Monthly Archives: May 2019

The Peace that Jesus Gives – Sermon on John 14:23-29 for Easter 6C

May 26, 2019

We are still in the upper room from last week, it’s still Maundy Thursday. It may seem strange to be reading about events from Holy Week during the season of Eastertide, but in John’s gospel, these are the chapters where we learn from Jesus himself what living into resurrection reality truly means.

Last week, we heard Jesus tell his disciples he was going where they could not follow him. This was upsetting news. They’d been following him 24/7 for three years. They were just beginning to figure it out, they thought, and now Jesus was telling them he was leaving, and they couldn’t come with him. Continue reading


Love Each Other – Sermon on John 13:31-35 for Easter 5C

May 15, 2022

Today’s gospel takes us back to holy week and events that led up to the crucifixion. It might seem strange to hear this reading in the middle of Eastertide, but I cant help but wonder if the disciples were doing the same thing in those weeks just after the resurrection, too – remembering the stories, what Jesus said, how the events played out just as he had predicted. They were cementing in their collective memory the gospel that would be preached throughout the world.

It’s the same gospel we proclaim now: Christ died, was buried, rose again, and ascended to his Father’s side to rule the kingdom of God. That kingdom is already present among us, and we who claim Christ as Lord and Savior are part of it. Rehearsing these stories again and again keeps us in the faith, and keeps the faith alive in us. Repeating these stories for each other keeps them from becoming diluted or distorted over time.

Today’s passage takes us back to that final meal Jesus shared with his disciples. In John’s version, this meal happens on the night before Passover begins. According to John, “Jesus will be crucified at about the same time that the lambs are sacrificed in the Temple in preparation for the Passover meal.”[1] But John gives us something the other gospel authors do not: he tells us in great detail what Jesus said to his disciples during this final night they have together.

So, put yourself back in that upper room with the twelve. Find your place at one of the tables that have been arranged around the room in the shape of a “U.” As the host, Jesus is sitting near the end of the U shape, and John is on the end, next to Jesus. John is in the “right-hand man” spot, ready to get up and provide anything the host requires during the meal. Since Judas is sharing a dish with Jesus, he must be reclining on Jesus’ left, which is the guest of honor spot. … Peter is probably on the other end of the U shaped arrangement, where he can get John’s attention and keep his eyes on Jesus throughout the meal.

Jesus has washed the feet of each disciple, demonstrating the kind of servant-hood he wants them to show one another. But after he has washed their feet and returned to his place, Jesus becomes troubled, and announces that one of the twelve will betray him. It’s the guest of honor, the one who is dipping his hand into the same dish as Jesus. Judas leaves, and Jesus turns to the rest of his disciples to teach them one last time.

When he [that is, Judas] had gone out Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.
Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.’
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:31-35)

In these few verses we find three major themes: Christ’s glorification, preparation for his upcoming departure, and the new commandment to love each other. Paradox is laced through all three of these themes.

Here’s the first paradox: Christ’s glory is only revealed because of betrayal. Remember that Jesus says these things to his disciples just after Judas has left to betray him, and just before he tells Peter, “before the rooster crows you will deny me three times” (v 38). Betrayal is woven throughout this chapter. And bound together with that betrayal is the glorification of Christ.

Think about it. For God to be glorified in Christ, Jesus has to be lifted up in death, and that can only happen if Judas turns him over to the authorities. Unless Judas betrays Jesus, there is no crucifixion. Judas is the instrument God uses to glorify Christ “at once” as Jesus dies on the cross.

When Peter denies being associated with Jesus, he sets the stage for God to glorify Christ in the future. For Christ to be glorified in himself, Jesus has to be lifted up in resurrection, redeeming us all from sin and death. Peter’s redemption depends on his initial denial. Peter’s reinstatement after the resurrection will bring glory to God through the establishment of Christ’s church.

I think this whole idea of ‘glory’ can be confusing. Either we fall into the temptation to bring glory to ourselves instead of giving glory to God, or we fail to see how our lives glorify God’s grace by the very fact we need redeeming. And what does this word ‘glory’ really mean, anyway?

Scholars describe the glory of God as “the character, nature, and revelation of God found in the relationship and actions between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” In other words, God’s glory is God’s character revealed through the interactions of the Trinity.

Your glory is your character and nature revealed in what you do and how you interact with others. Glory is our true self, showing through. You might be thinking, “that’s not necessarily a good thing. My true self is weak and selfish. My true self is … sinful. I’d just as soon nobody saw my ‘glory.’”

Yet, in Christ, your glory is transformed. The Apostle Paul writes that God’s Spirit bears witness “with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:16-18).

For God’s glory to be revealed to us and in us, we must experience God’s grace. That brings us to another paradox: the One who says, “Follow me” also says, “You can’t come where I’m going.”

Back in John 8, Jesus said this to the crowds, and they asked “What are you talking about – are you going to kill yourself?” (John 8:21-22) In the very next verse after today’s passage, Jesus will say it again when Peter asks, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus will say, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow me afterward” (v. 36). Peter will protest, “Why can’t I follow you now? I would lay down my life for you!” (v. 37) and Jesus will say, “Really?”

Aren’t we just like Peter? Impetuously declaring our intention to follow Jesus at all costs, but when it comes down to it, when our identity is challenged, when we think following Jesus makes us look weird or won’t help us fit in with the people we want to impress, whenever following Jesus just isn’t convenient, we downplay our commitment. We soft-pedal our devotion.

Peter knows exactly how we feel. And just as Jesus knew exactly how Peter would react under pressure, Jesus knows our hearts. He still says, “Follow me,” even as he says, “There’s more beyond what you can see now. There’s more beyond what you can experience, given your human limitations. There’s more, and you can’t go there yet, but you will. In the meantime, here’s what it really means to follow me: Love each other. ”

This is the third paradox in today’s passage. The Old Testament commandment is made completely new. Because he is going away, the disciples need a new way to identify themselves and be identified by the world. That way is love.

This is the ‘new commandment’ Jesus gives, but it sounds a lot like the ‘greatest commandment’ Jesus recited from Deuteronomy and Leviticus when the young lawyer in Matthew’s gospel tried to test him (Matt 22:34-40). That commandment can be summed up as “love God, love neighbor.” What is “new” is the way this command teaches us to love our neighbors, not as we love ourselves, but as Christ loves us.

This raises the bar, doesn’t it? Because I have to confess that I don’t always love myself very well, so loving my neighbor as I love myself might not be so difficult. It might not require very much from me. But if I am going to love someone as Christ has loved me, I have to be willing to lay down my life for that person. This is the kind of sacrificial love Christ commands us to have for each other. Loving each other as Jesus has loved us identifies us as belonging to Christ.

The command to love is not a command to feel something. It’s a command to do something. It’s a command to serve each other, take care of one another. How we do that shows the rest of the world what it means to follow Jesus, and what it means to be loved by God.

John opened this chapter with the statement that, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). He loved his disciples fully, to the end, every one of them. John closes the chapter with the new commandment from Jesus to love one another, just as Jesus has loved: fully, to the end, every one of us.

Just as Jesus could wash Judas’ feet, and feed him the bread and cup he shared with all the disciples at his last meal, he expects us to offer grace and hospitality to all our sisters and brothers, even the ones who insult us, even the ones who talk about us behind our backs. Even the ones who don’t much like us. Jesus “loved them to the end” so that we might love one another in just the same way.

John was called the “beloved disciple.” It’s the adjective “beloved” that marks our identity even more than the noun “disciple.”[1]

From the island of Patmos, John will later write a letter that says, “We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:19-20).

This kind of love leads to just one thing: our transformation. How are we changed when we know we are loved? How are we changed when we love someone else? How does the way we love bring glory to God, and keep us following Jesus even when he’s gone from our sight?

As United Methodists, we say that our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I think sometimes we forget that transforming the world has to start in us. We have to allow ourselves to be transformed by Christ’s redeeming love before we can offer it to anyone else. Sometimes I think, instead of finding ways to love each other, we seem determined to turn our backs on each other.

I don’t think this is what John Wesley had in mind when he preached a sermon on “Catholic Spirit”[2] that said, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.”

Three years ago, as I preached on this passage, our denomination was in turmoil over the questions of allowing same-sex weddings and ordaining gay clergy. I predicted “the future doesn’t look good for the United Methodist Church to remain ‘united’ very much longer,” and that prediction has, unfortunately proven true. May 1st marked the beginning of the Global Methodist Church, and a couple of congregations here in Minnesota have indicated they are leaving the United Methodist Church to join this new denomination. But I’m not too worried about United Methodist Church as an institution.

Human beings develop institutions to serve human purposes. We belong to something greater. We belong to the Kingdom of God. Our identity is not in an institution or an organizational structure or a legal system. Our identity is in Jesus Christ, who loves us, who died for us, who rose again, who rules over heaven and earth, and who will one day come in glory to call us to himself.

Our purpose, as beloved children of God, is only this one thing: to love. To love without judgment. To love without fear. To love without bias, or qualification, or exception. To love as Christ has loved us.

We are to love the people we want to love and the people we can’t stand.
We are to love the people who live the way we think they should, and we are to love the people who don’t.
We are to love the people who are just like us, and the people who are so different from us we can’t see how we have anything in common.
We are to love as Jesus loved, including people in our lives, walking beside them, eating with them, caring for them, listening to them, including ‘them’ as an integral part of ‘us.’

Because that’s what Jesus says. Love. Each. Other.

Each other. Each and every other. Until there is no longer any division. Or, as the Apostle Paul writes to the Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female: for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). Love each other, until the kingdom of God is completely filled with people God has chosen in his infinite mercy to love.

[1] James E. Lamkin, Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 2, 278

The Shepherd’s Voice – Sermon on John 10:22-30

May 8, 2022
Easter 4C (Mothers’ Day)

Good Shepherd Sunday always falls on the fourth Sunday of Easter, and the gospel text always comes from the tenth chapter of John. But each segment of that chapter offers a different perspective on Christ as our good shepherd. The first ten verses describe Jesus as the Gate through which his sheep pass safely. The next section describes how the good shepherd is willing to lay down his own life for the sheep. In today’s passage, we learn how the shepherd’s voice identifies which sheep belong to the shepherd. Continue reading

Gone Fishing – Sermon on John 21:1-19 Easter 3C

May 5, 2019

Each of the gospel writers gives us a slightly different take on the events surrounding Christ’s Resurrection. In Matthew, there’s an earthquake as an angel of the Lord rolls away the stone and gives a message for the disciples to the women who’ve come to the tomb. Go tell them to meet Jesus in Galilee, the angel says.

In Mark, the angel sends the women away with the same message – tell the disciples that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee, and he will meet you there. Only Mark leaves the women so afraid that they don’t tell anyone anything.

Luke gives us the story of the disciples who encounter the risen Christ on the way to Emmaus, and as soon as they get back to Jerusalem to tell the others, Jesus appears in their midst, and asks for something to eat to prove he isn’t a ghost. They give him some broiled fish. John tells us about Jesus appearing to the disciples while Thomas is out of the room, and then re-appearing a week later, just for Thomas.

Do you notice how each of these stories is a little different from the others, but there’s some overlap? We are getting bits and pieces of the story, told from different vantage points. Not everyone remembers the same details. No detail is remembered in exactly the same way.

Yet, together, they give us a more complete picture of the events that followed immediately after Jesus rose from the dead. And apparently, somewhere along the line, the disciples decided to head home to Galilee. Just as the angel said, they meet Jesus there.

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.  Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:1-19)

There are really two stories in today’s reading. One has to do with fish, and the other with sheep. Today, we’re going to concentrate on the fish story. We’ll get to talk about sheep next week, I promise.

New Testament experts often point out that one way we can tell the resurrection stories are true is that they don’t always show the disciples in the best light. If the disciples of Jesus had made up the story, they would surely have given themselves a more faithful response to the news that Jesus had risen from the dead. Their own part in the story would have been more heroic and flattering.

Instead, we read about their disbelief, their failure to accept the women’s eyewitness account as anything more than an idle tale. Time and again, the people who knew Jesus best fail to recognize him when he shows up. And here, we see them spending an entire night fishing, but coming up empty. It’s not exactly a flattering picture, and that’s one reason we can believe this story is true.

They’ve fished all night, and now it is morning. The sun hasn’t come up yet, but in the gray light of early dawn, they can see a charcoal fire on the shore. And even though they’ve caught no fish, they can tell that someone is cooking fish up there on the rocks.

They aren’t far from shore, and the person cooking calls out, “Children, you haven’t caught anything, have you?” It’s less of a question and more of an answer to their unasked questions, the ones that have been bothering them ever since the crucifixion.

What’s the point in following Jesus, if he’s just going to leave us? We thought he was the One – how could we have been so blind? What meaning can we find in our lives now, without him?

And while all these questions are swirling through their heads, they haven’t caught a single fish. They also haven’t caught a single thing Jesus tried to teach them about death and resurrection. They are like those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the ones Jesus called foolish and slow of heart. (Luke 24:25) Here, he calls them children. You haven’t caught anything, have you. “No,” they answer.

“Well, try throwing your net off the other side of the boat.” And suddenly, the net is full of fish. Large fish. 153 different larger fish.

This sounds a lot like the story in Luke 5, at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, where Jesus climbs into Simon’s boat to put some space between himself and the crowd. “Put out into deep water and let down your nets,” Jesus tells Simon. “Okay, if you say so,” Simon answers, “but we’ve been fishing all night and haven’t caught anything.”

When the nets come up full to bursting, Simon falls on his knees and confesses his own sinfulness and Jesus as his Lord. Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will catch people instead of fish.” (Luke 5:1-11)

So now, as the boat brings in this large haul of fish, John realizes who that person is up there on the shore. He tells Peter, “Hey, it’s the Lord!” And Peter throws on some clothes and jumps into the water. He swims to shore while the others bring in the boat, with the net full of fish.

Jesus says, “bring some of the fish you have caught,” and Peter jumps back into the water to haul in the catch. Then they all sit down to breakfast: Grilled fish and broken bread. The hillside where Jesus fed 5000 with bread and fish is not very far away. It’s possible this coincidence is not lost on the disciples, any more than the similarity with that earlier fishing trip.

This meal of bread and fish is the closest John’s gospel ever gets to describing what we have come to know as Communion. Instead of a supper before Christ’s crucifixion, John gives the disciples a post-resurrection breakfast with Jesus. Instead of an ending, this meal is a beginning.

There are two little details we need to be sure we notice here. First, Jesus doesn’t need their fish. He is already cooking while their nets are still empty. But when they follow his commands, he invites them to add their fish to the food he has already prepared.

Jesus uses what we bring, and adds it to the work he is already doing in our lives. He invites us to share in a feast that he has already prepared, including whatever gifts we can contribute. Jesus doesn’t need our fish, but when we follow his commands, he can multiply what we have to offer, and include it with what he offers us.

Second, when the expert fishermen have come up empty using their own methods, Jesus gives them a simple command to change the way they do things, and they are suddenly blessed with abundance.

Whole books have been written about the significance of the 153 fish that fill their net. The most commonly accepted interpretation of this number comes from the 4th century theologian Jerome, who writes that there were 153 different species of fish known in first century Galilee. The net wasn’t just filled with 153 fish, but 153 different kinds of fish, symbolizing the extent to which fishing for people would go – to the whole world.

Maybe Jerome got it right, maybe not. But one thing is certain. The net was empty all night long as the fishermen used their tried-and-true fishing techniques. When they followed Jesus’ direction to do things differently, the net was full of large fish, and it didn’t break. Their capacity to catch fish grew with their obedience. We might learn something from that.

We might learn that “the way we’ve always done things” maybe doesn’t work so well anymore. We might learn that we have to go in the opposite direction of where we’ve always gone, in order to reach the people Jesus wants us to reach. We might learn that there are a lot more fish out there than we realized, and a lot more than we can actually handle on our own.

We might learn to listen to Jesus, as we’ve been trying to do all through the season of Lent. Only now it’s Eastertide, and his voice might be harder to recognize, especially when it tells us things that seem to contradict what we thought was right, what we thought was important.

Jesus is going to pull Peter aside after breakfast, and ask him three times “Do you love me?” Three times, Simon Peter will say yes, and the guilt of denying Jesus three times will be erased. Jesus will end that conversation the same way he invited Simon and the other disciples to join him at the beginning of his ministry. “Follow me,” is all he says.

“Follow me,” Jesus calls to us now. “Follow me,” whether we are fishing or tending his sheep. “Follow me,” when he calls us to change the way we’ve always done things, so that he can bless us with abundance. “Follow me,” as he prepares a feast for us that combines what he provides with what we offer of ourselves. “Follow me” into such a close friendship, such a deep love, that all can be forgiven, and all can be made whole.