I get very emotional when I read that passage from John’s gospel because a long time ago, living on the South coast at the time, and trying to discern whether to go into ordained ministry or not, my wife was praying about it, sitting on our front step looking out over the French coastline and God spoke to her.
The words God gave Alex were “Feed my sheep”
That was all we needed to hear. And that is what I have endeavoured to do ever since, to heed those words and to respond to the words Jesus spoke to Peter at that time;
It is a curious thing and a bit startling for some Christians to hear but Jesus never says once “Worship me” but the command to follow him occurs many times.
In that itself there is a parable. That is not to say that we shouldn’t worship Jesus – as God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself – but Jesus never demanded worship – he was in fact one of the most humble of men – but the emphasis was on getting up and following where he led.
Why should we follow? Well because Jesus invited us to, and because it is the universal witness of the church that when Jesus asks, it is actually God Himself who is doing the asking.
The Revelation of John is easily the hardest book to get our heads around in the New Testament but in last week’s reading from Revelation we heard the phrase the seven Spirits of God who is the Holy Spirit being described as the eyes of Jesus and today in an equally dense and opaque piece from Revelation we have Jesus depicted as the only person in the universe who was qualified to open the scroll that God, the ancient of days, was holding in his hand.
He was described as the Lion of Judah, the root of David who had conquered. Yet when this conquering Lion of Judah was revealed it was in the form of a lamb, and not just a lamb, but a slaughtered lamb.
This slaughtered lamb, symbolising Jesus, was the only one worthy or able or had the authority to open the scroll.
Jesus is a paradox.
He is the conquering lion and also the slaughtered lamb.
He is both carpenter and king
He is meek and compassionate and mighty and courageous.
He is a priest of God and knows what it is like to be forsaken.
He is friend and brother and yet judge and saviour.
It is this combination of extraordinary contrasts that led Thomas to exclaim, almost despite himself, “My Lord and my God” when invited to put his hands into the wounds received when he had been killed.
Our Christian concept of God is unlike any other religion in the world. And in Revelation this slain lamb is offered worship.
When the Spirit speaks to us through worship, through preaching, through scripture, through divine revelation to the writer of revelation, to Alex, sitting on our front door step, we have a definite choice to make – to follow God or not to follow God.
Jesus’ rehabilitation of Peter into the fold was gentle and profound. His threefold denial of Jesus would have cut Jesus to the quick but He knew that Peter was just a frail and flawed person and he re-integrated Peter into the fold by asking him three times – Peter do you love me?
But for others God knew a much more dramatic confrontation was required.
Saul’s conversion to Christianity is the most dramatic, talked about and most important conversion the church ever had. It is reported in the Bible three times in Acts.
It came without warning or any softening up. No period of doubt guilt over the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr whose death Saul had approved.
It was a bolt from the blue, an overwhelming religious experience that left Saul blind. Led to a house in Damascus, it was a member of the Christian community called Ananais that was told in a vision to go and lay hands on Saul for him to receive his sight.
The Christian community is a healing community and it is significant that one otherwise insignificant Christian man laid his hands on Saul and his sight was restored.
The Christian community is a healing community because we are the embodiment of Jesus on earth, bound and constituted by the Holy Spirit.
Being healed of blindness is in itself an acted parable of the transition from darkness to light, from death to live, from being lost to being found.
From that day on, Saul followed Jesus and became Paul, the greatest evangelist the church has ever known. God chose a murderous anti-Christian to become our greatest evangelist. God’s arms are never too short to embrace, no matter what we have previously believed or done. That is true anyone here who has not yet given their life to Christ. Forgivenes and salvation are not far away. The kingdom of God is near.
It is within our grasp. All we have to do is to let God take hold of our hand and guide us, to follow in his way, a way that leads to fullness of life, to peace, and the privilege of being to call God our Father and Jesus our friend and brother.