Sermon for Sunday, May 5, 2019 – “The Story Continues”

Third Sunday of Easter
May 5, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, I0wa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus. Amen.

I really love Superhero movies. So last weekend I was one of millions of people around the world who watched the latest movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Avengers: End Game. I know these movies aren’t for everyone, but I want to tell you about one aspect of them to help us enter our Gospel reading today. No knowledge of Marvel or the Avengers is needed on your part!

This movie was three hours long, and people were warned ahead of time to manage their fluid in- take so as to avoid needing to leave mid-movie. After three intense hours, plus previews, you’d think everyone would rush out of the theater when the movie ended, heading straight to the bath- room. But no, most everyone stayed in their seats waiting for extra movie scenes in the middle or at the end of all the credits. Every other Marvel movie made in the last 11 years has at least one extra scene, sometimes two. Usually these scenes tie in something that happened earlier in the Marvel universe or advanced the arc of the story. They set up what is coming next with great fore- shadowing and cliffhangers.

And since there have been 22 Marvel movies in 11 years, people have been well-trained to expect that little extra fun. People remained seated, waiting for it.

But this most recent movie, Avengers: End Game, has no extra scenes. When the credits end, the lights go on, the movie and the great saga of the Avengers is over. There will be other Marvel mov- ies but many of the beloved characters won’t be in them. Fans have known this was last Avengers movie, but without an extra scene it really hits home. This is it. It’s all over.

As my family’s been talking about the movie all week, I’ve been thinking that our Gospel reading today is a lot like an extra scene after the credits of a movie. It comes after what seems like the end of the Gospel of John. Jesus rises from the dead and appears to his followers three times – to Mary Magdalene and then to the male disciples twice. Three is a good symbolic number; it’s a wrap.

After those resurrection accounts we read: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” The end. Roll credits. Time to head to the bathroom.

But then we hear, “After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias.” Wait, there’s more. The story isn’t over. What follows works like an end-scene of a Marvel movie. It pulls in a bunch of different themes from the larger story and it sets up what is to come in the story of Jesus that still continues to this day. This is the end of John, not the end of the good news about Jesus, and it points to what is still to come, even now, for us today.

Just about everything that happens in this end-scene connects back to something earlier in the Jesus story. The disciples fish all night and come up empty, their hopes dashed, until Jesus appears on the scene. Once he shows up, there’s abundance and life busting out all over the place.

Something really similar happened three years earlier, the first time these guys met Jesus, when he called them to follow him. In this scene, Jesus feeds the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias with a meal of bread and fish, the same things he used to set a great feast for 5000 hungry people on the same shore earlier in the story.

During Jesus’ life, he was all about feeding and tending people, all about fullness where there was only emptiness, hope when all seemed lost. This end-scene sets us up to expect that this will continue. And beloved it has, it does. The risen Jesus continues to show up for you, even today, in word and song, bread and wine, and his body the church, to feed and nourish you. The risen Jesus comes to you today to fill you and give you hope. There is so much more to your story and to the world’s story than emptiness and despair. Jesus is present and at work in our world – still feeding, tending, providing. There’s another aspect to this end-scene. Jesus prepares a charcoal fire, and it was around a charcoal fire when Simon Peter denied being a disciple of Jesus, three times.

Here Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”, and three times tells Peter to feed and care for his flock of lambs and sheep. As he does this, he assures Peter he is forgiven and restores Peter back into the fold of the disciples. Jesus also charges Peter with continuing his own work. Earlier in the story, Jesus has said that he is the Good Shepherd. Now he tells Peter to do the work of being a good shepherd for his flock. Jesus asks Peter to take the abundance he’s received and share it with others.

Here we see an important way that Jesus still works to feed, tend and provide for the world – he does this through his flawed and forgiven disciples. The story of Jesus continues through them, through us.

Throughout the centuries, Jesus has worked through Peter, Paul, Ananias, John, you and me to feed and tend others, to share hope with a despairing world. I see this life and abundance busting out all over the place around here. We hosted the Path to Citizenship legal clinic here on Friday and we’re part of the Neighbors Helping Neighbors event today to be in solidarity with immigrant neighbors. Our Women of the ELCA organization hosted three joyous, nourishing events in the past three weeks. Our kids just raised $3000 to build wells in rural Africa.

Property and Management and Facilities Improvement Committees are working hard to make sure our building can help us live out our mission and we get to join that today on St. Grubby’s Day. We’ve had amazing music all spring, even with Brooke away, as the band, choir, jazz musicians, organists and pianists have given such rich offerings. The Worship and Music Committee gave us wonderful Holy Week and Easter services. Tuesday we’re providing a late evening meal for Muslim students during Ramadan, and Saturday we will live out the welcome that Jesus has called us to show to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people as we take part in the Decorah Pride Parade. I could go on and on, but you get the point – abundance busting out all over the place.

The story of Jesus is continuing. It does not end; there is always more. In a movie theater when you know there is more to come, you sit there, waiting. That’s not how it works with the story of Jesus. There is always more but we aren’t supposed to stay sitting, waiting for it. We are supposed to get up and join it. We have and we will – together. Here we are fed and nourished. Here we are sent to continue the story.

Thanks be to God.