St. Luke’s UMC
May 3, 2020
Never the Same…Hopefully
John 21:1-19 (selected verses)
38 million applied for unemployment
3.8 had to skip mortgage payments last month
I want to begin this morning with this simple premise: God answers the world’s problems through people.
Think of the old story about the boy and the starfish. The ocean washed up on the shore thousands of starfish that are slowly dying as the morning sun rises. A man walking down the beach spots a boy in the distance tossing one at a time back into the sea to rescue them. When he reaches the boy he says, “Do you think you’re making much difference when there are so many starfish out here?”
The boy picks one up and as he tosses it into the water he says, “I’m making a difference to this one.”
It may be an overused story but it speaks to our situation today. There is so much need in our world in our world right now. This week 38 million people have applied for unemployment benefits. 3.8 million had to skip their mortgage payments last month…
It’s tempting to give up and say, “What difference can I make when there is so much need?” But when we do what we can, we at least make a difference, and making a difference is better than not.
God answers world’s problems through people.
That’s the story of the Bible. God seldom just swoops down and fixes things without using people. Think about it for a moment. Even when God swooped down and parted the Red Sea God didn’t act until Moses stretched out his hand over the water.
Even when God swooped down and stopped up the Jordan River at flood stage so that the priest could carry the Ark of the Covenant across, God didn’t stop the water until the feet of the priest touched the water.
Even when God swooped down to bring a Savior into the world, God did not act until Mary said, “Let it be to me according to your word.”
Even before Jesus miracously fed 5,000…
Even when God brought his son back from the dead it remained a secret until the women at the tomb went and told others.
God answers the world’s problems through people. Take a finger and point to yourself and say, “That includes me.” And if you’re watching with someone, point at them right now and say, “And that includes you!” God calls each one of us to be part of His answer rather than a part of the problem. But here is a corollary to our premise: Yes, God answers the worlds’ problems through people, but that doesn’t mean we have to be without problems in order to be part of the answer.
That’s the point of today’s scripture story from John 21. Two weeks ago Pastor Jevon preached a brilliant sermon on the first part of this story. After Jesus’ resurrection the disciples returned to Galilee to go fishing. The last time they held those fishing nets was three years earlier when Jesus pointed a finger at them and said “God wants to answer the world’s problems through you.” They left their nets and followed him.
For three years they experienced God working through them, but then Jesus was crucified. The disciples never fought back. They didn’t defend him. They didn’t speak up for him. They just fled. They let him down. Even the news that Jesus’ tomb was empty was not enough to shake off their guilt. So they returned to Galilee.
As Pastor Jevon pointed out, Galilee was their default setting. It was their effort to return to normal, except when they went fishing their nets came up empty. Just getting back to normal was not going to be enough. So Jesus came and met them in their emptiness.
He called from the shore but they didn’t recognize him. He told them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat and when they did they caught so many fish the net was full. The disciple whom Jesus loved said, “It is the Lord.”
This is when the attention in the story turns to Peter. He is so excited by this news he throws off his clothes and jumps in the water so he can swim as fast as possible. He is eager to get Jesus and no wonder. Peter was the one who boasted he would never deny Jesus. If Jesus is alive, that means his mistake wasn’t permanent. His failure wasn’t fatal. He couldn’t get to Jesus fast enough.
When he reaches the shore he sees that Jesus has made a charcoal fire. Why does the Bible mention that detail, that it’s a charcoal fire? What does it matter what kind of fire it was? Because when Peter denied Jesus it was beside a charcoal fire. Now Peter is standing by a charcoal fire again having to face the one he let down.
Jesus asks him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter says, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus asks again, “Do you love me?” Peter says again, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus says, “Tend my sheep.” Then a third time Jesus asks, “Do you love me.” Now Peter is hurt. He says, “Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.”
Pause there. Have you ever found it hard to receive forgiveness? Have you ever found it difficult when you are consumed with guilt to feel forgiven? Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love?” It’s as if Jesus is torturing Peter. But how many times did Peter deny Jesus? Three times? He now answers three times. And with each time he answers he says, “Lord, you know…you know that I love you.” Peter’s restoration is nto based on convincing Jesus what Peter knows. It is about Jesus convincing Peter what Jesus knows. Peter’s recovery from his failure depends on what Jesus thinks of him and not what Peter thinks of himself.
Jesus wants Peter to see himself as an answer. And to do that he will need to give Peter a whole new identity. Three times, in response to Peter saying, “Lord, you know I love you,” Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” Now think about this. Jesus says to the Big Fisherman, now I want you to be a shepherd. I know you are a fisherman. I know I told you years ago, that you would be fishing for people. But it’s time to let that identity go. Because it is too fraught with other things now. That image is tied up mistakes and failures that come up empty. It’s time for a new identity.
You see, when we see ourselves as an answer, our identity is never tied to one thing. Like Pastor Jevon said several weeks ago, God never calls someone to go back to who they used to be. When we see ourselves as an answer, God always calls us to fresh ways to show it.
The late Bishop Ed Tullis was a prominent leader in the United Methodist Church, but you wouldn’t have known it in his retirement. You see he taught an adult Sunday School class for 16 years. Many bishops when they retire go teach at seminaries and colleges, but Bishop Tullis’ wife had Parkinson’s, and he committed to be available to take care of her. So they moved to the remote mountains of North Carolina.
One day the Education Chair of the local Methodist church knocked on his door and said they were desperate to find a new teach for a class of 25 adults. Would he help them for three weeks? He said, “I can’t. I have to take care of my wife.” Members of the class said, “We will take turns sitting with her on Sunday morning if you teach.” So he did. He enjoyed it, so he re-upped for three more weeks. Then he continued the rest of the year, and another year, and after 16 years he retired with a class that averaged well over 100 each Sunday. He said, “This has been the most rewarding role in my ministry.”
Think about that. This bishop who could have said, “I’m not going to teach some Sunday School class with 25 people. I’m a bishop!” But he didn’t go back to that identity. He knew he was called to be an answer, and because of that, he discovered one of the most rewarding roles in his ministry.
Interestingly, the emblem for a bishop in the church is a shepherd’s crook and that’s what Jesus called Peter to be. Why? Because God is a shepherd. Psalm 80:1: “Hear us Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock.” Jeremiah 31:10: ‘He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’ Isaiah 40:11: “(God) tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms.”
When Jesus calls Peter to be a shepherd he identifies him with God. And because God answers the world’s problems through people, he is to be God’s answer. And when you are called to be an answer, you go where there are problems. Frederick Buechner said, “The place calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” You may be gifted to be a fisherman, but your true identity is not a fisherman. You are an answer. You are not a teacher. You are an answer. You are not a doctor. You are an answer.
When you see yourself as an answer, your gifts are the vehicle for fulfilling your call.
Dr Steve Short is a critical care pulmonologist from Manhattan, KS. I met Steve last year. He and his wife were on our trip to Israel. He is a strong United Methodist and an artist. On our trip he was constantly drawing pictures of the sites we visited and giving me and others his drawings. They were beautiful. He’s a deep person of faith.
Well, last month he answered a plea from his professional pulmonologist group to help the virus in New York, an attempt to give local doctors a needed break after weeks of no days off. He felt called to go. When he arrived at his assigned Brooklyn hospital he was the only critical care pulmonologist onsite to treat dozens of patients stricken with the coronavirus. He was the only one that knew how to regulate dozens of ventilators. The virus was savagely attacking the lungs. The hospital had expanded to 9 ICU units. He wrote in his blog form the hospital, “Everybody has Covid. The hospital is full to the brim. It’s stacked with beds. Everybody’s on a ventilator and there’s no way to stabilize these people. I cannot explain medically how bad it is. It’s so difficult to lose so many of them every day.” He trained staff, worked tirelessly trying to save lives, prayed with patients, with staff, and over the phone with families separated from their dying loved ones.
He initially told his family he would take a week to do this, but because there was so much need he felt he felt compelled to stay longer. He put his own life at risk. Even returning home recently he still cannot see his wife because he has to remain in quarantine.
From his posts: Thought for the day: God does choose me based on my behavior. Almighty God rest your spirit on us and grant us the wisdom to trust the plans you have for us. Make us willing to fulfill your purpose for our lives.”
“I am amazed that I am doing this. I did not hesitate to come…I am so thankful for this moment in time to be here. I feel the power of prayer.”
When you see yourself as an answer, you welcome God to give you problems.
Some of you may say, “Well, sure, if I were a critical care pulmonologist I make a difference right now.” But that’s missing the point. That’s like looking at the number of star fish on the shore and wondering how you can help them all. Instead we are asked to do what we can. If we see ourselves as answers, we do whatever we can to make a difference.
This is the Summers family. Regan and Andrew…