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Four Stages of Faith

cross 13856cMessage for Easter 7 on Acts 16:16-34 given on May 29, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

As I have been reading the news the last few weeks with so many stories of tragedy, horror and evil, I have been wrestling with a lot of questions: Can we, as Christians, have an impact on those bent on war? Can we make a difference on climate change, which is devastating not only the creation, but poor populations who live in the most vulnerable areas? Can we do anything about the availability of military-style weapons used repeatedly to kill children in school, people of color and other innocents at alarming rates which we now seem to accept as an almost ritual? Do you ask yourself these questions? Do you wonder how you can make a difference?

The truth is our ability to make a difference really depends on the depth of our Christian faith. In our Acts passage, we see four stages of faith that lead us into a deeper relationship with God so that we as the body of Christ can have a real and lasting impact in the world. Paul and Silas move through four stages of faith in this one passage.

The first stage is Simple faith, and we see this in their annoyance at the slave girl’s proclamation about their ministry. This is a self-serving stage—a WIIFM faith—a What’s In It For Me? Faith. The slave girl’s witness was correct about Paul and Silas: They are "men of the Most High God, who proclaimed the way of salvation," and even though they are apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, their first reaction is to focus on themselves. In this stage faith can be reduced to how we feel or to sentimentality—feelings without responsibility. Everything is black and white, right or wrong, I like it or I don’t like it, you’re for me or against me—it’s like a simple social media faith.

We all start out here, with Simple Faith—our children may be here and that’s ok: We ask, “What can I get out of coming here? Do I like Sunday School? Is this worship going to feed me? Do I connect with the music? Who is going to care about me?" These are important questions—and it is a great starting point, but a growing, adult faith does not stop there— we move forward from a Simple, self-centered faith to an Others-focused Faith.

2. Others-Focused Faith: Paul and Silas shifted their focus from the negative effect this slave girl was having on them to her need to be released from this spirit and those who were abusing her for their own financial gain. The question in this second, deeper stage of faith shifts from “what is in it for me? to “How can my relationship with Jesus Christ serve you?” When this shift from self-centered to Others-focused faith happens inside Paul and Silas, healing is the result. Healing is not the only miracle that comes from an others-focused faith—but it is the miracle that happens in this passage.

When we shift the focus from our self, outward to others, it releases the power of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ to heal and to cast out. Jesus gives us his Spirit so that we can heal, bind up, clothe, feed, and love in his name—and it just did not happen in biblical times—it happens today. When we became others-focused during the pandemic, the Holy Spirit empowered us to start serving a free burrito breakfast and we are getting to know people in our community—people who are homeless, families with children, households with members fighting cancer, people helping elderly neighbors. In many cases we are supporting people who are being others-focused in their own lives. Our women’s group leads us in Other’s focused faith as they reach out every year with quilts, health kits and school kits for refugees here in this country and fleeing Ukraine, letting them know that we notice their need and God loves them.

But there are risks—when Paul and Silas became others-focused it threatened the status quo. Those who were making money off the slave girl dragged them into the marketplace, they were beaten mercilessly and thrown in prison. There were not many Jewish people in Philippi, so they experienced prejudice and suffering. They might have been tempted to give up on this God whom it appeared had given up on them. We can understand the temptation to give up on God when it seems like everything has gone wrong. But Paul and Silas reached down deeply within the depths of their soul to show us yet another level of faith—

3. I call it The Jail House Rock Faith! Jail house rock faith pulls us up when we are about to give up on God. Many people struggle with faith at this stage, when they face adversity, pain and when they are walking through the valley of the shadows and cannot understand a God who allows bad things to happen to good people. In this stage of faith, we come to understand that God does not willingly harm any of us, but that in this fallen world, all of us will contend with evil, all of us will contend with illness, and the vicissitudes of life. For that reason, God sent Jesus to be our strength and stay—not to prevent the valleys, but to strengthen us and walk with us through them to the other side. This is why we are church together—to be the hands and feet and prayers of Christ for each other through the valleys.

That's what Paul and Silas did. Their lips weren’t in the stocks, so Paul and Silas begin to pray and sing and sing and pray. Amazing grace how sweet the sound….. Leaning on the everlasting arms… What a friend we have in Jesus… I’m so glad Jesus lifted, singing glory Hallelujah Jesus lifted me… and they prayed and sang—and soon the whole jail house was lifted up and being witnessed to and believing in this God to whom they sang. Jail house rock faith—is faith that trusts in the providence, the presence, and the power of God in all circumstances, no matter how dire life seems. So, Paul and Silas didn’t have a pity party, they had a prayer meeting! They sought divine instruction and intervention through prayer.  Elvis had nothing on them—the earth shook, the bars broke, and the chains were unfastened. Through the power of the Spirit, not just Paul and Silas, but all the prisoners were released.

Now you would think that Paul and Silas and everyone would bolt as fast as they could—they’re free! But no, they stayed and witnessed to the jailer. Trusting that God would not only provide for them, but also for others, they move to a fourth level of faith,

4.Risk-Taking faith in the face of adversity. Rather than running away—they stayed! Paul and Silas first saved the jailer’s life by not leaving. Then they shared the faith of Jesus Christ with him, offered him new life, and accepted his hospitality. Now this was a truly dangerous enterprise. The angry crowd that came after Paul and Silas could now come after the jailer –the jailer was jeopardizing his life and standing in the community by becoming a Christian; Paul and Silas were doing the same again, by staying in Philippi and going with him to his home. This jailer’s household along with Lydia in our Acts reading from last week become the core of the church at Philippi to whom the letters to the Philippians in the New Testament is written.

Wonderful things happen when we move from a Simple, self-centered faith, to an Others-focused faith where healing and service happens, to a Jail-house rock faith that trusts God to provide for us even in hardship, and finally to a Risk-taking faith that enables us to act for salvation, even in the face of adversity, trusting that Jesus accompanies us and works through us to do great things for the kingdom.

St. Luke’s is a place of risk-taking faith. We have already taken a risk by committing to our future in our capital campaign with a vision moving forward. It’s now time to take the next step in our risk-taking faith and start to make our vision a reality. When we dwell in the deep stages of our faith, we trust we are full of Christ’s Spirit to make the difference in our community that Jesus put us here to make. Our Global Mission team heads to the border in El Paso on June 7—they are all engaging in a risk-taking faith to shape our mission to refugees in our area and in this state. We have taken a risk to be LGBTQ welcoming in a state that is not so friendly to them if you have noticed. We are right down the street from the high school and nearly half of LGBTQ youth have considered suicide this year--God might have a mission for a welcoming church there. I have already talked with two members for whom our children going to school in safety is a vital and issue and they are ready to take risks to help make this happen. If you are also passionate about addressing gun violence as a follower of Jesus and are willing to take risks for the sake of our children, please talk with me after the service so I can get you connected.

What is the issue that breaks your heart and what risk are you willing to take for the sake of making God’s kingdom real and showing Jesus’ love? You can identify one issue you are willing to work on and pray for on the back of your attendance slip –whether I have mentioned it or not—that you have a passion for, so we can move forward in mission.
The entire early church was built by followers whose faith moved swiftly from Simple faith to engage in Others-focused faith and jail-house rock faith, and risk-taking faith. We can make a difference in the issues of our day, because we are filled with the same Holy Spirit as Paul and Silas—whose mission ensured we got the message of salvation in Jesus Christ 2000 years later. If they can do it, we can, too.

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The Peace Only Jesus Can Give

boat 20341cMessage for the 6th Sunday of Easter on John 14:23-29 on May 22, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

I can hear the disciples snickering and mumbling under their breath as Jesus tells them not to let their hearts be troubled and not to be afraid. How is that possible? All he is talking about is leaving—how can this be good news and a reason to rejoice? How are they NOT supposed to be afraid? They barely have peace with Jesus given all the crowds, and the Roman and religious leaders after him—how they are supposed to find peace after Jesus leaves? They live in the midst of economic oppression, illness, poverty, violence from Rome--They do not want some stinkin’ spiritual Advocate—they finally got used to living with Jesus, and they would like to keep him, thank you very much! They changed their lives for him—he could at least have the decency to stick around. Do not be troubled or afraid—and oh, here’s some peace—have you taken a look around at the world, Jesus?

Indeed, have you taken a look around at the world, Jesus? We are still in the Green Risk Level for Covid spread in our area, but cases are up 55% nationally, and the virus continues to haunt the background of our lives. One million people in this country have died—that’s like wiping out both the cities of Boston and Pittsburgh. Globally, there have been well over 6 million deaths. Now we have something called the Monkeypox virus showing up on the east coast. These traumas are enough in themselves, but the disease of racism still infects our nation so much so that it creates the conditions where a white man would go to a grocery store in Buffalo and livestream his violent hunt to kill black people as if it's a sport. And the epidemic of gun violence in this country continues unabated—last weekend saw the 198th mass shooting this year alone. We point the finger at Putin as a man of violence—which he is—yet we refuse to keep our own children, schools, houses of worship, and citizens safe. Add the unpredictable economy, and our divisive political environment, and we indeed feel as the disciples do –we have very troubled hearts and it’s hard to imagine why Jesus would tell us not to be afraid.

But, that is exactly what Jesus does. “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid….Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”

Jesus says that if we look for our peace from the world—we will never find it. If we need the world to move toward certain results—for agreement to finally arrive between warring nations to feel good, we will forever be heartbroken. If we wait for our party, candidate, or policy to win, we will never have peace. If we depend on Mr. Jack Daniels, or Ms. Mastercard or Visa for our peace, we will experience momentary satisfaction, but we will always need more. If we need a certain amount of Likes on social media, we will always be wanting. If we look to world leaders or even other Christians to behave properly our hearts will always be troubled. When things go our way, we can enjoy the benefits of good outcomes, but not the deep peace that lasts through life’s ups and downs and traumas. Because the world cannot give the real peace that passes all understanding that calms our anxieties and allays our fears, allowing us to deeply rest in ultimate safety. That kind of peace only comes from Jesus, and the peace that Jesus offers actually has nothing to do with what is going on in the world.

I experienced this peace in a fuller way after the pandemic began. I have never experienced anxiety before—but when it came time to have my annual tests for breast cancer tumor markers, during the pandemic, I began to experience real anxiety. I did not feel safe anywhere. I had so many complications when I had treatment for cancer, and some damage to my lungs from radiation, I thought, if I get Covid, I am just not going to survive it. I also knew a few people choosing not to be vaccinated because they felt it needed more research and this compounded my anxiety. I felt so fragile, vulnerable to everyone else’s choices, out of control of my sense of safety and survival, and almost always on the verge of tears. As much as my family loves me, they do not know what it feels like to be at higher risk in a pandemic.

One Sunday I was driving to church to lead outdoor worship and I was not sure I could get through it—I had never felt that way before. I had to call a friend to pray with me, and that enabled me to go ahead with worship. After that, I knew I needed to do something. I was going to start with prayer and my next step would be to call my doctor. So that afternoon I spent some time alone and I just put it all before the Lord—all my fear and anxiety and feeling unsafe everywhere.

And while I was praying, a Bible verse came to me, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. - Romans 14:8. And I thought, well that’s true: If I stay healthy, I have Jesus. If I get Covid, I have Jesus. If I die of Covid, I still have Jesus. If I get Covid and have complications like I did with cancer—I still have Jesus—just like I do now! And I am just fine! No matter what—I always have Jesus. My safety is in Jesus—not in who has a vaccine or who wears a mask or even in my own health history—my safety, my life, my death, my everything is in Jesus, and that’s mine no matter what!

A peace came over me and the anxiety was completely gone. It has never come back.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. . “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.”

Now it would have been fine to go on anti-anxiety medicine, so please do not hear me saying that we should be able to pray away every issue. I still take medicine for migraines and still need annual cancer check-ups and none of that is changed. The point is that Jesus gives us the peace that passes all understanding—a calm and centered heart that knows where our life begins, belongs, and ends so that the troubles of the world do not throw us into turmoil. And is it this peace that enables us to live with well-being even in a pandemic, even with health issues, even with many societal issues that need our advocacy and Jesus’ love; it is this peace that gives us the power to witness to the love and light of Jesus Christ who is the author and finisher of our life and of the whole world. Sin and death will not win in the end, and Jesus give us the peace of this truth.

And even more than that, Jesus does not leave us alone –he is not a “peace -out” kind of bro, but he and the Father send the Holy Spirit, the Advocate to be our constant companion, our source of spiritual sustenance, our power-pack who can provide all that we need to live with peace and hope amid the vicissitudes of life: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

The Advocate the Holy Spirit is literally the one who is “called alongside you”—it is Jesus in the Spirit who is present in all times and places at once—Jesus the person was bound physically in one time and place in history, but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit now is unbound—and called alongside all of us in all times and places—with each one of us to accompany us in love and strength.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, he breathed on them his Holy Spirit and power. They too, went from fear to faith, from troubled hearts to peaceful presence, from confusion to courageous action. They proclaimed the Gospel in the midst of Roman oppression, violence and uncertainty, but they knew that their safety, their life, their death, their everything was in Jesus. It is believed that Peter went to Rome, Andrew to Greece, Philip and Nathanael to Asia Minor, Thomas to India, Matthew to Ethiopia, and Thaddeus to Persia. They grew the church and accomplished great things because the peace of Christ ruled their hearts and the presence of the Holy Spirit called alongside and within them, gave them what they needed each day to share his love in a hurting world.

The Holy Spirit is sent alongside you to give you whatever you need –the Spirit is sent to be your guide, helper, intercessor, advocate, companion, comforter, counselor, aid, reminder, encourager—You can ask the Holy Spirit for what you need –and it may be different tomorrow from what it is today. The day I was praying about anxiety, the Spirit came to me exactly as Jesus promised—reminding me what Jesus said—that I belonged to him—and bringing me back to the words of Scripture.

What do you need from the Holy Spirit today? Do you need a comforter? A reminder? A companion? A guide? Do you need power? Courage? Freedom from anxiety? Deeper peace? The Holy Spirit is always alongside you as the Father and Jesus have promised and you can be bold in your prayers--daily and often--asking the Spirit for the guidance, the help, the comfort, the encouragement you need for this day, this moment, for whatever challenge is at hand.

I am going to pause for you to ask the Holy Spirit what you need from her today.

I invite you to make it a practice every day this week and as often as you think of it throughout your day, to ask the Holy Spirit, the Advocate for what you need. With the peace of Christ dwelling in our hearts, and with the Holy Spirit, our Advocate helper, intercessor, companion, comforter, counselor, aid, reminder, and encourager by our side, there is nothing in this world that can steal our peace, take away our Jesus, or separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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cyear22nctpMessage for the 5th Sunday after Easter on John 13:31-35 and Acts 11:1-18 given on May 15, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church

We were on a summer vacation when the kids were young and one particularly memorable day, we were in Arches National Park in Utah. It was cloudy and rained off and on, but we soldiered on and hiked up to the famous arch and back. It was later afternoon; the clouds were a thick texture of grays that seemed to touch the ground. We had just driven through a squall of rain on our way out of the park and a prism of sun started to shine through this wall of clouds. Suddenly, we saw this amazing shimmering, glowing manifestation of rainbow light bouncing off and through this wall of clouds, it was a light show for us right by the side of the road. Dan stopped the car and we stared at this wonder of nature in awe. Jacob, who was about 8, said, “that looks like something Jesus would walk out of.”

It did. Jacob did not have the word for it, but he knew it when he saw it. “Glory.” It was the very definition of “glory” as we traditionally think of it. Jesus talks a lot about “glory” in our Gospel lesson today—about being glorified, and God being glorified in him, and being glorified at once. He does not refer to clouds or our traditional idea involving a light-show spectacular when we imagine Jesus coming back in glory. But the most important aspect of glory—especially in the gospel of John—that Jacob did articulate was the visible presence of God. God is present in all of creation, of course, and in that moment by the roadside, we came face to face with this glorious reality. Maybe we forgot, and we thought we had just been looking at rocks, and erosion, and dirt, but no; all day at Arches park, we had been seeing God’s visible presence in creation. Glory.
That’s the glory Jesus is talking about in this passage—making visible God’s presence.

God’s presence—which we see in nature, on mountaintops, in shimmering clouds, in cardinals and butterflies—is also made uniquely visible in the concrete presence here, of Jesus himself, the God made human. We see God’s presence in how Jesus loves, forgives, teaches, heals, and prays—all of it is God’s glory because he shows God’s presence to us.
Now this is the same passage we heard in the Lord’s Supper play on Palm Sunday, and in Holy Week on Maundy Thursday, as Jesus washes the disciple’s feet—even Judas’s feet, who betrays him; even Peter’s feet, who will deny him; even all the other disciples’ feet, who will abandon him. So, what do we make of God’s “glory” here? God’s presence and love have become visible among us in the midst of human brokenness—every one of the disciples is going to flunk—and glory is Jesus making God’s presence visible by loving them, loving them, loving them, loving them.

That’s what Jesus’ ministry had always been about. Recall all the intimate ways Jesus shows up in so many people’s lives—in our lives—and makes God’s presence visible, and not just with the big miraculous healings, but also in so many menial tasks: washing feet, cooking breakfast, feeding people lunch, teaching bible lessons, listening to aches and pains and wants, visiting the grieving, healing wounds, private meetings with those too scared to talk in the open, calming fears, teaching prayer, holding children, always welcoming the rejected and outcast—can you see the shimmering light of God’s visible presence in all these acts of love and call it “glory?”

Jesus prepares the disciples for his departure, by telling them that the visible presence of God will expand in the world through them. Jesus passes the glory baton onto the disciples and to all of us, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” When we love as Jesus does—we help make God’s presence visible in the world—to love as Jesus does is to join Jesus in shining God’s glory, to be Christ for one another.

This is the part of faith that first made sense to me when I was in high school. My dad worked for 3M and he was transferred back to the headquarters at the time in St. Paul MN. So, my family moved from beautiful San Jose, California to a small town, Hudson, WI just across the river from St. Paul, MN at the end of my freshman year of high school, and it was a true nightmare. Now Hudson functions as suburb of St. Paul, but in the 70’s this was not true. No one in Hudson in 70’s wanted people from California moving into their small town. In California, I was in high school, wore makeup, nice clothes, carried a purse and so on. In Hudson, I was back at Middle school, and looked like an alien from another planet; I thought I had moved onto the set of Happy Days where girls had pig tales, buck teeth, and saddles shoes, and bought their painters pants at the Fleet Farm. It was worse for my older sister Pam, who was at the end of 11th grade. We ended each school day in tears until summer started

But I did start going to the youth group at the church we joined and this became significant. (I also started buying my painters pants at the Fleet Farm--my mom was mortified, but  but I said--you try to fit in with these people--you were the ones moved me here--but I digress!). In the youth group, we could ask questions, struggle, offer and receive support. It did not matter that we were in different grades and hung out with different friend groups in high school—we were church together, and bound by something stronger than I had ever known before. I experienced community, love, acceptance, openness—and it was through that group and our youth leader Joani (who I am still in touch with !) that our faith first started to make sense—others were the light of Christ to me. And I was not a freak from California, I was a little Christ—a small light—we were Christ to each other—we shined the visible presence of God to one another and to others—glory!

This is exactly what Peter learns in his vision in Acts—to love as Jesus loves now means to stop making distinctions based upon human differences of culture, ethnicity, nationality, religious background, and today, we add gender and sexual identity, politics and even vaccine status. Now that Jesus has been raised from the dead, God’s visible presence and Spirit can inhabit everyone, no exceptions! We cannot hinder the power of God’s Spirit! To love as Jesus loves is to look for the shimmering light of God’s visible presence in someone we have deemed unacceptable, and call it, “glory!”

So, the question is not do we as human beings show God’s glory, but how this week are you going to help make God’s presence visible in the world?

It's not just in the grand gestures, the big donations, the heroic moments that come along once in a while, but like Jesus, in the love with which we do the menial tasks of service and caregiving, washing and feeding, interacting with strangers at the grocery store. Jesus has given us his Spirit and filled us with all of his perfect love, so that people can tell by the way you treat them at home, at work and out in public that
• the light of Christ shines through you,
• there is something about you that gives them a sign of the visible presence of God,
• or a palpable experience of love,
• or a renewed feeling of hope,
• something that helps them believe in goodness and God again.

We are all involved in sharing and showing God’s glory—a shimmer of light, the love of Christ, a glimpse and smile of God’s presence, living as a little Christ, for whom no one and nothing is profane.

The morning meditation I sent in the Weekly Word this week is meant to help you consciously start the day filled with light of Christ. I encourage you to make this or another light of Christ meditation a habit to start your day. It’s only 5 minutes. Can you see yourself as one shimmering the light of God’s visible presence for someone else today and this week and call it “glory?”

We may never know the impact that shining our light, and loving as Jesus loves, can have on others. Author, and end-of-life physician, Dr. Ira Byock shares the story of patient in his late 20’s who was close to dying. The patient wrote a letter to his mother and asked her not to open it until after he was gone. After her son died, the mother opened the letter and in it her son told her that this last year had been the best year of his life. Yes, he was dying, but he saw all of his friends, he was surrounded by people he loved, he felt cared for and upheld. He wrote, “People may be wondering if I went to heaven. Tell them I just came from there.”

I can hear Jacob saying, “that sounds like somewhere Jesus was walking.” Glory.

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Grace is in the Details

sheep 24369cMessage for the 3rd Sunday of Easter on John 21:1-19 on May 1, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas. You can watch a video of this sermon in this recorded worship service here.

Yesterday and Friday two members of St. Luke's and I attended the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod Assembly (the annual meeting of our district or diocese of congregations). There were some wonderful things to celebrate, like the re-election of our Bishop, Erik Gronberg, on the first ballot. We celebrated the generosity of our members in the ELCA, who have given $2 million to support the crisis in Ukraine/ and the generosity in our Synod, whose members gave nearly $300,000 to ELCA World Hunger in 2021. You’ll hear more good news in upcoming reports.

In addition to these celebrations, we also heard again the challenge of sharing God’s love in Jesus Christ in our changing world. We saw a chart of the decline, since 2011, of average worship attendance, baptisms, and Confirmations across our Synod, which is similar across the ELCA. I am grateful that we, at St. Luke’s have been working hard to grow in mission and outreach.

With the Baptism of the precious Eleanor Jeane this morning, we have heard again the faith commitments we have all made as we affirmed our Baptism with her: to be the priesthood of all believers, to let our light shine, to share the love of Christ with others, to bring justice and peace to all, and to follow Jesus in our daily life; but how do we do it? How do we let people know about God’s love in Jesus Christ today, not just to grow the church, but so that lonely people feel loved, and people who are ashamed are freed by forgiveness, and people who are in despair can be lifted up?

In our Gospel reading, Jesus instructs Peter and all the disciples to “feed his lambs, tend his sheep and feed his sheep.” Jesus, amazingly, also demonstrates how to do this by the way he interacts with them. You have probably heard the phrase, “the devil is in the details.” But in this passage, the gospel is in the details—and in those details, we find grace and even some ideas for sharing God’s grace faithfully, as Jesus again calls Peter and the others away from their fishing nets and into mission.

The disciples could have taken their cue from Mary Magdalene and already started telling people that they have seen the risen Jesus. They have received the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ peace and the power to forgive sins, but instead of stepping out into this new resurrection reality, they stepped into a boat and went fishing. They are experts at this profession, but they totally flunk and catch nothing.

When morning dawns, Jesus shows up on the beach and calls out to them using an affectionate term, “children” “little ones” “kids.” Jesus has such love for these confused and still fearful souls, who, several days earlier, had denied and abandoned him. In this detail we have
Sharing Grace Lesson 1: We always start by asking Jesus for his love to work through us—he loves even people who have hurt him deeply and we can ask him to help us love people we cannot love on our own.

Jesus says, “Children, you have no fish have you?” Jesus enters the relationship slowly and asks a question. He engages in conversation based on their experience. Most people like to talk about themselves, and many do have not anyone to listen to them. Which brings us to
Sharing Grace Lesson 2: At church, at school, among neighbors, wherever you are: Ask people about their experiences, even if you already know them, which does in this passage. You may learn something new, you may hear where they need grace, love and forgiveness! It may be your neighbor, co-worker, someone new in a long line at the store, or young person in your own family you have not really listened to before.

Then Jesus says, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some fish.” Can you imagine doing the job you’re an expert at all night and someone comes along and tells you to try to do it differently?
Sharing Grace Lesson 3: Try something new. This was the greatest blessing of the pandemic because we all learned to try new things—new ways to worship, to do meetings, and Bible study, to use a cloth prayer cross to listen to the community. We are stronger, and more flexible for it. And we will continue to try new things. Carol Rizzo has passed out my business card as a way to invite people to church—I have 100’s of them if that’s a new thing you would like to try!

When the disciples saw the abundance of fish they caught, they recognized Jesus. Jesus shows the disciples that in their ministry moving forward, he will provide for what they need in abundance.
Sharing Grace Lesson 4: Trust in Jesus’s abundance--we will get what we need! Look at the abundance of creation itself, the water turned to wine at the wedding at Cana, the abundance of perfume that Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet, the abundance of St. Luke’s Moving Forward in Faith Capital Campaign, the abundance of over 55 new members since 2018. Where do you recognize God’s abundance in your own life?

When the disciples arrive on shore they see the charcoal fire Jesus has prepared with the bread and fish on it. The only other time we have seen a charcoal fire is when Peter denied Jesus—he stood by a charcoal fire warming himself while Jesus was before the High Priest. But notice Jesus does not mention this—instead he prepares breakfast—both bread and fish—which are reminiscent of the food used to feed the 5,000—more abundance! Jesus asks Peter to get some of the fish he just caught and add it to the grill. Right at the moment when Peter would be awash in shame and guilt, Jesus asks him to bring his own gift, his own contribution—he is valued and important: the place of sin becomes the place of forgiveness; the location of failure becomes the location of restoration; the place of brokenness becomes the place of healing. The disciples all know it—it’s been on the grapevine, on the first-century version of twitter: Peter’s and everyone’s past sins are public knowledge, and Jesus says, “No, we’re not doing that—we are not rehearsing the past. This is the fire of cleansing and healing, this is the meal of restoration, and forgiveness. I am demonstrating for you what it means to feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. This is grace—a fresh start.”
Sharing Grace Lesson 5: No one is beyond redemption. You are not beyond redemption, and neither is anyone else. Everyone needs love. “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.” Love them. We have become a deeply divided and hurting society in the last two years; regardless of your views on politics, ideology or vaccines, Jesus calls us. as much as possible into relationships of restoration, healing, and forgiveness where love is more important than the rightness of our position. Peter’s denial does not stop him from being the rock on which the church is built—because that’s the kind of God we serve—the past does not determine the future! And the same is true for the Apostle Paul in Acts. As we move into this stage of post-pandemic life, where might Jesus call you to participate in or facilitate a charcoal fire of restoration, forgiveness and healing of relationships?

The disciples haul in the fish they caught, and they count every one—there is 153 in all! Such detail! And there is more grace in the details—153 was the number of known number of species of fish in the ancient world.
Sharing Grace Lesson 6: The mission of Jesus’ love includes everyone—all people, all species, all nations, all tribes, all languages, all genders, orientations, and expressions-- no one is excluded. And even with 153 fish, the net did not break. God’s abundant kingdom and Jesus’ forgiving love and grace can hold us all, and so can St. Luke’s! A strong community can hold a lot of diversity.

Jesus invited the disciples to join him, “come and eat.” He did not beat them over the head with salvation, he simply invited them to join him. Then he fed them physically and spiritually by spending time with them.
Sharing Grace Lesson 7: Sharing faith is an invitation—"Come and eat,” said Jesus. “Come and cook burritos with us at our free breakfast, come and hear our awesome choir, come and roll up health kits for refugees, come and meet our youth & kids leader, Lyn; come and check out our preschool, come and have coffee with our pastor." Over 60% of people report being lonely today and would be thrilled that somebody noticed them enough to invite them to a meal, a service project, a worship service. Invite and spend time with them. Feed my lambs, tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.

Finally, Jesus asks us to love him above all else. Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? We have come full circle back to love—not just Jesus’ love for us, but our love for Jesus. That is our motivation for tending, feeding, and caring for all people. I don’t know if you have noticed this, but not all people are loveable, or even likeable! But Jesus asks us to care for them because we love him, not them! 

Sharing Grace Lesson 8: You do not have to like everyone, you just need to love Jesus and he will take care of the rest. How freeing! When you love Jesus and receive his love, then it’s much easier to care for the flock he puts in your path. 

Sharing Jesus’ love has been as simple as it’s always been. It’s about building a relationship of love where we ask, listen, invite, forgive, and try new things, always trusting in God’s abundance and grace which never fail us. These are gifts we are already possess, gifts the risen Jesus has already given us! People experience Jesus’s grace and love in the details of how we ask, listen, invite and love them. So St. Luke’s, let’s share more grace!

Image: Churchart.com with permission.

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Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.