Extravagant Grace, Extravagant Celebration

 Inspired by Luke 15

Though it was a long reading, in fact, that was the entirety of chapter fifteen, it’s another great example of how Luke masterfully strung stories together to drive a point home. You can easily pick out the theme from these three parables that he shares in this chapter from Jesus. Many titles have been given for this chapter: Lost and Found; The Lost Sheep, Coin, and Son; or my favorite, the Common English Bible calls this chapter Occasions for Celebration. I like that one because it focuses on the positive rather than the negative aspects of this story, which is usually our default position. You can hear it in the titles that we’ve given to these stories. It’s not called The Parable of the Found Coin. No, we call it The Parable of the Lost Coin. It’s not called The Parable of the Found Sheep. No, we call it The Parable of the Lost Sheep. Likewise, we know the parable of the son as The Prodigal Son, focusing on his faults. Why don’t we know it as The Parable of the Loving Father? Ah, we humans have a hard time focusing on the positives, don’t we! And I have a sneaking suspicion that this sermon is going to fall into that same trap! But we’ll see. We’ll see.

The first thing I’d like to point out is the senselessness of these stories. They are intentionally filled with the behaviors and thoughts that just don’t make sense. The characters from these stories make decisions that most of us would not, then or now. Let me give you some examples to show you what I mean. In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus asks, “Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it?” Now, anyone in that group of listeners who had ever owned more than one sheep knew full well that the answer to that question was a resounding, “No!” Of course he wouldn’t have the left the ninety-nine! If he had, he’d be leaving them open to predators or from getting lost themselves!

So, right out of the gate Jesus asks them a question that rattles them a bit, that signaled to them that the characters in this story might not behave the way we’d expect, and therefore, the people that they represent shouldn’t either, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. After finding the lost sheep he calls his friends and neighbors together to celebrate. A common part of a celebration in that day was meat. So, he celebrates the finding of the lost sheep by…slaughtering one? Well that doesn’t make sense! And it’s not supposed to but let’s keep going. Here’s another example. What does the woman do when she finds her lost coin? She calls her friends and neighbors together to celebrate with her! Probably spending the entire amount of the coin that she just found! Well that doesn’t make sense! And, it’s not supposed to.

Then, we come to the story of the prodigal son, and this one is filled with things that just don’t make sense! First, asking for his share of the inheritance before his dad had died was something that no one would ever do, either in that day or in this day. But in first century Palestine, that would have been considered one of the worst insults a child could give to a parent. It would have communicated that the child wanted the parent to be dead. Who would do that? No one. And I think that was the point. Again, right out of the gate Luke has yet another character behaving in ways that most people just wouldn’t. And I think that’s on purpose. But let’s keep going.

So, after insulting his dad to the very core, the son leaves home, spends all his inheritance, and finds himself destitute. He returns home thinking that he could at least get a job from dear old dad, knowing that he doesn’t deserve to be considered a son anymore, not after what he pulled, and it’s better than dying of starvation. Upon his return, he doesn’t even get close to his dad’s property before he is spotted by him. Some scholars imagine the dad sitting at the city gate where the wealthy elders would sit and relax while their servants worked their land. And it was there that his dad saw him approaching. If that’s true, it gives the father’s response all the more weight, and makes the demand for a robe and a ring and sandals all the more powerful. Because, you see, the robe and ring and sandals would have hidden the son’s shame in losing half his dad’s property. His dad goes above and beyond the call of grace here, by not only hiding his son’s shame, but taking that shame on himself, because you better believe that the community would have judged the dad for allowing any of this to happen in the first place.

His dad should have disowned him, that would have been the customary response in that society. But again, we have another character behaving in very strange ways, exhibiting a grace that no one could have seen coming, let alone practice themselves. In the end, like the other two parables, there is a celebration! A celebration that far exceeds what was lost and the pain that was endured. And I wonder if that isn’t the point here—that grace should always exceed the loss—whether the loss be financial, physical, or emotional. Likewise, when restoration happens—whether it be a sheep or coin or child—the celebration should reflect the extravagant grace that made the restoration possible. Extravagant grace and extravagant celebration, and none of it makes any sense!

I believe this is why all these characters in all three of these parables from this chapter behave in such strange and nonsensical ways, in ways that go against societal norms or against plain ol’ common sense! Because grace don’t make sense! Grace applies love in unfair ways, because grace is less concerned with vengeance and more concerned with restoration. And that usually goes against the grain of society, and our innate human instincts. In these three parables, Luke and Jesus try to get us to see that following the ways of Jesus, means behaving in entirely new ways, in spite of the judgement that we might endure, in spite of how we were raised, in spite of our instincts. Extravagant grace, and equally extravagant celebration, is the work that we are called to. The cost of which can be high sometimes but we will talk more about that on Wednesday night. In the meantime, let us celebrate the perfector of the extravagant grace that we are called to practice, Jesus the Christ. Amen.


Trust Issues

 Inspired by Luke 9:28-45

There’s nothing worse than disappointing a family member or friend. Getting into a curse-laden argument is often much preferred than them telling you just how disappointed in you they are. And sometimes that disappointment isn’t even given in words, just a look, an expression is all it can take. An expression that hits right in your heart. Heck, I’d rather get into an all-out fistfight than be looked at with those disappointed eyes! I have a feeling most of you know that look. There’s just nothing worse than disappointing a family member or friend. It’s gotta be one of the worst feelings in the world. I’m sure I have disappointed my parents more times than I realize. I had a tendency of trying their patience. But you know, I never felt that they loved me any less for it, and I certainly wasn’t any less spoiled by them. Thankfully, there was no correlation between my bad behavior and their love for me or their willingness to do good for me.

As we speed through the Gospel of Luke, we find ourselves in chapter nine already this week, and Jesus is really struggling here. We’re not even halfway through this book and Jesus is running low on patience, which is starting to cause some angry outbursts, and though Luke doesn’t use this word, I’m thinking that Jesus was throwing quite a few of those disappointed eyes at people. But before we get into Jesus’ moodiness, Luke shares this fantastical story of the Transfiguration. The Bible is full of lots of amazing stories but then there are some that seem they were written for the big screen and this is one of them. This scene feels like it was written more by a C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien kind of author!

This story represents a major turning point in the narrative that Luke is sharing with us. From here on out, Jesus’ focus will become more and more set on Jerusalem and what is eventually going to happen there, him being handed over to his enemies. This is going to be a permanent fixture in his mind from here on out, and so it is no wonder that his temperament is going to change as well. He can’t even get a break from this during this mountain top experience with Moses and Elijah. Did you notice what they talk to him about? His departure, as Luke puts it! Can you imagine, getting to speak to Moses and Elijah, two giants of their faith, and all they want to talk to him about is his death! That would be like one of us, getting to meet Jesus, while we’re still alive, not on our death bed, and we say, “Jesus, I have so many questions for you, so many things I want to talk about!” And Jesus says, “I’m just here to talk about your funeral arrangements.”

As if that wasn’t bad enough, while Moses and Elijah are talking to him about his death in Jerusalem, Jesus looks over and sees his three closest companions, Peter, John, and James, fighting sleep! Some support team they turned out to be! Jesus just can’t get a break. Luckily, they’re able to stay awake long enough to hear a voice from the cloud say, “This is my son, my chosen one. Listen to him!” After witnessing this spectacular event, the four of them go back down the mountain and resume the road that they had been on, with the destination of Jerusalem now being set firmly.

Now, let me pause here and ask you, if you had been one of the three that went up that mountain with Jesus, and witnessed all that they had, what would your faith be like as you now came down that mountain? What would your thoughts be surrounding this Jesus whose mission you have committed your life to? I know, it’s difficult to know what we would do in a situation like this but humor me and be thinking about that as we continue.

A day later, Jesus is confronted by a father with a sick son. His father thinks it’s a demon but any modern reader would read this and see that this was probably seizures that the son was suffering from, probably in the form of epilepsy. Regardless, it doesn’t matter what the son was ailing from as that doesn’t change the story at all either way. What’s important here is that the father was not just there to ask Jesus for help but to also let Jesus know that his own disciples had already been asked and were unable to heal the boy. Jesus flips out! Not on the father, not on the crowds, no, on the disciples. Now, we might read this and think Jesus is just in a bad mood and is therefore overreacting. However, we only read a portion of this chapter. If we had read from the beginning we would have read this very first line from chapter nine where Luke shares this with us, “Jesus called the Twelve together and he gave them power and authority over all demons and to heal sicknesses.”

He gave them the power to take care of that father’s son, from whatever that ailed him, and they could not do it. And we have to ask ourselves, why? Jesus gave us a clue in his little rant. He called them “faithless.” And I’m sure he had that disappointed look on his face that probably felt like a dagger to their hearts. Ugh, there’s just nothing worse than disappointing someone. I’ve mentioned this to you before but it’s worth a reminder. The Greek word that we usually translate as “faith” can equally be translated as trust. I actually like that word better. Mostly because we have a very westernized view of faith. When we think of the word faith we think of a certain set of beliefs that a person has. It’s a very doctrinal way of thinking of faith. However, that’s not what a first-century, Middle-Eastern view would be. For them, it was more of a sense of trust. Jesus was continually frustrated at their lack of trust, not in their inability to subscribe to a particular set of beliefs.

So, with that in mind, Jesus is actually calling them “trustless”, not “faithless.” Trustless. After everything that they had seen and heard, with their own eyes and ears, they were still having trust issues. And that was why they couldn’t help that father’s son. But these trust issues ran two ways. First and foremost, they didn’t trust Jesus. And without trust in Jesus, we end up trying to follow Jesus in the clouds like birds with their wings clipped. It just doesn’t work. So, there’s that, lack of trust in Jesus. But I also think there’s another lack of trust that Jesus is concerned about. And that’s a lack of trust in ourselves, in our own God-given abilities, in our own God-given gifts, given to us to carry out the mission set out for us two thousand years ago—to bring healing to the world, wherever and whenever we can, to whatever ailments that come our way. And so, beneath Jesus’ frustration and harsh words—which by the way, I find so endearing and full of grace, especially when I lose patience and grace myself—beneath Jesus’ frustration and harshness, we hear a call from Jesus, a plea from Jesus, “Trust me”, Jesus says, “And trust yourselves.” And more importantly, I hear Jesus saying to us, “I trust you. You got this. I have faith in you.”

Now, if that isn’t enough grace for you, it gets even better. When Jesus learns of the failure of the disciples to help that father, what does he do? Does he quit? Of course not. Does he fire the disciples? No. Does he throw a tantrum? Well, a little. What does he do next? He healed that boy. Because Christ would never allow our failures, our shortcomings, our lack of trust, to get in the way of God’s goodness breaking through our world. Never. Thankfully, there is no correlation between our behavior and Christ’s love or willingness to do good, to bring healing, to bring life, to bring wholeness, into our world. Nothing can get in the way of that. Not even us. Thanks be to God. Amen.



 Inspired by Luke 7:1-15

“After Jesus finished presenting all his words among the people, he entered Capernaum.” That’s how Luke begins our passage for today, which comes from chapter seven. It’s easy to miss but Luke spells out in this one seemingly simple opening line, what the next few stories are all about. Words. More specifically, the power of words. Luke had a habit of stringing stories together in order to make a singular point, and this chapter is one of many that exemplifies that. I don’t have to tell you, but I will anyway because that’s my job, of how powerful words can be. They have the power to both heal and destroy, to both bring life and death into this world, figuratively and literally. Jesus surely wasn’t the first to introduce this. The Hebrew scriptures are full of stories, proverbs, songs, and poetry that express the power of words. But when Jesus, the Word made flesh demonstrates it, well, it makes stand at attention, if not altogether gasp in awe.

In the first story that Luke shares, we have a centurion, a high-ranking Roman military commander, who had a servant who was on her death bed. He is apparently in good standing with the Jewish community there and asks them to send for Jesus to heal his servant. They do as he asks and Jesus goes with them to tend to this dying servant. But just before he reaches the centurion’s home, Jesus is stopped. Jesus is then given another message from the centurion saying that he doesn’t want Jesus to physically come to his home, claiming that he is not worthy. Instead, he says that all Jesus has to do is say, with words, that his servant is healed and she will be healed. Because you see, as someone who knows the power of words, the weight of giving orders and having those orders followed, the centurion has complete confidence in Jesus’ ability to heal his servant from right where he is standing. Jesus is gobsmacked, he is astonished, amazed, impressed as our translation puts it, at the trust that this centurion has, and lo and behold, when the messengers return the servant is healed.

Luke then shares another little story. This time he is in the little town of Nain, about a full day’s journey from Capernaum. There he meets a widow who’s only son has just died, whose body is being carried out of town to be buried. Luke shares that Jesus had compassion for the widow and motioned for the people to stop moving the body. Jesus, using his words once again, tells the young man to “get up.” The young man does just that, and Jesus returns him to his mother.

In both of these stories, words are everything. Words are the only thing that pass between Jesus and the ones in need. Words are the only thing that connect the healer and the healed. Words are how Jesus knew of the trust that the centurion had in him, even though he didn’t hear it directly from him but through messengers. Words are what astonished Jesus so, words are what moved him to heal that dying servant. And it was with mere words that Jesus raised the widow’s only son back to life, back to her. Words are everything in these stories, and they are for us too. In this day and age when so much of our lives are recorded. Every social media post, bank transaction, driving violation, not to mention never knowing when you’re being video recorded, whether it be on someone’s cell phone, door bell, or a street cam! It goes without saying that our words can come back to bite us if we’re not careful.

Words have so many healing properties though too, whether those words are spoken or words that you choose to not let out. Words can heal so much of what’s wrong in our world. Could that be what Jesus and Luke were trying to get across to us? I mean, sure, they were also flexing Jesus’ power too, right! Luke wanted us to know that Jesus was the real deal, the ruler of the cosmos, with power over death. I get that, and we need that too. But I also believe that we can’t stop there. What good is it to have an all-powerful Jesus if it’s not going to make a difference in our lives? In fact, right before these stories, at the end of chapter six, Jesus asks his followers in frustration, “Why do you call me ‘Lord’ and don’t do what I say?” Which is why I believe Luke is pushing us to ponder the power of our words, and not just Jesus’ words.

I was watching the news the other day, something I do way too much of these days, and I came across some powerful words by a politician, representative Dean Phillips from Minnesota. He was speaking on the floor of the house about his experience during the insurrection attempt at the capitol. It was quite an eye-opening experience for him and before I share with you my final takeaway from this passage from Luke, I’d like to share his words with you now.

Now, depending on your perspective, you will have different reactions to his words. And many might think, they’re just words, what good can words do. I can only share with you what my reaction was. As a person of color in this country, I bounce between being invisible and sticking out like a sore thumb. I’m often not seen for who I really am, not seen in ways I wish people would see me, to the other extreme of being seen in all the wrong ways, in unfair ways with unfair presumptions. And when representative Dean Phillips shared his a ha moment, when he first understood privilege, really understood it, because of how his colleagues of color could not blend in like him, when he shared that, I felt seen, I felt understood, more specifically, seen by a white person, understood by a white person. His words brought life to me, from so far away, through a TV screen, from someone I don’t even know. Words are everything, in Jesus’ day, and today.

Which brings me to my final takeaway from these stories. There’s a detail common in both of these little stories that Luke shares with us that, if overlooked, we lose a powerful point that Luke was trying to make. The centurion that Jesus helped, was an outsider, a gentile, not who Jesus’ fellow Jews had traditionally considered to be part of God’s people, and likewise, not someone that they would normally feel any sense of duty towards or responsibility for. A Roman centurion just wouldn’t be someone that they thought was their problem to help out, and would have been seen as more Roman soldier and less human being. Likewise, a widow, without anyone to care for her, meaning, without a male to take responsibility for her, was a huge group of people that easily fell through the cracks of society. And even though she was from the Jewish community, there weren’t exactly people standing in line to take care of widows, to take responsibility of widows. And so, even a Jewish widow, who was supposed to be considered part of God’s people, would fall into obscurity, practically invisible.

And Jesus says no to all of that. Jesus sees the centurion and his slave alike, as children of God. Jesus sees the soon to be forgotten widow and her only son alike, as children of God. And just like Jesus, he saw a need and responded. Period. He didn’t ask for qualifications, didn’t ask for a statement of faith, didn’t ask for anything, he saw a need, saw a person, saw a child of God, and responded with powerful words of healing grace. We too have the power to heal with our words, to see people with our words, to acknowledge people with our words, to confess our wrongs, our privilege, our ignorance, with our words. All these powers, just from our words, to heal, to bring life, from the source of all goodness: Jesus the Christ. Amen.


Jesus Didn't Observe the Sabbath

 Inspired by Luke 6:1-11

If you’ve come here expecting a sermon on how the Sabbath is a day of rest and leisure or a time to worship and strengthen your relationship with God, then you’ve come to the wrong place. But before you turn your screen off, I know, you’re probably thinking, “Pastor, give us a break for crying out loud! Why do you gotta ride us so hard!” If it makes you feel any better, and it probably won’t, but I too was surprised at the sermon that I ended up writing. I too am in need of some rest. I too wonder when God will just let up a bit. I read this passage and thought, finally! We get to talk about rest and relaxation! Only to dive deeper and remember that this is not what God meant for the Sabbath. Oh well, it was a nice thought while it lasted.

So, before we talk about this story from Luke, we should remind ourselves of how it all began in the first place. And for that, we have to return to the Hebrew scriptures. Now, before your eyes glaze over, just bear with me, I’ll try to keep this short and sweet. The seeds of the Sabbath first get planted way back at the first creation story, when God rested on the seventh day—which is probably where we first associated Sabbath and rest. If God can take a day off why can’t we have our barbecues and a beer on Sunday, right! Well, not so fast.

Fast forward to Mt. Sinai where God is giving the Ten Commandments to Moses. One of which is of course, “Keep the Sabbath day and treat it as holy, exactly as the Lord your God commanded: Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Don’t do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your oxen or donkeys or any of your animals, or the immigrant who is living among you—so that your male and female servants can rest just like you.” And then the author adds a very interesting connection and wrote, “Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That’s why the Lord your God commands you to keep the Sabbath day.” Hmmmmm, interesting. So, even then, the Sabbath wasn’t just for the Jewish community, and, the reason for it has connections to their slavery in Egypt. Hmmmmm. We can’t stop there though, we gotta keep moving.

Later in the Hebrew scriptures we find out that the Sabbath didn’t only apply to the seventh day but also to the seventh year! Every seven years they were commanded to observe the Sabbath by forgiving all debts, as well as, freeing all slaves! But it didn’t end there! Every seventh seventh year, meaning seven times seven, the forty-ninth year, all land was to be returned to its original owners, and a year long festival of Jubilee, as it was called, was to be celebrated! Ok, so, clearly, the Sabbath, was way more than, was farther-reaching than, simply a day off every week, right! The Sabbath was about bringing life, a burst of new life into weary old bones. Whether those bones were seven days weary, seven years weary, or seven times seven years weary! Whether those bones were your bones or your neighbors bones, it didn’t matter. Wherever a burst of new life was needed, it was commanded. See, I told you I’d keep that short and sweet! Now, let’s turn to our story from Luke now that we have all that in mind.

By the time we get to this time period, the Jewish elites have taken the idea of Sabbath and ran with it! And by “ran with it” I mean, ran it into the ground. In their defense, they did with it what any group of humans would have done with it, and if we’re honest, what we continue to do with it. But more on that in a sec. Luke’s first story in this passage is of Jesus and his followers minding their own business, walking through a field of wheat, like their filming a breakfast cereal commercial, and they can’t even do that without getting into trouble! They get accused by the Pharisees, the religious elite, of breaking the Sabbath. Jesus then reminds them that even King David broke the law by eating the temple bread when he was starving. Did Jesus just say that rules were made to be broken? Hmmmm, let’s keep going.

Next, we find Jesus on another Sabbath, at the synagogue where he comes across a man with a withered hand. Jesus knows that all eyes are on him, watching to see what he’s gonna do. So, he asks them a question, “Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” Without waiting for an answer, Jesus tells the man to stretch out his hand, and it was healed, answering the question for them. Because Jesus knew what the Sabbath was all about. Not only did Jesus know his Bible but the Christ was there when the Sabbath was first created! There was no need to lecture Jesus about the Sabbath! But they did anyway, and so, he showed them what Sabbath looked like. It looks like life, a burst of new life, in tired old bones. It wasn’t about time off, or a day of leisure, and it certainly wasn’t about being the Sabbath police, handing out tickets to anyone who wasn’t observing the Sabbath.

Jesus didn’t observe the Sabbath—as if it was something to be witnessed, as if it was something to be watched, as if it was something to passively behold—Jesus didn’t observe the Sabbath. Jesus lived it. Jesus was the very embodiment of the Sabbath. And Jesus calls us to do the same. And not just as recipients, though that is certainly important, but Christ calls us to be deliverers of Sabbath as well—bringers of bursts of new life, to tired old bones, no matter how old, whenever we come across them. Saint Ambrose, one of the great early-church theologians, shared this about this passage from Luke, writing to his own readers, “You heard the words of the Lord, saying, “Stretch out your hand.” But you who think that you have a healthy hand beware lest it is withered by greed or by sacrilege. Hold it out often. Hold it out to the poor person who begs of you. Hold it out to help your neighbor, to give protection to a widow, to snatch from harm one whom you see subjected to unjust insult. Hold it out to God for your sins. The hand is stretched forth; then it is healed.”

Like Jesus, Saint Ambrose knew that the miracle in this story wasn’t just in that withered hand but also in the hearts of all those who witnessed it, who got to see first-hand what the Sabbath really looked like, who got to experience the Sabbath, the real Sabbath, for the first time, in ways that they were never taught before. Now, some of those who saw this walked away angry and bitter that day. And before we judge them too quickly, we must remind ourselves that their whole world was being rocked by Jesus, causing them to question things they’ve never questioned before, doubt truths they thought were solid truths, rethink their entire theology. That’s a tough place to be in. Not everyone is ready for that right away! That is scary, shaking ground to stand on! God knows we’ve had our share of people leave us for more stable ground! I’m sure most of you know what that journey is like, as your theology has changed over the years, as your perspectives have changed, as your ideologies have changed. It can be a tough road but it’s a road that many of us take because it’s a road that brings new life to the tired old bones of this world, it’s a road that brings grace, it’s a road that brings Sabbath.

So, there were those that left angry and bitter and then there were those who followed Jesus with a renewed, emboldened, passion to not only receive the Sabbath in a new way but to be the Sabbath for others, as they continually saw Jesus demonstrate time and time again right before their eyes. Those who followed Jesus had their own metaphorical withered hand healed and restored, healed from whatever was hindering their path with God, healed from whatever chains were holding them back, and were now ready to use it to bring new life into the world with Jesus. That is their story, and it is ours as well, as we continue to stretch out our own withered hands, to be healed of whatever hinders our own journey with Christ to bring life into this world, ready to bring Sabbath to whoever may need it: those who are hungry, lonely, persecuted, treated unjustly, or who, like us, may just need a break. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Catch & Release

Inspired by Luke 5:1-11

Some of my favorite childhood memories involve fishing with my dad at Lake Berryessa. My dad would get me up super early, I mean, God wasn’t even up yet, still dark outside! And though it was difficult to get up, I don’t remember complaining. Once we left the house, still dark by the way, I’d catch a quick nap on the way. We’d stop in the little town of Winters and go to the same bait and tackle shop. There we’d get the same three things, as if it was part of the ritual of the day: we’d get our minnows, I’d get a pack of beer nuts, and my dad would get a cheap cigar. He’d always whisper to me, “Don’t tell mom”, with a smirk on his face because we both knew full well that mom already knew. From there our adventure would continue to the lake, to the same spot every time, just on the other side of the glory hole. We’d park on the side of the road, grab our gear, and walk down some very steep, rocky terrain to get to our spot.

By this time the sun was coming up and we’d fish from the shoreline there for the rest of the morning. Well, my dad would fish for the rest of the morning. I’m not sure how long I lasted. I’d start out fishing but the lure of adventure in that rocky terrain was too great and before long, off I went to explore. I’m sure that unnerved my dad but I don’t remember him ever getting mad at me for not fishing. I’m guessing my dad was just happy to spend time with his son, just like I was just happy to spend time with my dad. Because forty years later, I don’t remember the fish that we caught, or how cold it was in those early morning hours, or how tired I was, or even how tasty those beer nuts may have been. I remember a dad willing to spend quality time with his son, with love and what I’m sure was a healthy dose of patience, to connect in ways that go beyond words.

And that’s really why I share this with you today. For me, fishing is all about connection, in a variety of forms. As I child, fishing allowed me to connect with my dad. As I got older and before I had kids of my own to take fishing, I realized yet another connection that fishing provided me, and that was with nature. There is something quite magical that happens when a fish first bites on your line. All of a sudden you are literally connected to nature in ways that mere words can’t describe. So much so that I always catch and release so that someone else can experience that same connection that I just had. Whenever I have fished alone, I was never really alone, even when I don’t even get a nibble on my line. But of course, I’d always rather fish with someone else so as soon as I could, I had my girls with me and to my surprise and delight, my girls still like to go fishing with me. I’ve never asked them why they still do, but I know for my part, it all has to do with the connection that is fostered between us and nature, with every fishing trip.

As you may have already guessed, connection is the name of the game today as we read this story from the early days of Jesus’ ministry as Luke tells it. In this passage we find Jesus newly tested in the wilderness, newly baptized, having just delivered his inaugural address, and had just performed his first exorcism and first healings, and what is the next thing he does so early in his ministry? Asks for help! We’re only five chapters into this Gospel and Jesus is already looking for help! What kind of an all powerful, cosmic wonder is this Jesus? We’re not even two months into this ministry and he’s already recruiting some assistants!

I think this passage from Jesus’ early days of ministry is chock full of valuable lessons and that’s a huge one. Knowing that even Jesus didn’t try to do this alone might be the greatest source of comfort that we could ever ask for, especially when this work of ours brings it’s share of enemies, as we explored last week. But even aside from the enemies, this work can be daunting. There are so many causes for us to champion, so many in need of help, that it can be easy for us to become overwhelmed at best, complacent at worst. It’s easy to fall into that old trap of thinking, what difference could little ol’ me make anyway? This is where Jesus’ genius comes in. In what I think was a move to be an example for us, Jesus asks for help. Because really, do any of us really believe that Jesus couldn’t have done it alone? But the important thing here is, he didn’t. He knew that together we are stronger. And not just in terms of getting things done, but in the support that we can offer each other in this often-daunting work that we are called to. We are stronger together, in every way that matters, as we connect with each other, there’s that word again, as we do God’s work together.

And speaking of comfort, the next lesson I’d like to highlight from this story may provide even more comfort than working together. And it comes from Peter’s reaction to the huge haul of fish that Jesus helps them bring in. Peter realizes that this Jesus is no ordinary prophet or rabbi and it scares the living daylights out of him! Why? Because he knew he wasn’t qualified to be part of this movement that Jesus was starting. Or as Peter put it, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” And what is Jesus’ response? He asks him to join anyway! Now, if the daunting nature of following Christ isn’t enough to cause you to run for the hills, the temptation to think you’re not qualified just might do it. How many times have you thought, “I can’t do that! What do I know about that? I’m not a good enough person to help other people on their path of following Christ! I can’t even figure this out for myself!” Any of you ever have thoughts like that? I do. All the time. Which is why this part of this story is so meaningful for me. I hear Jesus telling us that there are no qualifications, that there is no good enough anyone can be, and maybe more importantly, I hear him acknowledging that we are indeed sinners, and even still, Jesus says to us, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” Which brings me to my final lesson that I’d like to highlight from this story.

Back to fishing. Jesus calls us to be fishers of people. Now, in the past, this has been used in colonialist ways that hurt a whole lot of people in the process. Whole civilizations have been wiped out all in the name of “expanding the kingdom of God.” Just ask my ancestors, the Aztecs, oh that’s right, you can’t, they’re gone, wiped out by “good-meaning” Spanish conquistadors who were just swinging by the new world to spread the good news. You’re picking up the sarcasm, right? My point is, fishing for people hasn’t always taken on a catch and release mentality. Too often it’s been more like catch and become one of us or be destroyed. I really don’t think that is what Jesus had in mind when he told Peter to that he’d be fishing for people from now on. And I’m assuming you’d agree with that. So what did he mean? Going door to door and telling people about Jesus? Volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen? Going to worship every Sunday? Reading your Bible more? I know, listening to more Christian radio! Ok, I’ll turn down the sass. I’m not saying that doing any of those things is bad, but I also don’t think that is what Jesus is talking about here.

I believe that it’s all about connection. I think Jesus was using this image of fishing because he knew how fishing connected them to nature, how it connected them to the sea, how it connected them to providing for their families, how it connected them to their communities, Jesus knew the power of connecting with people! And so, when Jesus tells Peter to go and start fishing for people, he’s telling him to go and connect with people in the same way that fishing has connected you to the world around you in so many wonderful and life-sustaining ways! No go start connecting with people, Peter, because that’s the only way we’re going to truly communicate God’s unconditional love and salvation for all!

This my friends is why this work is so hard, so daunting, but it’s also why it’s so needed. Because often times the people that need God’s unconditional love the most, are people who are very different from us. And so, for a congregation that is mostly white, that means being called to find ways to connect with people of color. For a congregation that is mostly straight, that means finding ways to connect with people from the LGBTQ community. For a congregation in which most members find themselves above the poverty line, that means finding ways to connect with people who are below it. You get my drift? Is that enough examples? I’ll stop there? Why is this so hard? Because it’s so much easier to just throw some money at some good causes and call it a day. But connecting with people, really connecting with people, putting yourself in places where you can spend quality time with people who may need it the most, takes time, effort, intentionality, authenticity, not to mention a healthy dose of patience, and it will cause you some discomfort. But, it’s the only way to truly communicate God’s unconditional love and salvation for all, in ways that mere words just cannot, as well as find partners in this work that we are called to, and to release them into the world to do some fishing of their own. It’s a tall order, I know! I’m right there with you. But it’s work that is needed now more than ever, and we get to be partners in it with Christ, who continually forgives our sins and says, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” Thanks be to God. Amen.