Forgiveness Isn't Opposite Gallilee

My daughter Isabelle is beginning to figure out how bargaining works. Some of her attempts are more successful than others. She’s discovered that the way one carries oneself affects whether or not people will give you what you want. “Daddy, some more goldfish,” said with a bright smile and blinking blue eyes. After saying no, her shoulders drop, her jaw juts out and she begins to wine, “Come on . . .” I don’t know where she gets this.

“Come on . . . come on, Jesus,” the demons reply as they beg Jesus to be left alone. Jesus has arrived in the country of the Garasenes, which Luke tells us is “opposite Galilee,” and it is in every way. Jesus was in a boat with his Jewish friends and he calms a storm. Now Jesus is on dry land with Gentiles and he is about to calm the spirit. He meets a man who is “opposite Galilee” in many ways. He is a Gentile. He wears no clothes. He lives in a cemetery in visual distance of swine herds. It would be difficult to be more unclean. He is “opposite Galilee,” in many ways.

When Jesus approaches, the man falls at his feet and thrusts about, screaming at the top of his lungs, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God, I beg you, do not torment me.” The spirits beg, “Jesus, leave me alone.” “What is your name,” Jesus questions. I wonder when the last time someone asked this man for his name? This question is part of the miracle. “Who are you, my friend? What is your name?” Healing has already begun. LEGION, the spirits reply. Now, one can argue that this is political commentary against Rome because factions of Roman armies were called Legions. Some argue that Legion is the name of a particular demon. Some say that Legion means the man is divided and pulled in lots of different directions, and we too are divided and busy and pulled in lots of different directions. But this morning, Legion simply means that this man’s name is no longer his own. His condition has stolen his identity.

Jesus commands the unclean spirits to leave the man, and the spirits beg Jesus a second time, asking not to be thrown into the abyss. It just so happens that on the hillside there is herd of swine feeding, and the spirits beg Jesus a third time saying, “Let us enter the pigs!” Jesus gives them permission, the spirits enter the pigs and the pigs hurl themselves off a steep embankment into a lake and drown. Now, if you’re a swineherd, you’re having a bad day! The swineherd ran to the town to tell everyone what they had just seen and the townsfolk get up to see it for themselves. I’m not sure what to make of this strange episode with the pigs running off the cliff, except to say that the swineherd did not run to town for the sake of the man whom Jesus had healed. It seems that his condition became common place or forgotten or hopeless, but when their livelihood, their possessions, their way of life, their backyard is aggravated, then they begin to take notice. The man’s condition wasn’t newsworthy until it affected their personal way of life.

The people were so upset by this they beg Jesus to leave. This is a curious reaction. At first blush I expected them to shout “Hallelujah! Amen! Do it again!” But no, out of fear, they beg Jesus to leave them alone. But who can blame them, really? Imagine being in a jail cell with someone like, Charles Manson. I would be afraid to be in a jail cell with Charles Manson. This murderer is out of his mind. Then imagine the warden walking near the entrance of the cell and Manson becomes reserved and quite and polite. I’m no longer afraid of Manson, I’m afraid of the warden “What did you do to him, and for God’s sake, don’t do it to me.” The townsfolk are seized with fear, and they, using nearly the same words as the unclean spirits say, “Jesus, leave us alone.”

Jesus agrees. He gets in the boat to return to Galilee. The man, whose name is never recorded, begs Jesus, “Let me follow you,” but Jesus says, “No, return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” The story is over. This strange story of demons and pigs and miracle and fear is over, at least what’s recorded of it. This is one of those stories in which I wish we had a continuation of the narrative. What happened after Jesus left? See, this story is fundamentally not about a theology of demons (do they exist, is demon really a psychosis they didn’t understand at the time . . . etc), nor is it essentially about changing your context and going to the other side of the lake to be with Gentiles—even though this is a sacred goal and one we should pursue, nor at its core is it about Jesus’ miraculous control over things seen and unseen—even though his divinity shines through these simple words on the page. This story is a sign in and of itself, which begs us to ask a question not explicitly recorded in the story itself. The heart of this story is forgiveness.

I would not be surprised if this man who has no name was Luke himself. For those of you keeping score, whoever put pen to paper used the word “beg” five times (well, four times, but one of them should be translated as beg), and someone in need of forgiveness knows this word. This man was healed, but Jesus’ miracle means little if the community withholds forgiveness and reconciliation and says to him, “We know who you are. It’s best if you keep to the cemetery.” Did this man have a wife, children, family? How did they react to this miracle? I’d bet they had heard, “But I’ve changed, I’m a new man” before. Haven’t you?

Forgiveness isn’t about forgetting the past. You don’t forgive the thief with a promotion to a local bank, or a cheater with a new position as World Cup Referee. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you are to walked upon, let me be clear. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting the past or living without consequence. The resurrected Christ still had wounds to show to Thomas. The wounds had been healed, but the scars were still there. Forgiveness is about healing, not forgetting. Forgiveness is giving up the right to wrong the one who wronged you. It is Jesus refusing to crucify Thomas for his unbelief. Forgiveness is, “See my hands, see my side, and believe.” Forgiveness is God placing a bow in the clouds to remind him that the bow is pointed toward himself, should he choose to flood the world again.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Luke happened to be this man with no name. This story must have been remembered by someone who knows the meaning of the word, “beg.” I beg you, Jesus. I beg you, friends. I beg you, honey. I beg you, my son. This is a person who knows that forgiveness is difficult, that forgiveness takes time, that forgiveness must involve Christ because it is something we are incapable of doing without the church. Jesus told the man to stay and the spread his witness. See, Jesus didn’t come to heal this one man. He wanted to heal the whole Garasene community, the whole Jewish and Gentile community, the whole world, in fact. So, Dads . . . it’s your day . . . who do you need to forgive? Amen.

Forgiveness Isn’t Opposite Gallilee

My daughter Isabelle is beginning to figure out how bargaining works. Some of her attempts are more successful than others. She’s discovered that the way one carries oneself affects whether or not people will give you what you want. “Daddy, some more goldfish,” said with a bright smile and blinking blue eyes. After saying no, her shoulders drop, her jaw juts out and she begins to wine, “Come on . . .” I don’t know where she gets this.

“Come on . . . come on, Jesus,” the demons reply as they beg Jesus to be left alone. Jesus has arrived in the country of the Garasenes, which Luke tells us is “opposite Galilee,” and it is in every way. Jesus was in a boat with his Jewish friends and he calms a storm. Now Jesus is on dry land with Gentiles and he is about to calm the spirit. He meets a man who is “opposite Galilee” in many ways. He is a Gentile. He wears no clothes. He lives in a cemetery in visual distance of swine herds. It would be difficult to be more unclean. He is “opposite Galilee,” in many ways.

When Jesus approaches, the man falls at his feet and thrusts about, screaming at the top of his lungs, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God, I beg you, do not torment me.” The spirits beg, “Jesus, leave me alone.” “What is your name,” Jesus questions. I wonder when the last time someone asked this man for his name? This question is part of the miracle. “Who are you, my friend? What is your name?” Healing has already begun. LEGION, the spirits reply. Now, one can argue that this is political commentary against Rome because factions of Roman armies were called Legions. Some argue that Legion is the name of a particular demon. Some say that Legion means the man is divided and pulled in lots of different directions, and we too are divided and busy and pulled in lots of different directions. But this morning, Legion simply means that this man’s name is no longer his own. His condition has stolen his identity.

Jesus commands the unclean spirits to leave the man, and the spirits beg Jesus a second time, asking not to be thrown into the abyss. It just so happens that on the hillside there is herd of swine feeding, and the spirits beg Jesus a third time saying, “Let us enter the pigs!” Jesus gives them permission, the spirits enter the pigs and the pigs hurl themselves off a steep embankment into a lake and drown. Now, if you’re a swineherd, you’re having a bad day! The swineherd ran to the town to tell everyone what they had just seen and the townsfolk get up to see it for themselves. I’m not sure what to make of this strange episode with the pigs running off the cliff, except to say that the swineherd did not run to town for the sake of the man whom Jesus had healed. It seems that his condition became common place or forgotten or hopeless, but when their livelihood, their possessions, their way of life, their backyard is aggravated, then they begin to take notice. The man’s condition wasn’t newsworthy until it affected their personal way of life.

The people were so upset by this they beg Jesus to leave. This is a curious reaction. At first blush I expected them to shout “Hallelujah! Amen! Do it again!” But no, out of fear, they beg Jesus to leave them alone. But who can blame them, really? Imagine being in a jail cell with someone like, Charles Manson. I would be afraid to be in a jail cell with Charles Manson. This murderer is out of his mind. Then imagine the warden walking near the entrance of the cell and Manson becomes reserved and quite and polite. I’m no longer afraid of Manson, I’m afraid of the warden “What did you do to him, and for God’s sake, don’t do it to me.” The townsfolk are seized with fear, and they, using nearly the same words as the unclean spirits say, “Jesus, leave us alone.”

Jesus agrees. He gets in the boat to return to Galilee. The man, whose name is never recorded, begs Jesus, “Let me follow you,” but Jesus says, “No, return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” The story is over. This strange story of demons and pigs and miracle and fear is over, at least what’s recorded of it. This is one of those stories in which I wish we had a continuation of the narrative. What happened after Jesus left? See, this story is fundamentally not about a theology of demons (do they exist, is demon really a psychosis they didn’t understand at the time . . . etc), nor is it essentially about changing your context and going to the other side of the lake to be with Gentiles—even though this is a sacred goal and one we should pursue, nor at its core is it about Jesus’ miraculous control over things seen and unseen—even though his divinity shines through these simple words on the page. This story is a sign in and of itself, which begs us to ask a question not explicitly recorded in the story itself. The heart of this story is forgiveness.

I would not be surprised if this man who has no name was Luke himself. For those of you keeping score, whoever put pen to paper used the word “beg” five times (well, four times, but one of them should be translated as beg), and someone in need of forgiveness knows this word. This man was healed, but Jesus’ miracle means little if the community withholds forgiveness and reconciliation and says to him, “We know who you are. It’s best if you keep to the cemetery.” Did this man have a wife, children, family? How did they react to this miracle? I’d bet they had heard, “But I’ve changed, I’m a new man” before. Haven’t you?

Forgiveness isn’t about forgetting the past. You don’t forgive the thief with a promotion to a local bank, or a cheater with a new position as World Cup Referee. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you are to walked upon, let me be clear. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting the past or living without consequence. The resurrected Christ still had wounds to show to Thomas. The wounds had been healed, but the scars were still there. Forgiveness is about healing, not forgetting. Forgiveness is giving up the right to wrong the one who wronged you. It is Jesus refusing to crucify Thomas for his unbelief. Forgiveness is, “See my hands, see my side, and believe.” Forgiveness is God placing a bow in the clouds to remind him that the bow is pointed toward himself, should he choose to flood the world again.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Luke happened to be this man with no name. This story must have been remembered by someone who knows the meaning of the word, “beg.” I beg you, Jesus. I beg you, friends. I beg you, honey. I beg you, my son. This is a person who knows that forgiveness is difficult, that forgiveness takes time, that forgiveness must involve Christ because it is something we are incapable of doing without the church. Jesus told the man to stay and the spread his witness. See, Jesus didn’t come to heal this one man. He wanted to heal the whole Garasene community, the whole Jewish and Gentile community, the whole world, in fact. So, Dads . . . it’s your day . . . who do you need to forgive? Amen.

A New Heaven and a New Earth

Today is Senior Sunday when we celebrate the graduation of those who have been nurtured in faith of God and fellowship of neighbor here at Broadmoor United Methodist Church. This is a special day for them, so today’s message is for them. So if you’re not a senior or if you’ve never been to college or if you don’t know someone who went to college or if you’ve never experience change in your life, then today’s message is not for you.

I remember my first day at LSU. We parked the car outside Broussard Hall and as cool as I could (because you don’t want to scream to everyone that you are a freshman) I walked up to the registration desk to get my dorm keys. My parents and I walked up to the second floor to take in the bareness of what was going to be my home for the next semester. My mother took one look at the room and sighed. For me, this was my own picture of heaven. This was my room. We went down to the car. My dad picked up the TV and the phone. My mom picked up some of my clothes. I picked up the posters. Dad was concerned about making sure the electronics were working. Mom wanted to make sure that my underwear was where it needed to be. I wanted to make sure that Bob Marley was positioned perfectly, so that when people entered my room, they knew I was cool. After getting my room together my mom asked if I needed anything. I said, “No,” but secretly she was hoping that I would say something like, “I need my mom.” As I said good bye my mom starting crying, which was a bit embarrassing . . . because I didn’t get it . . . until that night. I laid down on the not so comfortable bed, turned off the light, and started to cry. I’m not sure why I was so upset. Maybe I was homesick, but it’s not like I wanted to go back, you can’t go back. Maybe it was the newness of it all, or fear of the unexpected, or simply because I wanted my mom. Nevertheless, the sun did come up, and my life as an LSU student began.

I know, Seniors, that you’ve probably had your fill of motivational speeches, or at least, you will before you have diploma in hand, but since you’re here . . . First, college is not about making perfect grades. Now, I’m a big fan of scholarship. Grades are very important, but I imagine if you get through your first semester with a 4.0, but you haven’t formed any relationship with anyone, most would say that you’re missing something. You know what they call someone who graduates from med school with a c- average? Doctor. Of course, I want the doctor operating on me to have been a good student, but I also hope that doctor can work with a team of nurses and other doctors, someone who can calm my fear and help me recover. It’s not just knowing how the heart works, it’s know how our hearts work together.

College is also not about reaping a great reward. Again, the diploma is valuable, there’s no question. It shows that you have mastered the skills necessary for a particular vocation. It’s the first thing than employers look for is your level of education, and for good reason. Here in the church, you can’t be a pastor without an education. In most cases you have to have two degrees, but as a music major in undergrad, if I refuse to sing, than what’s my diploma worth? It’s like when I called my dad and asked, “It says I graduated cum laude. What does that mean?” “It means you just wasted four years of your life.” Of course, graduating cum laude, or with honors, is a fine achievement, but if I’m not using what I learned in school for the good, then it’s not worth much at all.

College is not about grades or achievement. At least, it’s not only about grades or achievement. The college experience is ultimately about relationship. I knew I couldn’t stop the parents from listening . . . What kind of relationship do you have with your studies? Are you reading just to make an A, or are you actually learning, being formed for the good. As a student, I don’t want you to give me the answer, I want you to tell me what it means. What kind of relationship do you have with achievement? Are you doing all the right things so that you have something fancy by your name, or are you doing it so that you might change the world for the good? It’s about relationship.

Funny thing about relationship is that it’s always changing. Relationships change. People change. Those of you who have been to college, do you remember the first time you went back home after going away to school, and how your parents didn’t much appreciate your newly discovered curfew? Relationships change. The daughter you sent to college is now asking you to walk her down the aisle. Relationships change. The company you’ve been working with for 25 years ask you to find other employment and you find yourself as the “new guy” with new people. Relationships change. This weekend, my family went down to Baton Rouge to visit with my wife, Christie’s grandmother who had been battling cancer for 20 years. She died peacefully in her sleep Friday night. Relationships change. Even our relationship with God changes. Sometimes we feel close to God saying, “Hallelujah, Amen!,” and other times we find ourselves saying, “Lord, are you listening?” Even God’s relationship with creation changes.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, and the first heaven and the first earth passed away and the sea was no more. The sea, in the book of Revelation, was the place from which chaos and monsters and evil was born. In this new heaven God erases that place of chaos and God says, “To the thirsty I will give them water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” In this new heaven we will not have to dimly see through the chaos of life in order to be near the heart of God.

This is the essence of salvation. Salvation isn’t about getting straight A’s on God’s check list. It’s not about never messing up. Salvation is not about reaping a great reward when it’s all said and done. Salvation is simply being near the heart of God. Through Christ’s life, suffering, death, and resurrection, Christ has shown us the heart of God, a God who clings to us even when heaven and earth pass away. Relationships change, but God’s love for us never ends. Won’t you cling to the heart of God by loving God and loving each other? God will wipe away every tear, mourning and crying will be no more. I wish I had read this story that first night away from home. I wouldn’t have cried so much. Amen.

God and Sick Children

It’s 2:30 in the morning, and through the gift of Jobs’ iPhone, I can write while rocking my daughter to sleep. I’m thinking about a lot of things tonight.

I’m thinking about my daughters and what a blessing they are. Sure, they hardly sleep and they’ve been sick all week, but life would be so boring with only my wife and family and church to love.

A child’s cold is a minor inconvenience for a parent. I’m not saying, nor will I ever preach, that God caused this, but I can’t help thinking about God tonight; how many sleepless nights The Almighty has had. I feel as if God is rocking me as I rock my daughter tonight.

So, does God make our children sick so that we learn some eternal lesson? I don’t think so. I’m not sure what lesson that would be. I will say that I would probably be sleeping right now, and when the choice is between sleep and communing with God, sleep seems so boring.

But I’m thinking about a lot of things tonight.

The In-Between (Luke 9:28-36)

After seeing Jesus’ glory revealed on the mountain top, Peter, James, and John kept silent and told no one what they had seen. Maybe they were Colts fans? As if New Orleanians need a reason to celebrate, the Saints victory in the Super Bowl erupted a jubilant celebration across the city that might end . . . well, I’m not quite sure when. Saints fans have done anything but kept silent. Matthew Albright, opinion editor of the LSU Reveille put it this way, “You can hear the bands marching down Canal Street. This isn’t sophisticated, subtle music. This isn’t the kind of music you politely bob your head to or tap your feet to. This is loud, proud, raw and wild like rolling thunder—music you can feel in your bones and in your blood . . . there’s music everywhere, on every corner of every street. There’s music in the bars and restaurants—music in the streets and on the sidewalks. There are all kinds of songs being sung in all kinds of styles and keys, but they’re all up-beat, they’re all jubilant, and they’re all meant for dancing.” This is the kind of celebration which breaks forth after years of suffering. This is Miriam on the shore of the Red Sea singing, “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” This is David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant as it returns from Philistine exile. This is John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. This is Easter Sunday when the tomb is empty and Mary runs to tell the disciples the news. But . . . but we’re not there yet.

The Epiphany Season is like an underwhelming soy burger patty stuck between two thick, delicious pieces of Wonder Bread. It’s the valley to two great pillars of the church. It’s the church’s planning period between Christmas and Lent. Of course, it’s not really the church’s planning period before Lent . . . but it kind of is. We just don’t know what to do with Epiphany. The season begins dramatically with Jesus coming out of the waters hearing God’s voice say, “You are my beloved son.” The season ends gloriously with Jesus descending the mountain, transfigured, again hearing God’s voice say, “This is my son, listen to him.” But the in-between is so . . . in-between. Even preschool calendar publishers have a tough time with Epiphany. February has a big red heart. March has a four-leaf clover. January has a snowflake because it’s cold. Epiphany and the Transfiguration go hand in hand because each are difficult to describe and quantify and explain.

Jesus goes up the mountain about eight days after teaching the disciples. Did you get that . . . about eight days. That’s so very Epiphany. He didn’t travel eight days later. It was about eight days. Eh, a little over a week later, Jesus goes up the mountain with Peter, James, and John to pray. While he was praying the appearance of his face begins to change, and his clothes begin to shine. Then Jesus finds himself between two pillars of the faith, Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets. Jesus is in-between the organized institution and the free-moving witness. But this is nothing new for Jesus. It’s not that Jesus has one foot in divinity and one foot in humanity. He has both feet in divinity and both feet in humanity. It is we who wrestle with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah glowing in the clouds and Peter, James, and John hiding the foggy darkness. This is how Walter Bruggeman puts it in his prayer, “Awed to Heaven, rooted to earth.” “This is how it is when we praise you. We join the angels in praise and we keep our feet in time and place . . . awed to heaven, rooted in earth. We are daily stretched between communion with you and our bodied lives, spent but alive, summond and cherished but stretched between. And we are reminded that before us there has been this One truly divine, truly human . . . dwellers in time and space. We are thankful for Christ, and glad to be in his company. Alleluia. Amen.”

This is what Peter wants to do. He sees Jesus between the pillars of Moses and Elijah, and he wants to worship by building pillars for all three. Peter wants to remember this moment and all its glory, and who can blame him? Jesus, their guy, their rabbi, their Lord, is in the clouds speaking with Moses and Elijah. It’s like Drew Brees on Oprah, you want to TIVO it and keep it forever. But Jesus comes down from the mountain and turns his face toward Jerusalem and the cross. From this moment on, everything will change.

Just a few short verses ago, Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was. Peter said, “You are the Messiah,” and now Peter is beginning to realize what this means. Jesus begins speaking about his death. Peter doesn’t want to hear it. He wants to build pillars. He wants to worship this moment. He wants to remember the glory and the awe, and don’t we? Maybe this is why Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before Lent. It’s a foreshadowing of Christ’s glory which is to come, and maybe we, too, need this before turning our face toward Jerusalem and to our own finitude just a few short days from now. Why must we move down the mountain, Lord?

Fred Craddock put it this way: “Sometimes a child falls down and skins a knee or an elbow, then runs crying to his mother. The mother picks up the child and says—in what is the oldest myth in the world—Let me kiss it and make it better, as if mother has magic saliva or something. She picks up the child, kisses the skinned place, holds the child in her lap, and all is well. Did her kiss make it well? No. It was that ten minutes in her lap. Just sit in the lap of love and see the mother crying. Mother, why are you crying? I’m the one who hurt my elbow. Because you hurt, the mother says, I hurt. That does more for a child than all the bandages and all the medicine, in all the world, just sitting on the lap. What is the cross? Can I say it this way? It is to sit for a few minutes on the lap of God, who hurts because you hurt . . . I have to preach that. Peter . . . I have to do this. Without this journey, the world will never be healed.

Maybe Epiphany is an underwhelming soy patty between two delicious slices of Wonder bread, but without it, it wouldn’t be a sandwich at all. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers is a book almost exclusively comprised of walking. While on the road Frodo and Sam have a vision. They come up to a statue of a king of old whose head had been knocked to the ground by the villains in Mordor. “Standing there for a moment filled with dread Frodo became aware that a light was shining; he saw it glowing on Sam’s face beside him. Turning towards it, he saw, the road to Osgiliath running almost as straight as a stretched ribbon down, into the West. There . . . the Sun was sinking, finding at last the hem of the great slow-rolling pall of cloud. The brief glow fell upon a huge sitting figure, still and solemn as the great stone kings. They years had gnawed it, and violent hands had maimed it. It’s head was gone, and in its place was set in mockery a round rough-hewn stone, one large red eye. Suddenly, Frodo saw the old king’s head. Look, the King has got a crown again. They cannot conquer forever!”

Without this journey, without this foreshadowing of victory, Sam and Frodo might not have made it to Mordor. Without this journey, without seeing the mountain top glory and being led off the mountain, we might not make it to the pillar of Easter. Jesus stands between the pillars of the Law and the Prophets. We stand between the glory on the mountain and the fog of humanity. Today, we worship between the pillars of Christmas and Lent. True, today is considered a transitional Sunday in the life of the church. It is not because it is unimportant. It is not just filler between point A and point B. It is the reason there is a point B. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Improvisation–After Katrina

It was early in the morning

Several hours before the sun would awake

The stale smell of dried expired beer

Filled the streets as incense to Bacchus.

An old young man stumbles to find his way

In the damp streets of a rainless quarter

Jazz echoes off century-old buildings

As if being replayed in a memory

With the river to my left

And the sinful streets to my right

I walk past Jackson Square

A shelter for the drug dealer cloaked by the shadow of the Cathedral

I have left a sea of white faces

Who have finished their evening offerings to Saint Bourbon

Only to face sparse black faces

Tapping away for a stray nickle

And so it was before the storm

A catastrophe?

A blessed purging?

A spineless excuse for a westward trail of tears?

A city built on the improvisation of Jazz

Is again faced with uncertainty

Dear God, craft our melody

With the rhythm of the Spirit

So that the harmony of Christ

May be sung by a choir of NEW Orleans Saints

The Devil Ate My Homework and Other Lame Christian Excuses

When I was five years old the family gathered to open Christmas presents after the Christmas Eve candlelight service. With a broad smile, my uncle presented a large, round, and light present to me. I quickly unwrapped the gift, as any five year old would, to reveal a beautiful replica of a Native American drum. My father peered at my uncle, who was obviously childless at the time, with a look that only a parent can give to someone who has just gifted their child with a drum. I apparently loved the drum because a few weeks later, my dad decided to teach me a very important lesson on how drums work. He asked me, “Do you know how drums work? When you hit the drum the boom-boom fairies inside get jostled around and they bump into each other making the boom-boom sound. Would you like to see the fairires?” “OF COURSE!” I said. Then he took his knife and cut the drum’s membrane, and when he did, the boom-boom fairies escaped. The drum never worked again. See, parents are not interested in what’s right and wrong. Parents are concerned with what’s quiet and what is not.

This Christmas my sister, Megan, gave Isabelle a lovely gift: a bright green Tinkerbelle megaphone. You’ve never heard “Jesus Loves Me,” unless you’ve heard it through a toddler’s megaphone. I did what any reasonable parent would do. I hid it deep within the Bermuda Triangle of our closet. Because my daughter is smarter than I, it wasn’t long before she found it. “Jesus love me, this I know!” But then she started singing other songs, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart; The more we get together, together, together; Part of that, world . . .” Instead of hiding the megaphone, cause she would find it anyway, I started recording what she was singing with my phone. Now when she learns a new song she wants to sing it, softly, into my phone so that she can hear it. I then email the songs to my family, and it’s a beautiful thing. I guess the megaphone wasn’t such a bad gift after all . . . What has God given you? How have you used it?

Last week we talked about heart, mind, soul, and strength people, and how they receive God’s word. Today I’d like to talk about what we do with what we have received. What is God calling you to become? God’s calling upon your life is your vocation. Your vocation is not necessarily your job. As my high school principal said during orientation, “Here is the place where you will learn the skills to pay the bills.” Your job is what you do to make a living. It’s what you fill out on your 1040. Your job is what you do, which is a little different than your occupation. Your occupation is what occupies most of your time. Your job may be to stack boxes in a warehouse, but your occupation is worrying about money. Maybe your job is maintaining websites, but your occupation is politics. Your job is what you do. Your occupation is what takes up most of your time. Your vocation is who you are called to be. Of course, the goal is for our job, occupation, and vocation to be one in the same, or what God is calling me to be is what I do, and it is evident in every area of my life. When I show up Monday morning to do what I do, am I doing it for the glory of God. Doctor, teacher, parent, lawyer, whatever, am I glorifying God today? If you have trouble answering this vocational question, am I doing God’s will, am I following God call upon my life, then you are in good company.

Jeremiah is standing before God and God says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” How would you react if God came to you saying, “I know you better than you know you. I have blessed you with a gift and this is how I want you to use it.” Would you say, “Here I am, Lord, send me!” Would you say to God, “Well, what exactly did you have in mind?” Maybe you would say, “Lord, you’ve got the wrong person.” The latter is Jeremiah’s reply to God. He says, “Lord, truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” Scholars are unsure whether this means that Jeremiah was young or if Jeremiah felt inexperienced. For a moment, let’s assume Jeremiah is young. Those who work with children through Kids Hope USA know that some of the most profound things come from the mouths of babes, and this is precisely because they are young. Children like to ask, “why.” “Ok, I have to go to work,” Why? “So I can make money.” Why? “So that we can eat supper.” Why . . . and the conversation usually ends with “Because, I love you.” I am your father and I love you. Isn’t “why” the most common question we ask God? Why me? Why this? Why that? Why now? I imagine if we keep asking God, The Almighty would eventually reply, “Because, I am your father and I love you.”

When God speaks we are so quick to deliver excuses. Jeremiah has a good excuse. He’s young. He’s inexperienced. Are you sure? Really? (I hate these questions). But Jeremiah says, “Really?” Moses, I want you to free my people. Are you sure? I’m not good with words, per se. Gideon, go and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Are you sure? I don’t work out much. Solomon, You will be a great king. Are you sure?  I’m not the brightest bulb. The greatest prophets in history had excuses as to why God shouldn’t call them. I’m not strong enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not worthy. Jeremiah says, “I am too young,” and God says, “Shhh. Do not be afraid. I’ll give you everything you need.” What’s your excuse? God has a way with excuses.

God’s plan for Jeremiah is “To pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and the plant.” It’s a difficult job. I’d be lying if I said following God is always easy. I’d also by lying if I said it was never fulfilling and beautiful. Jeremiah records God’s words as a chiasm, meaning essentially that you start in one place and end in an opposite place. Pluck up to plant. Pull down to build up. It makes an X across the verse. Too often when God calls we place an X across what God has to say. When we do this, God puts himself of the X so that our excuses may be crucified. The Christ who was plucked up and placed on the cross was the same Christ who said, “youth doesn’t matter, let the children come to me.” The Christ who was pulled down and placed in a tomb, was the same Christ who saw a group of fishermen who said, “We’ve been fishing all night and haven’t caught anything,” before coming to shore with a new calling of fishing for people. The Christ who was destroyed and overthrown by the wisdom of the world, was the same Christ who gathered the disciples who said, “We do not have enough food to feed these people,” just before gathering 12 baskets of leftovers. Your excuses have been crucified. God has given you an extraordinary gift!  Go and take your bright green Tinkerbelle megaphone and go make beautiful music for the glory of God. Praise be to God. Amen.

So, The Fisherman’s Going to Teach Me To Fish?

Several years ago I was walking along the beach with my Dad. I asked him, “How do you know how God is working in the world?” He said, “Do you see that flock of seagulls overhead? I know that just beneath the surface of the water there is a school of fish. I don’t have to see the fish to know they are there. If you open your eyes to the world around you, you will be able to know what’s happening under the surface.” In our scripture lesson today, we do not know what Jesus said to the crowd. As a preacher, I wish I had the transcript of what Jesus said. That would certainly make sermon preparation easier. Nevertheless, I imagine that Jesus said something to the crowd like what my father said to me because Jesus tells Simon to go out into the deep water and let down the net, and the catch they bring in amazed everyone.

Jesus is walking along the lakeshore and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear more of what he had been preaching. He sees two boats on the shore with the fishermen cleaning their nets. They weren’t just closing up shop. They weren’t just breaking for breakfast. They had given up. I imagine that as they were cleaning their nets they were trying to figure out what to tell their wives and children when they were coming home with nothing. They weren’t flipping the sign from “open,” to “closed.” They had been defeated and deflated. This is to whom Jesus goes first. “Simon, I know that you are an expert fisherman. Can I borrow you for a moment . . . I know, I know, I’m sorry you have no fish, but I’m not hungry . . . I need your boat.” If you’re a fisherman and you have no fish, you may think that you are worthless. Not so. Not with Jesus. “Simon, you have something I need, and it’s not your fish.”

Jesus gets in the boat with Simon and asks him to put the boat out just a little from the shore. He sits and teaches the crowd. Again, we don’t know what he said, but it seems that when he was finished there was something missing. As he sits in the boat he leans over to Simon and asks him to put the boat out into the deep water for a catch. (Casual affair). Peter turns to Jesus and gives him an excuse. Now, those of you who were here last week know what’s about to happen. If you were living in 1st century Palestine and you knew your scriptures, reading this hot off the press, you know what’s about to happen. Moses—I’m not good with words. Isaiah—I’m a man of unclean lips. Gideon—I don’t work out much. Jeremiah—I’m too young. Peter—Lord, I know how to fish, and I’ve been fishing all night and I haven’t caught anything. But if you say so, I’ll do it. Peter gives Jesus an excuse. Remember what God does with excuses. He crucifies them so that you may be resurrected with a new life. You know that something miraculous is about to happen.

Simon puts the boat out into the deep water. Any fisherman will tell you that you don’t catch fish in the open water. You have to cast your line in the shallow water near rocks and logs and hiding places. Often the Gospel goes against the conventional wisdom of the world. A sower went out to sow some seeds. He threw seeds on good soil, on rocks, on the path. He flung seeds everywhere. This is a bad way to do business, but it’s a great way to evangelize. With the seeds being the word of God, we are to spread it everywhere, not just with those who we think is the good soil of the world. A man had two sons and one of them took his inheritance and squandered it. When he hit rock bottom he came home. Now, when he comes knocking on the door, you’re supposed to whip his but for being an idiot, right? The father runs out to meet him and dresses him in fine clothing and has a party. One footnote to this story: now that I have children, I’m very interested in what happened the morning after the party was thrown. I’m pretty sure daddy woke his son up early in the morning with a fresh new pair of work boots. A rich man had lots of wealth and he said to himself, “What should I do, I have lots of stuff. I know, I’ll build larger silos to keep even more stuff.” Then God said, “Your life is ending tonight, and what’s going to happen to all this stuff? There’s no room in heaven for your stuff.” A man had 100 sheep and one of them went missing. Aren’t you supposed to cut your losses and move on? The shepherd leaves the 99 in the wilderness to search for the one who is missing. Peter knows that putting his boat out into open water is foolish. He’s a fisherman. He knows this, but he does it because Jesus asked him to. What is Jesus asking you to do?

Maybe this means that a radical change is in store for you. Peter, James, and John came to shore with the fish, dropped everything, and followed. They dropped a fortune worth of fish, and followed Jesus. There may be something in your life which needs to be crucified so that you can follow Christ’s calling. But before you go into the office on Monday morning and quit your job to join the circus, we need to keep in mind to what Jesus called the fisherman. He didn’t say, “you were fishermen, and now you will be bankers.” He said, “you were fishermen, and now you will fish for men.” In other words, your gift for navigating the waters, your gift for organizing a crew, your gift for providing a community of people with food, will continue to be used, but it will be transformed into work for the kingdom. Peter, you have amazing gifts. Now, use them for the kingdom.

God speaks to some through the heart, some through the mind, soul, and strength. God speaks to you in a language you will be able to understand if you’re willing to listen. God has said, “You have a gift that no one else has, and I need you to use it for the Kingdom. If you are a fisherman and you think you have nothing to offer because you don’t have fish, Jesus will ask you to turn around and notice the unused boat, which is what he really needs anyway. Within each and every one of you lies the potential for an abundance of good, a good so great that you yourself will be unable to enjoy alone. Your calling is where your deep joy and the world’s deep hunger meet. Be true to yourself and the Christ who calls you beyond yourself.

So, The Fisherman's Going to Teach Me To Fish?

Several years ago I was walking along the beach with my Dad. I asked him, “How do you know how God is working in the world?” He said, “Do you see that flock of seagulls overhead? I know that just beneath the surface of the water there is a school of fish. I don’t have to see the fish to know they are there. If you open your eyes to the world around you, you will be able to know what’s happening under the surface.” In our scripture lesson today, we do not know what Jesus said to the crowd. As a preacher, I wish I had the transcript of what Jesus said. That would certainly make sermon preparation easier. Nevertheless, I imagine that Jesus said something to the crowd like what my father said to me because Jesus tells Simon to go out into the deep water and let down the net, and the catch they bring in amazed everyone.

Jesus is walking along the lakeshore and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear more of what he had been preaching. He sees two boats on the shore with the fishermen cleaning their nets. They weren’t just closing up shop. They weren’t just breaking for breakfast. They had given up. I imagine that as they were cleaning their nets they were trying to figure out what to tell their wives and children when they were coming home with nothing. They weren’t flipping the sign from “open,” to “closed.” They had been defeated and deflated. This is to whom Jesus goes first. “Simon, I know that you are an expert fisherman. Can I borrow you for a moment . . . I know, I know, I’m sorry you have no fish, but I’m not hungry . . . I need your boat.” If you’re a fisherman and you have no fish, you may think that you are worthless. Not so. Not with Jesus. “Simon, you have something I need, and it’s not your fish.”

Jesus gets in the boat with Simon and asks him to put the boat out just a little from the shore. He sits and teaches the crowd. Again, we don’t know what he said, but it seems that when he was finished there was something missing. As he sits in the boat he leans over to Simon and asks him to put the boat out into the deep water for a catch. (Casual affair). Peter turns to Jesus and gives him an excuse. Now, those of you who were here last week know what’s about to happen. If you were living in 1st century Palestine and you knew your scriptures, reading this hot off the press, you know what’s about to happen. Moses—I’m not good with words. Isaiah—I’m a man of unclean lips. Gideon—I don’t work out much. Jeremiah—I’m too young. Peter—Lord, I know how to fish, and I’ve been fishing all night and I haven’t caught anything. But if you say so, I’ll do it. Peter gives Jesus an excuse. Remember what God does with excuses. He crucifies them so that you may be resurrected with a new life. You know that something miraculous is about to happen.

Simon puts the boat out into the deep water. Any fisherman will tell you that you don’t catch fish in the open water. You have to cast your line in the shallow water near rocks and logs and hiding places. Often the Gospel goes against the conventional wisdom of the world. A sower went out to sow some seeds. He threw seeds on good soil, on rocks, on the path. He flung seeds everywhere. This is a bad way to do business, but it’s a great way to evangelize. With the seeds being the word of God, we are to spread it everywhere, not just with those who we think is the good soil of the world. A man had two sons and one of them took his inheritance and squandered it. When he hit rock bottom he came home. Now, when he comes knocking on the door, you’re supposed to whip his but for being an idiot, right? The father runs out to meet him and dresses him in fine clothing and has a party. One footnote to this story: now that I have children, I’m very interested in what happened the morning after the party was thrown. I’m pretty sure daddy woke his son up early in the morning with a fresh new pair of work boots. A rich man had lots of wealth and he said to himself, “What should I do, I have lots of stuff. I know, I’ll build larger silos to keep even more stuff.” Then God said, “Your life is ending tonight, and what’s going to happen to all this stuff? There’s no room in heaven for your stuff.” A man had 100 sheep and one of them went missing. Aren’t you supposed to cut your losses and move on? The shepherd leaves the 99 in the wilderness to search for the one who is missing. Peter knows that putting his boat out into open water is foolish. He’s a fisherman. He knows this, but he does it because Jesus asked him to. What is Jesus asking you to do?

Maybe this means that a radical change is in store for you. Peter, James, and John came to shore with the fish, dropped everything, and followed. They dropped a fortune worth of fish, and followed Jesus. There may be something in your life which needs to be crucified so that you can follow Christ’s calling. But before you go into the office on Monday morning and quit your job to join the circus, we need to keep in mind to what Jesus called the fisherman. He didn’t say, “you were fishermen, and now you will be bankers.” He said, “you were fishermen, and now you will fish for men.” In other words, your gift for navigating the waters, your gift for organizing a crew, your gift for providing a community of people with food, will continue to be used, but it will be transformed into work for the kingdom. Peter, you have amazing gifts. Now, use them for the kingdom.

God speaks to some through the heart, some through the mind, soul, and strength. God speaks to you in a language you will be able to understand if you’re willing to listen. God has said, “You have a gift that no one else has, and I need you to use it for the Kingdom. If you are a fisherman and you think you have nothing to offer because you don’t have fish, Jesus will ask you to turn around and notice the unused boat, which is what he really needs anyway. Within each and every one of you lies the potential for an abundance of good, a good so great that you yourself will be unable to enjoy alone. Your calling is where your deep joy and the world’s deep hunger meet. Be true to yourself and the Christ who calls you beyond yourself.