Sunday, April 17, 2016

the 12 disciples...part 2 Goin' Fishing

As we move through the Easter Season we are taking a closer look at the disciples of Jesus - their lives, their backstories and how they used the gift of following Jesus to bless the world. Here is the sermon manuscript from week 2; Andrew, James, Nathanael and Philip (the fishing trip.)
It would be oh so very easy to write off the disciples – after last week’s readings from the Gospel of John. They seemed so afraid – hiding out in a room somewhere – doors locked – sequestered from the world – even though they were witnesses to the greatest miracle ever known. But that is often the case when we don’t have categories to explain the inexplicable, isn’t it? We don’t want to appear overly anxious – or foolish… and so we try to figure it out – sometimes even try to talk ourselves out of what we saw…or what we thought we saw and experienced.

It’s the same way with folks like you and me – we may have mountain top experiences – but if we don’t tend to them – and invest in re-sorting our lives – changing things up….well, now I’m getting ahead of myself.

John 21:1-14

Jesus appears again to the disciples

Later, Jesus himself appeared again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. This is how it happened: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.”

They said, “We’ll go with you.” They set out in a boat, but throughout the night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus.

Jesus called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
They answered him, “No.”

He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net.  Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked) and jumped into the water.  The other disciples followed in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they weren’t far from shore, only about one hundred yards.

When they landed, they saw a fire there, with fish on it, and some bread.  Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught.” Simon Peter got up and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three of them. Yet the net hadn’t torn, even with so many fish.  Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

For Peter – going fishing was as natural as breathing – same with Andrew, James and John – the sons of Zebedee. Maybe they went fishing because it was something physical, something that they enjoyed and would keep them fit – maybe they went fishing because it was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee – also known as the Sea of Tiberius – where they first encountered Jesus.

We don’t know from whom they borrowed the boat – maybe James and John borrowed it from their dad – I would imagine he’d be overjoyed to welcome his sons back to the family business. Peter, formerly a net casting fisherman from the side of the lake – might have been interested in joining in – after three years of traveling together – it made sense to return to what they knew. They had no clear sense of direction – and were open to just about anything.

But - it seems their fishing abilities were a bit rusty…they worked all night long and had nothing to show for it. You know that feeling don’t you? When you pour yourself into something and it seems all for naught.

As the sun started peaking up over the horizon they were floating back toward shore when a voice called out to them:

“Children, have you caught anything to eat?”

They answered him, “No.”

6 He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

Say what? the right side of the boat? who casts nets to the right side of the boat??

And yet – they did just what the stranger said – and John tells us:

there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

And in that moment – everything changed – again…

Because we have a God who was willing to enter into our human lives – who lived and breathed and lived and loved and toiled like you and I – Jesus knows – God knows that we are prone to return to the fall back position – to return to our old ways – even after an encounter with the Holy One. Even after we have been given a new vision for how life could be lived – living in and through the power of the Holy Spirit and the giftedness that we have been given.

God isn’t asking us to forget how to cast our nets – but to consider that there may be a new way to do what we do – a way that is more free – more authentic – and that leads to a new normal.

To live in the new normal we have to be willing to live in the tension of the in between – not quite heaven – but certainly not hell either. Not quite got it all figured out – but not floundering either – not quite there yet – but that’s ok – because I’m making progress…

And the progress is marked by abundance – abundant joy – abundant relationships and sometimes – abundant catches of fish!

For James and John, Thomas and Nathanael, Peter and the other two disciples along for the fishing expedition – it was a huge catch of fish – so huge that they even took time to count – so that if anyone asked or seemed skeptical they could say with conviction – 153 fish – all keepers too – and the net held – that in and of itself was miraculous!

Of course Peter, the impetuous one – was so excited to see if it truly was Jesus that he jumped over board and swam the 100 yards to shore – and when he arrived he found a fire with fish and bread cooking – a breakfast feast. They added some of the fish that they had just caught to the fire and sat down…still trying to figure things out… and Jesus blessed the bread – and broke it – and served it to his disciples… a holy meal – communion by the shore…absolutely lovely, don’t you think? A holy meal – with their friend Jesus.

I do find this curious – the end of verse 12…

None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

and yet – and yet – they weren’t quite sure…maybe they were embarrassed because they didn’t recognize him when they were out on their boat? – the disciple whom Jesus loved is the one who had called out earlier ‘it’s the Lord’…however they say nothing.

What this says to me is that God appears to us in ways that are both ordinary as well as extraordinary – and like the disciples, we have to learn how to recognize God in new ways…something we coined in our Wednesday noon bible study as the ‘new normal’

When we become a Christ follower we open ourselves up to living in a new way – a new way that forms and informs every part of our life. This new normal may seem odd at first – but when we lean into it and allow this new way of living to permeate all aspects of our lives we find that this new normal is a way of living that is more affirming, abundant – and joyful than before…

Last week we talked about Thomas – let’s spend a moment reflecting on the lives of the others who were casting their nets that morning – and how their experience of Jesus led to their new normal…I will caution that their new normal led to martyrdom – but that’s the way it was in the 1st Century church. Something that we aren’t familiar with today – but we need to remember that sacrifice is part of living as followers of Jesus.

Consider James – one of the Sons of Thunder – Zebedee’s son – was the first of the original disciples martyred. He was so passionate about telling the story of Jesus that when Herod decided it was time to stop the Church – James was the first man who had to die. His life was short – but his influence was great – he stood firm in the face of persecution and inspired his brothers to do likewise.

Nathanael – also known as Bartholomew, was introduced to Jesus by his friend Philip – the only scripture references we have about him are from the first chapter of John and then here in the 21st chapter… but from the beginning we know that Nathanael was able to make connections between Old Testament promises and Jesus – as the son of God – Jesus himself commended Nathanael on his knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures – he was most likely a steady companion –

he was convinced from the beginning that Jesus was the one promised – the Messiah. Tradition and legend credit Nathanael with missionary journeys with Philip. Nathanael was open, honest and filled to the brim with an unspoiled enthusiasm for the Good News of Jesus Christ!

We don’t know who the other two disciples were – but I’m going to add Andrew and Philip to the mix, since Andrew was Peter’s brother and Philip and Nathanael were best of friends – it would make sense…

Andrew – J. Ellsworth Kalas, in his book the 13 disciples writes about Andrew: Someone has said that Andrew was both the first home missionary and the first foreign missionary – He was a home missionary in the winning of his brother, Simon (also called Peter) and a foreign missionary when he brought the Greeks to Jesus. Andrew is the patron saint of Greece – and of Scotland (as those of you who are golfers might have figured out). It is said that the governor of Patras in Greece hated Andrew because Andrew converted his wife and brother to Christ, so he condemned Andrew to death – according to tradition he was tortured and bound to an X shaped cross – what is still known as St Andrews Cross to this day – and as he died (alas over several days) he preached to all who passed by…his final prayer being “Would, Father, that I had time to teach truth to my murderers….”

And then there’s Philip – another early follower of Jesus Philip was known for his more reserved and logical nature. Read stories about Philip in scripture and he will be the one who is more by the numbers (which is probably why all of those fish were counted!). Something we don’t know about Philip is that his name was a Greek name – why his Jewish parents would give him a Greek name is unknown, but this opened doors for him to travel more widely as an evangelist – he became one of the great missionary preachers to Asia – and was martyred at Hierapolis.

Next week we will continue the story of the meal by the Sea of Tiberius – with the stories of Peter and John…two of Jesus’ closest friends.

As we look closer at the lives of the Apostles – we are reminded these were ordinary folk – just like you and me – they had doubts, they weren’t perfect – but they were faithful in trying to understand their world and how God was calling them to use their gifts to build up the Kingdom of heaven…

Not unlike what you and I are doing each and every day of the week. When we sign on to follow Christ – when we proclaim that Jesus is indeed our Lord and Savior – we are signing on to live in a new normal – a new way of being that can make some pretty significant demands upon us –but can also bless us in ways that we hardly imagined!

Enjoy the journey my friends – and know that God calls each and every one of us by name….and that we have gifts that are needed to make this world a better place for all people. How we use those gifts is the question…my challenge is to remind us not to waste what God has given us through the power of the Holy Spirit.


the 12 disciples...part 1 (Doubting Thomas)

As we move through the Easter Season we are taking a closer look at the disciples of Jesus - their lives, their backstories and how they used the gift of following Jesus to bless the world. Here is the sermon manuscript from week 1; Thomas, aka Doubting Thomas.

As an introduction to this morning’s gospel lesson – I’d like to finish the reading from Easter Sunday – as you remember, the women – Mary Magdalene and others, went out to the tomb and found the guards passed out from fright, the stone rolled away and an angel greeting them with the Good News that Jesus was risen! They even met him in the cemetery garden – and Jesus told the women to share with the others that he was risen – and would meet them in Galilee and then he sent them away.

Matthew 28:11:15

11 Now as the women were on their way, some of the guards came into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 They met with the elders and decided to give a large sum of money to the soldiers. 13 They told them, “Say that Jesus’ disciples came at night and stole his body while you were sleeping. 14 And if the governor hears about this, we will take care of it with him so you will have nothing to worry about.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were told. And this report has spread throughout all Judea to this very day.

Things did not look good for the followers of Jesus. And so we turn to the Gospel of John for the rest of the story…

John 20:19-31

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

24 Thomas, the one called the twin, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”

26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”

28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.

I don’t know about you, but I believe Thomas, aka Doubting Thomas, gets a bum rap. Over the years Thomas has been lifted up as an example that of course – seeing is believing…but truth be told, given that Thomas wasn’t with the other Christ followers locked away in a room, I might add, frightened out of their wits, Thomas undoubtedly heard the rumors flying around Jerusalem, spread by unholy alliance made between the guards and the religious officials – Jesus’ body was stolen by the remaining followers as a ruse – to make everyone THINK that Jesus was risen. A likely story…

‘I want to see it for myself,’ Thomas declared. In the muddled up mess that was the early church, Thomas wanted cold hard facts.

Thomas isn’t any different from most of us. We want to know – without a shadow of a doubt – that Jesus IS Risen – because if this is true – then this changes everything. Christ’ resurrection - not resuscitation mind you – but resurrection – is a game changer. How so? Note in verse 19:

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”

and again a week later in verse 26

26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”

A resuscitated Jesus does not walk through closed doors – but a resurrected Jesus does. And acknowledging how mind boggling this all is, Jesus offers the words: “Peace be with you.”

Thomas – now confronted with the reality of Jesus resurrection is brought to his knees – and proclaims…”My Lord and My God”

It was a game changer for Thomas. Seeing was believing – and because he saw – not only that day, but several more times during Jesus’ 40 days with his disciples before his ascension to heaven – after the day of Pentecost we don’t hear anything more from Thomas in the scriptures.

But historical records of other sorts do give us a sketch of what was next for Thomas the twin…

According to reliable traditions Thomas preached throughout much of Asia – and especially in the region we call India. In the 1500s when Portugese explorers arrived in India they found a church there that identified itself as the Church of Saint Thomas; and a 6th Century book tells us that a traveler in India found a church in Malabar, as well as a bishop in Galiana, south of Bombay. According to tradition, Thomas died a martyr’s death, on a mountain that now bears his name – Mount Thomas. His death came by the piercing of a lance, and so the symbol for Thomas is the lance, for his martyrdom and a carpenter’s triangle since he was supposed to be a carpenter by trade.

Thomas – known for doubting – seems to have traveled the farthest to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the world!

What about each of us – how has our experience of Jesus infused our lives? How and with whom are we sharing our God moments – or are we waiting to see before we can be all in for God?

I think faith contains a lot of both/and moments…Thomas held back – he wasn’t quite sure what to believe – and yet when he was confronted with the risen Lord he went all in…

Have you had a God experience that has changed your life? If not, what evidence do you need to be all in for Christ?

I asked some of our youth this same question the other night – and one was brave enough to say what many Christians say – my faith is a private, personal thing… Thomas shows us another way – a bold way – a way that may just be more suited to our 21st century ways…

First – you must be present to win – Thomas doubted because he missed out on Jesus first visit with the larger group of disciples… I’m sure he was trying to process what all he had seen himself the earlier week – but the others were together – when we are confronted with doubts, fears and loss – being in community with one another makes a difference – you must be present to win.

Second – seeing IS believing – when you have a God experience – name it a claim it for what it is – God is present in the ordinary and the extra-ordinary – I firmly believe this is true – but I also know that I am often so busy that I don’t take time to tune in to God. We could all use some remedial work in this area – open our eyes Lord – I want to see Jesus…

And Finally – tell someone about it – the Good News is just that – its good – and its news – its meant to be shared…one of the things I appreciate most about Facebook is the opportunity to see pictures posted by people. To post a picture is to say – I saw something in this – and I want to share it with others because I hope that it has meaning for you too…

Thomas did just this traveling far and wide in places you wouldn’t expect – to share the Good News that God did indeed send the Messiah – we know him as Jesus – and in and through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension we may know God and be in relationship with God that is life affirming, loving and that compels us to love the world with open arms. To seek peace, justice and extend mercy to others – but especially the least, the lost, the widow and the orphan.

As we prepare to be fortified by the sacrament of Holy Communion – let us also laugh at death – with great joy – as we join Thomas and others in proclaiming that Jesus is our Lord and our God! Alleluia – Christ is RISEN!

in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.