Friday, June 23, 2017

Finding A Storm Home

Mark 4:35-41   (MSG)
Late that day he said to them, “Let’s go across to the other side.” They took him in the boat as he was. Other boats came along. A huge storm came up. Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it. And Jesus was in the stern, head on a pillow, sleeping! They roused him, saying, “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we’re going down?”
Awake now, he told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, “Quiet! Settle down!” The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass. Jesus reprimanded the disciples: “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?”
They were in absolute awe, staggered. “Who is this, anyway?” they asked. “Wind and sea at his beck and call!”

A young man committed suicide and as his family tried to understand WHY, they found a rather strange note nailed to a tree outside his house:
This tree is the only thing in my life that has roots.

Where do you find roots --- what provides stability in your life?

In our story this morning, the disciples are in a boat with Jesus.

One of the rather interesting phenomena about the Sea of Galilee is that storms can blow up suddenly and intently.

As the Disciples are in the boat with Jesus --- heading to the "other side", the Gentile side --- the non-Jewish side of the lake --- a massive storm blows up.

Jesus is sound asleep

But the disciples are panicking
The boat is being swamped by the waves and they are fearful for their lives

They wake Jesus up ---- not really sure what they were expecting him to do
BUT --- he tells the waves to BE STILL
          and they listen!

The wind died down
          The waves ceased

And the Disciples had no idea what had just taken place

Life is full of storms

Some of the storms of life it appears that we might have some control over them

Others seem totally outside of our hands.

Think of some of those storms

·         Divorce
·         loss of a job or job change
·         illness
·         addiction
·         death of a loved one
·         children growing up and leaving the nest
·         Floods
·         Car Accidents
·         Tornados & Wind Storms
·         I am sure you can add others to this list

Where do you find shelter in the storms of life?

Who is able to calm those storms?
          Who says: "Peace, Be Still" in your life?

If we don't have somebodies --- it often feels like we are going to go under

I hope you are familiar with Garrison Keilor and his tales from Lake Wobegon

Keillor is the creator and former host of A Prairie Home Companion, a weekly radio show on NPR. 

One of the show's best-known features was Keillor's "News from Lake Wobegon", a weekly storytelling monologue, claiming to be a report from Keillor's fictitious hometown of Lake Wobegon, "the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve ... where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

The opening words of the monologue usually do not change: "Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown, out on the edge of the prairie."

Garrison Keillor tells a great story:

In Lake Wobegon every child was assigned a storm home --- a home that you could go to if the weather got bad during the school day and you could not get home safely.  That is a big deal in Minnesota

The home that he was assigned to was the Krueger's --- they were an older couple who lived in a cute little green cottage by the lake.

He says that he used to walk past the storm home and he could just tell that it was a good home

He knew that he was a lucky child

This storm home became very big in his imagination.

Many times he thought of stopping and introducing himself
"I am the kid, that if there is a blizzard I will come and stay with you."
He says that he felt that they had a relationship in the world --- even thought they had never met

He wanted to believe that he hadn't just been randomly assigned to the Krueger's --- but that they had come down to the school and had picked him out.

He said:
"I often dreamed of going to see them when things got hard --- Blizzards aren't the only storms, you know, and not the worst things that can happen to a child."

"I often dreamed of going and knocking on the door and she would open it and say:
"Ahh, it's you
I knew you would come someday
Won't you come in and get out of those wet clothes
Come on in the kitchen, sit down and I will make you some Hot Chocolate --- Would you like an oatmeal cookie

It's terrible outside"
"And I would say 'Yes'"
"It's gonna get worst they say"
"Yes, it probably is"
"Carl, come down here and see what's in the kitchen"
Carl would say: "Is it our storm child?"
"Yes, he is sitting here
in the flesh
big as life"

"I never did go --- there were no blizzards that came during the day --- Only convenient blizzards --- blizzards that came on evenings or weekends"

"I didn't because all my troubles were bearable troubles.

But I am certain that they were more bearable for imagining that the Krueger's were there --- my storm home.

When things got bad --- I always thought --- there is always the Krueger's"

Let me ask you: where is your storm home?

Too often we make the mistake in thinking that a person is our storm home
That person can certainly be an important part of that home --- but I think we make a mistake when we put our eggs in one basket

When somebody looks to me --- and not the church as their Storm Home --- they are often disappointed

          Because I often disappoint people

It just is not possible for me to be a storm home to 1000 people, any more than it is possible for you to be

Storm homes usually are a group of people

When I was growing up --- my storm home was my UMYF --- my youth group.

We were a group of 30 or so
We came from 4 different high schools --- so there were some challenges to make us a group

But we were always there for each other

After I graduated from High School every New Years Eve one of us would hold a party and we would all come together. 
          Bringing whomever we were dating at the time
Sharing what was going on in our lives

We all knew we were there for each other

We were there with each other through good times and bad times.

·         Through marriages
·         And babies
·         Through divorces
·         Lost jobs
·         death of parents
·         death of one of the group

We were always there for each other

A little over a week ago --- I sat in my back yard with some friends: Mark, Ken, Jim, and Tim --- and as we sat talking around a fire I realized that this was my storm home.

I have been friends with most of these guys for close to 35 years.
          And we have always been there for each other.

Who can you turn to in times of need?

          What are your roots?

          Who can help calm your storms?

A couple years ago I attended the Lake County Urban League's Diversity and Inclusion Awards Lunch.

It was a rather unexciting affair
          The food was so - so
          They gave out a number of awards
But other than the name of the award, and the name of the organization who won it I could not tell you
          What the award was for
          What they did to win it
          What they did as an organization (unless the name gave me a hint)

BUT ---- there was a group of High School students from Merrillville high school that stole the show

They were a part of STAND --- I had never heard of STAND before
·         Socially
·         Together
·         and
·         Naturally
·         Diverse

If you look them up on the Merrillville High School web page you will find this statement
(Stand is a) student-led club that promotes an appreciation for diversity through community service. The club provides its members with the opportunity to earn community service hours through mentoring opportunities, participating in student exchanges with other schools, creating programs that address discrimination and other injustices, and educating and celebrating the rich cultural diversity that exists in our community.

As they shared their values --- and their dream for every person to find their value and worth --- I realized that what they have built is so much more than an extracurricular activity
          Even one that promotes such a good cause

They have built a storm home --- you could see it in how they interacted with each other.

They were there for each other

And they will be there for each other long after they graduate from High School

Where is your storm home?

I have done a lot of funerals for people who have no church --- they have no storm home to help them through the loss

I often wonder how they are going to manage --- how they will survive the storm

When the storms are blowing
          when the boat seems to be filling with water
                   We all need a storm home!

But let me tell you a secret
          Just coming to church isn't enough

You have to create a place for yourself
          Ministry team
          Book group
          Bible study or Sunday school

It is in the small group that we build our strong shelter for the storms of life

Plant your roots --- so that WHEN the storms of life blow --- you have a safe harbor

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Is There Enough?

Matthew 14:13-21
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

It was 1989, I was 29 years old, married for a couple of years with a new born daughter.  On Thursday March 16th the phone rang in the parsonage in Plymouth Indiana.  The call was from Wilber Yates, District Superintendent of the Warsaw District inviting Nancy and I to pack our belongings and move in 90 days to Warsaw to plant a new church.  I would be lying to you if I said that it wasn’t one of the most terrifying phone calls I have ever received.

A few weeks later I was on my way to meet with my Steering Committee for the first time, a group of local lay members of other United Methodist Churches who were to give me guidance and support.

Keep in mind, I had never met this group and they had not met me.  I saw two people sitting in some chairs in the lobby of the hotel where we were to meet and as I got closer I overheard one of them saying to the other: “Why in the world are we starting another church here in Warsaw, aren’t there enough churches here already?”

What a nice way to be introduced to some members of my team.

But that question has stuck with me through the years.  Especially what the question was really asking.  Not just in regard to church planting, but also as it relates to life in general.
Is there really enough . . .

In 1881, the Rev. C.C. McCabe was on a train headed toward the Pacific Northwest, he was on his way to plan, fundraise, and eventually plant Methodist Churches throughout Oregon, Idaho and Washington states

In the newspaper that morning was a copy of a speech delivered by Robert G. Ingersoll, the famous agnostic philosopher, to the Freethinkers Association of America convention that was being held in Chicago.

In his speech Ingersoll declared: “the churches are dying out all over the earth; they are struck with death.”

At the next train stop, Rev. McCabe sent a telegram to Ingersoll who was still in Chicago at the Freethinkers convention.

He wrote:
Dear Robert,
All hail the power of Jesus name --- we are building one Methodist Church for every day in the year, and propose to make it two a day.
                   C.C. McCabe

Word of the telegram leaked and someone wrote a folk hymn that became popular among the preaching missions and camp meetings.
The infidels, a motley band
In counsel met, and said:
“The churches are dying across the land,
And soon they’ll all be dead.”
When suddenly, a message came
And caught them with dismay:
“All hail the power of Jesus’ name,
We’re building two a day!”

We’re building two a day, dear Bob,
We’re building two a day
All hail the power of Jesus’ name,
We’re building two a day

In our Gospel lesson this morning, the disciples come up to Jesus ---
who has been busy all day preaching and teaching and healing
          and say:

“Hey Jesus, we’ve got a problem here ----
It is starting to get dark and this crowd of over 5,000 people (not counting women and children) have yet to eat ---- and there is not a McDonald’s in sight --- face it --- we are in the middle of nowhere.
Why don’t you do all of us a favor and sent them all home!”

Jesus reply was quite simple: “You give them something to eat.”

But the disciples went on:

Jesus, you aren’t listening --- you know we only have $1.75 in the treasury, and even if we had the money --- there is nothing out here to buy. 
Face it, all we have is these five loaves of bread and two fish, and that’s hardly enough even for us!

“Bring them here” --- was Jesus reply

The disciples looked and only saw a coming disaster --- a hungry mob and no way of feeding them.

Jesus on the other hand saw not a disaster, but instead saw possibility.

Jesus saw the chance for a miracle --- an opportunity to trust in God

Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of the famous book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, has said:
God is like a mirror.  The mirror never changes, but everybody who looks at it seems something different.

There is a marvelous little movie about an eccentric old woman titled: “Ruth Stout’s Garden”.  I wish I had a copy of it and could show it to you.

In the movie Ruth tells about herself and her unique gardening techniques
She has this garden, and she would till the soil and weed it, and carefully place each of her vegetables in neat rows with a stick identifying what it was that was growing there.
          One day – Ruth decided that this method was a waste of time
So instead she just cast the seeds and lets nature take over
          They grow anyway she would say

People used to love and watch her garden --- she said it was so strange that people would just stop and stare --- maybe it was because she liked to garden in the nude . . .

In the movie Ruth tells about a time when she was a little girl.
She said that she was sitting in front of a window looking out and watching her brothers bury her beloved dog.
While she is looking out the window, with tears streaming down her face, her grandfather comes over to her and says:
Ruth, do you remember that rosebush that you planted last year?, come and look a the beautiful rosebud that is blooming on it.

Why Grandpa? Ruth asks

Because Ruth, you are looking out the wrong window.

God is like a mirror.  The mirror never changes, but everybody who looks at it seems something different.

In 1941, Rev Herman Thomas, was pastor of the Methodist Church in Algoma, Wisconsin.  One evening Rev Thomas was walking through his neighborhood when he decided to stop at the home of Robert G. Ingersoll III, a brilliant engineer and grandson of the famous agnostic philosopher.

The Ingersoll’s had moved to Algoma a year earlier.
Mrs. Ingersoll was a strong believer and had joined the Methodist Church and sang in their choir --- Robert visited occasionally.

Outside the Ingersoll house, Rev Thomas prayed: Asking God for strength before he knocked on the door.

Ingersoll answered the door saying: “Pastor Thomas, I am glad you dropped by, I’ve been saving some questions for you.”

He asked his questions and seemed to appreciate the understanding and clarity of Rev. Thomas’ replies.

Ingersoll asked: “Pastor Thomas, how can I become a follower of the way?  Will you help me?”

Herman Thomas explained that the Spirit knocks at the door in one’s heart --- and that the person who opens the door will experience the grace of Christ, and know that they belong to him.”

Before he left, Rev. Thomas led a prayer with the family.

The next Sunday, Ingersoll came to church and during the singing of the closing hymn he walked forward and asked to be baptized.

The following year, in 1942, the Algoma Methodist Church had another memorable service.

During the service Pastor Thomas baptized two infant boys into the Christian family.
          One was his own first born son
          The other was a baby boy named Robert G Ingersoll, IV

Had the church been silent for just a moment I am willing to bet they would have heard some singing in the distance:

We’re building two a day, dear Bob,
We’re building two a day
All hail the power of Jesus’ name,
We’re building two a day

It is easy for us to look at the negative side of everything.
It is easy for us to sit in front of the window of sorry --- rather than the window of joy.

It is easy for us to be like the disciples and say: "Lord, there is not enough!"

The hard part is for us to recognize and accept what Jesus told us:
Matthew 9:37-38 (NRSV)
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

People tell me all the time that we do not need to reach out into the neighborhood, that the people who live close to the church are already involved in a church.

According to the Pew Research Center
·         71% of American's claim Christianity as their religion
·         6% are other non-Christian faiths (Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc)
·         23% are what we call "the nones" today

And when you read that data --- it indeed sounds like most people are involved in their faith journeys.

However, the group that we call Christians --- 71% of the population can be broken down into three categories
·         Cultural Christians ---- They call themselves Christians because of heritage or culture.
·         Congregational Christians --- They have some connection to a local church but do not attend regularly (We have a little over 1,000 members here at Meridian Street)
·         Active Christians

Only about 25% of those who call themselves Christians practice their faith in an active way.

The greatest mission field in the world is in our neighborhoods.

Most of our friends, many who call themselves Christian --- do not attend any church.

The question of abundance is two-fold.
·         Yes --- we know that there is plenty of opportunity for us to reach out and share our faith --- most of our neighbors and friends are not active in their spiritual journey.
·         But the second question is really the more important one --- do we believe that there is ENOUGH that if we invite others we will still have a place here, for us, at Meridian Street.

And the answer to that is, of course, YES.

Like the people in Matthew's story --- we have been called to share what we have so that all can come to know the love and grace of Jesus.

There is a commercial that is very old that has always stuck with me.

The commercial was about a man named Bill Demby. 
Bill is your pretty typical person: a father, a patriot, courageous.

The commercial went something like this:
When Bill Demby was in Viet Nam he dreamed of coming home and playing a little basketball, a dream that all but died when he lost both legs to a Vietcong rocket.  Then researchers discovered a DuPont plastic that could make truly lifelike limbs.  Now Bill is back, and some say he hasn't lost a step.

Bill was interviewed and said that he really didn't like the recognition that the commercial gave him.  But, he said ---
there was a time when a man came up to me.  He explained his troubles and told me that he had given up on everything.  But he said seeing me in that commercial had turned him around.  He thanked me for changing his life.  ME?!
Bill said that he had to walk away so that the man wouldn't see him crying.

What kind of witness are you to those that you meet or even to those who know you?

Do any of you remember Squeaky Fromme, she was a member of Charles Manson’s “family” but never charged in the Tate/La Bianca murders.

In 1975, Squeaky Fromme attempted to assassinate President Ford, she waved a gun at the President, but did not shoot.

Years later she was interviewed by a leading psychiatrist who concluded rather interestingly that if instead of meeting Charles Manson, if Squeaky Fromme had met some Christians who had invited her to get involved in their church that she probably would have.  Her life would have been totally different.  She was just looking for a place to belong.

Each of us are called to do our part --- to see the possibilities --- rather than the dead ends.  To see God's multiplication in action

We’re building two a day, dear Bob,
We’re building two a day
All hail the power of Jesus’ name,
We’re building two a day

Let us do our part, as we go out into the neighborhood, knowing that the harvest is rich, and that there is more than enough!

Thursday, June 01, 2017

The Ministry of Jesus

Matthew 6:9-15
“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.
    Your will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our debts,
        as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial,
        but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Is there anybody here this morning who doesn't know this prayer from memory?

It is the greatest prayer in Christianity --- but it is also the strangest.

  • It is prayed by all Christians --- yet it never mentions Jesus
  • It is prayed in all churches ---- yet it never mentions the Church
  • It is prayed every Sunday --- but it does not mention the "Lord's Day"
  • We call it the "Lord's Prayer" but it never mentions the "Lord

Strange isn't it?

  • It never mentions --- the inspired inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth, miracles, Jesus atoning death or even his bodily resurrection --- yet this prayer is central to fundamentalists
  • It never mentions that we should evangelize --- or even the gospel --- yet it is central to evangelical Christians.
  • It never mentions charisma --- or the Holy Spirit --- yet all Pentecostal Christians embrace this prayer

This is indeed the strangest prayer

No doctrine is mentioned

Sacrificial atonement for sin is not mentioned

It never mentions heaven, hell or the next life

This is a prayer that is prayed by people who emphasize what this prayer does not

But it is also prayed by people who ignore what it says.

But what if this prayer is really none of those things that we have often thought it was?

What if this prayer is really a prayer (as John Dominic Crossan calls it) --- a prayer from the heart of Judaism on the lips of Christianity for the conscience of the world?

What if this prayer is a radical manifesto and a hymn of hope for all humanity in language addressed to all the earth?

Why would I say that?
Why would I call this a revolutionary manifesto and a hymn of hope --- and what does that mean for you and me today?

I call this prayer revolutionary because it proclaims God's radical vision of justice

It is a hymn of hope because it follows the tradition of biblical poetry in offering hope for a better world.

Justice is one of the most important concepts in the Bible ---- but What is justice?

For most of us --- when we hear the word JUSTICE it means retributive justice
          Somebody has to PAY for what happened

If you are to look up the word in a dictionary you would find a definition like this:
the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals

But when you look at the Biblical concept of Justice the meaning is a bit different

In the Biblical context --- justice does not mean retribution --- it means distributive justice

To be just means to deliver everything fairly

It is equitable distribution of whatever you have in mind
          Even if that is retribution or punishment

The Bible constantly talks of God as a God of "justice and righteousness"

Psalm 99:4
Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.

Isaiah 33:5
The Lord is exalted, he dwells on high; he filled Zion with justice and righteousness;

Jeremiah 9:24
but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.

Justice and Righteousness really express the same concept

A God of Justice and Righteousness is a God who does what is just by doing what is right and does what is right by doing what is just.

God's world must be distributed fairly and equitably among all God's people.

It derives from the experience of a well run home, household or family farm.

If you were to walk into this home or farm how would you judge the householder?

You would probably look around and ask yourself questions like:
  • Are the fields well tended?
  • Are the animals properly provisioned?
  • Are the buildings adequately maintained?
  • Are the children and dependents well fed, clothed, and sheltered?
  • Are the sick being tended too?
  • Are responsibilities and returns apportioned fairly?

That is how God visions the kingdom.

God is the householder and wants everybody to experience justice and righteousness.
          Everybody to have a chance and opportunity.

And God asks us those questions on a global scale.

That's what the Lord's Prayer is really all about.

But it is also a hymn of hope.

Especially for those on the outside --- the Lord's Prayer --- this greatest prayer is one of hope for a better --- more just world.

Let's take a look at it
          Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name.

The first thing we should note is how personal this prayer is.

In the Greek it is not a stuffy word like father that is used --- but what the word really suggests is Daddy.

Jesus is telling us that we are in a relationship with a very personal God

Luke's version has no mention of heaven, but Matthew's does but it is a vision of God's Kingdom:

Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

The heart of Jesus message is the coming of God's kingdom

A kingdom that Jesus life and ministry illustrate time and time again --- a kingdom of justice

Micah 6:8    (NRSV)
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Isaiah 2:4    (NRSV)
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.

Throughout the scriptures this message of Justice is always there.

God is a God of Justice and the kingdom is one of justice.  Not just for us --- but for all

          Give us this day our daily bread.
The people Jesus ministered with were the common peasants of 1st Century Palestine.

Every day was a struggle

There was no guarantee of food on the table

Bread was the staple of life

But is this request for daily sustenance?
or for the bread at the messianic banquet?

Regardless, it is a petition to God asking God to distribute to all of God's children the bread that they all need.

The next petition in Luke is different than that in Matthew.  In Matthew we hear that common phrase that we pray each week:
          Forgive us our trespasses (or debts)

Luke changes it to:
And forgive us our sins,
        for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

Again, regardless of sins or debts or trespasses the message here seems pretty simple.

A recognition that in order to truly experience forgiveness, we need to be offering it.

The kingdom will be a place where love reigns and not retaliation or retribution.

Finally Luke ends with:
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

Again in Matthew it is different for Matthew says
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one

In some ways those are two very different requests.

Matthew is reminding us that we have a God whom we can call on for strength when we find ourselves in those moral quandaries.

So what do we do with this radical prayer?


But let me offer some tips on how to do that.

  1. Think of it as a "choke" to get a cold engine started.
Pray the Lord's Prayer to "warm your spirit" so that you can more easily enter into other praying and meditation.

  1. Pray it, thinking about the meaning of each petition.
Ask yourself questions such as,
"With this line, what am I asking God to do?"
"What am I (or should I be) offering of myself in making this petition?"
"Which petitions are the hardest for me to really mean when I pray them -- and why?"
"What do I need to rethink, redo or repent of in light of what I am requesting?"
"What else should I pray for as a result?"

  1. Use its lines as the topics of a prayer journal.
Keep notes under each petition about how you have responded to, changed, gained new understanding or still need to learn about the subjects of that petition.

  1. Use it as model for your own prayers.

  1. Pray it when your mind rebels against praying your own prayers.
Praying something is better than praying nothing.

  1. Pray it when your heart is aching so bad that you can't form your own petitions. It may become a channel through which God's Spirit can flow to you.

  1. Let it be a shorthand way to teach your kids about talking to God.

Most importantly --- let the words of this prayer fill your hearts and minds with the radical – unconditional love of God ----- and let that be a sign of hope in your life!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Who Do You Love?

John 21:1-17 (NRSV) 
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

This is my favorite resurrection story.  To me it is a powerful story that illustrates the amazing love that Jesus has for us.

This story takes place a few weeks after resurrection day.

In John's gospel, Jesus appears first to Mary, then Peter and the un-named disciple, and then again to Mary who is convinced he is the gardener.

Later that evening he appears to 10 of the disciples who were hiding in a "locked house."

Thomas was not there that evening and says emphatically that he will not beleive unless he can see the wounds on Jesus' body.

And so John tells us that a week later, the disciples --- who are still in Jerusalem and in their locked house --- that Jesus appears to them and invites Thomas to:
"Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

And it is here that our story for this morning begins --- how much time has passed since resurrection morning? --- we cannot be sure, but long enough for the disciples to leave Jerusalem and travel the 80 miles or so back to Capernaum.

Remember they would have walked --- so this is a minimum of 4 days, plus since they were being observant they could not have gone the short way through Samaria but would have had to add an extra couple of days to their journey by traveling along the coastal highway or gone up on the other side of the Jordan river.

This is important -- at least two weeks have passed since Resurrection day --- if not more.

The disciples have encountered the risen Jesus on at least two occasions --- but where are they as our story begins?

They have gone back to their day jobs --- Peter and a handful of the disciples have gone back to what they did before they met Jesus --- Fishing.

I want to pause for a second and let that sink in.

I find that fascinating.

Obviously, the resurrection day experiences had not worked their magic on the disciples up to this point.
          They were not out trying to change the world
          They were not trying to defeat Rome
          They were simply trying to survive

In all my travels to Israel --- the site of this story is one of the most powerful to me, and one of my favorite.  There is a small church that celebrates this encounter between Jesus and the disciples, but especially the interchange between Jesus and Peter.

Peter and the boys are out fishing --- and have been out all night when some stranger from the shore suggests that they should be fishing on the opposite side of the boat.


But they listen and cast their nets to the other side and their nets become full of fish.
          The unnamed disciples proclaims that it is Jesus
                    But the others are not so sure.
          They obviously do not recognize this stranger

Peter jumps in the water, leaving the boat and the fish and rushes to shore. 
          Still not convinced it is Jesus

But as they shared together in a meal --- as they break bread together --- they understood who it was with them (even if they did not recognize him).

And then we get to one of the greatest exchanges in the biblical story

Listen again:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ {Peter} said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time {Jesus} said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ {Peter} said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my  sheep.’ {Jesus} said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because {Jesus} said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And {Peter} said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.

What a powerful exchange:  do you --- do you love me more than these?

What is it --- Jesus want to know --- that you really love?

What makes this exchange even more powerful is a nuance in the language that we don't often catch.

In English we have one word for LOVE.

So when we use the word love we can have lots of meanings.
I love the Cubs, I love Meridian Street Church, I love meatloaf.  BUT,
·         I love ice cream and
·         I love Nancy aren't the same

And yet we don't distinguish those "loves" --- we assume the hearer will understand

Ancient Greek did not have this same issue

In Greek there are three main words for love
·         Eros -- erotic love or intimate love
·         Phila --- where we get the word fidelity which means love between friends --- affection
·         Agape --- which means unconditional love

I want you to listen again to this story --- this time with the Greek word for love that is used.

Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you agape me more than these?’ {Peter} said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I phila you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time {Jesus} said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you agape me?’ {Peter} said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I phila you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my  sheep.’ {Jesus} said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you phila me?’ Peter felt hurt because {Jesus} said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And {Peter} said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I phila you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.

Did you HEAR that?

Jesus asks Peter for unconditional love --- when Peter is unable to give that kind of love back --- Jesus accepts him for who he is.

I don't think there is a more powerful story in all the bible.

But the important question for us today --- in 2017 --- is what does this story mean for us?

Maybe first we need to try and understand this word AGAPE or UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

Unconditional love is a phrase that is thrown out all over the place.

We've heard songs about it, seen it in the movies, heard it talked about on Oprah by relationship experts, and read about it in thousands of self help books.
          But, what is unconditional love?

We all want to feel loved.
We think about it, hope for it, fantasize about it, go to great lengths to achieve it, and feel that our lives are incomplete without it.

The lack of unconditional love is the cause of most of our anger and confusion.
It is no exaggeration to say that our emotional need for unconditional love is just as great as our physical need for air and food.

It is especially unfortunate, then, that most of us have no idea what unconditional love really is, and we prove our ignorance with our horrifying divorce rate, the incidence of alcohol and drug addiction in our country, the violence in our society and schools, as well as our overflowing jails.

Our misconceptions of unconditional love began in early childhood, where we saw that:
when we did all the right things
when we were clean, quiet, obedient and otherwise “good” --- people “loved” us.
They smiled at us and spoke in gentle tones.

But we also saw that when we were “bad,” all those signs of “love” vanished.

In short, we were taught by consistent experience that love was conditional, that we had to in some ways buy “love” from the people around us with our words and our behavior.

What’s wrong with conditional love?

We see it everywhere we look, so what could be wrong with it?

Imagine that every time you paid me fifty dollars, I promised to tell you I loved you.
We could do that all day, but at the end of the day would you feel loved?
No, because you’d know that I “loved” you only because you paid me.
We simply can’t feel fulfilled by love we pay for.

We can feel loved only when it is freely, unconditionally given to us.

The instant we do anything at all to win the approval or respect of other people — with what we say, what we do, how we look — we are paying for the attention and affection we receive, and the truth is we can’t feel genuinely loved.

There’s only one kind of love that can fill us up, make us whole, and give us the happiness we all want: unconditional love.

It is unconditional love that we all seek, and somehow we intuitively realize that anything other than that kind of love isn’t really love at all — it’s an imitation of the real thing.

Unconditional love — true love — is so different from the kind of love most of us have known all our lives:
Unconditional Love is caring about the happiness of another person without any thought for what we might get for ourselves.

It is not Unconditional Love when we love other people for doing what we want them to do.
Under those conditions we’re just paying for love again.

It is clear to me that what God desires of us is unconditional love --- and even when we fail to live up to it --- which we often do --- God's unconditional love remains.

Psalm 136 reminds us that “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”

1 John tells us that “God is love”.

John 3:16
          "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,”

God wants us to love unconditionally

But the challenge is --- most of us create conditions.

I can run the gamut on the conditions we create --- but we do it intentionally and unintentionally all the time.

Unconditional love means loving people even when we disagree with them.

The reason this is so difficult for some is that the United Methodist Church has been struggling with how inclusive we will be with people who are LGBTQI.

We have struggled over these types of issues before --- and not always with a great deal of success.

In the 1840's the church split over racial issues --- and even when we came back together --- we really didn't welcome our black brothers and sisters into full acceptance, instead we created what we called the Central Jurisdiction for our black brothers and sisters which was solely created along racial lines. 

It wasn't until 1968 that we abolished the Central Jurisdiction --- but racial prejudice and segregation have not disappeared in the United Methodist Church.

Now you can argue that it is not the same issue --- and you would be right, BUT . . .

All I know is what Jesus told me to do:  "Feed his sheep."

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky wrote Friday on behalf of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops:

The Judicial Council ruled today on challenges to the election of an out gay bishop in The United Methodist Church. The ruling is long and complicated, reinforcing the reality that the church is not of one mind about inclusion of LGBTQI people and sexual practices outside heterosexual marriage. We thank the Judicial Council for allowing the Commission on A Way Forward to do its work. We have said from the beginning that we trust the commission to find new ways for United Methodists of varying perspective to live and serve God together.

Karen Oliveto, is still a bishop of The United Methodist Church, assigned to the Mountain Sky Area, with all the rights, privileges, responsibilities and protections that every clergy person enjoys. The decision refuted the claim that bishops have the right and responsibility to declare a candidate for election as a bishop ineligible without due process.

On the other hand, the Judicial Council expanded the definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual,” making it clear that the church is still not open to full LGBTQI inclusion.

While the Judicial Council ordered a review of Bishop Oliveto’s qualifications for ministry, the Western Jurisdiction is already in the process of responding to complaints that were filed after her election. This process will continue according to the provisions of our Book of Discipline.

Bishop Bob Hoshibata from the Desert Southwest Conference wrote this yesterday

I encourage us to remember that at the center of this contentious debate is a person who has been called by God to proclaim God’s love to all persons in the name of Jesus Christ. Bishop Oliveto graciously gives unselfishly of herself as a pastor and as a colleague bishop and I give thanks for her courageous faith and her strong caring leadership.

Although the Judicial Council’s ruling does not immediately nullify Bishop Oliveto’s episcopacy, it does in other statements make it clear that our Church does not yet support full inclusion of LGBTQI persons. Because we are not all of one mind, I call us all to pause for moments of reflection and prayer, breathing deeply to take in God’s spirit. Just as the breath of air gives life and strength to the body; let God’s spirit give us spiritual strength and reassurance that God loves you. For those who have been marginalized and hurt repeatedly by The United Methodist Church, especially LGBTQI persons, I repeat: God loves you. Even when you feel that your Church doesn’t love you, God loves you.

I am praying that we will find the courage to live together following the words of Jesus:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).”

I long for the day when the entire United Methodist Church will understand that we are called to love all persons. I will never stop leading our Conference in proclaiming that love. God’s love given abundantly and freely to all persons is a model for us to emulate in our lives, in our congregations, and in our communities. I continue to hope and pray that we will live and work together honoring the richness of God’s diversity so that even if we do not think alike, we will love each other. Let us be inspired by John Wesley, who asked:
“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?  Without all doubt, we may.”

I don't have an easy answer --- All I know, is I hear Jesus ask me: ‘Steve, do you agape me more than these?’ (hold up book of Discipline and bible)

I try --- but I know that I often fail in loving God fully and loving my neighbor as myself.  Too often I put conditions on that love.

Scott Bader-Saye reminds us:
“Following Jesus will mean surrendering the power that masquerades as security in order to love the neighbor and welcome the stranger. It will mean avoiding the safe path in order to pursue the good.”

I want to close with these words from the late Dr Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross
If we make our goal to live a life of compassion and unconditional love, then the world will indeed become a garden where all kinds of flowers can bloom and grow.

That is the garden that the master gardener is calling me into, a garden where all kinds of flowers can bloom and grow.

And I pray that someday I will be able to say; when Jesus asks me again and again and again --- "Steve do you Agape me?" 

I pray that I will be able to say --- Lord, look at my life --- you know I not only loved you as a friend, but I strove to love you and all of your creation with unconditional love.  Amen.