Category Archives: Faith

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.

Listen to Him: The ONE Thing – Sermon on Luke 18:18-31

April 7, 2019
Luke 18:18-30

If this story sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because we heard it last October, only from Mark’s gospel instead of Luke’s. The two accounts are almost identical. They both describe the way wealth gets in between Jesus and us – not because money is an evil thing, but because it’s so easy to make money into an idol. The rich ruler didn’t have wealth, so much as wealth had him. His dependence on that wealth was all that stood between him and becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

So as we listen to Jesus, we have to ask ourselves “What am I letting stand between me and Jesus? What’s getting in the way, what’s preventing me from getting closer to Christ so I can listen to him more completely? Continue reading

Listen to Him: Lost and Found – Sermon on Luke 15:1-32

March 31, 2019
Lent 4C

What’s your favorite story? Is it one you read when you were young, or maybe heard your parents tell you over and over? When our sons were young enough we could still tell them what to do, we made them sit through all of Lawrence of Arabia. We kept telling them we wanted them to be culturally literate, so they could get half of the jokes that flew past them when they watched the Simpsons.

Stories shape our worldview. They help us make sense of things we don’t understand. Stories teach us how to get along in the world, how to deal with hardships and challenges, how to behave toward others. It’s how the Inuit raise their children to be gentle and never explode in anger – they use storytelling to help young children understand the consequences of their actions.[1]

Jesus fully understood the power of storytelling. That’s why he used parables so often in his teaching. Stories helped the people who were listening to Jesus get a better grasp of who God is, and just how much God loves us.

So here we are, in the fifteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel, and once again, it’s story time. Here we are, following Jesus toward Jerusalem for the last time, and once again, we find Jesus at a table. Continue reading

When Bad Things Happen – Sermon on Luke 13:1-9

Lent 3C
March 24, 2019

In the Friday from First message, I mentioned a fancy theological term for the question, “How can a good and loving God allow bad things to happen to people?” That term is theodicy. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test. You don’t have to remember the term. But it’s the first thing we think of when catastrophes happen, especially when they happen to us, or to people we know.

Why does God allow evil to thrive? How can God just stand by and watch as hundreds of people are killed by a cyclone ripping through Mozambique and Madagascar, or while dozens of people are gunned down in Christchurch, New Zealand? How can someone who has never smoked a single cigarette die from lung cancer? How does a perfectly healthy young mother, who has devoted her life to ministry, die abruptly from an infection? Where is God in all that suffering? Continue reading

Lent: The Season of Rotten Snow

This was part of my weekly e-mail message to the congregation of First United Methodist Church, New Ulm, Minnesota for March 15, 2019.

Last night, just as I was turning out the kitchen light, I heard a crashing thump. At first, I thought that Bruce had fallen while getting ready for bed. I called upstairs, “Are you all right?”  “I’m fine, but the gutter isn’t,” he answered. I stepped outside and looked at the roof of our porch. A giant ice dam that had been melting over the past couple of days had fallen, and it had taken a four-foot length of rain gutter with it. 

Years ago, I started calling this time of year The Season of Rotten Snow. Just as we are getting into the season of Lent, when we ask God to reveal to us the dark corners of our souls and the sin we hide there, a winter’s worth of snow is melting away. The pristine white landscapes of December are gone. Now there is only this gray, slushy mess, revealing all the trash and dirt that has accumulated over the winter.

The Season of Rotten Snow reminds us that we have work to do in our hearts. It’s time to clear out the anger and animosity, the complacency and self-centeredness, the resignation and hopelessness that have been building up in our souls. As melting snow reveals all the dirt of a winter, Lent reveals all the sin that we’ve let slide undetected into our lives.

And if we don’t want that sin to bring us to ruin, just as that ice dam brought the rain gutter to ruin, it’s time to acknowledge it for what it is: sin. It’s time to give it over to Christ, ask forgiveness, and be healed. May this Season of Rotten Snow reveal not only your sin to you, but Christ’s abundant, gracious, forgiving love. May you find healing in repentance, and peace in forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Lord.