Tuesday, May 31, 2011

True Worship of the True God

Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Sadly today, our nation faces divisions of all sorts. We are divided about what we should with Medicare and Medicaid. We are divided about abortion. The church is divided on a whole host of theological issues. We seem to be at an impasse.

Yum.
And I’ll have you know, there are even deep divisions between me and Jeff. It seems that we too have reached an impasse on a matter of great importance. I whole-heartedly believe, with one hundred percent of my being, that sushi is delicious. Jeff is on the other side of the aisle and will not budge. He believes that sushi is disgusting.

Every so often, Jeff and I will have lunch together. And up comes this sticky issue. I will want sushi, and he will not. We are a house divided that has to settle on a sandwich, or Mexican food.

Now, we could focus on what divides us – our feelings toward raw fish, seaweed, and rice. But he and I have reached this beautiful compromise. We focus on the fact that we both enjoy eating; that having lunch together is more important than what we are having for lunch. Jeff and I, though our opinions on sushi are irreconcilable, concentrate on what unites us rather than what divides.

Paul stands up in Athens to speak in the Areopagus – the philosophical and cultural hub of the day. He says, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.” Paul describes the multitude of altars and temples in that great city, even one “to an unknown god.” Paul doesn’t start his speech by focusing on what divides them. He doesn’t poke fun at their other altars or tell them how delicious sushi is. He starts with what unites them. “Look,” he says, “we’re both religious. We all worship at altars. In fact, you have an altar to the true God right here in Athens!”

We live in a modern day Athens. There are temples and altars and places of worship all around us – and I’m not just talking about churches. I mean places like Floyd Casey Stadium, Richland Mall, Wal-Mart, the County Courthouse. Each of those places, and many more, are places of worship.

The object of worship is different at each of these places. It might be Baylor athletics or political power that is being worshiped. Others worship at their local bank when they check their savings account. Some worship at Richland Mall when they pick out their new spring wardrobe. People are worshiping at car dealerships and restaurants, they’re worshiping their 401(k)’s or their own bodies.

And this shouldn’t surprise us – because what unites all of humanity is that each human worships. Each human prays. We may pray to different things, ideas, or gods; but what unites us is that all of us pray. All of us worship.

Now to this day, Jeff and I have never had sushi together. We’ve eaten at a whole host of other places, but never sushi. This isn’t because I don’t like it anymore, or because I don’t keep bringing it up. No, as a matter of fact, I keep reminding him just how delicious sushi is.

Paul didn’t give up when he was talking to the Athenians once they had reached some mutual ground. He went on to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. “You see,” Paul says, “in God we live and move and have our being. The true God doesn’t need the work of our hands, because God desires the affections of our hearts. God isn’t made of gold, silver, or stone, because God made gold, silver and stone.” Paul tells the Athenians to stop worshiping their dumb idols. To stop worshiping themselves. To stop worshiping their philosophy. But Paul doesn’t tell them to stop worshiping. He just tells them to worship the right thing.

Everybody you know already worships something. Asking them to come to church and worship God really isn’t that big of a step. Sure, it may look different – but worship is worship. That’s the common ground. But what separates the worshipers of Christ and the worshipers of the other gods is drastic.

At Richland Mall, Floyd Casey Stadium, the County Courthouse, the worshipers there are intent on gaining something. A new piece of clothing that will make them look cooler. A victory over the Aggies that will give them bragging rights. A court order that will make them more powerful. And those other gods and temples, they are happy for you to worship there. Those gods are greedy, they want more and more and more as their worshipers give them more and more and more. And what happens at the end? What happens when that new sport coat gets a coffee stain? What happens when the Bears lose? What happens when the court decision goes the other way? Your life has been taken away from you. You walk away from the stadium or the courthouse feeling empty.

Worship of the true God is different. Worship of the true God is self-sacrificial love. Worship of the true God is focused on Christ and others, not yourself. The difference is that the true God gives you life, a more abundant life, in return. The false gods leave you with dust and shadows.

Our mission field, our local communities, are thirsting to hear this. People want to worship the true God. They are done with the vagaries of those other gods. They are tired of pinning their hopes on political figures, on both the left and the right, only to have them change their positions mid-term. Your friends and neighbors are done with putting their trust into a stockmarket and financial system that is so catastrophically fickle. They already know how to worship, we just have to show them that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and always.

And we say this every single Sunday. We pray and publicly proclaim that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus Christ is the true God. This proclamation is different from my personal proclamation, “I like sushi.” My fondness for sushi is a matter of personal opinion and taste. But the statement “Jesus is Lord” is not a personal opinion. “Jesus is Lord” is a cosmic truth, and whether we say it or not, it’s true.

To be missionaries to our modern day Athens, in our Waco filled with temples and altars to all sorts of gods, we have to be hard-nosed Christians. In our public lives, not just in the comforts of home and church, it’s time to say “Jesus is Lord, Dillard’s is not.” “God is faithful, the stock market isn’t.” “You may pray to the gods of greed, we pray to the God of love.” Christianity is not about being nice, about telling everybody that they’re okay because at least they worship something.

Christianity is about being faithful and true, worshiping the God in whom we live and move and have our being. Nobody has to convince us to worship – we were created for worship. What makes our worship as Christians drastically, and more beautifully different, is that a coffee stain or financial collapse won't change God.  We change for God.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Take Heart

This Thursday the Church celebrates Ascension Day.  The first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles describes how Jesus, forty days after his resurrection on Easter, ascended into heaven.  I invite all of you to come to St. Alban's at 12 PM to worship on this holy day as we celebrate how Jesus reigns over both heaven and earth.  

But if Jesus is in heaven, why have we been left on earth?  Have we been abandoned?  In today's gospel passage, Jesus reassures us that we will not be left alone, "I will not leave you orphaned" (John 14:18).  He tells his followers that God will give us another "Advocate" to be with us forever.  This promise is fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descends upon the followers of Jesus.  The disciples weren't abandoned, God loved them in a new way.

So has God forgotten us?  Of course not.  The Holy Spirit, our Advocate, is still with us.  God has remained faithful to us and finds new ways to love us. God's ever-present love for me has been the truest story in my life: that in spite of my heartaches, illnesses, and sin, God has refused to abandon me.

And God refuses to abandon you.   

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Church

Boom!
This morning I had the blessing of sharing a conversation with Mike Whitenton.  Mike is a wicked smart Ph.D. student at Baylor in New Testament theology whose affinity for the Church is inspiring.

Part of our conversation dealt with varying models of Church.  For us, it boiled down to a core essential: we have to receive the Church.  We cannot make the Church in our own image.

This may be an uncomfortable truth.  Sometimes binding ourselves to a tradition like the Church means that we'll get slammed.  It's like an unprotected wide receiver getting jacked when he goes up for a pass.  

Think of Braylon Edwards (who in the picture is about to get punished): we have to extend ourselves upwards to God in order to receive our Church tradition.  This exposes us to the vagaries and vices of the world and those who wish to make a Church of their own.  And sometimes we get crushed.

But if we do our job correctly, if we truly receive the tradition that has been handed down to us, we shouldn't care if we are the object of a bone-crunching tackle.  Because we have the ball.  

The Christian tradition has been passed on to us.  Now it's our job to make it to the end zone.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Bible is not a Book

Gutenberg Bible
Mr. Gutenberg did a wonderful thing.  Modern printing presses have made the Bible accessible to the masses.

However, I wonder if Mr. Gutenberg knew the negative theological consequences of binding of all of the books of the Bible into one volume and presenting it to the whole world.

Even though our modern Bibles come as one bound book, the Bible is actually composed of 66 different books, each with its own genre: poetry, history, legal code, protest literature, pseudo-biography, and letters.  But when they are all put together in one volume, we are tempted to say "the Bible says such and such" when really it is Paul who says that, or a piece of poetry, or Jesus, or a lawyer.  This is danger inherent in people like Harold Camping, proponent of the most recent date for the end of the world.  To really get into the Bible, we have to break it apart and look with dissonance.

For example, in Revelation 17 the great whore of Babylon is identified as the Roman powers that are "drunk on the blood of the saints" (17:6).  Revelation is written to warn Christians against bowing down to the emperor or worshiping the beast of Roman power.

On the other hand, you have Romans 13, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities" (13:1).  Or, 1 Peter 2:17, "Honor the emperor."

I find this dissonance beautiful, not disturbing.  If there are disagreements and arguments within the very text of the Bible, then maybe us squabbling Christians are just living into our tradition.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sushi, soccer, and the love of God

In Acts 17, Paul has the guts, the audacity, to stand up in front of a group of strangers in a foreign city and proclaim Jesus Christ as risen from the dead.

"Some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him.  Some said, 'What does this babbler want to say?' Others said, 'He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.' (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.)" - Acts 17:18

Here's the truth: when we proclaim Jesus Christ as risen from the dead, when we live our lives with Jesus as our Lord, when we empower others to do the work of ministry through the Holy Spirit - some people will think that we are babbling idiots.  They will say that we are wasting our lives.  They will find our thoughts "foreign," strange, different.

Sure, the good news may sound "foreign" and weird and incomprehensible.  But I also thought that raw fish wrapped up with rice and fish eggs was gross until I tasted sushi.  I thought that soccer was for Euro-trash and foreigners until I watched the World Cup.

What is foreign is not always bad.  What is foreign may be the best thing you ever heard.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rules

One of the coolest parts of my job is speaking with people who have never been to an Episcopal church before. A couple of days ago, one such woman contacted me saying that she had some questions about our church and would like to pay us a visit. Happily I said, "Come on over!"

She had been raised in another denomination, a very strict group of believers whose hierarchical rules dictated the whole of her spiritual life.  She was raised on a steady diet of, "You have to believe this.  You can't believe this.  And don't you dare question!"  Wanting to know if that was how we operated at St. Alban's, I gave her my classic formula: "If you aren't asking questions, then you're not thinking.  And if you're not thinking, then you're being a slug.  And slugs don't do anything."

Relieved by my answer, we started a short tour of the church.  As we approached the altar she stopped dead in her tracks with a bit of worry and a bit of joy on her face, and asked, "Am I allowed up here?"  It was my absolute joy to exclaim, "Of course you are!  The church belongs to us!  This is our altar!"

Jesus told people to follow him, to come and see, to eat and drink what he has to offer - he wasn't into following human rules that extinguished the flame of love.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch"?  All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings.  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.  Colossians 2:20-23

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Economics of Revelation

Last night was our final session in our Revelation Bible study.  In chapter 19 of Revelation, the merchants and seafarers wail and mourn for the destruction of that great economic center, Babylon, precisely because they have nowhere to sell their goods.  Their market has been destroyed, and there is nowhere to make a profit.

With these images going through my head, I was blown away when I heard a news story this morning about the state of our economy.  Mary Landrieu, a Senate Democrat from Louisiana, commented on the windfall earnings of the 5 largest oil companies: "They are making profits.  And you know what?  That's what America is about, it's about making profits.  And we don't penalize people for making profits, we congratulate them."

On the other hand, the saints, apostles, and prophets rejoice at the fall of Babylon the great - that center of prosperity and profit.  The Kingdom of God is not built on profiteering or earnings.  The Kingdom of God is built on sacrifice, not gain; on donation, not hoarding.

I am not trying to make this a political statement - but I think it begs the question: Are we making a profit for Babylon, or are we sacrificing for the Kingdom of God?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Knitting

Usually I'm not a big fan of knitting.  I like to run, lift weights, play golf, swim.  Knitting is too docile for me.

I think that my active life informs my spiritual life.  Maybe Jesus liked to play racquetball or pump some mad iron.  I bet Jesus would have played tight end for the Longhorns.

Even though I find it dreadfully boring, experienced knitters do have uber-talent.  They manage to think about colors and stitching, keep count in their head, manipulate their hands and those funny sticks, while at the same time holding in their mind an image of the future product.  Seriously, that's way more impressive than being able to crush a golf ball off the tee.

So I am going to challenge myself.  I am going to think of Christ as the knitter; not because I like knitting, but  because that's precisely the image that Colossians gives us.  Jesus is the knitter of this intricately delicate world.  Through his loving act of knitting together the elements of the cosmos, this creation came to be.

And he has done what no other knitter can do: he has woven himself in the very fiber of his creation.

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers - all things have been created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together." Colossians 1:15-17

Monday, May 16, 2011

Christian Formation

On this blog, you have heard me say over and again that a spiritual life is a journey.  Growing up in Christ takes effort, commitment, sacrifice, and diligence. On our part, Christian maturity is a work in progress.  Consistent prayer, study, worship, and service are the components of a Christian life.

But there is, and always must be, a grace-filled side to Christian formation.  Personally speaking, there was a large measure of grace in my spiritual development.  From hardly ever going to church all the way to where I am now means that the Holy Spirit can and does move powerfully in our lives.  (See this previous post:  http://jimmyabbottsblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/sex-moneyprayer.html)

As this passage from Colossians says, as a church leader I continue to pray for everybody at St. Alban's, regardless of how often they "come to Christian formation."  In the bounty of God's providence, I expect God to do wonderful things despite our best efforts to thwart him.  That is why the primary purpose of a Christian formation leader is not to teach, but to pray.

And finally, one can know the ins and outs of every little theological doctrine, and still not lead a life worthy of the Lord.  The purpose of Christian formation is not to know about Christ, but to know Christ.

"We have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God." - Colossians 1:9-10

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Weighed in the Balance

...and found wanting
In Daniel 5, King Belshazzar of Babylon stands face to face with the power and justice of God.  After desecrating the vessels used for Temple worship in Jerusalem, a mysterious hand appears on the wall of the palace and writes, "MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN."  Daniel, servant of the Most High discerns this message and proclaims that Belshazzar's reign has come to an end and that he will die shortly.  Or, most famously, "You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting" (5:27).


Daniel charges Belshazzar with this crime: "You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honored" (Daniel 5:23).


This idol worship, the praise of the gods of the Dow Jones and the Commodity Price Index, worship of the gods of Wall Street, prayer to the gods of silver and gold is still alive and well.  Raj Rajaratnam, recently convicted of an insider trading scheme worth millions of dollars, prayed to these idols.  The gods of Raj Rajaratnam are the gods of silver and gold.


These are the gods that we think will give us power and authority.  But in the end, the gods of gold and silver are cruel; they snatch away our lives as we become consumed by them.  By trying to fill our vaults with treasure, our treasure locks us into the vaults of self-produced fear and greed.


"Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (I John 5:21).  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A trivial debate of great importance

May 21?
Have you heard about May 21, 2011?  According to some, that day will be the day of the "rapture" when all righteous Christians souls will fly off to heaven and everybody else will be left to punishment on earth.  In an attempt to know the future, Christians for centuries have been trying to figure out the date of Judgment Day.  For our purposes, let's move beyond that debate and investigate something else going on here.

Biblical literature is neither clear nor consistent when it comes to describing what happens when people die or what happens on "Judgment Day."  I Thessalonians 4 describes a day when those who have not yet died will be "caught in the clouds together ...to meet the Lord in the air."  This goes along with Elijah being taken away into heaven in II Kings 2, Enoch being taken up by God in Genesis 5, and Jesus himself ascending straight to heaven in Acts 1 (liturgically speaking, that's Ascension Day).  So we have a definitive answer, right?  When we die (or when the Lord comes back) we will be snatched up into heaven.

Let's do a little bit more investigating.  I Corinthians 15 speaks of those who have died receiving new life in a resurrected state.  The physical body will die, says Paul, but a new spiritual body will be raised.  This also seems to go along with the experience on Easter morning.  Jesus didn't die and immediately fly up to heaven.  His body was reconstituted through a resurrection.  And the final image we find in biblical literature is that of the new creation descending from heaven to earth.  Revelation 21 says, "Then I saw a new heaven a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (21:1-2).  Notice: nothing is flying up to heaven.  Heaven is coming down to us.

So does this trivial debate have any great importance?  Yes, but not in the most obvious sense.  Rather than trying to figure what's going to happen when we die, I say we figure out to live a heavenly life right here.  Why wait to sucked up to the sky or for you to get a new body?  God is Lord of Lords right now, so go ahead and live like it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Money

One of my favorite theologians, F.D. Maurice, was a tenacious writer and humble follower of Jesus.  Instead of identifying sin as an individual's stumbling in their life with Christ, Maurice identified sin as a corporate affair.  Whole societies, not just individuals, sin against God and their neighbors.  He says,

"One deep radical disease has been infecting our two countries [the United States and England], and during the last two centuries has been entering deeper and deeper into our constitution till it has now nearly reached the vitals of both.  Will not everyone say that it has been MONEY-GETTING? (emphasis original)"

What Wall Street wants is not always what Jesus wants.

Moreover, this is a slap in the face to the American myth of the "self-made man."  That myth goes like this: if you work really hard and are a nice person you will find happiness and success.  That is the gospel of western society - a gospel which I knew and espoused for many years.

Then I encountered the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In Christ, the goal is not to getting, but giving, self-sacrifice, and self-donation.  The Christian life is a pouring out of yourself: your money, your passions, your love, your energy, just as Christ poured out his own blood.  And here's the catch - when we empty ourselves for Christ, we find that Christ fills us.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Youth Sunday

Alex Atkins, Diane Collins, Jericha Price, and me
Yesterday at St. Alban's was Youth Sunday, and instead of having me or Jeff preach, the three graduating seniors were invited into the pulpit.  Alex, Diane, and Jericha offered their own unique testimonies to Christ.

(In case you missed it, you can listen to by following this link: http://www.stalbanswaco.org/files/Audio/youth.WMA)

Two things stood out to me in their homilies.

First, they all engaged the Bible and used it as a springboard for their reflections.  These were not sappy graduation speeches or farewells; they were rooted in Christian texts and traditions.  Yesterday's gospel lesson was the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Alex and Diane both reflected on their journeys with Jesus and their fellow disciples at St. Alban's.

Second, I realized how much these three had grown spiritually in the past year.  I have seen their spiritual lives flourish and mature over the course of this year.  I pray that they continue to grow in faith and love as they move off to college.

Alex, Diane, and Jericha are three amazing and faithful young women.  I know that as they grow and mature in faith they are going to be the future leaders of the Episcopal Church!

Yesterday, I saw three young Christians preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.  Thanks be to God!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

H-E-Double Hockey Stick

Harrowing of Hell
Hell has been discussed in popular circles twice in recent weeks.  Two very different perspectives came up. 

The first discussion of hell coincided with the publication of Rob Bell's book, "Love Wins."  It seemed like everybody was in on it - "Yeah!  No hell!  Love wins!"

Then Osama bin Laden was killed.  The front page of New York's Daily News had a picture of bin Laden and said, "Rot in hell!"  People on my Facebook newsfeed were cheering his death and rejoicing at his state of eternal punishment.

So what's the deal here?  Why do we want hell to exist only when somebody dies that we hate?

It seems to me that the concept of "hell" has lost its roots in New Testament Christianity and has become an instrument of punishment in our common civil religion.  Those we disagree with (gays, anti-gay groups, Democrats, Republicans, etc.) must be going to hell because they disagree with what the other side defines as "virtuous."

I am going to punt on this issue.  For me, who is "getting saved" doesn't concern me.  What concerns me is living a holy, Spirit-filled life.  Jesus - literally "God saves" - will take care of all the rest.

Hell be damned - I want to live a heavenly life right now.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Revelation - Heavenly Worship

Four horsemen
I just have to say this: our Revelation Bible study has been incredible.  People who have never read the Bible, people who thought that Revelation shouldn't even be in the Bible, and everybody else in between has been captivated by this book.  Revelation is a weird book (granted), but no amount of oddity can prevent the Holy Spirit from working.

Last night we juxtaposed two images from Revelation: heavenly worship with destruction and death.  I'll give you the short run-down.

Throughout Revelation, we hear that the Lord God was and is and is to come.  In other words, there is no time that God isn't present.  We took this idea, and enlarged it to encompass the entire book.

So when chapter 6 speaks of the infamous four horsemen of the apocalypse, we see that these are not future omens, but rather descriptions of the human condition. Violence, economic hardship, and death (brought by the horsemen) have happened, are happening, and will happen.  As humans we know these all too well.

Along the same lines, the images of heavenly worship in chapters 4 and 7 have happened, are happening, and will again happen.  There are moments in our lives where we found ourselves caught up in the heavenly worship, when our entire being is oriented towards the Creator.

In other words, we live at an intersection.  In our human life we see the four horsemen of the apocalypse but we also participate in the heavenly worship.  Yesterday, the participants in our study reflected on the times in their lives when they have been trampled by the four horsemen; when illness strikes, September 11, or when the stock market crashed.  But we also reflected on the glimpses of heavenly worship: sharing a meal with loved ones, praying around the bed of a dying friend, or listening to sacred music.

Revelation is not some strange set of visions that speak of a horrific future, but rather a description of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Walking Ethics

For all the mystery surrounding the first letter of John (who wrote it, to whom did they write it, when did they write it, etc.), I have found it to be an early treatise on Christian ethics.

I John states, "Whoever says, 'I abide in him (Christ),' ought to walk just as he walked" (2:6).  Of course, we ought to hear echoes of the Old Testament here.  The psalmist says "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105).  Notice that these images are not passive.  We aren't told to think like Christ thought, or study like Christ studied, but we should actively engage in behaviors and attitudes that are congruous with Christ.

Watching a child learn how to walk is much like watching a Christian learn how to live.  At first, our muscles aren't strong enough, our sense of balance isn't developed, and we need a hand to help us take our first steps.  Eventually we learn how to walk, even how to run and skip.  Sure, we may trip up along the way - but that doesn't mean that we should give up walking.  The same with a holy life - sure, sin is going to trip us up, but that doesn't mean that we ought to give up trying.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sermon - 2nd Sunday of Easter

Sent With a Net
Last week, Maggie and I went down to Galveston for a couple of nights of vacation. One morning I rose early, and took a walk on the beach in a contemplative mood. The sun was just barely hanging above the horizon. The waves continued their ceaseless crashing. The wind wasn’t blowing too hard. It was a perfect morning on the beach.

As I walked along praying and meditating, I came upon a jetty, one of those long stony fingers that breaks up the waves and points out to sea. On this particular jetty there were two men fishing. The first man was fishing with a pole. His bait was out in the water and his rod was held upright by a stand. He was leaned back in a chair, sipping his morning coffee, not really actively fishing but rather hoping that one fish in the entire ocean would find his bait appetizing.

Now the second man was fishing with a net. I had never watched somebody fish with a net, and just watching made me tired. He scurried back and forth along the length of the jetty, casting his net out into the surf and then pulling it back in. Casting it out, pulling it in. Casting it out, pulling it in. This man was really fishing. He was getting after it. Like he really wanted to catch some fish.

Now conceivably, both men had woken early that morning and had decided to go fishing. They had crawled out of their cozy beds, out of their comfortable homes, and had walked out onto that jetty with the waves spraying them and the sun beating down on them. Home would have been more comfortable – but it was out here on the water, with the sea, and the rocks, and the wind – that they were going to catch some fish. Something had sent them out of their beds and onto that jetty. But one man had gone with a pole and a chair, and fishing seemed more like an excuse to sit outside. The other man had gone with a net, and he was intent on bringing home some fish.

On that first Easter night, the risen Lord sends his apostles out. He comes into their locked, cozy, and comfortable room. Jesus tells them, “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathes the Holy Spirit on them. And, as the whole world knows, the apostles were sent out. They have preached the gospel and have spread the Kingdom of God in all corners of the earth. Now, it would have been easier for the apostles to stay in that nice, comfortable room they had. They wouldn’t have been persecuted, they wouldn’t have been mocked or embarrassed, life would have been easier. But if they hadn’t walked out of that room, neither you, nor I, nor anybody you know would have heard the good news of Jesus Christ. The apostles
were sent out to all the world – so that all the world might come to believe.

And Jesus is saying that same thing to us. He has breathed the Holy Spirit on us through baptism, by taking communion, by being confirmed. But along with this inspiration from the Spirit comes a requirement from Jesus. He sends us. In fact, this is exactly what it means to be an apostle. To be an apostle, means to be one that has been sent. Jesus sends us out into the world to forgive sins, to spread the good news, to help build up the Kingdom of God.

Now there are two types of apostles. There are apostles who use fishing poles. And there are apostles who use nets. Apostles with fishing poles have the right idea, but their equipment is all wrong. Think back to that first fisherman. His bait was in the water and he kept an eye on his line, but he was just chilling out, letting the world come to him. Sure, he had been sent out of his comfortable house, but he had taken a comfortable chair with him. He could have fallen asleep and never even noticed if he had caught anything. He sat there on that jetty, but it could have been any other spot in the world. He didn’t have to be aware of his surroundings, he just had to be near some water.

As apostles, as a church, we have to leave our fishing poles at home. Too often we have let the world come to us, because we have fallen asleep in the comfort of our pews, of our liturgy, of our music. And we aren’t really working, are we, if we just open our church doors hoping that the world comes to us? We might wear a cross around our necks, just hoping that somebody will come and ask, but we never strike up a conversation about our faith. Our bait is in the water, but we’re not doing much about it.

As apostles, as a church, we need to pick up our nets. In this world of ours, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ requires active work. Think back to that second fisherman. He was working his tail off scurrying up and down the jetty. But here’s the thing – that man with the net knew that jetty and that part of the sea better than his companion with the pole. The man with the net knew where the rocks were, where the shallows were, where the fish hang out.

We, as the Church, need to fish with nets. We need to know the world around us, where people are hurting or are in need. We need to know where they hang out and what they are thinking, where the rocks and the shallows are and where the fish like to feed. We need to cast our nets far and wide, working hard and often to tell people about the good news of our risen Lord.

We’ve been casting our nets far and wide at Barnett’s Pub. Last Tuesday there were 23 people studying the book of Revelation at Barnett’s. And let me tell you, when a church takes over the back half of a bar, people notice. They get caught up in our net. Regular patrons at Barnett’s, random visitors, even one of the bartenders has approached us asking, “so, where do you go to church? Can I come to your Bible study?” We are casting our nets far and wide out into the sea which is the world, from our jetty, which is this church.

Or, do you know that some people have come to this church simply because they heard the bells ringing on Sunday morning? Walking down the street they were caught up in the music that we send out over our neighborhood. We have cast our net far and wide because Jesus Christ sends us out there.

Now, here’s the real catch in the story. When we start fishing with our nets, when we start looking outward to this world and respond with the Kingdom of God, we will start catching fish. Our church will grow. But something else happens – we become better fishermen. In the process of doing ministry, we become more faithful and more loving Christians. If we hope to be spiritual, or rather, to be Holy Spirit-filled, we cannot look inward. Navel-gazing on Sunday morning will not help us be better apostles. Rather, it’s looking outward Monday through Saturday that will make us into better Christians. The church which ceases to be sent into the
world ceases to have any sort of spiritual life.

The purpose of Easter is not for us to bask in the glow of eternal life. Jesus Christ didn’t burst the bonds of death simply for us to sit in a comfortable chair with some bait in the water. The purpose of Easter is for us to cast our nets far and wide as we proclaim to the whole world that the Lord is risen indeed. From the empty tomb Jesus Christ sends us out with the Holy Spirit, he sends us out with a mission, he sends us out with a net, so that all the world might believe in him.