Even the Gentiles…

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Meditation on Acts 11:1-18

April 24, 2016

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God!! So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, ‘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. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The 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. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, “Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.” And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” If 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?’ When 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.’ 

 

***

 

I have enjoyed my “winter” and now “spring” in Florida, especially being able to get out of the house every day and go for a walk. When I was walking this week with my son, Jacob, looking at my surroundings and enjoying the sunshine, I wondered, what are the creatures that I don’t see? Of course, at each step, the sidewalk and the flowerbeds seem to come alive with those lizard-like creatures, scampering about. What are they?

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Didn’t have those in Minnesota! But here for 6 months, I barely see them anymore. And, then suddenly, Jacob and I turn a corner, and there is a swish right next to us. Swoosh! We stop and stare after the retreating creature.

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“It’s a snake,” Jacob said. “It’s a snake!” I said. Then we start walking again. More quickly this time, just in case the snake might change its mind and come back.

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“He was big,” Jacob said, gesturing with his arms.

“He was big,” I agreed, motioning with my arms, a little wider.

Kinda like the fish that got away.

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Here’s the tree where we saw the snake that almost bit us. It’s a good story, anyway.

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As I walk with Jacob, I also recall what I saw on my drive home from the church the day before. A whole family of cranes–on Wickham Road in Melbourne. Momma, Poppa, and 2 baby birds. At rush hour!

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And no one seemed to notice them, at least they weren’t slowing down, except to stop at the traffic light. Those birds were in real danger! I pulled over and parked. What could I do? As I watched the cranes, I thought about the Church. “Who else is in danger of being lost?”

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Who else needs God’s saving love?

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Are we reaching out enough with the love of Christ or are we keeping it for ourselves?

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How, I ask myself, as I often do, can we be more welcoming to all who come through our doors?

 

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And how can we take the message of the gospel to the world? For the same Spirit that brought salvation to us is meant to be shared with ALL.

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***

This was the conclusion of the Early Church in Acts chapter 11. Peter and the apostles had been led by the Spirit to reach out to even the Gentiles.

 

 

 

The definition of a Gentile, in the Jewish faith, is anyone who is not Jewish. The word “Gentile” is actually not a nice word to say; it’s an insult. It doesn’t just mean “not Jewish;” it meant people who are unclean (which is a nice way of saying dirty) and profane (offensive to God and religious people). So, some Gentiles had come to Peter, a Jewish apostle of Jesus, wanting him to come with them to a Gentile home to preach and baptize a Gentile household that wanted to receive the same Spirit the apostles had received. And Peter went to the Gentile household because he had received a vision of animals–some prohibited by Jewish law and others permitted. This vision taught him not only was it OK to eat the food of the Gentiles, but that God wanted the Church to grow. The gift of salvation is to be offered to ALL!

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Up to then, only Jewish believers had been permitted in this new faith community that worshiped, fellowshipped, and ate together. But the dietary restrictions were only one thing that separated Jews and Gentiles. Prejudice was just as powerful a barrier. Jewish people were forbidden from accepting a Gentile’s hospitality, even if the Gentile offered foods permitted by Jewish law. If a Jewish person even entered a Gentile building or handled articles belonging to a Gentile, they would be declared ceremonially “unclean” and could be barred from the synagogue.

In Peter’s vision, God says, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.”

 

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Peter protests. “By no means, Lord,” he says in 11:8, “for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth!” Then he hears the voice again, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Just to make sure that Peter is listening, this happens 3 times, before the blanket with all of the animals is taken up into heaven.

Meanwhile, God has given a vision to a Gentile. Cornelius the Centurion’s vision is described in Acts 10. An angel of the Lord appears and tells him his prayers are answered and that he should dispatch men to go and bring back Simon (Peter) to Cornelius’ house. Cornelius lived in the Gentile city of Caesarea, an ancient port on the Mediterranean coast.

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Caesarea was the capital of the Roman province of Judea since 6 C.E. and the place where Paul would be imprisoned before being sent to Rome for trial. Cornelius was in charge of the Italian cohort of the Roman army –about 1,000 men. And Acts 10:2 says he was a “religious man.” He and his household were “Godfearers”– worshipers of the God of Israel. What’s more, they demonstrated their faith by performing acts of charity to the Jewish people and praying to God “regularly.” It’s questionable whether they were permitted into the synagogues, but they may have been. What stood in the way of their conversion was not diet or prejudice. It was circumcision–the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham. They had not been circumcised. In Gen. 17:13-14, God says to Abraham, “Your flesh will embody my covenant as an enduring covenant.  Any uncircumcised male …will be cut off from his people. He has broken my covenant.’”

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Knowing the background, let’s go back to the first 2 verses of Acts 11. “Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God!! So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’”

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     Now you understand why Peter is really in a pickle. Jerusalem is kind of the headquarters for Christianity at the time and believers all over Judea had been talking about what had happened with Peter and the Gentiles before he arrived and had a chance to explain.

Peter’s defense is that it wasn’t his idea. This was all God’s idea, revealed to Peter in a vision. Peter is just being obedient to God’s commands. He and the Centurion were led by the Spirit to do this incredible thing–to offer God’s salvation in Jesus Christ to people that Peter and other Jews had called “unclean” and “profane.” And they didn’t just baptize and say, “Good luck with the Christianity thing!” They welcomed them as brothers and sisters in the Church, united in Christ, without requiring them to be circumcised first.

As Paul would say in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

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And again in Colossians in 3:11: “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

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Peter closes his argument by asking the Jewish followers of Christ, “If 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?”

The Jewish believers, moved by the Spirit’s work, respond with stunned silence, then by praising God. “This God,” they say, “has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

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***

Friends, when I got home from the funeral and reception at our church last night, I felt the Lord had answered my question of how we can be more welcoming to those who don’t know Jesus and how we can reach out to the world. I was reminded how our funerals and the gatherings that follow are a powerful outreach, uniting people from a variety of denominations and religious traditions, touching the hearts of some people who haven’t been to church in years. Pete’s chilidog reception in the fellowship hall was packed! And I am so proud of my church–and grateful to the many people who worked so hard to share the love of Christ through acts of kindness, big and small.

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How we will be more welcoming? How we will take the gospel to the world, brothers and sisters? The Spirit will lead us.

And God will use us, as long as we know the same Spirit that brought salvation to us is meant to be shared with ALL.

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Let us pray.

Holy One, Thank you for your Word and Spirit that brought salvation to the Jews and even to the Gentiles–and to this flock. May your Spirit continue to guide, transform and empower us today. Thank you for the many saints who ministered to the family and friends of Pete McCalman yesterday. Bless them, Lord, for their kindness and generosity. Bless the friendships that were renewed. We pray, Lord, that you will bring peace and comfort to those mourning the loss of loved ones. And we ask that you would reveal to us more opportunities to share the same Spirit that brought salvation to our flock to our community and world. In Christ we pray. Amen.

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So Great a Cloud of Witnesses!

 Pete family photo

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

Meditation on Hebrews 12:1-3

April 23, 2016

     Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

 

Pete was in the greeting line on the first Sunday I led worship here last October. You could easily pick him out of the crowd because of his height and impeccable, distinguished appearance. He had a confident way of carrying himself. After that first Sunday, I could always tell when he was in worship; it helped that he always sat in the same pew. He welcomed me that first day with his smile and Southern charm and told me he was happy I was here. And I knew he meant it. My first impression of Pete was sincerity and gentleness.

In the coming months, I discovered that he wasn’t shy about sharing his opinions on many subjects. He was not afraid to speak his mind. But whether he was talking about the church, music, technology, sports or “women drivers,” –whatever topic came up in conversation– you might not always know if he was being serious. He had a tendency to joke around even with people he had just met. This drew people to him, as did his “colorful” expressions. His children called them “Popisms” and compiled a list of them one year to give to him as a gift. Here are some of them: “Does a goat stink?” “Great day in the morning!” “You’re a caution!” “Full as a blivit.” “It doesn’t take much to amuse some people.” “That’s all you get for a nickel.” “Bruno did it.” “Are you going to make a career out of that??” “Take 2 and butter 1.”“Who stepped on a rabbit?” And, “Hold her head up, Miss Mitchell, she’s headed for the alfalfa field!”

Pete also liked to say, “Patience is a virtue.” This is fitting for Pete, who definitely had to learn patience as he endured and persevered through a difficult childhood and trials in young adulthood. His family didn’t have money for college, but Pete was smart and determined to go. He found work in a co-op program and paid his way through Georgia Tech, earning his degree in 1961. The natural-born athlete, who was good at many sports, made a hard choice and gave up playing basketball for his college after the first year because he couldn’t afford to play; he needed to work.

Though Pete had a colorful way of expressing himself, he didn’t always share personal things. I didn’t know just how fragile Pete’s health was and that he had been in chronic pain since he returned to Merritt Island in Dec. 2014. He had moved to TN to live with his son, Mark, daughter-in-law, Donna, and grandson, Graham, for 5 and ½ years. Pete had been a caregiver to his wife, Lila, as she battled cancer for 2 years, retiring earlier than he had planned from the Kennedy Space Center so he could take care of her. Some time after Lila went home to be with the Lord in 1998, Pete’s mother, Julia, came to live with him at his invitation; he was her caregiver by choice for 7 years.

Pete was matter of fact about his own health issues. What frustrated him was that he was no longer able to walk without a walker because he was growing unsteady on his feet, that he had to give up driving, and that his mind wasn’t as sharp as it used to be. He told me these things as we ate lunch with about 10 other church members in the dining room of the “Tower” of Courtenay Springs Village, the retirement community in which he and the others lived. He entertained me with stories throughout our meal. After lunch, Pete invited me to continue our conversation at his home in the penthouse. I couldn’t say no to Pete, he was so charming, though I was worried that saying yes to him might hurt other folks who also wanted me to visit. But I sensed that Pete had something important to say.

He wanted to talk about his family and share Lila with me through photos and stories. I think he wanted me, who had never met her, to know her and love her, as he did. She was still with him in his heart, every day. She had been a professional model and church members describe her as “beautiful inside and out.” The penthouse at Courtenay Springs had been the home Pete and Lila had dreamed of living in together someday, when they got older, Pete retired, and they sold their home in South Merritt Estates. Her cancer stole that dream away.

Pete missed Lila so much. He told me he felt ready to go home to be with the Lord. He had lived a good life. He had run the race of faith that Christ had set before him. He had not grown weary of doing good. He had not lost heart.

When I was choosing a scripture for today, these 3 verses in Hebrews came to mind. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” And I thought, “That’s Pete!” He is one of the many witnesses to the saving work of Jesus Christ–just as we are. Pete persevered in the faith, despite obstacles and trials, despite his suffering–his physical and emotional pain.

The book of Hebrews is actually a sermon meant to be read or heard all the way through, at once. This sermon was passed from congregation to congregation as a letter, though it doesn’t have the form of a letter; there’s no greeting or recipient mentioned, except in the title, which may have been added later–“The Letter to the Hebrews”–as the earliest Christians were Jewish or “The Hebrews.” It is written for a general or universal audience. It is written for us.

It helps our understanding to look back at chapters 10 and 11. In 10, we learn that Jesus’ sacrifice was once for all people, and we are called to persevere in hope. We always think of persevering as getting through something hard. But it’s also holding onto something–our hope! In 10:23-24, we read “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” Then in the first verse of chapter 11, we learn that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The remainder of the chapter gives biblical examples of faithfulness (Abraham, Moses, David and others) –to provoke us to love and good deeds.

Chapter 12 begins, “Therefore,” meaning all that came before it– the definition of faith and the biblical examples of faithfulness–was building up to this point. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses”– who are the witnesses? Christians of the past, present, and future. Look around the room at the cloud of witnesses–and think what a small part of the great cloud it is! This surrounding is a good thing; it means we are protected, strengthened by God’s Spirit that lives in every believer and the faithfulness of those who came before us, and those who are with us in the present and future.

Verse 1 continues, “Let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” This means let go of whatever activity or attitude that is keeping you from living the hopeful, joyful life of service that God wants you to live –and has set before you. It is within your grasp, with the Spirit’s help! And what is the secret to keeping our hope and holding onto the faith? It’s not just looking around us at other people, and it’s not looking down at ourselves and becoming frightened or overwhelmed by our difficult situations. It’s looking to the one from whom our faith originates, the source, who wants to build up and make perfect our faith. That looking down and being afraid or overwhelmed is the sin that clings so closely. This sin is like a garment that we wear. The second verse assures us that this sin can be laid aside; removed. We have the power within us to choose a life of hope and service over a life of fear. If we look to Jesus to heal us–and make us whole.

***

It wasn’t easy for Pete, just as it isn’t easy for many of you who are struggling now. But he loved his family. He enjoyed many friendships, the camaraderie of his bridge groups and going with friends to every spring training game for the Washington Nationals in Viera. And he loved his church. He continued to serve the Lord through his participation in worship, when he was well enough, and through his giving. The last time I talked with Pete, he had stopped by the church to make sure that we had the dedication correct in the front of the new, Glory to God hymnals he had purchased for the church. He bought 73 of them! All are dedicated to Lila. You will likely find at least one of them in your pew.

Pete, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses that includes you and me had run with perseverance the race that is set before all of us. Let us now lift our eyes from our own problems or struggles. Let us all look to Jesus, to build up and make perfect our faith. He longs to heal us and make us whole. He endured the cross because he knew the joy would come with his resurrection. Human beings would be saved through Him.

Friends, don’t grow weary in doing well. Don’t lose heart! The joy–and the healing–will come.

 

Loving God, thank you for Jesus, who died to make a way for human beings to be reconciled with you through belief in your suffering work for our sakes. Thank you for your grace that covers all our sins, your love that goes on and on, unconditionally. Remove from us the sin that clings to each one of us like a garment–the attitude or activity that gets in the way of us living lives of hope and service–the way you want us to live. Heal us, Lord, and make us whole. Lift our eyes up and away from our own problems so that we see your love and grace and we are empowered to be Christ’s witnesses. Strengthen us to persevere through struggles and sorrows help others as we run this race together, following Jesus, until we see Him, face to face. In his name we pray. Amen.

 

Imperishable & Unsnatchable!

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Meditation on John 10: 22-30

April 17, 2016

 

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So 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.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.’ 

 

***

 

My mom and dad came to visit us on Monday. They brought more stuff that they couldn’t fit in their new home in a retirement community. Stuff that they thought maybe we would want or could find homes for. The stuff came in bags and cardboard boxes, loosely wrapped in newspaper.

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And there it sat until Friday when I went on a treasure hunt, looking for interesting things Jim and I could donate to the silent auction for our youth’s trip to Montreat.

 

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Here’s some of what I found! This is a newspaper dated Feb. 3, 1951.

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One of the front-page stories caught my eye. Freeze predicted for all of Florida tonight. Real winter gripped Florida today. Two inches of snow fell in St. Augustine, blanketing the Oldest City in white.”

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Check out the full front page. See the children making a snowman!

 

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I also found some sad mementos that I imagine some collectors would love to have. Here is a Washington, D.C. newspaper from November 1963–the day President Kennedy was shot.

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There are other moving photos from that day.

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     And there are other interesting–and less sad–finds. Grandma saved 4 books of patterns for decorating huck towels from 1937. I didn’t even know what “huck towels” were!

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This next find is even more exciting than huck towels. My mom collected baseball cards and kept them in a little photo album.

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I learned that Yogi Berra’s real name was “Larry.”

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Does anyone remember Ralph Kiner or Johnny Van Dor Meer?

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Does anyone know who this is?

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This next item will be more familiar to you. Does anyone still have a record player that can play 45’s? Do you remember Glen Miller and his orchestra?

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And for military history buffs, here is a glass paperweight of Admiral Dewey. “Remember the Maine!”

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And for the kids and other young at heart, some tiny porcelain dogs.

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And a tiny elephant.

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Are you thirsty?

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Sorry. This Coke bottle isn’t real. It’s only about 2 inches tall.

And then my Mom had a couple of card games when she was a child. This one, I don’t have a clue what it is. Maybe you know who these people are.

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But this one is a game that helps you learn famous authors and their writings.

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This limited edition Eagle Belt Buckle has never been worn. It’s in the original box with a certificate of authenticity.

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Antique game pieces, anyone?

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This next thing is cool. I think this was my dad’s.

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It’s a map measure, with a little wheel on the bottom.

Here’s one of Grandma’s pretty pins.

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But she had even more dishes than jewelry! This is a small, decorative plate.

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She had crystal.

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She had many adorable teacups and saucers that she used when company came to play bridge or pinochle. Everybody got a different cup, so you always knew which one was yours.

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Finally, I began to unwrap my grandmother’s dishes-a complete setting for 12, with all the additional platters, bowls, etc. I didn’t know where to put them all–and they were so pretty, with their gold trim and delicate flowers. So I decided to set my dining room table. Just for fun, can anyone see where Melvyn is hiding?

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Then Jim walked in and asked, “What are you doing with all those? Why did you unwrap them?” I hadn’t planned on keeping any of the things my parents had brought.

(There’s Melvyn!)

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But as I unwrapped the dishes, I remembered the suppers our family ate at Grandma and Pop Pop’s house. She was a good cook and always had a crowd of her friends and other relatives stop in when we would come for a visit. After supper, I used to help her wash the dishes by hand. She didn’t have a dishwasher. And even if she did, those dishes with their gold trim are probably not dishwasher safe.

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I guess I changed my mind about keeping the dishes because I thought, “What would Grandma think if I gave away her dishes because they are too fragile–and we might break them if we use them?” Recalling her generosity and kindness, I know she would be glad if we used them and enjoyed them at our gatherings of friends and family.

With my aging parents having to give up so many of their belongings when they moved to the retirement community, and my dad struggling with health challenges, I am learning to put “things” into perspective. I am learning, again, the lesson of what really matters –and it’s not our belongings or accomplishments–it’s our family, friends, and faith– knowing to whom we belong and our true purpose in life–serving God, loving people.

So much of this life is fragile, including life itself. As a pastor, visiting the sick and comforting those grieving the loss of loved ones, I am often reminded of the fragility of life here. But as Christians, we needn’t fear the future. Rather, we who are imperishable and unsnatchable should make the most of the days God has given us– mending our broken relationships, listening for the Good Shepherd’s voice, seeking to obey, and sharing the hope of eternal life for all who trust in Him.

 

***

   Our gospel today opens with Jesus talking with the Pharisees about things that really matter–who Jesus is and the way to eternal life. It is the Feast of the Dedication–Hanukkah- when the shepherd readings from the Hebrew Scriptures were commonly read in the synagogue, readings such as Ezekiel 34:23, “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.” It’s “winter,” when the “cold winds sweep in from the east across the … desert.” (Ray Brown, 405) Jesus is walking on the east portico of the Temple, the only portico “whose closed side would protect it from the east wind.”

       The question of whether Jesus is the Messiah has come up again. In John 7:26, during the Festival of Booths, the people of Jerusalem were asking, “Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah? Yet we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.” In John 7:31, many in the crowd believe in him and are saying, “When the Messiah comes, will he do more signs than this man has done?” But in 7:41-42, the people are divided, saying, “This is the Messiah,” or “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he?” Now in chapter 10, the Pharisees demand, “How long will you keep us in suspense?” (Other translations say, “How long will you keep annoying us?”) “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus says, “I have told you and you do not believe.” The reason is simple enough. “You do not believe,” Jesus says, “because you are not my sheep.” In contrast to the unbelief of the Pharisees, Christ describes his flock’s obedience and faithfulness. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

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     Imagine how his first audience is hearing this. Jesus is saying, “You do not believe in me not because I am not a shepherd, but because you are not sheep.” The problem is with them–not Jesus! Earlier in chapter 10, Jesus compares the Pharisees to thieves, bandits, and hired hands; now they are not among God’s chosen, even though they are descendants of Abraham; they are not among the sheep the Father has given to Jesus! It’s not surprising that after our passage ends at verse 30 — “I and the Father are one”– the Pharisees take up stones in verse 31 and prepare to stone Jesus for making himself God. But he eludes their grasp and crosses the Jordan–returning to where John had baptized him. Many come to believe in him there.

      The Pharisees were angered when they heard condemnation in the Good Shepherd’s remarks–that they were not his sheep because they did not believe he was the Messiah. But there is only good news for those who are Christ’s sheep–for those who believe on Him and have accepted His sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world. If you are worried, my friends, that you are not hearing God’s voice when you seek the Lord, be reassured. Jesus promises in verse 27 that his sheep will hear God’s voice! God will answer your prayers!

 

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If you worry that God isn’t intimately involved in your life, listen to verse 27 again: Christ’s sheep are known by the Lord, the God who created you! And if you sometimes worry that you might unintentionally choose a wrong path, that you might make a mistake, hear this and be at peace: verse 27 also says that Christ’s sheep will follow him! If our hearts’ desire is to be pleasing to Him and obey, Christ will lead the way.

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And as we read on in this passage, the promises just keep getting better. I give them eternal life,” Jesus says in verse 28. “And they shall never perish.” Eternal life cannot be earned, my friends! It is only a gift.

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And it cannot be lost. If you are Christ’s sheep, your salvation is secure. You cannot slip out of or be snatched from the Lord’s grasp.

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With echoes from Isaiah 43 and 49, Christ says in verses 28 and 29, No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.”

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   Fellow sheep, you are imperishable and unsnatchable. Make the most of the days God has given you. Mend your broken relationships. Listen for the Good Shepherd’s voice. Seek to obey. And share the hope of eternal life for all who trust in Him.

 

Let us pray.

 

Good Shepherd, we are your sheep, grateful for all you have done for us on the cross–taking our sins away. Thank you for holding us tightly in your grasp–for the protection and security of your hand. Thank you that we cannot lose the salvation that is your gracious gift. Help us, Lord, to listen for and hear your voice. Guide us to paths and pastures of righteousness. Lead us to be your faithful, joyful, obedient sheep, following in your footsteps, reaching out to people in need, sharing the good news of eternal life with words and acts of love with a world so desperately in need of a savior. In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

What’ll we do now?

 

Meditation on John 21:1–19

April 10, 2016

fish-christian-symbol

     After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee); 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 lake. 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 and 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. Very 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.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

 

***

I’m back! Jim and I had a restful vacation. We had two friends from Minnesota visit with us. We ate together and came to see the church, and we went to the beach. Of course!

Pat and Sharon LeGare photo

 

It was chilly that day–a cool breeze–and even Pat, a Minnesota native, was cool in shorts. But notice there’s some very hardy person behind us swimming! Brr! That water was cold!

Anyway, it was good to see them and just talk for hours. I’ve been gone 6 months! It was hard to say goodbye to them. They are such encouraging, joyful people! Pat was on the PNC at my last church. He was the first person I met in Renville as he made the initial interview by phone. He picked Jim and me up in his truck when we arrived at the Minneapolis airport the first time I went to Minnesota. He even loaned me his 2003 mustang convertible when I came a second time to meet the congregation.

 

Yellow mustang convertible

 

I rode around Renville in style. :o)

Sharon brought two precious gifts for me on this trip–letters from her granddaughters. Anna’s envelope says, “My forever favorite.” Jade is turning 15 this summer. She wrote on her envelope, “To the awesome Pastor Karen”!

Jade and Anna with fish

Here’s Jade (to the left) and Anna (far right) a couple of years ago. In between is their little brother, Jr., and a friend or a cousin, standing second from the left. They caught all these fish! They learned how to fish from Pat, who has a boat, and lives with Sharon on Lake Andrew. Pat loves all kinds of fishing, especially ice fishing!

Jade writes:

“Hi Pastor Karen how are you doing I just wanted to say hi and tell you I really miss you. Guess what! I’m going to have a quinceneara! It’s a Mexican tradition where if a girl turns 15 they throw a big party! I get to wear a big, poofy dress. It’s going to be pink with sparkles all on the top and two strips going down the front. My quinceneara is going to be butterfly themed. If you still lived here, I would’ve loved to have you there. I’m in softball. My really favorite part is batting. I love holding that bat and putting all my might into it and hitting the ball over their heads. We also got another dog. His name is Koda show photo of Koda; he’s really energetic and playful. Grandpa is going to take me on a fishing trip! I’m so excited. I hope we catch lots of fish. I really really miss you Pastor Karen, so do Anna and Jr. Hope to see you soon, Pastor Karen. Goodbye. Love, Jade.”

I might get emotional if I read Anna’s letter aloud, too. So I will just share that one of my special memories of them is when I presided over the wedding of their parents, Augustine and Carrie, a couple of years ago.

Tin and Carrie's Wedding

The children participated in our hand bell choir and Sunday school, and they came and brought friends with them to our summer “Camp in a Van” program last July, which happened to fall on the week of my birthday. And guess what? Carrie and Tin and the kids surprised me with a big ice cream cake.

ice cream cake!

Everyone knew I loved ice cream because I used to send the children DQ gift certificates on their birthdays. I would say, “You can’t have a birthday without ice cream!”

While I read Jade and Anna’s letters, other happy memories came to mind. I was reminded of the relationships that blossomed and grew in that rural community of faith while I ministered there. And I felt strengthened to continue in my labor of love here. I am so blessed and honored to be a child of God, loved by God, forgiven by faith in Jesus Christ.

Talking with Pat and Sharon and reading their granddaughter’s letters, I felt, once again, the Lord calling my name, saying, “Follow me!”

 

The cross

 

Our gospel reading in the final chapter of John today is a “reaffirmation of call” story. The risen Christ has already appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden at the tomb and to the disciples on a number of occasions. Our reading follows “many other signs” that Jesus does in the presence of his disciples, John writes. In 20:22, Jesus breathes his Holy Spirit on them and urges them to go and spread the message of forgiveness. He has already appeared to Thomas, who had refused to believe until he could see and touch Jesus with his own eyes and hands.

Then the book seems to come to an end at 20:31, “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” And then we come to today’s reading–chapter 21, which scholars believe was added later, with the transition “after these things.” Jesus had already appeared to his disciples on numerous occasions (in chapter 20) to urge them to keep on with the ministry. But in 21:14, we discover a contradictory statement when we are told, “this was (only) the third time that Jesus revealed himself to the disciples after his resurrection from the dead.”

At the beginning of today’s passage, you get the feeling that the disciples are kind of lost. Seven of them are gathered at the Sea of Tiberias–in Galilee, once again. They are wondering, “What’ll we do now?” They have been ministering with Jesus, witnessing his miracles and sitting under his teaching for 3 years. But he died on a cross. And despite all the resurrection appearances, they go back to where their story with Jesus began–when Christ first called to them from the shore (in Matthew, Mark and Luke) and invited those who were already fishermen to be “fishers of men.”

Here, at the end of John, Peter announces, “I am going fishing.”

It’s striking that he says, “I”–and doesn’t invite the others! Fishing wasn’t the rod and reel kind we mostly do. It was hard physical labor, involving the dragging of nets from a small boat, working at night. Is he trying to get away from the others? What is happening to this group that Jesus had urged to be known by their love for one another–the group for which he had prayed would be ONE.

But then the other disciples say, “We will go with you.” So maybe it’s just Peter, feeling bad. Peter, after all, was the one who denied the Lord 3 times before the cock crowed on the night Jesus was arrested -just as Jesus said he would. Maybe Peter was feeling like a failure– or just weary from it all.

So… Seven men in a little boat. Fishing all night. Catching nothing. And then it’s daybreak and who’s on the beach? Jesus, but they don’t know it’s him, despite him calling them affectionately, “Children.” But they know it’s him-when?–after the miraculous catch following Jesus’ instructions to throw out the net, again, from a different side. When they know it is the Lord, Peter, the impulsive, passionate one, swims the 100 feet to shore, while the others bring in the little boat loaded down with (do you recall how many?) 153 fish!

   Now we are having breakfast with Jesus–and it’s a potluck or “pitch in” as Carl says, because Jesus already had bread and fish cooking over a fire. Yet he says, “Bring some of the fish you caught just now.” Returning to God a portion of what the Lord had given them, sharing with one another. This breakfast is important because it proves that Jesus is a real, live human being and not just a ghost–‘cause ghosts don’t eat! This is important to John’s theology–that Jesus is fully human and fully God. This fellowship meal is also important because it shows the love of God– how Jesus hasn’t stopped caring about the disciples and that he is determined to use them for His Father’s salvation work, though every single one of them deserted him in the end!

I could tell you so much more –about the 2 different words John uses for love, when Jesus asks Peter if he loves him–and Peter answers with a different word for love, one that means friendship, not the more noble, reverential love word that Jesus uses. I can tell you about the 3 different words for fish in this passage.  I can tell you about the 2 different words for feed and sheep when Jesus urges Peter, if Peter loves him, to “Feed my lambs”( v. 15) “Tend my sheep” (v. 16) and “Feed my little sheep” (v. 17). But that’s not what I want you to remember from this passage. I want you to see that the miracle catch, the breakfast & appearance of the risen Christ—it’s all about relationship–with God and one another. And it’s about being obedient to the call to discipleship,  and hearing the call not just one time, but being strengthened and encouraged to persevere, day by day, moment by moment, in our callings–until Jesus Christ comes again.

And though persecution and suffering may come, as Jesus warns Peter in 21:18. “But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands (crucifixion language), and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”

 

***

I was inspired by Jesus’ breakfast with his disciples–to encourage them to keep on with the ministry–and be strengthened till the end, though there would be suffering in the road ahead. I decided to share this with our faithful staff on Thursday. We had a refreshing time of prayer and sharing. We had my favorite breakfast of all. Donuts!

 

Donuts!

Donuts 3

 

Donuts 4

Donuts 10

 

Friends, do you hear Jesus calling us? Do you hear him calling you?

The cross

 

 

“Follow me.”

 

Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for opening our hearts to receive your Word –urging us to continue day by day, moment by moment, in the ministries to which you have called us. Thank you for your love, your patience, your grace that covers all our sins when we, like Peter, stumble and fall and our hearts or lives betray your command to love you more than anyone or anything. Help us, Lord, to encourage one another so that we persevere, despite the trials, sorrows and suffering that may lie ahead. Build up our faith for your miraculous provision as we seek to walk in your ways, reaching out to care for one another and people in need–feeding your sheep, tending your lambs. Strengthen us to follow you. In Christ we pray. Amen.