A New Normal

+ A sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter (Year C) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on May 5, 2019 +

Text: John 21:1-19

Growing up I loved that classic series, The Lord of the Rings.
I remember how I devoured the books the first time I read them, finishing the trilogy over the course of a long weekend.
The movie versions came out while I was in high school and I saw each of them multiple times in the theaters and, as nerdy as it was, I even dressed up in costume for the premiers—I really hope those were lost to history!

inwfqrzlwhv01At the center of this epic tale, we have a small band of four hobbits who wanted nothing more than to stay home, away from any sort of adventure thank you very much.
That’s all they wanted, well that and, of course, to eat a good meal.
Even on their amazing journey they kept looking back towards home.
And if I’m honest, that was a part of the story I just didn’t understand—here they were on this heroic quest, in fellowship with elves and dwarves and wizards, exploring new lands and experiencing the unknown, literally trying to save the world from the embodiment of evil and all they wanted to do was go home; all they wanted was for things to go back to normal.

For me, this is usually my least favorite part of a journey, the going back to normal at the end.
After so much planning, after weeks of looking forward to this adventure, the part I look forward to least is that first Monday back in the office.
It’s a particular feeling when, sometimes with a twinge of disappointment, you realize that all over, that you’re back to normal.
That you’ve gone from the extraordinary back to the ordinary, sometimes even the tedious.
Sometimes a quick adjustment back to reality even leads me to wonder if that amazing experience really happened.
Did I really just go on vacation?
Was that amazing experience real?
Was it all just a dream?

At the conclusion of the final installment of the Tolkien trilogy, The Return of the King, we see the hobbits finally get their wish and return home to the Shire.
I love how the film portrays this moment as we see this victorious band of heroes triumphantly ride in full of unimaginable experiences and the pride of saving the world by vanquishing evil and the first thing they see is the face of their same old dour neighbor raking in his garden and glaring suspiciously at these returning faces who seem up to no good.
In some ways, their home is completely unchanged, and in some ways, the world has fundamentally shifted.
After all they have seen and after the triumph of good, these hobbits can sense that nothing will truly ever be the same again.

Of course, the reality shock doesn’t only happen with good experiences.
I’ve heard those grieving the death of loved ones speak about the pangs of a new normal that can happen right after a funeral.
Often there’s so much attention and so many things going on between a loved one’s death and their funeral that a person’s mind may not even be capable of adjusting to the new reality.
But afterwards, when the family has returned home, when the flowers are wilting and the casseroles have been eaten, the one left behind may feel suddenly alone, wishing it were all a dream, wondering how to move forward now that their whole world has shifted.

I wonder if all of this is what the disciples are experiencing in today’s gospel reading.
After three years of following Jesus, after countless miles spent walking as he preached and healed and fed, after seeing his arrest and execution and his seemingly impossible resurrection, the disciples finally returned home.
Maybe it had all been too much for them, all the stress and walking and talking and dying and the dead coming back to life.

“Fishers of Men” by Zaki Baboun

Maybe, not knowing what else to do, they did what they did best: they went fishing. They were fishermen after all.
Maybe they just wanted everything to go back to normal.
But I think they also know that after what happened in Jerusalem, things couldn’t possibly go back to how they were; this was a new normal.
They were living in a new reality where the empire did not always win, where God’s reign was taking root within and around them, where life had triumphed over death.
They were living in a world of resurrection and nothing would ever be the same again.
So out they go, back into a familiar boat, back into their old waters, back to the job they knew.

But in this new normal, in this new world of resurrection, there is something fundamentally different.
Because even when they try to go back to the things that were, they find Jesus there.
Even when they are frustrated after a disappointing haul from a night of fishing, they find Jesus cooking them breakfast on the beach.
Pastor Delmer Chilton reminds us that in the new normal of the resurrection, “there is no insignificant activity; there are no merely tedious details. Christ’s presence in the world transforms ordinary busyness into extraordinary opportunities to serve God and humanity.”

“The Miraculous Catch of Fish” by Jan Toorop

We may look for Christ in the extraordinary, in the miraculous but miss his presence in our new normal, infusing even our most ordinary tasks with the power of resurrection, with the power of using us to transform the world.

We have come back from the extraordinary joy of Easter Sunday with joys and a full church, with feasting and baptisms, with alleluias and flowers, and now on the Third Sunday of Easter as the flowers are wilting and the alleluias are growing stale in our mouths, we may feel like we’re back to the normal, even tedious reality of the ordinary.
But we also believe that Christ’s resurrection has fundamentally changed things, that we are living into a new normal where Christ is alive and with us now.
That in this new reality, Christ is transforming our ordinary into extraordinary, our tedium into celebration, our very lives into opportunities to share God’s love with the world.

unnamed (1).pngWhen the disciples row ashore, they find a charcoal fire to warm them and a breakfast buffet to fill their hungry bellies.
But then Jesus pulls Simon Peter aside and has a strange conversation with him.
Jesus asks him three times if Peter loves him and commissions him for mission each time.
It may sound strange to our ears this morning, but the gospel writer is making a clear connection to what was surely happening in Peter’s own mind that morning—how just days before he had huddled around a different charcoal fire and three times denied even knowing Jesus on a night we now remember as Maundy Thursday.
And it may seem like Jesus is testing Peter on this beach, but I think this is something different.
I think Jesus sees the grief that is holding Peter, the grief of denying his friend and teacher and allowing him to die, I think Jesus sees that and seeks to release him from those burdens, to ease his pain, and to lift him into a new life, a new normal, where he will love God’s people just as Jesus did.
Each time Peter says that he loves Jesus, Jesus tells him to care for his sheep.
Now I don’t know a ton about being a shepherd, and I’m guessing neither did Peter, since he was a fisherman, but I’m told that tending and feeding sheep is not exciting, it’s not spectacular; it’s tedious, it’s repetitive, it’s even boring, and it’s so necessary.
efee6ad7c17ccfa3574c7641f648bf36And Jesus calls Peter, and by extension the disciples, and by further extension all of us, to this tedious and necessary ministry, to feed and care for Christ’s sheep, to allow the love we have for Jesus to flow through us in love and service in all that we do.
To live into the new normal that infuses our ordinary lives.

My friends, through our baptisms we have been born into the new normal of the resurrection and with each new dawn we are reborn into its promises.
We live in a world that has been fundamentally changed with the resurrection of Christ.
We live in an Easter reality where nothing will ever be the same again.
We are confident that Christ has redeemed our failures and raised us up into his ministry.
And we are confident that in this new world, Christ is present in everything that we do. In the tedious, repetitive, even boring tasks, Christ is there.
In our cooking and cleaning and doing laundry, Christ is there.
In our mowing the lawn and paying bills and changing diapers, Christ is there.
In our going to work and driving kids to school and walking outside, Christ is there.
In our sitting with someone who is sick, in our feeding our hungry neighbors, in making quilts, Christ is there.

So it is with our Christian life, as this body, empowered by the risen Christ, moves into the world doing work that is seldom exciting or spectacular but much more often normal or mundane.
Yet we are called into the new normal where the love of Christ can be found in everything that we do.
We are called, beginning at that font, to reach out to a hurting world.
We are called, confident of God’s redeeming love for us, to spread forgiveness and love. We are called, fed at this table, to bear Christ in our world through ordinary acts care and service.

doyoulovemeSo this morning we hear that same question that Peter heard that morning:

Do you love Jesus? Show some love to someone who is grieving.
Do you love Jesus? Care for the earth by reducing consumption, recycling, and composting.
Do you love Jesus? Send letters and make calls to your elected officials.
Do you love Jesus? Send some money during Give Big Day this week.
Do you love Jesus? Volunteer at Sophia Way or Congregations for the Homeless.
Do you love Jesus? Speak out against racism and homophobia and transphobia.
Do you love Jesus? Recognize the abundance of life and love we have in our resurrected Christ even after we share with our neighbors.
Do you love Jesus? Do something simple and ordinary today knowing that Christ is present in all that you do.

Because in the light of the resurrection, we are living into a new normal, a new reality, where hope reigns and love can infuse the most ordinary acts.
This is resurrection for us and for our world: Christ in our new normal, Christ as our new normal.

Do you love Jesus? Live into his resurrection.

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