An ELCA pastor shares his thoughts about the Bible, spirituality, the world, and LGBT issues.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Holy Trinity

HOLY TRINITY  Prov 8:1-4
5/22/16 David Eck

     I have to confess that thinking about the Holy Trinity exhausts me! I mean, seriously, who REALLY wants to talk about the theological significance of God who is revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit? It sounds like a term paper we did in High School. The teacher told us it had to be five pages long. We fiddled with the font size and margin spacing. We stretched it this way and that, until we had five pages of words that had very little to do with the subject matter at hand! You know what I mean? Surely somebody besides me is guilty of doing this!
     Way back in the day, St. Augustine, one of the greatest minds of Western thought, had the audacity to write a 15 volume essay on the subject. It was entitled "On the Trinity." It took him over a decade to write it. Seriously? Did we really need this? Did anybody actually read it? And if they did read it, did it bring them any closer to God or to a deeper understanding of how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together as a whole? I doubt it!
     During the 300's the early church fathers [I say church fathers because they didn't bother to ask any women about the subject. Maybe that was their first mistake!] The early church fathers began shaping creeds about the Trinity that people had to believe or they were considered to be heretics. The most well known of these creeds is the Apostle's Creed which we say every week in worship. It was written as early as 390 to the mid 400s. It's short and to the point! I believe in God the Father, I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, I believe in the Holy Spirit.
     But I must confess there are portions of this Creed I say with my fingers crossed behind my back. I can't say I believe every word of the Apostles' Creed as it's written. Most people are relived when I say this because, secretly, they feel the same way!
     The Nicene Creed was written in 325. It's a little bit longer. It includes strange, mysterious phrases like "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made." What in the world are they trying to tell us? Do all these words make the Trinity any more understandable? I don't think so.
     Finally the Athanasian Creed same along in the 500's and took the Creeds to their logical, or insane conclusion, depending upon how we look at it! Lutherans even stopped printing the Athanasian Creed in their worship books because nobody ever used it.
     Let me give you a sample of what it says: "Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that they hold the catholic faith...and the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. for there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit." Trust me, it goes downhill from there! God save us from our need to talk a subject to death!
     The cacophony of words has continued for nearly two thousand years. Yet, we are no closer today to understanding the Trinity than when Jesus told us he was going to send us the Advocate, "the Spirit of truth," who would "guide us into all the truth." [John 16]
     This is why the Holy Trinity is so exhausting to me. Somehow we believe if we just keep talking about it, if we throw enough words at it, we'll finally get it right. We'll grasp the true essence of the Trinity. And so the tsunami of words continued from the early church fathers to this present day.
     Conservative Lutherans believe if we don't begin our worship in the specific name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and make the sign of the cross while doing so, we aren't conducting authentic Lutheran worship. We can feel their stares of disapproval and they try to shine the light on our misguided ways.
     Progressive Lutherans will use just about anything in place of these three words! Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Divine Parent, Child of God, Holy Wisdom. The God above us, the God beside us, the God within us. [The last one is mine!] Again, it's just more words on both sides. It's exhausting. It doesn't bring us any closer to God or closer to each other. Do you hear what I'm saying? Somehow I don't think the Holy Trinity is meant to be a battleground of words, theological concepts, and scholarly opinions. It has to mean more than this!
     And so, on this Holy Trinity Sunday, I stand before you like Lady Wisdom, the voice of understanding crying out. I'm taking a stand at the highest place in our sanctuary, [unless I stood on a chair] so that everyone can see me. I'm crying out, "O people! I am calling to you;  I have a message for all humanity." The message is as follows: It's not about theology. It's about relationship. Do you hear me? It's not about theology. It's about relationship.
     The Holy Trinity is NOT something that should be argued about, dissected and debated. The Holy Trinity is something to be experienced, encountered and treasured. It's not a term paper. It's a life-changer! Do you understand what I'm saying? The Holy Trinity is not about theology. It's about relationship. t's the story of God who loves us so passionately and deeply that God arrived on our doorstep in several different forms. The hope is that at least one of these forms will resonate with us and bring us into a deep, transformational relationship with God. It doesn't matter what we call the Trinity. It matters that we experience it.  Amen?
     And so today we celebrate God as FATHER. Eternal Parent, ever watchful over us wayward children. It doesn't matter whether we had a good father or a bad father, an active father or an absent father. It doesn't matter whether we prefer to think of God in masculine pronouns, feminine pronouns, or as beyond all gender constraints. What matters is that we know the One who calls us beloved children.
     If God had a refrigerator, our photos would be on it! God is always bragging about how wonderful we are and how much potential we have as we grow into our spiritual adulthood. This God created and formed us; and gave us life and breath. It's the God whom Psalm 139 says "Knows when we sit down and when we rise; who discerns our thoughts from far away; who knows every word on our tongue before we even say it." That's not theology. That's relationship!
     This same God so carefully and beautifully formed the heavens and the earth, and all the animals on land, in the sky and in the sea. God told us this beautiful planet was our playground. It's the place where we will find life and happiness and joy. God told us to share our toys, play well each other, and take good care of all this gift we've been given. This is not a hateful, vengeful God with lightning bolts in hand, waiting to smite us for the smallest transgression. This is a God whom the writer of Exodus describes as "gracious and merciful slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love."
     And so, this morning when we say  "We believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth," we are not making a theological statement. We are affirming that we desire to be in relationship with the God whom formed us and watches over us, who loves and believe in us, even when we can't believe in God ourselves. Friends in Christ. It's not about theology. It's about relationship. We stand in awe in the presence of the Eternal One who offers us Wonder. Mystery. Nurture. Life.
     Today we also celebrate God as SON, the Word who became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth. Jesus is God 2.0. The version of God who is the easiest to understand because he is so much like us. His sense of wonder about God's kingdom came through in his marvelous parables. His full range of emotions is evident as we read gospel stories describing Jesus' sadness and peace, pain and joy, love and compassion. This Jesus never met a stranger he didn't like. He always had the ANNOYING habit of leaving people in a better spiritual place than where he found them.
     This Jesus challenges us to be the light of the world and salt for the earth. He told us to be compassionate, as God is compassionate. He laid out for us a three step program for living life in all of its abundance: Love God. Love neighbor. Love self. This version of God loved us so much that he was willing to die for us. He refused to compromise his vision for a world without boundaries; where everyone is welcome at the table; where the hungry are fed, the thirsty are given something to drink, the stranger is welcomed, the naked are clothed, the sick are taken care of and those in prison are visited.
     Again, this is NOT a theological statement. It's all about relationship. Jesus touched, taught, healed, rebuked, encouraged, transformed, and above all, loved those he encountered. He does the same for us today!
     And so this morning, when we say "We believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord," we are affirming that we desire to be in relationship with the God who loves us, died for us and rose again so we would know that all bets are off the table. Anything is possible! The worst sinner can be redeemed. New life can grow from the poorest of soils and the tiniest of seeds.
     Friends in Christ. It's not about theology. It's about relationship. We stand in awe in the presence of the Great Shepherd who offers us Grace. Resurrection. Forgiveness. New Life.
     Today we also celebrate God as HOLY SPIRIT. The RUACH whose winds troubled the murky waters of creation, bringing forth Light from Darkness, separating Day from Night. This same Spirit was poured out on the disciples at Pentecost with wind and flame, empowering and transforming their lives forever. The Holy Spirit is the Old Testament's Lady Wisdom and the New Testament's Sophia.
     She is simultaneously the still, small voice that whispered in Elijah's ear and the Overwhelming Presence of the Holy that shook the thresholds of Isaiah's Temple and filled it with smoke. The Holy Spirit is the dual pillars of cloud and fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness. She is the force that transformed Paul from persecutor of Christians to defender of the faith.
     The Holy Spirit shows up at our baptisms and welcomes us into God's family. She guides us in the ways of God's truth and wisdom. She helps us to discern what path we should take when the way ahead is not always clear. The Holy Spirit inspires creativity and visioning. She pushes us out of our comfort zones and calls us to imagine a world where "God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven." The Holy Spirit calls us to be vessels of reconciliation, peacemaking and bridge building. She gives voice to our cries for justice for the poor and oppressed among us. She floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee! She is simultaneously gentle and powerful, graceful yet terrifying.
     And so this morning, when we say "We believe in the Holy Spirit," we are affirming that we desire to be in relationship with the God who lives in our hearts, educates our minds, and moves our bodies into service. Brothers and sisters in Christ. It's not about theology. It's about relationship. We stand in awe in the presence of the Wind and Flame who offers us Inspiration. Discernment. Empowerment. Transformation.
     As I bring my thoughts on the Trinity to a close. I offer the somewhat unsettling words of Jesus from our Gospel lesson: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all the truth." This is where our United Church in Christ brothers and sisters get it right when they say, "God is still speaking…" I take this to mean the Holy Trinity is not finished with us yet. The God, who comes to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, cannot be contained by creeds or affirmations of faith. God is "un-boxable" and calls us into a living, dynamic and growing relationship with the One who created us, Redeemed us, and sustains us on the journey. Because in the end, say it with me…"It's not about theology. It's about relationship." Amen!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Pentecost Creativity

Pentecost Sunday At Abiding Savior!
PENTECOST SUNDAY   Acts 2:1-21
5/15/05 David Eck


     In the beginning before God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a soup of nothingness a bottomless emptiness. an inky blackness. Then the RUACH of God, the Spirit/wind/breath of God blew across the face of the waters fluttering her wings, creating a disturbance. Then God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. [Gen 1:1-4, paraphrased, portions from The Message] 
     Many years later, this same Spirit/wind/breath of God fluttered her wings once again, creating a disturbance. Suddenly there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where the disciples were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. [NLT]
     All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. Their tongues were unloosed, and they began to preach the good news of Jesus in creative and inventive ways, speaking in languages they did not know. The Spirit/wind/breath of God gave them this ability. As the Holy Spirit continued to blow in that place, it moved Peter to exclaim, "In the last days I will pour out the Spirit/wind/breath of God on all people. Your sons and daughters shall catch a glimpse of God’s future plans. Your young men and women shall see visions. Your old men and women shall dream dreams" [Acts 2:2-4,17, paraphrased]
     Today is Pentecost Sunday and, guess what? The RUACH of God that stirred up the waters of Creation, the Spirit/wind/breath that filled those first disciples with visions and dreams and languages,is blowing among us today. Can you see it?  Can you feel it? This Spirit does not always reveal herself to us as the still, small voice of God. Both Genesis 1 and Acts 2 testify that God’s Spirit is a creative spirit who shakes things up a bit, who creates a disturbance every once in a while. She is a Spirit who moves in us and around us in surprising and unpredictable ways.

     She is a Spirit who causes us to sing..."Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me. Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me. Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me. Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me." Does that sound like a still, small voice to you? Hardly! A Spirit that breaks us, melts us, mold us and fills us is a Spirit of great power!
     She is the Spirit who stirred up the waters of creation and stuff started to happen. She is the Spirit who rested on each of the disciples on the day of Pentecost, and stuff started to happen. She is a Spirit of creativity and rebirth who creates a space is us for the dreams and visions of God to move and direct our lives. If we allow this Spirit/wind/breath of God to blow freely in our lives stuff WILL start to happen.
     Lutherans, by and large, are a bit shy when it comes to talking about the way the Holy Spirit moves in our lives. We like the Holy Spirit to be nice and neat; to move within the confines of water and Word, bread and wine, prayer and praise. We expect the Spirit to show herself by means of an officially approved list of activities such as Galatians 5:22-23: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. 
     That’s the Spirit we want in our lives. Save all the wild stuff for the Charismatics and Pentecostals! We want the Holy Spirit to be a gentle breeze who blows safely and securely through our lives, nothing too exciting! After all, we’re Lutherans and we can’t have the Spirit/wind/breath of God moving through this place and stirring things up, don'tcha know! It just wouldn’t be proper!
     A few weeks ago I participated in "Create In Me" which is a faith and arts retreat at Camp Lutheridge. I've been to this retreat for 16 or the 18 years of its existence. Several members of our church have been there multiple times as well. I love this retreat because the people who attend are the kind of people who are not afraid to let the Spirit/wind/breath of God create a disturbance in their lives. It is a place of tremendous encouragement where participants are invited to play, to experiment, to fail, and to try again.
     In fact, Pastor Mary Caniff-Kuhn begins each retreat reminding us that the process is far more important than the product. Being creative trumps what we create. Trust me, I've had a few disasters along the way. But then, every once in a while, you come across an art form that awakens a gift you didn't even know you possessed. For me, that gift was paper collage. We started off with altered playing cards which a number of you learned how to make in a workshop I led this winter. I promise we're going to do it again. I was immediately hooked and stayed at that craft table for the entire weekend. I continued to create cards for a while at home and then, the Spirit of creativity whispered in my ear, and told me, "Let's do something bigger." The result was the icon you saw this Advent of a pregnant Mary that was made from Christmas newspaper ads. I had such a great time creating it that I wanted to do it again. The result is the Pentecost collage that's hanging on the wall in front of you this morning.
     The reason why I share this is that I suspect many of us have talents we do not know we possess. Some of these talents were squashed when we were kids. Others are the kind of talent that blossom with age and experience. Whatever the case may be, it's easy to let the Spirit of creativity be reduced to a smoldering ember in our lives. It's a lot harder to let the Spirit/wind/breath of God blow like a wildfire out of control. It's hard to let our light shine when everyone around us is trying to rain on our parade. You know what I mean?
     So, let’s take a quick “spirit inventory” of our lives and see how we're doing. Are we one of those people of faith who prefers the Spirit to be neat, clean and predictable? Or do we let the Holy Spirit stir up the waters of creation in our lives and give birth to something new? Do we prefer to hear a still, small voice of the Spirit or do we welcome the rush of a violent wind from time to time?
     Friends in Christ, our God is a creative God. God’s Spirit is a creative Spirit. I’m not sure why we always want to box God in and limit the ways in which the Spirit moves in our lives, but we do. The Spirit of creativity that blew so freely though our lives when we were children sometimes gets lost along the way. It loses steam and is reduced to a whisper when we become adults. We think this is progress. It’s a part of what it means to grow up. But I would like to argue this morning that God intends us to be creative people in every season of our lives. The same Spirit that stirred up the waters of creation and set the disciples on fire is available to us now if we will only let that Spirit/wind/breath of God blow freely through our lives.
     Now I’m sure some of you are probably thinking "I’m not a creative person." But I believe that everyone is creative in their own way. It’s just that we’re sometimes afraid to let God’s Spirit of creativity shine through us.
     For example, have you ever had a brilliant idea pop into your head but you didn’t share that idea because you're worried about what other people might think? Have you ever had a secret desire to try something such as write a book or take a pottery class but you’ve never done it because you thought it was too impractical or you rationalize that you didn’t have the time to do it?
     DO NOT listen to the voices who try to squash God’s creativity in you. Let the Spirit/wind/breath of God blow mightily in your life and see what wonderful and imaginative things God’s Spirit can birth to in you. Young men and young women can still see visions. Old men and old women can still dream dreams. Pentecost is not meant to be a one time event. It can occur again and again and again in our lives as the Spirit moves us in unpredictable and unexpected ways.
     Be creative as God is creative. Plant your garden as if it is Eden itself. Serve your family a meal that looks like it came from a restaurant. Get in touch with your artistic side. Try a new craft you’ve never done before. Enjoy the process of creating without becoming too preoccupied with the final product.
     Read an author who tickles your imagination and expands your view of who God is and how God works in our world. Pursue the dream that has been tugging at your heartstrings for years but you’ve never done anything about it. Listen to that still, small voice of the Spirit that has been nudging you to go in a direction you have resisted for far too long.
     Be a Spirit-filled Lutheran! Allow God to break you out of the box and take you on a new and exciting adventure in the Spirit. Don’t put this off until tomorrow. Do it today!!! The Spirit is rising and I hope we can feel it. Let's have the courage to allow the Spirit/wind/breath of God to blow mightily in our lives and ignite a spark of creativity in all of us. I know we can do this! Amen.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Ascension

ASCENSION Luke 24:44-53 David Eck
5/8/16


     Jesus said, "See, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."  [Lk 24:49]
     Each and every one one of us yearns to feel God's power working in and through our lives. Each and every one of us desires to be Spirit led; to have a Holy GPS system that will help us navigate the twists and turns of life. Each and every one of us longs to be "clothed with power from on high," just like those first disciples.
     Every once in a while, we get a glimpse of this wonder-working power: an illness we've been battling is finally healed. A confusion we've had in our minds suddenly becomes crystal clear. A financial crisis we've been facing is lessened because of an unexpected check that comes in the mail. A sign we've been praying for appears in bright neon colors, leaving no doubt what we need to do next. Each and every one of us longs to be "clothed with power from on high," just like those first disciples.
     But before this power can come to us there is always a time of waiting, and we don't like waiting! We don't like the anxious, expectant times between crisis and resolution, between panic and peace, between prayers sent and prayers answered. We want to be "clothed with power from on high" but we want it now, right this instant. No waiting in the check out line. No "please take a number and we'll get to you when it's your turn."
     We all want to be "clothed with power from on high." But until it comes, the waiting can be excruciating. Those of us who have had to endure difficult life circumstances know exactly what I'm talking about! The period of waiting for answers to prayer, for doors to open, and for empowerment to arrive can seem like an eternity.
     This brings us to our gospel lesson where the disciples enter into a time of waiting. It marks the beginning of a time of transition in their lives between having the presence of the resurrected Christ with them and receiving the power of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. This story is unique to Luke who tells it twice. The first time is at the end of his gospel. The second time is in the first chapter of Acts where be begins the sequel to his gospel by recapping the ending of the first.
     For modern believers the story of Jesus' Ascension is a strange story indeed. However, I would argue that once we understand what Luke is trying to tell us, the story of Jesus' Ascension speaks powerfully to those of us who find ourselves in times of waiting and transition. So let's explore the story in greater detail and see what wisdom is has to offer us.
     We begin with verse 49 where Jesus says "See, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." After Jesus says this, he leads the disciples from the house where they were staying in Jerusalem out into the hill country of Bethany. Bethany was a village on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives, about 2 miles east of Jerusalem. When they reach Bethany, Jesus lifts up his hands and blesses his disciples. Then Luke says that "While he was blessing them, Jesus withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven." [Lk 24:51]
     What this means from a literal perspective, we will never know for sure. We call this the "ascension" but what does that mean? Did Jesus ride a holy elevator or perhaps climbed Jacob's ladder from the flat earth, up though the sky until he reached the top of the dome and made his way into heaven? This is what first century people would have thought had happened since this is the way they viewed the world: a three tiered universe with the waters of the deep or Sheol below us, a flat earth in the middle, and the dome of heaven above.
     But ever since the time of Galileo, we have understood the universe in a very different way. Therefore, this description of Jesus' ascension seems antiquated at best and a flight of fancy at worst. Was Jesus beamed up by God like James Kirk in Star trek? Or did he float out into space past the known universe to some unknown dimension we call "heaven"? What exactly is Luke trying to tell us as he describes the Ascension of Jesus?
     John Shelby Spong thinks that Luke wrapped the story of the prophet Elijah around Jesus in order to say something powerful about what happened to Jesus after his resurrection. The connections between these two tales are rather surprising. It leads me to believe that Bishop Spong is correct. So let me share a portion of Elijah's story with you and see what you think.
     Elijah was the greatest prophet Israel had ever known. 2 Kings 2 tells a story about the prophet that sounds strikingly similar to what is being said about Jesus in our gospel lesson for today. Elijah and his protégé Elisha left the city of Gilgal and went out into the hill country of Bethel. As they journeyed Elijah spoke to Elisha and tried to prepare him for what was about to happen. Two times he said to Elisha "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" And Elisha said, "Yes, I know; keep silent." [2 Kings 2:3, 5]
     Elijah and Elisha then arrived at the barrier of the Jordan River. In a scene reminiscent of Moses and the Red Sea, Elijah removed his cloak and struck the water with it.  The waters parted and the two walked through on dry land. When they had crossed the river, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." [2 Kings 2:9] Elijah responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you,
—It will be granted ."  [2 Kings 2:10]

     Then there appeared "a chariot of fire and horses of fire" that separated the two of them. Elijah was then transported up to heaven on a whirlwind, a mighty rushing wind, never to be seen again in the Hebrew Scriptures. After Elijah's ascension, Elisha received a double portion of Elijah's spirit. He returned to the Jordan River and parted the waters just like Elijah did. Elisha then went on to become a mighty prophet to the nation of Israel.
     Sound familiar?  It should. Jesus and his disciples left the city of Jerusalem and went into the hill country of Bethany. Earlier, Jesus had tried to prepare his disciples for what was about to happen to him. We see this in the gospel of John who picked up Luke's narrative and ran with it: "I will be with you a little while longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come."  [Jn 7:33-34]
     He also told them what to expect after he had departed: "See, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."   [Lk 24:49] Jesus then ascended into heaven and the chariot of fire and whirlwind from Elijah's story were carried over into the Pentecost story where the disciples received their power with "the rush of a violent wind" and "divided tongues, as of fire." [Acts 2:2-3] Then, empowered by the Holy Spirit, the disciples went out into the world spreading the good news of Jesus.
     Are these connections a coincidence?  Hardly! I believe Luke wrapped the story of Elijah around Jesus because he was trying to say something powerful about the Jesus that the church experienced after he left his earthly form and ascended into the spiritual realm. Elisha received a double portion of Elijah's spirit after Elijah ascended into heaven. The disciples received the power of the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascended into heaven: A power that is a thousand times greater than that received by Elisha; a power that was poured out on many, not just one; a power that continues to be felt and experienced by followers of Jesus to this very day.
     Friends in Christ, the Ascension of Jesus is an important story in the life of the Church. It is not old and antiquated. It speaks of a Jesus who had to transcend the boundaries of his physical form in order that we would receive "power from on high." The ascension of Jesus is that moment of his entry into a new realm in which he would bring his purpose to a new fulfillment. He ascended beyond the limitations of his physical body, and made his Spirit power available to all who call on his name. This is what Luke was trying to tell us by the way he wrote the ascension story. Those of us with ears to hear and eyes to see recognize that this is good news, indeed!
     So what do we learn from today's gospel lesson? I hope it is the good news that the power of the Holy Spirit is available to all of us to guide, to heal, to encourage, and to strengthen. However, we do not always receive this power instantaneously. Sometimes we have to endure the whirlwinds and fires of life before we receive a double portion of God's Spirit. Sometimes we have to wait until we are "clothed with power from on high" just like those first disciples.
     It's not easy to wait but we are sometimes called to wait nonetheless, knowing that Jesus will help us to rise above all our trials and temptations. So wait patiently, pray expectantly. Trust that the Ascended Christ will fill us richly with the power of the Holy Spirit so we may rise above whatever challenges or roadblocks we are currently facing. AMEN

Monday, May 02, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Pool of Bethesda

6 EASTER C  John 5:1-13  David Eck
5/1/16


Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water. God's a-gonna trouble the water.


     The pool of Bethesda was a desperate place. It was located on the northeast corner of Jerusalem near the Temple. Legend has it that a mineral spring existed on this site and fed the waters of the pool. Both Jews, Romans and Greeks came to this place, believing its waters had restorative powers. In it's first incarnation as a holy site, it was most likely a healing temple sacred to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine whose insignia still represents physicians to this very day.
     When the water in this sacred pool as "troubled," when it bubbled and swirled, the hopeful believed an angel or some aspect of the Divine, was stirring it up. It was thought that the first one in the pool after the water stirred would receive a cure for their illness.
     And so, day after day after day, the blind, the lame, the paralyzed, the desperate and the diseased, would wait in the shady and smelly porticoes of the pool. They would keep their eyes fixed on the water and when it stirred, a mass of humanity would lunge, hobble and drag themselves into its healing waters. They tried to be the first one in so the holy magic was the strongest. However, most often, nobody received a cure and so they waited and hoped, waited and hoped, that today  would be their lucky day.

Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water. God's a-gonna trouble the water.


     As we hear this ancient story, we're probably thinking to ourselves, what a gullible, superstitious bunch of people. They were being sold ancient snake oil medicine and we are OH SO much smarter than they are. We would NEVER wait around for the water to swirl. We would NEVER keep coming back day after day, hoping for a miracle cure.
     Well, before we got too puffed up, we need to be reminded that we are not that far removed from our brothers and sisters who were gathered at the Pool of Bethesda. We, too, have our magic places where we hope the angels will intervene and make our lives better. In fact, I can hear the voices of the desperate and diseased all around us.
     They are saying, "IF ONLY…I could find the perfect church, my spirit would be at peace and I would grow in my relationship with God. IF ONLY I could find the right doctor or the right hospital they would be able to heal me. IF ONLY I could find the perfect spouse, my life would not be such a mess and I wouldn't be so lonely. IF ONLY I could find the right job, I would feel more fulfilled and content with my life.
     IF ONLY...IF ONLY...IF ONLY. We are not that far removed for those gathered at the Pool of Bethesda. We, too, have our magic places, our hopeful places, where we wait for the water to be stirred. We keep searching and searching for these places, determined that this one will be the right one. This one will be the place where angels gather and will give us the healing we seek for our weary bodies, minds and spirits.

Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water. God's a-gonna trouble the water.


     Thirty-eight years. Thirty-eight years is a LONG time to be sick, to be in pain, to feel like your body has betrayed you. Thirty-eight years is a long time to search for a cure, to keep coming back to the water again and again and again; hoping the angels will intervene, hoping that God will provide the healing we so desperately desire.
     This is the situation of the person in our gospel lesson. John tells us that Jesus "knew this person had been sick for a long time" Now that's an understatement, if there ever was one! Then Jesus asks this poor soul what seems like a really stupid question: "Do you want to be healed?"
     "No, Jesus," we imagine this person responding, "I don't want to be healed. I've only been coming to this pool for thirty-eight years day after day. I'm just doing it for fun. I love sitting around with all these sick, smelly people moaning and groaning all day long. It's my thing.  It's what I do. Do I want to be healed? What do YOU think? Do you really have to ask that question?"
     John tells us that the sick one answered Jesus' question in a way that is sad and a little pathetic: "Rabbi, I don't have anyone to put me into the pool once the water has been stirred up. By the time I get there, someone else has gone in ahead of me."
     After thirty-eight years you would think that this person would be a little more resourceful. You would think this person would at least sit on the edge of the pool so they could roll themselves into it once the water had been stirred up. Or, perhaps, they would have found a friend, or paid a slave to assist them so they could be first in line to bathe in the healing waters.
     It's easy to judge. But I suspect we sometimes find ourselves doing the same thing when we are sick and in need of healing. We sometimes become helpless. We throw ourselves a pity party. We lay there day after day, waiting for the water to stir, but not much happens. I call this being "stuck" in life. It's an awful place to be. It's a place of depression and hopelessness. It's a place where we feel isolated and alone.
     So, let's be a little sympathetic toward this poor soul. Because if we really think about it, we've probably been in their shoes. We've been in this same place of despair. We've been paralyzed by our fear, our anger, or our fatigue from fighting whatever ails us.

Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water. God's a-gonna trouble the water.


     The most interesting thing in our gospel lesson is what Jesus does next. He doesn't offer pious platitudes or words of comfort. He doesn't offer to wait by the pool and carry this sick one into the water when it stirs. He simply says, "Pick up your mat and walk." The person who had been suffering for thirty-eight years did just that! They picked up their mat and walked away!
     It was a miracle!  And even us skeptical modern believers witness miracles every once in a while! We know a terminally ill person who was cured of their disease. We know someone who was involved in a horrific car crash that walked away from the scene with barely a scratch. We've read stories of people who were financially destitute and became wealthy. Miracles do happen in our world. And they happen to both good and bad people. There seems to be no "scale of worthiness" on miracles. They just happen every once in a while.
     Look at the sick person in the story. They have no idea who Jesus is. In fact, when the Temple authorities question them about what happened, John tells us "the healed person had no idea who it was since Jesus had disappeared into the crowd that filled that place." This story is not about someone who had great faith. It's a story about someone who heard Jesus invite them to "pick up your mat and walk" and they did. It's a random miracle. A moment of grace, given to someone whom we would argue was a worthy recipient. But I am certain there were many worthy recipients who gathered at the Pool of Bethesda that day. Yet only one was healed.
     So, what do we learn from this story? Well, I believe our gospel tell us that the cure for what ails us is not found in a place, it's found in a person. There is no perfect church, perfect, doctor, perfect mate, or perfect job that will give us the feeling of wholeness and peace we desire. The only person who can do that is Jesus! Every once in a while, God does trouble the waters and Jesus offers us the miracle healing we desire.
     But most of the time what Jesus asks us to do is "Pick up our mats and walk. Keep moving forward.  Don't look back.
—Don't throw a pity party or wallow in despair. I'm going to walk with you each and every step of the way. And whether you are healed or not, you will know that I love you."

     St. Paul in a well-known passage from Romans stated it this way: "What will separate us from the love of Christ? Trouble?  Calamity?  Persecution? Hunger?  Nakedness?  Danger? Violence? Yet in all of this we are more than conquerors because of God who had loved us. For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither heights nor depths, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Savior."  [Rom 8:35,37-39, The Inclusive Bible] 
     The cure for what ails us lies not in a place, but in a person. We, who suffer the ills of body, mind and spirit are promised we have a Savior who loves us deeply and passionately. We have a Savior who sometimes brings a miracle into our lives, but always, always, always, loves us no matter how messy or desperate our lives become. We can take up our mats and move forward because Jesus meets us in our suffering. He takes us by the hand and invites us to experience grace, forgiveness, and new life.
     Therefore, children of God, let us wade into the water of Christ's love so we may find the healing we need to move forward in life. Do not underestimate the power of love to transforms us, even in the most hopeless of situations and the most desperate of times. AMEN

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Love One Another

5 EASTER C John 13:31-35
4/23/16 David Eck


     As I was preparing for this week's sermon, I did a Google image search of the phrase "love one another" which appears three times in our gospel lesson and five times in the gospel of John. What I found reveals a great deal about how the general public envisions what this commandment from Christ looks like. I saw lots of pretty fonts and soothing backgrounds; rainbows, pastel colors and lots of hearts. There were tranquil nature scenes, puppies and kittens lying down together, and children giving each other great big hugs.
     Now this is not a scientific study by any stretch of the imagination, but I found it quite interesting. "Love one another" is perceived as something pretty. It evokes warm, fuzzy feelings and the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. "Love one another" is our grandmother's voice singing sweetly in our ears. It's the sight of beautiful wildflowers blowing gently in the wind.
     But is this what "love one another" is really all about? Is this what Jesus had in mind when he told his disciples, "I give you a new commandment: Love one another. And you're to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you're my disciples: that you truly love one another." [NLT]
     Let me ask those who have been married for at least 10 years or more: is this what "love one another" looks like in your relationship with your beloved? Is it all rainbows and warm, fuzzy feelings? Hardly! Loving one another in the context of marriage is hard work.
     It takes lots of patience, lots of listening, and lots of forgiveness. It takes learning to live with things our spouses do that drive us absolutely crazy; and recognizing that we are also guilty of doing things to drive our spouses absolutely crazy. It involves sacrifice and frequently putting the needs of our beloved before our own. Love one another is not happily skipping through a meadow of wildflowers. It's slowly trudging through a field of landmines with the awareness that we can navigate it successfully if we do it together!
     Let me ask those who have or are raising children: Is this what "love one another" looks like in your relationships with your kids? Is it all hearts and hugs and cuddly kittens? Hardly! Loving one another in the context of parenting is hard work.
     Like marriage, it takes lots of patience, lots of listening, and lots of forgiveness. It takes time outs and difficult conversations. It is setting boundaries and keeping our kids safe. It takes learning to live with things our children do that drive us absolutely crazy; and recognizing that we are also guilty of doing things to drive our children absolutely crazy. This loving of one another does not stop when they strike out on their own and live under their own roof. We continue to worry, guide and encourage our children even after they become parents themselves.
     Make no mistake about it, following Christ's command to love one another as he loved us is sometimes a hard and hideous journey. It's not always an easy thing to do. It will take lots of sweat and tears if we're going to do it right. So forget the pretty fonts and soothing backgrounds. Set aside tranquil nature scenes and puppies and kitten sleeping next to each other. This is NOT what it means to love one another. It's definitely NOT what Jesus had in mind when he told his disciples "I give you a new commandment: Love one another. and you're to love one another the way I have loved you."
     The reason why I know this is true is because of the context of the verses of our gospel lesson. Jesus spoke these words on the last night he spent with his disciples. They were celebrating the Jewish feast of Passover. Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, wiping them with the towel that was tied around him. Peter protested this act of service because he thought it was beneath Jesus to do such a humble job. But eventually he consented.
     When Jesus had finished, he told his disciples they should follow his example, and wash one other's feet. We know he was talking about more than hygiene. He was taking about humble service. This is what "love one another" really looks like.
     So when we hear Jesus' command to love one another, we know it involves more than warm, fuzzy feelings, it involves rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. Loving one another means committing ourselves to a life of godly service where we, in the words of Matthew 25, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the imprisoned. This holy calling has very little to do with rainbows, pastel colors and hearts.
     If Jesus' first disciples failed to understand his object lesson of service, he restated his intention a little later that evening: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." Can there be any doubt as to what "love one another" looks like?
     But there's more! After Jesus washed their feet he predicted that one of them would betray him. Then he made it quite clear that Judas was the one to do the dirty deed. After Judas departed, Jesus told them the words of our gospel lesson, "I give you a new commandment; love one another." I'm certain those first disciples were thinking to themselves "Well, Jesus, how are we going to do that? You just made out clear that Judas is going to betray you. How in the world can we love him?"
     But, Jesus wasn't finished, because no sooner than he uttered the words of our gospel lesson, he dropped another bombshell: in a little while, Peter was going to deny even knowing Jesus, not only once, but three times!" Again, I'm sure those first disciples were thinking to themselves "Love one another? You've got to be kidding, Jesus. Love the betrayer? Love the denier?" To which I'm sure Jesus responded "yes. Exactly what part of love one another did you fail to understand?"
     This is the part of the story that challenges us the most. Loving one another means loving those who do not always love us in return. Loving one another means loving those who never showed us love in the first place. Loving one another means loving those whom we have labeled as our enemies and persecutors.
     It is this aspect of loving one another where the Church of Jesus Christ tends to fail epically. Our witness to the world these days is greatly compromised because of our inability to love one another as Christ has loved us. Instead of trying to build bridges between those who religious viewpoints are different from our own, we build walls and demonize our opponents. We pass "religious liberty laws" and "bathroom bills" which are simply hatred and intolerance wrapped in a pretty package. We, like some of the Pharisees of old, put limits on who is worthy of receiving Christ's love and mercy. Consequently, they receive neither love nor mercy from us.
     Every one of us is guilty of this crime in one form or another. Every one of us puts some kind of limitations on Christ's command to love one another. Yet the context of Jesus' command is very clear. We are even called to love those who betray us, who deny us, who break the bonds of fellowship with us and break our hearts as well.
     If we think we can wiggle our way out of the difficult parts of this command to love one another, 1 John 4:19-21 convicts us all: "We love because Christ 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. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also."
     Friends in Christ, I could go on, but I think you get the point. Christ's command to love one another is the most difficult calling we will ever undertake in this life. It is hard, backbreaking and heartbreaking work. Yet, it is also the most powerful work we can do as we sow seeds of transformation and resurrection in the lives of those around us.
     In closing I offer you a poem I wrote a few year's back entitled "Love One Another." My prayer is that we will rise to the challenge of Christ's new commandment and, in turn, change the world with it.

LOVE ONE ANOTHER?
by David Eck

Love one another as I have loved you
It seems so simple, so straightforward

But...love the "bleeding heart" liberal? 
Love the "family values" conservative?
Love the Muslim?  The Jew?  The Buddhist?  The Wiccan?

Love the illegal immigrant?  The person of privilege?
Love the gay?  The lesbian?  The transgendered?

Love the peace protester?  The warmonger?
Love the Iraqui?  The Palestinian?  The North Korean?

Love the Republican?  The Democrat?
Love the homeless?  The beggar? The AIDS patient?  The death row inmate?

We tend to love with our fingers crossed
Looking for a loophole
Looking for a way to limit those whom we choose to love

Like the religious scholar who once asked Jesus
"And who is my neighbor?"
We love selectively, conditionally
We love those who look like us
Think like us, believe like us

Who would Jesus hate?
No one!
The only thing Jesus got angry about
Was spiritual hypocrisy
Those who claimed to love God
But could not bring themselves
To love all of their neighbors
Those who believed they were God's chosen ones
While treating others as if they were evil personified

Love one another as I have loved you
Maybe it's not so simple after all
But it is the mark
By which others will know
That we are disciples of Jesus

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Earth Day

EARTH DAY SUNDAY John 10:22-30, Genesis 2:4-9,15-20
4/17/16  David Eck


     "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish."
     Today's gospel lesson is part of a series of sayings where Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd. Every year on the fourth Sunday of Easter, we read a portion of these sayings and explore their meaning. Today also happens to be Earth Day Sunday. As soon as I saw the gospel lesson I knew it was the perfect reading to illustrate this year's theme: "Care For God's Creatures."
     The reason why we love the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is because it beautifully captures how Jesus feels about us. There is an intimacy of relationship in these verses that we find comforting. There is also a sense of Divine protection that encourages us when we feel like we're in danger.
     Elsewhere in John 10, Jesus tells us "I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture." And again, "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, and I lay down my life for the sheep."
     In these powerful images Jesus tells us that our relationship with him should be close, intimate, and familiar. He promises us protection, green pastures, and tender care.
     We find a similar image of Jesus as the shepherd in Luke 15 where he asks us "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, He calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'"
     Again, we see the same kind of intimate relationship, care and protection we see in our gospel lesson. Who doesn't want that from Jesus? Who would refuse his gracious invitation, saying, "No thank you, Jesus, I'll just go it on my own. I'll try to handle the wolves all by myself. I'll find my own green pastures and still waters. If I get lost I'll trust my GPS or Siri to help me find my way."
     Yes, we are stubborn sometimes. We are under the illusion that we are independent and can do everything on our own. Thankfully, when we get lost, REALLY lost, Jesus promises to find us. Notice in the text from Luke he never chastises the lost sheep because his joy in finding it far outweighs his need to say, "I TOLD YOU SO!"
     So, what does all this have to do with Earth Day? Well I believe the kind of intimate relationship described in our gospel, is the kind of relationship God wants us to have with the other creatures that also call earth their home. We see this quite clearly in the second creation story found in Genesis 2.
     In the first creation story, the main focus of the narrative is power. God speaks and things are created. Humans appear and God tells them:
     "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." [Gen 1:28] 
     I don't care how you try to spin the original Hebrew, the word "dominion" means "to rule, dominate, tread, or trample." It's not exactly a pretty image for our relationship with the earth and its creatures. Jewish scholars since the beginning have argued this verse calls us to be "benevolent" kings, who loving care for their kingdom. While I agree with this sentiment, I'm not convinced this is what the Hebrew says in Genesis 1.
     In contrast to the first creation story, the second creation story is more hands-on and organic. God does not zap things into being. Instead, God gets down in the mud, fashions a human being, and breathes into him the breath of life. This is the kind of intimate relationship we saw in our gospel lesson between Jesus the Good Shepherd and us, his sheep.
     When ADAHM, the earth creature, comes to life in Genesis 2, God places him in the garden of Eden and charges him to "tend and watch over it." This time, the Hebrew implies a sense of nurture and tender care. "Tend" can also be translated as "to work, serve, till or dress." "Watch over" can also be translated as "to hedge about, guard, attend to, and protect."
     This is a beautiful image for our relationship to creation. It reflects the loving care God put into creating us from the dust of the earth. This same kind of loving, nurturing imagery is found in the way we relate to animals as well. 
     As our first lesson continues, a light bulb goes off in God's head. The Almighty realizes "it is not good for ADAHM to be alone." So God decides to make a "helper" who is just right for him.
     This is where the fun part of the story happens! God begins to form from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. The Creator presents them to ADAHM, one by one and asks ADAHM to name them. "Ta-da!" God says, "What do you want to call this one?" "A duck" ADAHM says as the bird flies by his head. God continued to bring animals for ADAHM to name, but none of them seemed to be the perfect match.
     Personally, I think this is the reason  why we have such crazy looking animals such as giraffes and duck-billed platypuses. God got pretty creative in trying to find a suitable helper for ADAHM. While I know this is only a story, the truth it contains is that both God and human beings have an intimate relationship with the creatures of the earth. As I picture this story in my mind's eye, I imagine the sense of awe and wonder ADAHM feels as the Creator presents him with all these magnificent, diverse, colorful creatures.
     Friends in Christ, on this Earth Day Sunday, I believe the same kind of caring relationship we see in both our gospel and first lessons speaks volumes about how we are to care for this wonderful world God has given us. Let's be honest, we are not always good stewards of this planet. In fact, most of the time, I believe we are horrible stewards of it and global warming proves this is true. But in the midst of overwhelming challenges that have baffled scientists and governments for decades, there are things we can do as individuals to reduce our carbon footprint and lovingly care for God's creatures.
     With regard to this year's theme of "Care for God's Creatures" my suggestion is to pick a species you care passionately about and become an advocate for it. If you are a dog or cat lover support organizations such as The Asheville Humane Society or Brother Wolf. Volunteer your time at either location and support them with monetary donations and resources. My Mom and Susan Bolick are very active with the Asheville Human Society and Franklin Cunningham works for them. Talk to them about what you can do to help support their organizations.
     The species that is near and dear to my heart these days are the bees that pollinate and sustain three fourths of the world's plant species. If you haven't been paying attention they are dying at an alarming rate gue to a disease they call "colony collapse disorder." This will have serious repercussions for our quality of life on this planet.
     Asheville is known as "Bee City USA." While I do not have a passion for becoming a bee keeper, I have pledged to learn all I can about this issue. I have also made the personal decision to stop using pesticides and lawn care products that are harmful to them. I also try to plant native flower species that help to create a sustainable habitat for pollinators. Bee City USA's web site is listed in your bulletin if you'd like to learn more about this issue.
     Another good place to learn more about how to support the animals that live in our mountains is the Western North Carolina Nature Center, who does lots of education and outreach regarding how to care for the wildlife in our area. They actually helped me once with a pair of groundlings that were going to be a meal for a cat. I am grateful for their expertise and assistance.
     If you're a person who loves the ocean consider supporting the turtle rescue programs that are a part of the North Carolina Aquarium system as well as the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston. I have visited both of their turtle outreach programs, and they are doing a wonderful job in helping these endangered animals to thrive.
     Maybe you're a bird lover. Jan Eckert, who was a member of Abiding Savior, and recently passed away, had a passion for birds. I was amazed at the many species of birds that came to dine at the numerous feeders she had at her home. You can also support the work of the Audubon Society, especially the Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary in North Asheville.
     Those are just a few ideas. My prayer this Earth Day is that each of us will make a personal pledge to ourselves to find a way to actively care for God's creatures. God has so lovingly cared for us, being our Good Shepherd and the One who took the time to form us and breathe the breath of life into us. The best way we can give thanks to God for this amazing gift of life is to be compassionate caretakers of the many wonderful animals that inhabit our planet.
     Let us pray…Loving Creator, we pause today to give thanks for this amazing world you have given us. May we loving tend and watch over it and find ways to be advocates for the many animals that live side by side with us. We ask this in Jesus' name.  AMEN

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Breakfast With Jesus

3 EASTER C   John 21:1-19  David Eck
4/10/16


     As he begins his gospel, John describes Jesus with the following unforgettable words: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace."
     Then John spends the rest of his time showing us what grace upon grace looks, like, smells like, tastes like, feels like, and sounds like. Grace upon grace is overflowing wine in abundance after the wine had run dry at the wedding in Cana. Grace upon grace is offering living water to a woman of Samaria whom many thought was unworthy to receive God's mercy and love.
     Grace upon grace is feeding over 5,000 people with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. Everyone had their fill and there were 12 baskets of leftovers to spare. Grace upon grace is forgiveness offered to a woman who was going to be stoned to death for committing adultery. "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Jesus said to the hostile crowd who condemned her. One by one, they walked away.
     Grace upon grace is all these things and so much more. John ends his gospel with my favorite story of what grace upon grace looks like. It's not a flashy, supernatural story like the Wedding in Cana or the Feeding of the 5,000. It's an ordinary, intimate moment with Jesus and his disciples who received grace upon grace, in the most beautiful and empowering way.
     Our story begins at least a week after Jesus' first resurrection appearance where Jesus came and stood among them behind locked doors and in the midst of their fear. He said, "Peace be with you," and he breathed on them the gift of the Holy Spirit. A week later, Thomas, who was not with them initially, received this same gift, exclaiming "My Lord and my God!"
     Then something a little bit strange happens. The disciples return to fishing! Yep, that's what I said. The disciples return to fishing. There is no running through the streets of Jerusalem, shouting "Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!" There is no mass baptizing of people in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. That's the stuff of Hollywood movies and television miniseries! Instead, there is a hasty retreat to the region of Galilee, and the Lake they knew so well. Galilee, a place with a little breathing room, fresh country air and mom's home cooking. Galilee, where everything began.
     Now some of us might find this move surprising, and perhaps a little bit disappointing, but let's put ourselves in their situation for a moment. After two crazy and tumultuous weeks, where everything we’ve known has been turned upside down, the first thing we would want to do is take a vacation, go on a retreat. We would be tempted to travel to a place that is relaxing and comfortable, a place where we can ground ourselves, rest, and get a little perspective And this is exactly what the disciples did. They returned to Galilee.
     We can learn something from this. When our lives get a little crazy, when things don’t quite make sense, the best thing for us to do is NOT to keep running. The best thing for us to do is slow ourselves down a little bit, and take some time off so that we can make sense of the world. The best thing for us to do is get a little extra shut eye and a taste of mom’s home cooking to feed our souls as well as nourish our bodies. Therefore, the disciples hasty retreat to Galilee is not surprising at all. It is probably the most sensible thing they could have done.
     One evening, when the moon was full and the sky was a blanket of twinkling stars, Peter said, "I'm going fishing!" and he bolted out the door. At first the other disciples looked at Peter as if he had completely lost his mind. But then smiles began to creep over their faces. After a few giggles, the rest of the disciples ran out the door like young schoolboys as they raced each other to the shore of the lake.
     Lake Galilee, also called Lake Tiberias by the locals, was peaceful at night. After the disciples had sailed their boats out to the middle of the lake, they let their down their nets into the deep dark water. They waited, and waited, and waited. They cast their nets out again, and again, and again but there were no fish in sight. They were disappointed to say the least. After all, this was the perfect opportunity to make a little extra cash and provide food for their extended families. But it didn’t look like they would be so lucky tonight.
     Minutes stretched into hours. As the moon moved over the nighttime sky there were still no fish in sight. However, the conversation and company were great. The disciples spent the night sharing stories of the good old days, recalling the many hours they had spent on this lake and the great adventures they had on it. They were even able to laugh at some of the silly things they did and said when they first became disciples of Jesus.
     One by one, the disciples fell asleep on the boat leaving only Peter, John and James, the most experienced fishermen in the group to keep an eye on the nets. The three of them continued to laugh and talk until the sun appeared on the eastern horizon. Peter looked at the nets and just shook his head, saying, "It's a good thing we gave up fishing for a living!" John and James chuckled as they woke the others up and began to haul in the nets and head for shore.
     "Children, you have no fish, have you?" Peter heard a voice calling from the shore. He squinted his eyes and saw a man in a simple white tunic but he could not identify him. "Children, you have no fish, have you?" The man repeated his question again.
     John laughed to himself and muttered under his breath, "How unobservant can this man be?" James chimed in, saying, "He must be a city boy!" The whole boat erupted with laughter.
     "No, sir, we have no fish," Peter responded to the man on shore. "As you can clearly see, our nets are empty."
     "Well then," the man on the shore responded without missing a beat, "Cast your net to the right side of the boat and you will find some." Thomas just shook his head and said to Peter "What's the matter with this guy? We didn't catch a thing all night and He's going to tell US how to fish?"
     Peter paused for a moment. There was something familiar about this man’s request. It reminded him of a time not so long ago when a certain rabbi asked him to borrow his boat. "Thomas," Peter said with a gleam in his eye, "For old time's sake, let's put the nets back in the water." And so the disciples lowered the nets one more time into the calm waters of Galilee.
     In the blink of an eye, the sea began to bubble and the net was teeming with life. Fish of all kinds began to fill the net until it became so heavy that no one could haul it in. One of the disciples said, "It's the Lord! It's Jesus!" Then Peter, in typical Peter fashion, leaped into the water and swam ashore leaving the other disciples to struggle with the net full of fish.
     When Peter reached the shore, he saw Jesus cooking something over a campfire. As he got closer, he saw a few fish roasting on a spit with several barley loaves nearby. "Bring some of the fish you have just caught." Jesus said as Peter ran to embrace him. "Certainly, my Lord!" Peter responded as he flung himself so hard against Jesus that he nearly knocked him down.
     "Peter!" Jesus said laughing, "go get the fish! It's time for breakfast!"
     The story does not end here. However, this is where we will stop for today. There is a lot we can learn from this powerful scene in the life of Jesus and his first disciples. The first thing we learn is that sometimes life is like fishing all night long without catching a thing. We put our nets into the water time and time again, hoping that this will be the moment when things will go our way. Then, much to our dismay, we discover our nets are empty once again.
     Maybe it’s simply trying to get caught up with our finances. We almost get there when another financial challenge comes along and our nets come up empty once again.
     Maybe it’s a struggle with a failing relationship where we keep trying to put the pieces back together only to see everything fall apart once again.
     Maybe it’s trying to find our place in this world, moving from job to job, hoping we will find the one that makes us feel fulfilled, useful and productive, only to find ourselves in the midst of another job we hate.
     Whatever the case may be, we all know what it is like to cast our nets into the sea time and time again only to discover they are still empty. Life is like that sometimes.
     Then along comes our Savior, who asks us to let the nets down one more time, to trust that this time things will be different, and we are slow to believe, if not downright hostile. We laugh at Jesus, thinking it is crazy to set ourselves up for failure yet one more time. Then, out of nowhere, when we least expect it grace upon grace happens. The sea starts to bubble, and much to our surprise our nets are teeming with fish. Life is good and wonderful again.
     Perhaps it was the luck of the draw. Perhaps it was a bonafide miracle. Perhaps it was because we cast our nets in a different place. But that doesn’t change the truth that Jesus will surprise us sometimes. Just when we think we are setting ourselves up for our greatest defeat, we might  discover that our greatest victory lands in our nets.
     In connection with this truth, we also learn that Jesus will show up in the most common and ordinary of places. It might be on the shore cooking fish. It might be in the encouraging words of a co-worker or neighbor. It might be in the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine. It might be through a song on a radio or an unexpected phone call bearing good news.
     Whatever the case may be there is no doubt Jesus will show up in the most unlikely of places. Those of us with ears to hear and eyes to see will see God at work in this world feeding our bodies as well as our souls, working in our midst to bring about new life and new beginnings
     As our gospel story reaches its conclusion we read that Jesus not only cooked up a meal for the disciples, He also offered them the gift of forgiveness as well as the command to "feed my sheep." And as John's gospel reaches its conclusion we realize that Jesus is not only here to feed us. He expects us to feed others as well. He expects to encourage others to let their nets down one more time, to trust that God can and does work miracles and unexpected blessings in our midst. Jesus expects us to go out in the world and remind people that Christ is alive and he cares passionately about each and every person on the face of this earth.
     Ultimately, this is what grace upon grace looks like, and it most certainly good news indeed! So, Friends in Christ, in the spirit of the apostle Peter and our Savior Jesus Christ, as we go in peace to serve the Lord. I leave you with a simple invitation: LET’S GO FISHING!

AMEN