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

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fishers of People - Full Sermon

2 EPIPHANY B  Mark 1:14-20, John 1:43-51
1/25/15


I. It all began on the shores of Lake Galilee [Slide 2]
—Where Jesus told four fishermen
— “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

It’s a scene we’ve replayed in our minds
—Hundreds of times.

And when we sing “You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore,”
—We get a little misty-eyed as we contemplate
—Our call to follow Christ.

For the first time in my life, I can say
—That I’ve been on that shoreline.
—In fact, I took off my shoes,
—Rolled up my pants and waded into the water. [Slide 3]

I just knew I had to do it
—No matter how cold the water was!
—As I wobbled over the big stones in the shallow water,
—I discovered it was much warmer than I expected.

As I stood shin deep in the waters of Lake Galilee,
—I thought about Jesus and those first disciples
—Who spent much of their time
—In and around that lake.

A spirit of gratitude rose up within me
—As I thanked God for the opportunity
—To finally set foot on this beloved shore.

Before I left the water,
—I chose a few stones to carry back with me
—As a visual reminder of this holy moment in my life.

II.  This is the setting for today’s gospel lesson.
—But before we get to the story
—I need to take you to Bethsaida
—Which used to sit on the northeast shore of Galilee
—Until an earthquake dammed up the Jordan River in 363 CE. [Slide 4]

When the river burst the dam, it deposited enough sediment
—To push the shoreline one mile away from Bethsaida.

Bethsaida literally means “house of fish”
—Which denotes the town’s principle trade.

Indeed even Emperor Hadrian would later praise Bethsaida
—For the abundance of its fish.

Bethsaida was a city in Gentile territory. [Slide 5]
—In fact, at the city gate
—There is a small pagan shrine
—Dedicated to one of the fertility gods.

Here’s a picture of the ruins of the city gate
—Where travelers would have entered the town. [Slide 6]

The stone are made of charcoal-colored basalt
—Which is abundant in the region.
—The man in the picture is Dr. Monte Luker
—From Southern Seminary who was our guide
—On this amazing journey.

Bethsaida is still being excavated
—So it’s a work in progress.
—The city is important to us for several reasons.

First of all, it was the home of two of Jesus disciples,
—Philip and Nathanael.

Secondly, it is most likely the location
—Of the fishing business of Peter and Andrew,
—Who also had a distribution site in Capernaum,
—Peter’s hometown, which is 6 miles from Bethsaida.

The building in Bethsaida that ties into our gospel lesson
—Is known as the “The Fisherman House.” [Slide 7]

It is a large house which measures 4,300 square feet.
—Archaeologists found many artifacts there
—That have to do with the fishing trade:
—Anchors, lead and net weights, fishhooks,
—And needles for mending nets and sails. [Slide 8]

This archaeological discovery is important
—Because it dispels the myth
—That Peter and Andrew, James and John,
—Were peasant fishermen.

In fact, they were middle class business men
—Who most likely had a fleet of fishing boats
—And lived a comfortable lifestyle.

III.  What I want to do is take this information from Bethsaida
—And bring it into our gospel lesson. [Slide 9]

So, we’re back on the shore of Lake Galilee.
—Jesus is walking there, somewhere between
—Bethsaida and Capernaum.

He sees Peter and his brother Andrew
—Casting a net into the sea.
—He said to them, “Follow me
—And I will make you fish for people.”

Mark tells us “And immediately
—They left their nets and followed him.”

Then Jesus went a little farther.
—He saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee.
—They were in their boat mending the nets.

Here’s a picture of a 1st century fishing boat
—That they discovered in 1986. [Slide 10].
—It’s referred to as “The Jesus Boat”
—And you can read about it on the internet.

This is the kind of boat James and John
—Would have been using on Lake Galilee.
—Here is a recreation of what it would have looked like
—To give you a visual reference. [Slide 11]

As James and John mended their nets
—In a boat like this, Mark tells us,
—“Immediately Jesus called them;
—And they left their father Zebedee in the boat
—With the hired men [Don’t miss that detail],
—And followed him.”

When we hear this portion of the story,
—Even though its familiar, it might seem a bit odd.

After all, who, in their right mind,
—Would leave a lucrative fishing business
—And follow a complete and total stranger?

But my theory is that Jesus was NOT a stranger.
—In fact, John’s gospel says that
—Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. [Slide 12]

One day, as Jesus was walking toward John,
—John exclaimed to Andrew and an unnamed disciple,
—“Here is the Lamb of God
—Who takes away the sin of the world!” [Slide 13]

John also said, “I myself have seen
—And have testified that this is the Son of God.”

So, Jesus was no stranger, at least to Andrew.
—Surely his business partners had,
—At the very least, heard stories about Jesus
—When he issued the invitation to follow him.

IV.  The reason why I’m sharing all of this information
—With you this morning is that it changes
—The way we look at this familiar text. [Slide 14]

Peter, Andrew, James and John were NOT peasants
—Who had NOTHING to lose in answering the call to follow Jesus.
—Instead, they were middle class business men
—Who had MUCH to lose in following Jesus.

The same can also be said of
—Matthew and Simon the Zealot,
—Two of Jesus’ other disciples.

Matthew was a tax collector,
—Which means he was very wealthy.
—Granted, he got his wealth by exploiting others
—But he also set aside a lucrative career
—In order to follow Jesus.

Simon the Zealot,
—Or Simon the Cananean,
—As some gospel writers call him,
—Was a revolutionary.

Zealots were a political movement
—In 1st century Judaism who sought
—To incite the people of Judea
—To rebel against the Roman Empire
—And expel it from the Holy Land by force.

This political revolutionary
—Also answered the call to follow Jesus.
—Simon would need to set aside
—His plans for war and violence
—And adopt the humble servant attitude of Jesus.

V.  This leads us to an interesting question
—That our gospel lesson asks of everyone who reads it: [Slide 15]
—“What do we need to leave behind
—In order to follow Jesus?”
Peter, Andrew, James and John
—Needed to leave behind their need to make money
—In order to follow Jesus.

They probably put some of their hired help
—In charge of the business
—While they were away.

But they had trust that it would be there
—When they returned
—And, instead, place their destiny in the hands of Jesus.

This is hard for business people to do.
—After all, they had no cell phones,
—Or e-mails or teleconferences in Jesus’ day.

These fishermen had to let go
—Of their need to be in charge
—And shift their focus to other priorities.

VI. Likewise, Matthew had to leave behind
—His need to exploit the poor and vulnerable
—In order to make a living as a tax collector.

He had to adopt a new way of relating to people
—That included honesty, integrity and service.
—It was quite a radical change
—From his usual way of doing business.

Finally, Simon the Zealot needed to undergo
—The most radical change of them all.
—Instead of making plans for revolution and war,
—He would have to beat his swords into plowshares
—And spears into pruning hooks
—As he followed the Prince of Peace.

He would have to rise to the challenge
—Of loving his enemies,
—And praying for those who persecuted him.

Simon the Zealot had to leave behind
—A great deal in order to follow Jesus.
—But he did and he helped to change the world.

VII.  Friends in Christ, on this Third Sunday of Epiphany,
—We, like those first disciples, are given an invitation
—By Jesus to embark on a great adventure. [Slide 16]


He calls to us as we work in our offices,
—And sit in classrooms, and cook in our kitchens,
—And work out at the gym. [Slide 17]

“Follow me,” he says,
—And I will make you fish for people.”

This invitation should not be taken lightly.
—We should give it some serious thought
—Before we say, “Yes!
—Yes, I will follow you Jesus.

No matter where you go,
—No matter where it leads me,
—Or what it costs me,
—I will follow you!”

I ask all of us this week to contemplate
—The amazing invitation Jesus had extended to everyone.

As we imagine ourselves
—On the beloved shores of Lake Galilee, [Slide 18]
—May we search our souls
—And ask ourselves “What do we
—Need to leave behind
—In order to follow Jesus?”

The answer to this question
—May be different for each and every one of us.

Some of us will need to leave behind
—Our need to simply make more money
—And feather our nests,
—And learn the values of service and generosity.

Others will need to leave behind
—Our need to be in charge our our own destiny
—And trust Jesus to be in control of our lives.

Some will need to leave behind
—Our fears of what the future will bring
—And venture into the great unknown.

Others will have to leave behind
—Our need to control or manipulate other people,
—And ask how we can best serve our neighbors.

Some will have to set aside anger and violence
—And become peacemakers and bridge-builders instead.

I think you get the point.
—Everyone, and I mean everyone,
—Will need to leave behind something
—In order to follow Jesus.

And if you’re not leaving anything behind;
—If it doesn’t cost you anything
—Or change the way you live your life;
—Then it could be possible
—That you’ve not really answered the call
—To become a fisher of people.

Jesus, desires to transform our lives
—From the inside out.
—He desires that we have life,
—And have it abundantly.

But in order for this to happen
—Each of us will need to leave behind
—Destructive patterns of living
—In order to follow Jesus.

We will also need to leave the safety of the shore,
—Get in the boat,
—And set sail with Jesus
—To places known and unknown.

Are we ready for the journey?
—Are we willing to say “yes” to Jesus invitation?

I hope so, brothers and sisters,
—Because Jesus has quite an adventure in store for us
—If we are willing to follow him
—And learn to fish for people.”  AMEN [Slide 19]

Friday, January 23, 2015

What Does It Mean to Follow Jesus?

Bethsaida: The Fisherman House
“As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.  [Mk 1:16-18, NRSV]

     The first stop on my recent trip to Israel was the city of Bethsaida which literally means “house of fish,”  denoting the town’s principle trade.  Indeed even Emperor Hadrian would later praise Bethsaida for the abundance of its fish.  The most interesting find in this ancient city (which is still being excavated) is a building known as “The Fisherman House.” It’s a large house which measures 4,300 square feet. Archaeologists found many artifacts there that have to do with the fishing trade: anchors, lead and net weights, fishhooks, and needles for mending net and sails.

     This archaeological discovery is important because it dispels the myth that Peter and Andrew, James and John, were peasant fishermen. In fact, they were middle class business men who most likely had a fleet of fishing boats and lived a comfortable lifestyle.
     The reason why I’m sharing this information with you is that it changes the way we look at this week’s gospel lesson.  Peter, Andrew, James and John were NOT peasants who had nothing to lose in answering the call to follow Jesus.  Instead, they were middle class businessmen who had MUCH to lose in following Jesus.
     This leads us to an interesting question that our gospel lesson asks of everyone who reads it: “What do we need to leave behind in order to follow Jesus?”  The answer to this question may be different for each and every one of us.
     Some of us will need to leave behind our need to simply make more money and feather our nests, and learn the values of service and generosity.  Others will need to leave behind our need to be in charge our our own destiny and trust Jesus to be in control of our lives.  Some will need to leave behind our fears of what the future will bring and venture into the great unknown.  Others will have to leave behind our need to control or manipulate other people, and ask how we can best serve our neighbors.
     I think you get the point.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, will need to leave behind something in order to follow Jesus.  And if you’re not leaving anything behind, if it doesn’t cost you anything or change the way you live your life, then it could be possible that you’ve not really answered the call to become a fisher of people.
     Jesus, desires to transform our lives from the inside out.  He desire that we have life, and have it abundantly.  But in order for this to happen, each of us will need to leave behind destructive patterns of living in order to follow Jesus.  We will need to leave the safety of the shore, get in the boat, and set sail with Jesus to places known and unknown.
     Are we ready for the journey?  Are we willing to say “yes” to Jesus invitation?  I hope so, brothers and sisters, because Jesus has quite an adventure in store for us if we are willing to follow him and learn to fish for people.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve Sermon

CHRISTMAS EVE SERMON
12/24/14  John 1:1-14, Luke 2:1-20  David Eck

I. John tells the Christmas story in a way
—That is quite different from Luke’s shepherds
—And Matthew’s wise men.
—His version is poetic and dramatic.

He invites us to use our imagination,
—As we are transported to the creation of the universe:
—“In the beginning was the Word
—And the Word was with God
—And the Word was God.”

According to Genesis, “the earth
—Was a formless void and darkness
—Covered the face of the deep.”

The Message describes it as
—“A soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness,
—An inky blackness.”

This darkness is more gloomy and oppressive
—Than anything we can possibly imagine.

It’s darker than the events we’ve witnessed
—In our nation this past past month.
—It’s darker than the most heartbreaking situation
—We will ever face in our lives.

But John does not leave us drifting aimlessly
—In this soup of nothingness.
—Jesus Christ, the Living Word is there!

The Holy Spirit, the breath of God, is there, too.
—She flutters her wings,
—Creating a disturbance in the darkness.

In the midst of this hurricane swirl of activity.
—The Word speaks: “Let there be light!”
—And there was light!

John tells us that “what came into being
—Through the Word was life,
—And the life was the light for all people. 

—The light shines in the darkness,
—And the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.”

Do you hear what John is saying?
—“The darkness doesn’t extinguish the light!”
—It may give it a good try!
—But light always wins in the end!

We are not destined to return
—To the formless void,
—Where hope is an impossibility.

The light Christ brings into our world
—Cannot be extinguished!

Who needs shepherds, angels and wise men
—When we can have THIS?

II. I suspect John’s Christmas story is one that
—Many of us need to hear tonight
—As we face darkness of many kinds.

I don’t need to name the aliases darkness goes by.
—I’m fairly certain we know them by heart!

So instead of dwelling on the darkness,
—We’re going to celebrate the light;
—The light that cannot be extinguished!

But this light John speaks of,
—Is not some etherial, untouchable light.

The Word was not content
—To speak light into being
—At the beginning of creation
—And leave it at that.

He was not content to appear to Moses
—As a burning bush,
—Or lead the Israelites through the wilderness
—As a pillar of fire.

The Word was not content
—To burn as an eternal flame in the Holy of Holies
—In the Jerusalem temple.

Instead, John tells us the Word
—Brought light into our world
—In a surprising and unexpected way.

This is how John describes it:
—“And the Word became flesh
—And made his home among us.
—We have seen his glory,
—Glory like that of a father’s only son,
—Full of grace and truth.”

III. The Word became flesh.

The One who existed before the world was created
—Somehow, inexplicably, found a way
—To be present among us
—In the finite form of a baby boy.

The One who spoke light into being,
—Became the Light of the World.

If you think about it for too long,
—It totally blows your mind!

The beauty of John’s description of Jesus
—Lies in the phrase “made his home among us.”

In the Greek, it literally means “to pitch a tent.”

The image it calls to mind
—Is the Old Testament tabernacle
—Or Tent of Meeting.

The Tabernacle was a portable worship tent
—The Israelites carried with them as they made their way
—From Egypt to the Promised Land.

They believed the Word dwelt in this tent.
—And they carried the Tabernacle with them
—As a visible reminder that God traveled with them.

But John says the Word had one more surprise up its sleeve.
—The Word refused to be confined to a building.
—Instead, the Word became human
—And “made his home among us.”

The Message says “The Word became flesh and blood,
—And moved into the neighborhood.”

This brings to mind the image of Jesus in a big U-haul.
—He pulls up to our house, knocks on our door,
—And starting unloading lamps and tables
—And other assorted pieces of furniture.

I like to think of Jesus in this way.
—He’s not only the Word
—Who spoke light into being.
—He’s family as well.

He’s not distant an uncaring.
—He’s as close as the person sitting next to us tonight!
—And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

IV. This is good news for those of us
—Who feel like we are dwelling in darkness.

It reminds us that Jesus is not confined
—To a church building
—Where we go and visit him every Sunday.

Jesus has moved into the neighborhood.
—He walks with us during our
—Monday through Sunday lives.

He holds our hand when we need comfort.
—He points the way when we feel lost.

He speaks words of peace
—When there is no peace to be found.

The power of John’s Christmas story is that
—Jesus’ birth is not just something
—That happened 2000 years ago.

His presence continues to be birthed among us
—EACH and EVERY day.

John describes this as “glory,” saying
—“We have seen his glory,
—Glory like that of a father’s only son,
—Full of grace and truth.”

“Glory” is a fancy way for saying
—Glow or light or presence.

So John is saying we see evidence
—Of Jesus’ presence all around us.
—He is shining brightly in the darkness.
—He is radiating grace and truth
—Like a thousand suns.

THIS is the kind of Jesus
—Our dark world needs right now.

It’s the kind of Jesus we all need
—To help us make it through
—All the difficulties we face.

It’s the kind of Jesus who can shine healing light
—On the wounds we inflict on one another.

V.  But we’re not quite finished yet.
—We have one more stop to make.

This Word who became flesh
—And made his home among us,
—Also told us “YOU are the light of the world.”

If Jesus were Southern, he would say
—“Y’all are the light of the world.”
—Because he intended it to mean everyone.

“Y’all are the light of the world.
—A city build on a hill cannot be hid.
—No one after lighting a lamp
—Puts it under a bushel basket,
—But on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

In the same way, let your light shine before others,
—So they may see your good works
—And give glory [there’s that word glory, again!]
—Give glory to your Father in heaven.

In a few minutes we’re going to be
—Lighting candles throughout the worship space.
—As this room is bathed in light
—I hope it will remind us that we,
—Like the Christ Child, are created to shine.
 

When we blow those candles out
—At the end of worship,
—It is my prayer that the Light of Christ
—Will continue to burn in our hearts
—Throughout the year.

I hope it shines so brightly that others
—Will see the glow on our faces
—And feel grace and truth radiating from our hearts.

So, Friends in Christ.
—I wish you all a Blessed Christmas!
—And may the Light of Christ shine brightly through us
—So the dark corners of the world
—May be filled with light!  Amen.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

SABBATICAL TIME

I am taking a month's sabbatical from posting.  The next two weeks include getting ready to celebrate Christmas at Abiding Savior.  Then I have a little stay-vaction before I head to Jerusalem for an acadamic study trip.  I wish everyone a blessed Christmas.  May the light who shines in the darkness give you hope and peace this holy season!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Angel Cards: CONTENTMENT

Today’s word is CONTENTMENT. 

In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul says he has learned the secret of being content.  What is his secret, we might ask? It’s thinking about “whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable.” It’s focusing on people and events that are “excellent” and “worthy of praise.”  [Phil 4:8-9]  When was the last time we did that?

     The 24 hour news cycle is often a litany of woe.  Rarely do we hear a “human interest” story.  When we do it never grabs the headlines but is always relegated to the end of the broadcast.  This points to the observation that it’s easy to be negative, but much harder to be positive.  It’s easy to recite a long list of what’s wrong in the world, instead of lifting up what’s right.
     If you’re one of those “ the glass is half empty and why isn’t it in a mug instead” kind of people, perhaps CONTENTMENT should be your word this Advent.  It’s easy for life to overwhelm us with darkness and despair.  But one of the important themes of this season is “the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” [John 1:5]  This light, of course, was Jesus but he also intends for us to shine as well.  “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” [Matthew 5:14,16]  
     CONTENTMENT is shining our light as brightly as we can and refusing to let the darkness get the upper hand.  It’s focusing on those things that are excellent and worthy or praise because it’s good for our souls and for our world.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Angel Cards: COMMUNICATION

Today’s word is COMMUNICATION.

COMMUNICATION, they say, is a two way street.  It involves both speaking and listening.  In this sense, my blog is a poor communication tool because I cannot dialogue face to face with those who read it.  I’m only stating my opinion and these days there are lots of opinions out there for all of us to read!  What passes for COMMUNICATION these days in our Facebook/Twitter world is stating our opinion and loudly and forcefully as we can.  Our comments usually involve stating our gut reaction to news stories, photos and Facebook posts without giving our words any critical thought.  

     I will be the first to admit I’ve been guilty of this from time to time, but I’m trying to do better!  When something riles me up in cyberspace I try to take a deep breath before I respond to anything.  I consider whether what I have to offer is helpful, insightful, or relevant to the topic at hand.  If it’s none of these three things I resist the temptation to hit the “post” button.
     I have often told people who are angry about something, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be heard?”  Most of the time, people want to be heard which involves a different way of communicating than if we only want to be right.  In this season that is supposed to be about “peace on earth” and “goodwill to all people” it’s imperative that we improve our COMMUNICATION with each other. There is already more than enough hate speech in our world.  Let’s commit ourselves to a different way of speaking both on the internet and in the real world as well.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Angel Cards: POWER

Today’s word is POWER.

Often times we wish for POWER so we can “smite our enemies.”  However, the Advent season teaches us that the coming Prince of Peace wields a different kind of POWER.  Brian McLaren, in his insightful book We Make the Road by Walking, states it this way: “Herod—and Pharaoh before him—model one way: violence is simply one tool, used in varying degrees, to gain or maintain power.  The baby whom Herod seeks to kill will model another way.  His tool will be service, not violence.  And his goal will not be gaining and maintaining power, but using his power to heal and empower others.  He will reveal a vision of God that is reflected more in the vulnerability of children than in the violence of men, more in the caring of mothers than in the cruelty of kings.”

     So what kind of POWER do we seek?  Is it the POWER to build bridges or burn them down?  Are we more interested in making swords and spears or plowshares and pruning hooks?  I think you get my point.  POWER is a quality we need more of in our world if it’s used in the way Jesus used it.  God knows we’ve seen more than enough Herods in our country and throughout the world.