Tag Archives: Risen Christ

Breakfast on the Beach*

A Sermon for 5 May 2019 – Third Sunday of Easter

A reading from the gospel of John 21:1-19. Listen for God’s word to us.

“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. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 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. 12 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. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15 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.” 16 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.” 17 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 Peter said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 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.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

Beaches are some of the most favored destinations in the world. To beaches people flock just to get away. Restore our souls. Relax with family and friends, or all on our own. What could be better than the warm sun on your shoulders? A gentle breeze on your face. The sound of the water lapping the shore as wave after wave races up the sand to tickle your toes. Lots of lessons are learned on beaches. Huge insights take place on beaches. Life-altering experiences happen on beaches. Ever feel lost and all alone? Head to the beach and let the sights, sounds, touch of Mother Nature revive as the Spirit of a mighty, gracious Creator wraps all around. Beaches. Beaches are marvelous spots!

It’s a funny little beach along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee that we hear of from the gospel of John this morning. Smooth, dark rocks cover the beach instead of the typical soft sand. The beach can’t be more than 100 feet wide – a little opening among tall grass along most of the shore of Galilee’s sea. Until a pilgrimage to the Holy Land a few years back, I had no idea it’s a hotly-sought spot named the Primacy of Peter. There, a simple little church building sits along the shore. Beautiful stained-glass windows that remind of dancing vibrant flames dot the sides of the basalt rock building. A massive limestone sits at the front of the chancel area then continues out the side of the chapel to face the sea. Mensa Christi a sign reads. Meaning: “the Table of Christ.” For here, on this very beach, it is believed the Risen Christ prepared a meal of fish and bread for his disciples.

Imagine the incredible scene on that beach – some two thousand years ago. Peter and a handful of other disciples: Thomas, Nathanael, Peter’s old fishing buddies James and John who were the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples, one of which was who the gospel of John calls Jesus’ beloved disciple; all head to the beach. It was early in the a.m. – before the light of day peeked out. Perfect time for fishing any real fisherman would proclaim. As the gospel of John tells it, this would be the morning Peter got his grand direction: feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed by sheep, he’d be told. Follow me – no matter where the journey leads. Meanwhile, the little ban who had to be ready for a break after all they’d been through not just the last few weeks with Christ – but the past three years they literally had trekked all over the countryside with him. These seven disciples head back to the beach to what they know and love: fishing. Pushing out the boat. Letting down the nets. Hoping for a huge haul. Certainly, they’d say it wasn’t their lucky morning. Again and again the nets came up empty. Then, just about dawn, as the sun began to rise; someone’s standing on the beach. Shouting to try the nets on the other side of the boat. You know how when you’re really far from shore you squint to make out who it could be? The beloved disciple obviously had the best eyes and insight. For right after they pulled in overflowing nets, suddenly he exclaims: “It is the Lord!”

What I love best about this story is the way the Risen Christ has been busy building a beach bonfire. He wants to feed his friends! Scripture doesn’t tell us, but no doubt they’d gathered on the beach ‘round the fire before. Who knew Jesus was such a chef though, whipping up a delightful breakfast with just a few loaves and fish? Of course, according to the story, the disciples already knew what he could do with just a few loaves and a little fish. (Remember: the last time they saw him with fish and loaves, five thousand men plus women and children went home from a spot very close to this one, all filled up and with leftovers saved for later.) This breakfast on the beach wasn’t the first time he’d fed hungry folks. It is the first meal the gospel of John records that they shared together again after that Last Supper the night before his death. Now, I know eating is just a part of it – a routine thing done several times a day by those fortunate enough to have easy access to food. But this is no ordinary meal! Breakfast on the beach with the Risen Christ is a very big deal. Breakfast on the beach prepared by the Risen Christ is Eucharist. Thanksgiving. A gift of the great feast!

It’s striking, don’t you think, that according to the gospel of John; the Risen Christ cooks up breakfast right before he gives the command to go feed others? He’s not about to send out his first disciples until they are all filled up. The act of taking, breaking, giving. It’s the crucial reminder of God in our midst. The Risen One offering us food to eat because he knows – maybe like those silly Snickers candy bar commercials – that we’re not quite like ourselves until first we’ve gotten something to eat. We cannot go forth into the world taking our lives, breaking open our hearts, giving of our time, talents, and treasures if we haven’t first had our sustenance. It’s why the Table of Christ is so important. Why we’re invited to it again and again. About this story in the last chapter of the gospel of John, one biblical commentator writes: “If you are going to fulfill the mission entrusted to you, you will need the Risen Christ . . . feeding you.” The good news is that “the Risen Christ . . . continues to supply the strength and nurture we need for our lives and work” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2, Thomas H. Troeger, p. 423).

Maybe it’s through time we take each morning all on our own. Re-reading our favorite scriptures. Listening to beloved sacred songs. Maybe in the quiet of the late night right before we lay ourselves down to sleep, we nourish ourselves through reviewing when God felt close the past twenty-four hours. When we experienced Christ-like compassion from another or knew the forgiveness of our LORD. Maybe the Risen Christ has fed us by coming extra close in the beauty of God’s intricate creation. The diversity of brothers and sisters of this world who inspire us with their generosity and encourage us through their love. Maybe the Risen Christ has filled us up with the peace of knowing that we are deeply cherished as we are – like Peter, the disciple who three times denied, then three times re-declared his love right there on that beach beside the sea. Maybe it is in the bread and the fruit of the vine around another Table of Christ that we eat our fill to find ourselves nurtured. Revived. Ready to go forth to serve again!

Be it on a beach somewhere that you absolutely love, or at this Table of Christ here; we need the food the Risen Christ prepares. For then and only then can we go forth to offer sustenance to others. Tending the vulnerable. Following our loving Lord. May we never neglect to let the Risen Christ feed us. Fill us up. Daily. Then from the blessing of times just like that beach breakfast, let us go back out to love and serve like Christ!

In the name of the Life-giving Father, the Life-redeeming Son, and the Life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

*NOTE TO READERS:  the pic at the top of this blog is from the celebration of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the outdoor chapel at the Primacy of Peter at Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee in Israel.  Photo taken by JMN ~ March 2014.

 

Breathing the Spirit

A Sermon for 28 April 2019 – Second Sunday of Easter

Here we are the second Sunday during the 50-day season of Easter. And the gospel reading for today takes us to the night on which the tomb first was found empty. Listen for God’s word to us in this reading of John 20:19-31.

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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.”

This is the word of God for the people of God! Thanks be to God!

 

The Septuagint is the oldest translation of the Hebrew Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek. It’s believed to have been completed by 70 Jewish scholars about 300 or so years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. It is of note, according to biblical exegete Gregory A. Robbins, that the Greek word emphysao occurs just two times in the Septuagint (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2, p. 399). We can find emphysao, the verb to breathe in Genesis 2. That beautiful second account of the creation story, which tells that when God made the earth – but before the rain had fallen to cause plants to spring up from the ground. The LORD God formed from the mud of the earth the body of the first human. One destined to work the soil, till the ground for the earth to produce all we would need for life. God shaped the head. Crafted the torso. Was wise enough to form fingers and feet and every miraculous part of our complicated systems. But before this creature could do anything – be anything: the LORD God exhaled right into the nostrils of that body barely separated yet from the ground. According to Genesis 2:7, God emphysao – God breathed the spirit of life, the breath that animates us, and, at last, the creature was alive! A living being able to fulfill our purpose in God’s grand design (Genesis 2:3-9).

Remember the great vision of the prophet Ezekiel? The people are exiled from their land. Cut off from the great Temple. Convinced all hope is lost. That the LORD God had abandoned them due to their wayward ways. As brittle as fallen fall leaves months after winter begins, like bones lying waste for decades under the brutal desert sun; the hearts of God’s people had shriveled up completely. Those that are left feel as good as dead – as if they’ll never be fully alive at home in the land of Israel ever again. In the vision to the prophet, God says speak Ezekiel. Tell them: I am the LORD God. And I will re-create! I will cause bones to re-connect. Tendons to grow again. Flesh will re-generate. And, at last, I will emphysao. I will breathe into you again, Ezekiel 37 reads. And you shall live. You shall know that the great I AM is LORD! Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer of all! I will act! God declares to the prophet. With the Breath, I will bring you back to Life! (Ezekiel 37:1-14).

Then, on the first evening of Easter – the stone rolled from the tomb something like twelve hours earlier – a new collection of God’s people huddle. Hunkered down in a hid away room, they are locked together in fear. Just a few hours ago they enjoyed the sights and sounds of Easter: he is not here, he has risen! Look! The tomb is empty! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! How quickly the high of the good news fades and this new little ban of God’s people are frozen in their tracks. Afraid. For their own lives? For what a Risen Christ might command? The gospel isn’t entirely clear. We can only imagine what our own reactions to the first news of Easter might be. A silly tale. Some sort of trick – someone must have come to move away the life-less shell of Jesus’ body, we might think. Or maybe we’re more like Thomas, the Twin: ones who need the burden of our own proof. Sights, sounds, summons directly from the Risen Christ – not just stories someone else tells us to believe.

As many of us feel at the death of our loved ones – that mix of anguish for our loss – never to hold their hand in our own again. Yet so relieved their pain has come to an end – the difficulty of their last days turning to everlasting peace. Feeling just like that, maybe we too would have been locked away behind closed doors. Hearts wanting to hope, yet still wrung dry from the past three days of intense sorrow. When, at last, the Presence of the Risen Christ comes among us. The One we believe to be God-in-flesh. The First and Last. The Word exhaled like breath from the great Creator at the beginning of time – breathed into us again and again and again to bring us back to Life. The wounded, yet Risen One breaks right into the prisons in which we have locked ourselves away and speaks Peace! Peace be with you! He shows his wounds. As if to say that on our journey to become whole again, we’ve no need to hide our own either. For it is our wounds that are used most powerfully for God to work. Then, as our broken hearts begin to mend, emphysao! The Risen Christ breathes upon the devoted ones filling us up with the Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit of Life, the Breath that animates us. To become Living Beings able to fulfill our purpose in God’s grand design!

This week I’ve been meditating upon the beautiful blessings of the amazingly creative Rev. Jan Richardson in the book Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. Her blessings for Holy Saturday and Easter morn’ remind how important is the Breath. How significant the truth that God breathes in us. Listen to this “Blessing for a Broken Vessel, for Holy Saturday.” And hear it two ways at once: as words for the wounded, waiting body of our Crucified Lord; and as words for the wounded places in us. The blessing goes: “Do not despair. You hold the memory of what it was to be whole. It lives deep in your bones. It abides in your heart that has been torn and mended a hundred times. It persists in your lungs that know the mystery of what it means to be full, to be empty, to be full again” – shew! Right there! In our lungs: the pattern of Christ’s Way. The fullness of living God’s purpose for us. The emptying that comes as we serve – as we exhale to give ourselves away like Christ. And the fullness that comes again – the rising that God causes after we empty ourselves like Christ! Richardson goes on to write: “I am not asking you to give up your grip on the shards you clasp so close to you, but to wonder what it would be like for those jagged edges to meet each other in some new pattern that you have never imagined, that you have never dared to dream.” (pp. 144-5).

Emphysao! The Holy Spirit of God breathed into us, as into those first frightened disciples. To re-create us into a new pattern we never have dared to dream! How amazing that in God’s infinite wisdom, our very own lungs remind of the Presence of the One wanting to work through us! The Spirit – the Wind, Jesus one time called it. The Advocate, he’s recorded as saying as well. The Breath of God that connects us all. That commands us all to Live! Truly Live. Speaking peace, like our Savior and Lord. Forgiving sins, like a merciful father. Going out into the world to be about the very same work as Jesus: healing hurts, restoring hope, setting free for abundant new life! We cannot do it on our own. The gifts we have. The talents. Our own sheer force of will. None of it ever will be enough to be about the work of the Risen Christ. Unless God breathes in us. Unless the Holy Spirit breathes through us, we cannot do anything. Cannot be anything. Without emphysao, we will not be Living Beings able to fulfill our purpose in God’s grand design. Remember that the very next time you inhale. Then exhale. Then inhale again. It is God breathing in us that empowers us to live Christ’s Way each day!

Glory be to the amazing life-giving Father, life-redeeming Son, and life-sustaining Spirit! Alleluia and Amen!

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

Looking for the Risen Christ

A Sermon for 21 April 2019 – Easter Sunday!

A reading from the gospel of Luke 24:1-12. Listen for God’s word to us in this reading about the first Easter morning. Listen.

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to (the apostles) an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

The gospel of Luke presents a curious telling of the first Easter morn. For in this gospel and this one alone, a question is posed to the dutiful women who go early to the tomb. They’re asked: “Why do you look for the Living among the dead?” On one level we know why they look. All of the gospels put the women who were disciples of Jesus at the foot of the cross. Though Peter and the others may or may not have been there, the women are. They see with their own eyes what had been done to Jesus. They watch and wail. They see him take his last breath – rendering his spirit into the hands of God. When Joseph of Arimathea comes to bury his body; the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke name the woman as there. Still watching. Still grieving. Still wanting to provide for the needs of the One who had become their teacher, mentor, friend. The One who had accepted them and gave them a special place in the circle of his disciples as the women too found the purpose of their lives transformed for the furtherance of their Lord’s mission. Why, according to the gospel of Luke, are Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them at the tomb at the break of light the first day of the week – after the Passover Sabbath had come to an end and it was time to go properly anoint the body of their crucified Lord? They’re there out of great love, of course. For that’s what we do when we lay our cherished ones to rest. After the final funeral casserole is gone and we’re left without all the bustle of sympathizers who have come to offer their support, we return to the grave to ensure the marker properly has been placed. We say our prayers, brush away the stray dirt. We return to the spot we last saw our beloved – wanting just to be in their presence again.

On another level the question to the women at the empty tomb is curious. Because if they’d been listening, wouldn’t they have expected to find the Living One among the dead? That’s where he’d always been. For wasn’t this the One who declared about himself at the beginning of his ministry – as recorded in the gospel of Luke – that “The Spirit of the LORD” was upon him? Because he had been anointed to bring good news to the poor. He had been sent to proclaim release to captives. He was here to recover the sight of those who were blind. To let the oppressed go free. To proclaim the time of God’s favor. Wasn’t this the One, the women knew, who had gone about his days cleansing lepers, who were as good as dead? Healing those who whose lives seemingly had become useless? Wasn’t this the One who taught a whole different Way than the death-tolling fend-for-yourself – use-force-if-you-must way that was being promoted in the culture all around them? Wasn’t this the One calling to his cause the most unlikely of folks? Fishermen far from the halls of Jerusalem’s great Temple. Despised tax collectors like Zacchaeus. Even women and other outsiders. Wasn’t this the One who spent his time among those good as dead bringing them back to Life with a touch of his powerful hand? A nod of welcome in his circle? A summons to follow in the Way of self-giving love? I realize that the messengers at the empty tomb wanted the women to know the Living One had been raised; he was no longer there. But where else really would the Risen Christ be than among those still needing Life?

Easter asks us to look – to keep our eyes open for the presence of the Risen Christ. And to remember where best to find the Living One. In the places where we are broken. Among the people still needing release. We’ll find the Risen Christ where bread is broken and the fruit of the earth poured out – especially for those who are hungry to eat. We’ll find the Risen Christ where bodies are healed and spirits are calmed. We’ll find the Risen Christ still where outsiders are welcomed. And those blinded by the ways of this world finally, at last, see. We’ll find the Risen Christ where all hope seems gone – after devastating loss when we come to one another to offer an empathetic ear, a helping hand, a sense that no one will have to walk alone. Everywhere any still are as good as dead, the Risen Christ will be. Working through us, working in us, sometimes even working in spite of us to bring new Life for all.

This is the mission. We’re invited to come follow. Until, at last, Life is all that’s left. Risen Life alongside the Living One!

Alleluia! And Amen!

In the name of the life-giving father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)