions also find themselves in need of change. Certainly, this church has seen and is called to make changes a good example of this is the search process that we have begun for a new rector.

Change is not easy. If we could ask Peter and Paul, they would tell you. Change is a sometimes slow, sometime could be difficult task and other time could seem more natural.

Some changes take a lifetime to complete. I encourage all of us to not wait until we are knocked down, like Paul, before we follow the way that Jesus intended for us. Instead, seek the metanoia–the change, that Jesus wants for each and every one of us this day!