Wearing Purple

Sermon from May 26, 2019, St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Whittier, CA.

John 14:23-29

23Jesus answered [Judas, not Iscariot], “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

25”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

28You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.”

Dear friends, grace and peace to you this day from our loving God, through the risen Christ.  Amen.

As has been the case the last few weeks, we have a rich collection of scripture before us today.  A story of a woman’s faith, a vision of the new Jerusalem, and the promise of the Holy Spirit from Jesus.

At the beginning of the Easter season, we were reminded that this season is a week of Sundays, seven in all.  It is a season of abundance and today is no exception.

Let us begin with Lydia – a woman living in Philippi, and we are told she is a “dealer in purple cloth.”  Purple is, of course, a color generally reserved for royalty in ancient civilizations, and Rome was no exception.  So Lydia is a successful businesswoman.  But it’s doubtful she could have been this successful selling only to Roman nobility.

Lutheran songwriter John Ylvisaker imagined the situation of Lydia, borrowing from that well-known poem “When I Am an Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple.”

At Thyatira in Macedonia there was a lovely woman wearing purple

She had a clothing store, so very popular, and all the women there were wearing purple

(Refrain) So difficult to choose the colors and the hues; Lydia thought the blues very dull

She loved to praise the Lord, and generally ignored the ones who spoke against her wearing purple

I have a feeling we’re all thinking of [congregation member who wears purple ALL.THE.TIME.]  I have it on good authority that Jan did not wait until what the song says, she’s been wearing purple for a long time.  And I think that may be what’s been going on in Philippi.  And these women gathered near the river, friends of Lydia’s – maybe they too were wearing purple.

So it’s rather interesting when Paul is prevented from going where he’d planned, but instead the Spirit via a vision sends him to Philippi in Macedonia.  And Paul is drawn to the river, where he meets this group of women.

St. Paul and all his friends, in holy confidence, went looking for the women wearing purple

He found them deep in prayer, and soon became aware that these were Christian women wearing purple

(Refrain) So difficult to choose the colors and the hues; Lydia thought the blues very dull

She loved to praise the Lord, and generally ignored the ones who spoke against her wearing purple

And for all of Paul’s misogynistic reputation, he knows this whole thing is happening because of the work of the Spirit.  Lydia and her household are baptized and she offers gracious and abundant hospitality.  It is a model of church.

Keep in mind, Lydia is female, a Gentile, and rich.  None of these are considered the places where Messiah would reach.  But we’ve started to see those barriers comes down, first with Jesus’ life and ministry and now with the experiences of the apostles.  And we’ve also started to see what the church could be:  a place of real welcome for all, particularly the ones who’ve always been considered “not one of us.”

Our Revelation reading takes this yet a step further: not only what the church can be, but what the church is called to move towards:

“…..for the glory of God is its light…..”

“The nations will walk by its light…..”

“Its gates will never be shut by day…..”

“….. the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal…..”

“On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

A church where we are led by God’s light, where our doors are always open, and whose people (the leaves) are for the healing of the nations.

It’s a tall order.  But don’t we need this?  Doesn’t our broken and hurting world need this?

We are doing a writing prompt each week in confirmation in these last weeks of the year, and one of the prompts was “imagine a church.”  I wanted them to not be bound by anything, but write what their idea of a wonderful church would be.

Dear friends, you can be joyful in these young people.  Each in their own way, they imagined a church very much like Lydia’s house and the picture in Revelation: a peaceful place, good food, good music, helping all in need, and making everyone feel like they have a place at the table and a part in our work together.

Imagine a church.

When the disciples began their work, as is related in the Book of Acts, they had no idea what they were doing.  None.  No seminary, no online blogs to read, no conferences to help them figure out the next steps.

But Jesus’ words to them in this gospel story are the key – not only to them, but to us:

26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

The Advocate will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.

There is a statue in the Riverside Superior Court, in the historic courthouse on Main Street, called “The Advocate.”  It is a statue of an attorney making an argument for his client.  An attorney advocates for his client, or represents their interests, by teaching or reminding the court of the facts of the case.  It is a bedrock of the judicial system in our country.

In our story from Acts we see that the Advocate’s case load is by no means limited to the disciples, but has been expanded.  Paul has been affected, as has Lydia.  We heard last week about Peter’s realizing the breadth of God’s love, thanks to the Spirit’s work in his life.

The Holy Spirit is on the loose in these stories.  We are getting hints of this in these lessons leading up to Pentecost.  Peoples’ ideas of what following Jesus means are being radically re-shaped and re-imagined into something that has very little to do with power and control, and very much to do with love and all the aspects of being together in community.

And I don’t think Jesus is just saying pretty words when he says “don’t let your hearts be troubled, and don’t be afraid.”

These are very important words to remember.  They were important for the disciples, and they are critically important for us today.  The presence in our world of things that can trouble our heart is undeniable, just as that presence was real in first-century Palestine.

And perhaps Jesus is also making a distinction.  That our hearts ought not be troubled, because they rest in the Lord.  But our spirits – well, I wonder if that isn’t what the Spirit is up to, troubling our spirits for the sake of the world.  Untroubled hearts can make room for the work of troubled – maybe we should say activated – spirits on the path of peace.

Jesus leaves to make room for the Spirit, and in turn to give rise to the community of the church – the movement that will go on to this day, in the midst of messy humanity, seeking to follow Jesus.

Imagine a church.  A church of mutual indwelling.

What would this look like?  It would look like Jesus, and at the same time it would look like us – that is, it would look like us being true to ourselves, the people God made us to be.  In a word, it would look like love: incarnate, tangible, down-to-earth love. And from another angle, it would look like peace: not just any peace, but what Jesus calls “my peace,” the shalom of God, a buzzing, blooming, fruitful community, coming and going, alive with the Spirit, healthy and whole.

This is the church for which the Spirit seeks to activate us, and towards which Jesus leads us.  We get a taste of it at this table, sharing a common meal, and we are fed with holy food.  Bread for our journey.

A journey of peace from Christ.  What a gift.

Amen.

 

 

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All Means All

“Who was I that I could hinder God?”  This is what Peter says when he realizes God’s grace and love are for EVERYONE.  I am exploring more of the Acts text this week, so I’m including that too.

John 13:31-35

31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Dear friends, grace and peace to you this day from our embracing God, through the risen Christ.  Amen.

This gospel piece is the last passage of the longer one we read together on Maundy Thursday, when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.  This is the text that is pointed every year for Maundy Thursday, and we explored it in detail just over a month ago.  And so while this “new commandment” Jesus gives is the operative phrase of the day, I want to take a deeper look at the Acts reading.

Acts 11:1-18

11Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ 4Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 8But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” 9But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 10This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were.12The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, “Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.” 15And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 17If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’ 18When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’

Last week at our Synod Assembly we heard a dynamic speaker, Dr. John Nunes, who spoke about how to communicate in divided times.  Like many, he emphasized that relationship is the key, and pointed out that “whoever stops listening to others, soon stops listening to God.”

This is most certainly true.  If I stop listening to other people, I run the risk of convincing myself that I am the only one who’s right, the only one with all the answers.  There’s categories for this kind of behavior in modern psychology.

This is the spot in which Peter finds himself in our reading from Acts today.  He is being called out on drawing lines in the sand, according to his religious tradition, that determine who is welcome in God’s kingdom and who is not.

This is a great lesson, one that holds a lot for us to consider – and a lot of places where we might find ourselves reflected.  I know I sure did.

And Peter’s conclusion is so accurate:  Who was I that I could hinder God?

When Peter utters these words it is a transformative moment for him.  He comes to grips with the understanding that it simply is not possible to put God in a box.

He realizes that the overwhelmingly binary way he has used to move through life to this point will no longer work.  There’s no more either-or.  His field of vision has just been cracked open, and the line he’s always known dividing clean from unclean and sacred from profane has been irreversibly blurred.  He comes face to face with the truth that Jesus’ saving action, God’s amazing grace, is for everyone.  “The Spirit told me,” said Peter, “not to make a distinction between them and us.”  [finger snaps]

Peter goes through this whole vision he’s had – “he explained it to them, step by step” – which makes me think he must have been a good storyteller – and paints a very linear picture of how his thinking is now broad and expansive and inclusive.

In seminary we read a phenomenal book called “On the Mystery” by process theologian Catherine Keller.  She examines this either-or way of thinking as it relates to theology, and proposes a third way, one that is itself “on the way” as Karl Barth insisted all theology is.  Instead of the absolute and the dissolute, she proposes a third way, which she calls the resolute.  It is neither compromise nor midpoint, but an entirely new way of thinking about God.

I read a striking op-ed piece in the New York Times last Wednesday morning, one that read more like a regular article.  It’s called “President Trump, Come to Willmar.”

Willmar, as in Minnesota.  West-central MN, aka Luther Land.

Author Thomas Friedman’s aunt and uncle moved to Willmar in the 40s and opened a steel distributing plant there.  He visited them many times and decided to return to the town to see how it was doing.

I commend this article to you.  I will link it on my blog when I post this sermon later today.  It is a fantastic piece of journalism, one that I’m going to ask your council to read before our next meeting.

Friedman writes:

The cliché about America today is that we’re a country divided between two coasts — two coasts that are liberalizing, pluralizing, globalizing and modernizing. And in between is “flyover America,” where everyone voted for Donald Trump, is suffering from addictions and is waiting for the 1950s to return.

That’s not what I’ve found. America is actually a checkerboard of towns and cities — some rising from the bottom up and others collapsing from the top down, ravaged by opioids, high unemployment among less-educated white males and a soaring suicide rate. I’ve been trying to understand why some communities rise and others fall — and so many of the answers can be found in Willmar.

The answers to three questions in particular make all the difference: 1) Is your town hungry for workers to fill open jobs? 2) Can your town embrace the new immigrants ready to do those jobs, immigrants who may come not just from Latin America, but also from nonwhite and non-Christian nations of Africa or Asia? And 3) Does your town have a critical mass of “leaders without authority”?

These are business leaders, educators, philanthropists and social entrepreneurs ready to lead their community toward inclusion and problem-solving — even if formal leaders won’t. These leaders without authority check their party politics at the door and focus only on what works. They also network together into what I call “complex adaptive coalitions” to spearhead both economic and societal change.

Willmar has the right answers to all three questions. It has almost zero unemployment. If you can fog up a mirror, you can get a job in Willmar — whether as an agriculture scientist or as a meatpacker for the Jennie-O turkey plant. The math is simple: There just aren’t enough white Lutheran Scandinavians to fill those jobs.

Many of the people coming here for work are people who practice faiths not previously common in these parts, like Islam, Bahai and Buddhism; whose skin is much darker than the locals’; and whose women often wear head coverings that aren’t baseball caps. They also don’t speak with Minnesota accents like those folks in the movie “Fargo.”

Have no doubt, the battle for inclusion is a daily struggle in Willmar and across Minnesota — and in some towns the battle is still being lost. But if you are looking for a reason to be hopeful, it’s the fact that in places like Willmar, a lot of people want to get caught trying.

(Here is a link to the entire article:  Thomas Friedman, NY Times, 5-14-19)

This town has decided to abandon the binary thinking that was limiting its ability to thrive in the 21st century.  It has not come without struggle, and it is by no means perfected, but it IS on the way.

The reality of our world is that many, many things are throwing more of us together with more so-called “other” people, in more places, than ever before.  Things like economic opportunity, globalization, war, climate change.  Perhaps you remember the refugee resettlement after the Vietnam War?  The Lutheran Church was the primary agency assisting in that resettlement.  That’s why Clint Eastwood says in the movie Gran Torino, “Everybody blames the Lutherans.”  [I wear that badge proudly.]

But if you’ve seen that movie, you know what happens.  [Side note, if you haven’t seen it, see it.  It is a great film.]  What happens is that Eastwood’s embittered character is eventually drawn in by the hospitality of the Hmong family next door even after their son violates societal norms and trust.

What is happening in Willmar, MN tells you just how deep this unfolding diversity is going and why every town in America needs to get caught trying to make diversity work — or it will wither, says Friedman. It’s that simple.

Friends, our gospel lesson gives us the most basic and simple of directions here:  love one another as Christ has loved us.

And it’s the second part of that phrase that bears consideration today.  As Christ has loved us.

What does that bring to mind for you?

For me, I think of utterly unconditional acceptance.  Of challenges.  Of encouragement to try something new.  Of an urgent yank backwards so that I am reminded to rest up before heading out again.  And the times of tough love, too.

And I hold all of that with the community organizing template spelled out in this profound article, and I think YES.  YES.  We do not live as Christians by withdrawing into our safe spaces, but rather by stepping out into the world to work with our neighbors near and far to make the world a better place.  As Jesus demonstrated in last week’s gospel, we let our actions tell the world that Christ dwells within us.

We are on the way, dear friends.  And thanks be to God that through all the shifts and changes this world brings, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.  For that is the only constant we need.

Amen.

My sheep know my voice

This 4th Sunday of Easter brings us the familiar Scripture passages about shepherds (Psalm 23) and some not-so-familiar, like this passage from John.  What does it mean to actually listen, not just hear?

John 10:22-30

22At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”25Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.”

Dear friends, grace and peace to you from the God who holds us close, through the good shepherd, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

This 4th Sunday in Easter always uses scriptures that illustrate and break open the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd of the sheep.

“Good Shepherd” is a powerful image indeed, one that has been with humanity since we began tending sheep and even today in an urban setting holds deep meaning for us.  It is such a powerful image that there are many churches who have taken it as their name.

Show of hands, who has ever had the opportunity to engage with sheep, maybe in a petting zoo, or if you maybe raised sheep?

I raised sheep myself, in 4H.  I raised market lambs and eventually had breeding ewes too.  I really got to know about how sheep behave.

And like our gospel story today, they did hear my voice and they knew it.  (Now they may have only known it as the one who fed them, but still.)

Over the last few days I’ve been at the Pacifica Synod Assembly with your voting members, Betty Dagen and Kathy Mitzen.  The theme of the assembly was “O Lord, Open My Ears: Listening for God While Listening to Each Other.”

The desire for something around this theme has been building, so it may have been completely coincidental that it dovetailed with this gospel story.

Folks in our synod have been hungering for some practical work, ways to address the difficulty we have in our society of having a constructive dialogue around difficult topics.  We engaged in active listening in 5-minute breakout sessions, we heard from keynote speakers who are specialists in communication across the divides, and we spent time in quiet prayer, listening for God.

In our gospel story, the folks who have come to him – and again, this is better translated as “the religious authorities” instead of “the Jews” – are looking for a quick, pat answer.  Tell us if you’re the Messiah.

Now in all fairness, they are operating within their religious tradition, which also happens to be Jesus’ religious tradition.  But Jesus’ overall message has been and is that he is not the warrior Messiah they’ve been expecting; rather, his work of reconciling us to God is almost beyond scope and description.

But they make a mistake: they say “tell us plainly.”  So he does.  VERY plainly.  So plainly it’s almost rude.  It could almost be paraphrased as, you’re not paying attention.  I’m telling you and I’m showing you who I am but not only are you not watching, you’re not listening.  And that means you are missing out.

This is a little different from the gentle and gracious good shepherd picture we all have in our minds, isn’t it?

But if God’s love is meant to include the entire kosmos, then we do need Jesus to speak plainly about what sort of Messiah he is.

The key, of course, is to really listen when Jesus speaksAs we learned at Assembly this week, listening is different from hearing.

If Jesus’ audience here were to actually listen, with all their senses, to what he was saying, they would remember all they had heard about him, all they had seen him do, and realize that he is talking about being a different kind of Messiah.

Different, because Jesus is willing to let his works be his first and primary witness, instead of any words he might use.  In our modern vernacular, we would say “he walks the walk, not just talks the talk.”

Now this is by no means any endorsement of works righteousness – which is the concept of earning your way into God’s grace that moved Luther to action.  Instead I want to encourage us, as we read last week, to follow Jesus.  What would happen if we let OUR works be our primary witness?  What actions might testify most authentically to the presence of God in our lives?

In Scripture, the shepherd’s task is one with dangers on every side. The shepherd must drive away predators and navigate hostile terrain. The Good Shepherd risks injury, even death for the sake of his flock.  It’s the work and dedication of a shepherd that has made the image one that represents Christ.

Luther Glen Farm was added to the camp in Oak Glen some years ago now, and it’s become a place where young people learn about creation and God’s love for them while working with growing crops and interacting with a delightful assortment of animals.  Two of the goats, Sarah and Nugget, are visiting us today.

Our Lutheran camps are places where young people are encouraged to live lives that demonstrate what God’s love looks like in action.

Like all farms, this one has a dog.  Actually, Luther Glen Farm is blessed with FOUR dogs.

The senior lady is Gracie, an English Springer spaniel.  Her sight and hearing are questionable at her age, but she loves life on the farm.  She gets a senior discount; she doesn’t have any responsibilities.

But the other three dogs are working dogs.  They are Grands Pyrenees, some of the best protector dogs there are.  They are big and affectionate, but they are also vigilant when protecting livestock.  The matriarch dog of Luther Glen Farm, Annie, proved this in the fall of 2017.  She’s the sweet big dog on our bulletin cover today.

Fall is a somewhat quiet time at the farm.  Both the executive directors, Pastor Glen and Lauri Egertson, were off the property on business.  Nate and Anthony and the others were done with their day’s work and were in their quarters.  Pastor Glen arrived back at almost 10 PM, and as he got out of his car, Annie jumped the fence at the retreat center with a rattlesnake in her mouth.

It was still alive.

Pastor Glen raced inside to get his BB gun to dispatch the snake – relocation was not an option.  Annie was barking ferociously at it and had certainly fulfilled her guard dog duties of protecting the herd.

But no one realized what she had really risked until the next day.

The next morning, her face was horribly swollen, and she was having trouble breathing.  Lauri raced back to the farm, and the vet confirmed their worst fears: Annie had been bitten by the rattlesnake, more than once.

She had had the anti-venom vaccine, of course; this is standard procedure in the back country and the mountains for dogs.  But being bitten more than once compromises the effectiveness of that vaccine, and Annie was struggling.  Even with steroid injections and all the anti-venom follow-up that was safe, she was likely seeing the foot of the Rainbow Bridge in the distance.

It was a very frightening several days.  When I arrived with women of my home congregation for a retreat, Annie was still sequestered, only allowing Lauri to be with her.  We had been praying for this sweet, brave dog, and she seemed to be holding on.

At the end of the weekend, I stayed on for a few hours to absorb the beauty and the calm energy of Luther Glen.  Lauri brought Annie up to the retreat center, and she was doing better.  “Don’t touch her face, though,” Lauri cautioned.  Understandable.

Annie and I sat out on the patio in the fall sunshine.  And after a time, she got up and walked carefully around the fenced perimeter, nose to the ground.  I followed her, and we explored the area together.  Eventually she laid down under the big oak tree and went to sleep.  I took that opportunity to help out by pulling some weeds around the retreat center.

Not fifteen minutes later, I came back around the corner and Annie was gone.

“You had one job!!!” I yelled at myself as I grabbed her lead and went tearing down the hill.

But I didn’t need to be afraid.  Annie had jumped the fence and was back down by the herd, checking on their welfare and making sure her younger cohorts were doing their jobs.

She, along with Jesus, is the good shepherd of Luther Glen Farm.  She quite literally laid down her life for the sheep.  And goats, and pigs, and chickens, and so on.  Today, she is as healthy as ever.  And if I were a rattlesnake, I’d stay far away from Luther Glen!

Jesus speaks to us today of the Shepherd’s voice.  It is a voice of promise.  It is a voice that promises stubborn protection and care.  It is the voice the flock hears and knows and follows.  It is the voice which is especially precious in times of struggle and pain.  And it is one we sometimes have to work harder to hear in better times when other voices especially seem to drown it out.  And yet even when those other voices overwhelm; yes, even when we don’t pause to listen – it is always there, inviting and comforting and urging us on.

And in those times when you can’t quite hear it, that is when the tangible, lived witness of others reminds us what it looks like to live with God in your life.  These are times of accompaniment, of walking with others who hear the shepherd’s voice and hold space for us until we can hear, and listen again.

And I am sure that if we listen closely, we’ll hear God’s voice speaking through those selfless actions of others.  For the family of Luther Glen Farm, they hear God’s voice speaking through the bark of a big white dog named Annie.

God is still speaking.  May we be found listening.  Amen.

A Fishing Story

My sermon from May 5 2019, 3rd Sunday of Easter.  Lots of fish.

John 21:1-19

21After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.3Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 9When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Dear friends, grace and peace to you from our generous and loving God, through the risen Christ.  Amen.

So as many of you know, I am an angler of many years.  It was one of the things my late husband, and my son and I loved to do together.  We fished down in Loreto in South Baja for years every June and July.  We also had boats from which we fished in San Diego waters over the years.  When I finally sold the house and downsized, we had over 150 fishing rods and who knows how many reels and how much tackle.

Suffice it to say – we loved to fish.

So our story today holds some interest for me.

I’m seeing Peter and some of the other disciples in a bit of a fog as the story begins.  Jesus has said “as the Father has sent me, so I send you” and honestly, I think they have no idea what he’s talking about, because they haven’t gone anywhere.  So they figure, well what the hey, let’s go fishing.  And out they go.

Any of you who are anglers are familiar with the next part of the story.  They don’t catch anything.  In the parlance of a fisherman: they get skunked.

Now, keep in mind this has been their livelihood for their entire lives; there are days where you come up empty.  And they’re a pretty short distance from shore when some joker on shore basically calls out “didja catch anything?”

This is long before those flags you could raise on your center console to show folks what you caught – marlin, tuna, whatever.

So the disciples reply that they’ve got nothing.  I’m thinking they’re expecting a little sympathy from the dude on the beach.

Well, dude on the beach then says: “try the other side!”

[withering glance]

Seriously??

As an angler, it’s SUPER annoying to have someone who knows nothing about fishing to tell you what you should have done to catch more fish.  THEY didn’t get up at zero-dark-thirty.  THEY didn’t deal with the boat motor with a bad attitude.  THEY don’t smell like anchovies or whatever bait you’re using.

But I’m guessing the disciples all mumbled, “oh great, one of THEM” – some smart aleck who thinks he’s got the answers to everything.  And so they decide, to keep it simple we’ll just humor him and let the nets down on the other side.  We’ll have the same result and maybe he’ll leave us alone.

Famous last words.

As they begin to haul in this epic catch, they all realize this is not some annoying heckler but JESUS.

Once they are all back on shore, they find that Jesus has a fire going, with fish cooking and bread to share.  Anyone who’s ever had trout from a mountain stream cooked over a fire after a long day can surely identify with this scenario.

And so the disciples gather around yet another table, one that is no more than a circle around a fire, and are fed by the Son of God with all they need to be filled.

And after they are filled, Jesus asks Peter three times “do you love me?”

This has been interpreted in the past to be a sort of ritual by which Peter is absolved of his denials and admitted back into the disciples’ club.  Three denials, three assertions.

It’s an interesting idea, but to me it sounds a little too neat and clean.  Almost contrived.  Almost – conditional.

And if there’s anything our Lutheran theology assures us of, it’s that God’s love IS. NOT.CONDITIONAL.

So let’s look at what Jesus says, after Peter’s three answers of yes.

Feed my lambs – tend my sheep – feed my sheep.

What an interesting response to “of course I love you.”

It’s a response that says “ok, then pay it forward.”  Don’t pay me – pay it forward.

And by that simple directive, there is a new way to walk in the world.

Instead of paying BACK we start paying it forward.

It’s a term we’ve heard more and more these days – pay it forward.  It works from the axiom of “it’s more blessed to give than receive.”  And while that is certainly true, I think I’d say that everyone involved is blessed.

Some years ago when I was in seminary, I was the recipient of such generosity.

I was in a tough financial spot.  Probably towards the beginning of the semester, when financial aid awards hadn’t yet been disbursed.  I was desperately trying to figure out how I was going to pay my mortgage and keep the power on when I had no money in the bank.  I posted something on Facebook about requesting prayer that I’d figure out how to pay all the bills.

I got an email later that day from a colleague in North Carolina.  She said “I don’t have much, but what I have is yours.  Let me know where I can send $300 to help you out.”

I was stunned.  I knew she didn’t have much.  I wrote her back immediately and said you don’t have to do this, but I can pay you back as soon as my financial aid comes through.

She replied well obviously I don’t have to do this, but I want to.  And I don’t want you to pay me back, I want you to pay it forward.  You’ll know when the time is right.  Keep that good energy moving through the world.

This is what Jesus is teaching Peter and the disciples: pay it forward.  You honor me best by extending me into the world.  Keep that good energy moving.

And finally, Jesus says to Peter, follow me.

Not “worship me.”  This is such a fascinating distinction.  It shows us that Jesus is about empowering all of us to be his hands and feet in the world, while we worship the triune God.

It’s a reminder that worship is both passive and active.  We have moments in worship of passivity, of sitting and listening to God’s word, and those of activity – offering our gifts, or standing for the gospel acclamation, or actively receiving communion.

In the world, we are active in serving others, and we are passive in resting and listening for God.

To return to the first part of our story today, I wonder if perhaps the disciples were rather passive as they let down their nets yet another time on the left side of the boat.

It’s only by Jesus’ comments that we know they had been fishing off the left side of the boat; he tells them to put their nets down on the right side of the boat.

I want to have us think of these two sides in mariners’ terms, because if we think “left” and “right” we are likely to drop into political categories, and that’s not helpful here.

So the disciples have been dropping the nets on the PORT side of the boat.  The left side of a boat, looking towards the front or the bow is known as PORT and the right side is STARBOARD.

PORT is a word that implies a place where you tie the boat to the dock.  When you come into port, you come into a safe place where you tie up and don’t go anywhere for a while.

STARBOARD doesn’t have any such connotations.

But the word STAR invites us to look out.

We look towards the stars.

And of course, in ancient traditional navigation, the stars are the compass.  “Starboard” is composed of two Old English words: steor meaning to steer, and bord meaning the side of a boat.

You steer the boat by the stars.

And the stars by which the disciples steered their boats are the same ones used by the ancient navigators in the South Pacific.  They are the same ones the crew of the Hawaiian voyagers of the Hōkūle’a use today.  Hōkūle’a is the voyaging canoe that has been sailing the world to keep alive the traditional sailing and navigating ways of the Oceania peoples.

The word Hōkūle’a itself means “star of gladness.”

Likewise, Jesus is our star of gladness.

When we follow Jesus’ invitation to let down our nets on the starboard side of the boat, we open ourselves to possibilities we can’t see.  Looking out towards the stars, knowing as we do now that there is much beyond them we can’t see, we follow Jesus’ lead to step out of what we know and into the place where he needs us to be, so that we too might tend and feed his sheep.

But make no mistake – the place where Jesus needs us to be is also the place where he feeds and tends us.  Where we are held and cared for.  Where we gather as people of God.

People of St Andrew, you are standing on the deck of your boat, holding your net.

Where will you cast it?

How will you steer your boat?

However you answer those questions, I tell you this: Jesus gives you all you need on your way.

Peace be the journey.

Amen.