Category Archives: Easter

Unanswered Prayer – Sermon on John 17:20-26 for Easter 7C

June 2, 2019

We are caught in a time warp. This is the Sunday when we celebrate Christ’s ascension into heaven, as we heard in the reading from Acts a few moments ago. But it is also the final Sunday in the season of Eastertide, and throughout this season we have been listening to Jesus’ talk with his disciples on the night before his crucifixion.

On the one hand, we should be looking up into the heavens as the resurrected Christ returns to his Father. On the other hand, we are still in the upper room, and the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday haven’t happened yet. We are caught in a time warp between pre-crucifixion and post-resurrection. Continue reading

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 19, 2018

We seem to be hitting the rewind button during this season of Eastertide – we keep going back over events that led up to the crucifixion. I think the disciples must have been 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. Continue reading

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

May 12, 2019
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.

Looking for Resurrection – Sermon for Easter C on Luke 24:1-12

April 21, 2019

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.

The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.

Continue reading

Astounded by Grace – Sermon on Acts 10:44-48 for Easter 6B

May 6, 2018

Our readings from Acts during this season of Eastertide have given us a glimpse of the early church. We have seen a healing miracle provide a way for disciples of Jesus to tell others about their personal experience of Christ’s resurrection. The Holy Spirit has been on the move. Thousands have come to believe in Jesus.

Last week, you heard how the Holy Spirit nudged Philip to follow a chariot on its way to Gaza. Inside that chariot was an African eunuch – just about the last person on earth a good Jew would engage in conversation.

This African Gentile is a eunuch, or as my friend Pastor Shawna says, “a person of questionable sexuality.” Jewish law would have specifically forbidden coming into contact with such an unclean person. Yet Philip did, and the newly baptized Ethiopian eunuch becomes the very first missionary to the African continent.

In between last week’s story and this week’s reading are the conversion of Saul on his way to Damascus, and the raising of Tabitha from death in Joppa (ch 9). It’s been a busy week for the early church.

Peter has stayed in Joppa with Simon the Tanner, and one day, as he is praying around noon, he has a vision of a sheet full of animals being let down from heaven. A voice tells him to kill and eat – but there’s a problem. All the animals in the sheet are … unclean. Peter insists that he can’t do what the voice commands. He’s never eaten an unclean thing in his life. The voice tells him, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” (10:15) This happens three times. Peter can’t figure out what it means. Continue reading

Christ the Cornerstone – Sermon on Acts 4:5-12 Easter 4B

April 22, 2018
Watch a video of this sermon here. 

Here’s where we are in our Easter season readings from the book of Acts. It’s the day after Peter and John healed a man who had been crippled since birth. This man, who had never walked a day in his life, has danced and leaped around Solomon’s Porch, praising God. People came running to see what was happening, and Peter – filled with the Holy Spirit – has preached his second sermon.

The first was at Pentecost, where 3000 people believed and were baptized in the Name of Jesus. This time, even more are moved to repentance and they join the believers. This church is growing and it hasn’t even started calling itself a church yet! But it is making the priests and temple rulers nervous. Continue reading

Worship in a Blizzard

April 15, 2018

On Friday, this deck was clear. Then the hail came, followed by a couple inches of rain and sleet. When the snow started early Saturday morning, there was no way to know how much we would get, or how long it would last. By early afternoon, however, it was clear we needed to cancel worship. Highways and county roads had been closed, and the blizzard warnings had been extended into Sunday afternoon. By Sunday morning, we had more than a foot of snow, and it was still coming down.

So we tried something new. We broadcast the worship service from my living room on the church’s Facebook page.  With only a couple of small changes from what would have been the order of worship at First United Methodist Church, my husband played the piano for all the hymns. We even had an Offering! – inviting people to contribute via the church PayPal account.

Using my laptop to run the presentation slides for the service, and my phone to record the video, I preached from my tablet – a technological trifecta. Here is the order of worship, with the link to the Facebook Live video and a link back to the sermon text. Here’s the best part: about six times as many people have watched the video in the first few hours of its existence than would have participated in corporate worship on a normal Sunday at First Church. Here’s the Order of Worship we used: Continue reading

Why Do You Wonder? Sermon on Acts 3:12-19 for Easter 3B

April 15, 2018
Worship at First UMC New Ulm was cancelled because of a blizzard. So we improvised and broadcast the “service” on Facebook Live from my living room. You can view just the sermon here. 

I’ve never, ever cancelled a worship service before. I wasn’t expecting to cancel this Sunday either – I know that I can walk to church, even if the roads aren’t drivable. And I know there are those of you who will faithfully show up, even when it would be safer for you to stay at home. And there’s always the possibility that someone we don’t know yet will be looking for a place to worship on a Sunday morning. So cancelling worship is a big deal for me.

But sometimes our expectations don’t match up with reality. When April dumps a foot (or more) of snow on top of hail, sleet, and a couple of inches of rain, we go beyond amazed or surprised. We are utterly astonished. But maybe the reality of a foot of snow in April is God’s way of getting our attention, to get us to try a different way of ministering and worshiping than the way we normally do it.

For the first three Sundays after Easter, our readings in Acts depend on the story of the crippled man healed at the Beautiful Gate. Each reading refers back to this miraculous healing story, but never includes it. It’s a story full of amazement, astonishment, and wonder. And yet, amazing as it is, the healing isn’t what’s important here. Continue reading