Monthly Archives

May 2019

Holy Detours

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Holy Detours”

Rev Art Ritter

May 26, 2019

 

Acts 16:6-15

They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

 

Author Tony Evans tells the story of a little girl who asked her father for a nickel.  He reached into his pocket but he didn’t have any change.  So he pulled out his wallet and discovered all he had was a twenty dollar bill.  Now he loved his daughter very much, so he said to her, “Honey, I don’t have a nickel but here’s a twenty dollar bill.”  The little girl began to pout and she stomped her foot.  “I want a nickel!”  Her father explained how many nickels the twenty dollar bill represented but she just didn’t get it.  Evans writes that we are often like that little girl.  When we want nickels we can’t appreciate the twenty dollar bills that are offered to us.  We are so focused on our own plans that when they sometimes end in disappointment, we can’t see the holy opportunities that God has presented in the detours of life.

In the early spring of 1983, I thought I had things in my life lined up fairly well.  I had finished two years of seminary and was going to start a year long internship at First Congregational Church in St. Johns MI in the fall.  I was then going to return to school for my senior year of seminary.  The summer of 1983 was also well planned.  I was accepted for the Clinical Pastoral Education program at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.  And I was going to live rent free at my girlfriend’s mother’s home in beautiful Pinckney, Michigan.  The proverbial ducks were lined up in a row.  Perhaps things were planned too well!  In late March I got a letter notifying me that my Clinical Pastoral Education experience had been changed to Harper Hospital in downtown Detroit.  I wasn’t thrilled about having to be in such a large hospital and I was wondering how I could drive from Pinckney to Detroit every day.  A few weeks later I got that phone call that every young man dreads.  It was from my girlfriend saying that she wanted to take a break in our relationship, to have some time to think things over.  Suddenly I needed to find another place to live that summer.  I was crushed, personally and professionally.  My well planned, happy life had taken an unexpected detour.  I felt hurt and angry and disappointed.

For a couple of weeks I was ready to give up on the entire summer.  I considered just returning to my parents’ home for three months, perhaps even skipping the year long internship, and going straight back to seminary, forging ahead with a senior year of classes.  But wisely I realized the merit of the practical experience I could obtain at both the hospital and the internship and I decided to find a way to make the alternative plans happen.

I eventually placed a call to a college friend of mine in Lincoln Park and spent the summer living with his family and sleeping in a very hot upstairs bedroom.  My Clinical Pastoral Education experience, while extremely challenging, taught me things I use each and every day of my life.  And in the middle of that summer, July 3, 1983 to be exact, a certain dietetic intern from Colorado walked into the chapel service that I was leading at Harper Hospital.  It took the rest of that summer to get her attention but I succeeded and a year and a half later we were married.  My well planned summer was destroyed.  Yet the blessings of the detour were beyond what I imagined in my own road mapping and certainly far more than I deserved.  Looking back with the perspective of faith, I can see God’s hand in everything that took place.

During the season of Easter we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.  We also celebrate that resurrection in us as God raises us from time and places of disappointment and despair to new lives of hope.  As we acknowledge God’s presence in our lives we are transformed and we too begin to live in ways in which the Risen Christ enters the world.  Dead ends become new opportunities.  Detours become places where new holy roads are being built.

The Scripture lesson this morning is one of those little noticed stories of the early church as told by the author of the book of Acts.  It is the story of Paul and Silas and their visit to Philippi, a city in Macedonia.  The story itself is rather unremarkable in content.  There was no significant event.  There was no great sermon preached.  There was no miraculous healing.  Instead in this routine account of the missionary work of the early church we find a story of obstacles and roadblocks.  In this account from the 16th chapter of Acts we find all sorts of detours that reveal something interesting about the power of God.

The missionaries were Paul and Silas.  The writer of the book of Acts explained in great detail about how the two traveled through parts of what is now the country of Turkey.  But for some reason they were kept from witnessing in other parts of Asia.  Verse 6 says that they were forbidden to speak the word in Asia.  Verse 7 says that the spirit of Jesus did not allow them to move east.  Instead Paul had a vision of a man asking him to travel to Macedonia, to Europe to proclaim the good news.  Blocked by an abundance of formidable orange barrels, Paul and Silas took a detour to Philippi.

Next the narrative mentions that the two men went down to the river.  That in itself was a detour.  Normally when entering a city, Paul would go directly to the synagogue and preach Christ crucified and risen.  But apparently there was no synagogue in Philippi.  According to Jewish law, it only took ten men to create a synagogue but it seemed that ten faithful men were lacking.  So instead Paul and Silas went down to the river, a place where people without a synagogue traditionally prayed.

This presented another detour.  The only people praying at the river were women.  In the first century A.D., women were at the bottom of the social ranking.  It wasn’t appropriate for men to engage in conversation with women.  In a real sense, there was no one at that river to whom Paul and Silas could speak.  Since when did Pharisees like Paul talk to women?  Yet he did.  He shared of the good news of Jesus Christ to the women who had gathered there.

The narrative says that one woman, Lydia of Thyatria, a dealer in purple cloth accepted the message of Paul eagerly.  The fact that she was a dealer in purple cloth must have meant that she was wealthy because purple dye was extremely expensive and only rich people wore clothes made of purple cloth.  Of all the women at the river, the rich woman dealing in purple cloth would have been the least likely candidate to hear the message about a poor Judean carpenter.  And of course Lydia was a woman.  Paul’s vision that sent him to Philippi told him that it was a man who needed his help.  This was another detour, a reversal of plans.  Finally, the account says that Lydia was from Thyatria, a city in Asia that Paul and Silas wanted to visit but were somehow prevented from entering by the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of Jesus.  It was one of those places blocked by the road closure.  While the path was blocked, somehow they got to whom they needed to see by heading a different direction.

The story ends with Lydia opening her home to the missionaries, introducing her household to Paul and Silas, and many being baptized.  Paul and Silas stayed at her home and from there the church at Philippi was born, the same church to which Paul’s letter to Philippians was later addressed.

In tune with the Holy Spirit, detours arise, plans change, and new directions are made apparent.  Things change, lives change, and perspectives change.  The lesson of this account from the book of Acts is that all of us need to be listening for God’s leading.  While we may try to plan, to strategize, and to manage our lives- we may be frustrated by detours and roadblocks.  Yet we can’t stop moving.  We must always open our hearts and minds to where God really is at work in our lives and keep traveling, trusting that these detours will take us to a time and place where we are called to be.

Parker Palmer writes, “The moments when we meet and reckon with contradictions are turning points where we either enter or evade the mystery of God.”  Every so often, our roads encounter the detour sign.  Yet if we listen and look for God’s leading we might find a different answer to the questions:  Where should be go?  How should we get there?  Whom should we serve?  God works in unexpected people.  God takes you to unexpected places.  God offers you unexpected opportunities.  In the detours of life we might find the holiest ground.  In the mysteries of life, we might find God more certainly.

 

Choosing Love

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Choosing Love”

Rev. Art Ritter

May 19, 2019

 

John 13:31-35

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

In a classic Peanuts cartoon, Lucy stands with her arms folded and a rather resolute expression on her face.  Charlie Brown pleads with her, “Lucy, you must be more loving.  The world needs love.  Make this world a better place, Lucy.  Make it a better place by loving someone else.”  With that suggestion Lucy whirls arounds angrily with so much force that Charlie Brown flips over backwards.  “Look, you blockhead,” she screams.  “The world, I love.  It’s the people I can’t stand!”

Pastor Jimmy Gentry shared a survey of 4 to 8 year olds who were asked by child counselors, “What Does Love Mean?”  Here are some of their answers:

Rebecca, Age 8- When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toe nails anymore.  So my grandfather does it for her all of the time, even when his hands got arthritis too.  That’s love.

 

Karl, Age 5- Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.

 

Terri, Age 4- Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.

 

Nikka, Age 6- If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.

 

Chris, Age 7- Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.

 

Lauren, Age 4- I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.

 

Jessica, Age 8- You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it.  But if you mean it, you should say it a lot.  People forget.

 

This morning’s Scripture lesson is a short text from the gospel of John.  Alyce McKenzie calls these words “a glowing candle in the darkness, a command to love one another amid the realities of violence and betrayal as a continuation of Jesus’ ministry in the world.”

The setting of this Scripture lesson may seem a bit strange.  It is when Jesus and his disciples were at Upper Room.  Maundy Thursday.  The betrayal of Judas preceded it and the denial of Peter followed it.  We read about it when we gathered in Fellowship Hal around tables for a meal and sacrament on that night five weeks ago.  It is a time we’ve already observed and left behind in our Easter celebrations.  Why do we return there today?  Judas left the table a long time ago.  He did what he did and perhaps we’d rather now dwell on it anymore.  And Peter seemed to set things straight with the Resurrected Lord during that fishing excursion and breakfast on the beach.  Why do we need to go back to hear about his weakness and his failing?  Why near the end of the blessed season of Easter does the Church Lectionary take us back to the darkest night of Jesus’ life?  Aren’t there better and happier and more positive things to consider?

Perhaps on the fifth Sunday of the Easter season, we return to the scene of betrayal and denial, just to check out whether or not the good news of Easter can survive in such difficult places and times.  And maybe that is a good thing to do.  By now the good news that the Risen Christ has conquered sin and death been challenged daily by the news of our world and the duties and disappointments of our lives.  For resurrection to mean anything, we have to know that it is present in the messy parts of life, in the dark and vulnerable places, in the people who frustrate us, in problems that have no ready answers, and in disappointments that don’t seem to end.

It was one thing to sing “Alleluia” and proclaim Christ Risen!  But as the power of Easter seems to lose its grip upon us, we hear these words of Jesus, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

There was nothing totally original or brand new in this teaching of Jesus.  The law of love was known among Jesus’ followers and by the Hebrew people.  The Law of Moses stated that God’s people were to love neighbor as they loved themselves.  In his earlier teachings Jesus taught the crowds that they were to love God and to love their neighbor.  But here he emphasizes that he is about to teach them something new- a new commandment.  Love one another, as I have loved you.

Jesus taught that love was not a feeling.  Acting in love to those to whom we are attracted and have much in common is easy.  Yet real love is a decision, a commitment to work for the well-being of others even when it means sacrificing our own well-being.  This is what Jesus did.  This is how Jesus loved.  Love others by serving their needs.  Love others without concern for your own needs.  God will abide in you when you make yourselves vulnerable enough to love others.  When love is offered, when selfless concern is released into the world, then good will prevail, and we can know that God has not up and left us.

Love one another as I have loved you.  It isn’t easy is it?  C.K. Chesterton once said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult and left untried.”  We cannot love as Jesus loved.  We cannot sacrifice as he sacrificed.  We cannot offer the patience and humility and selflessness.  It is just beyond us.

Theologian Laura Smits says that when we talk about the characteristics of God, we think it is enough to take our understanding of human concepts and just make them bigger.  If we are good, then God is GOOOOOOOD!  If we can just put an exponent on human goodness, multiplying our human conception of goodness, then we can approach something of what it means to understand God’s goodness.  Yet we can’t be GOOOOOOD!  Smits writes that divine goodness is really something different altogether.  It is love that is of a different kind and quality.  And it is put into us by our desire to follow Jesus and allowed to grow as we gather for worship and prayer and fellowship in community.  But it comes from outside us, when we seek the presence of Christ in us.  If we lack in love, it is not because we are trying hard enough.  If we lack in love it is because we are not seeking the presence of Christ among us sufficiently.  The decision to love one another can only be made if we actively allow a union with Christ to settle within us and among us.

I read a story this week about a sermon preached by Juan Carlos Ortiz in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Ortiz knew that his church membership was a loyal one.  Worship attendance was good, giving was enough to pay the bills, and many of the church members attended a weekly Bible study.  But he sensed that much of the church activity was obligatory.  Faith was something learned but not necessarily owned.  People came and served out of duty.  People really didn’t know each other well.  One Sunday, as he stood up to preach, he simply said these words, “Love one another.”  Then he sat down.  The congregation sat there, waiting for something more.  So Ortiz stood again and said, “Love one another.”  Now the congregation began to stir nervously.  When was the pastor going to begin to preach?  So Ortiz stood up a third time and said, “Love one another.”  He sat down again.  A gentleman in the third row of the congregation leaned over to the man next to him and said, “I think the pastor wants us to love on another.”  He then asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?”  His neighbor admitted that he was a bit concerned about paying his bills that month so the first man opened his wallet and said, “Let me help you.”  Soon, all across the sanctuary, people began talking and engaging in conversations with their neighbors.  There was laughter and crying and praying.  For the next few months, Ortiz preached on the theme, “Love one another.”  He asked his people to continue to practice it among themselves.  He asked them to make a firm commitment to treat one another kindly and well.  Then he asked his people to begin to practice love with the neighborhood surrounding the church, intentionally living out acts of love with those outside the church.  Soon the Risen Christ began to be truly alive, not simply a character of history.

In his commentary on the Gospel of John, Gerard Sloyan writes that this Scripture setting takes place on a borderland.  On one side is history, practicality, the world of human limits and failings.  On the other side is the world beyond, the “being with the Father” of which Jesus speaks.  It is the world that Jesus spoke about and exampled, yet for his followers it is the life that is coming to be.  For us, it is living life in this borderland, trying to bring unseen realities into being.  Jesus teaches us that we can do this by loving one another as God love us.  Loving people who are different from us.  Forgiving people who have hurt us.  Understanding people who see things differently that we do.  Seeking the needs of other before chasing our own concerns.  In such love we enter a new age in the midst of our present age.  In such love we live with the power of Easter in the midst of the darkness and shadows of death.

 

 

The Voice

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“The Voice”

Rev. Art Ritter

May 12, 2019

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

 

I saw a cartoon this week that featured a group of sheep at a dinner party.  The hostess of the party said to another of the sheep, “Henry, our party is in total chaos.  No one knows when to eat.  No one knows where to stand.  No one knows what we are supposed to do.”  The front door then opens and a dog walks into the room.  The hostess breathes a huge sigh of relief.  She exclaims, “How wonderful!  Here is the border collie!  The party is saved!”

Each year on this fourth Sunday of Easter, the church lectionary assigns passages to us that describes Jesus as The Good Shepherd.  The word “pastor” is from the Latin word for shepherd thus carrying the image of a minister being the shepherd for his or her congregants who are a flock of sheep.  Pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber writes that her father used to always ask her, tongue in cheek, “Hey Pastor!  How’s your flock?”  She would reply, “Same as ever.  Disobedient.  And a little smelly.”  That is perhaps why the title “Pastor” has always made me feel a little uncomfortable.  I don’t like to think of any of those in my congregation as docile, stupid, easily manipulated or smelly, as sheep.

But while reading these words from the gospel of John, it helps me to think less about the sheep and more about the shepherd.  Jesus teaches us that God’s love for us is that of a shepherd, one who does the best to care for the sheep, one who calls each of the sheep by name, one who leads them into places of nourishment and refreshment, and one who does what is needed to protect them from all danger.  Shepherds provide what is best for the sheep.

In particular, we read this week the words of Jesus saying that he is The Good Shepherd.  “My sheep hear my voice.  I know them and they follow me.”

As we celebrate Mother’s Day this morning, I have been naturally drawn to remembrances of my own mother who passed away in October of 2001.  I’ve shared with you before a bit about my mother.  Like a good shepherd she was very protective of her children.  She wanted what was best for us.  She wanted us to receive what we deserved.  She pushed us to do our best and to stand out.  And she stood by us through everything we did.  Mom was always there at every single school function, scouting activity, piano recital, and baseball game.

I remember my experience on my high school baseball team.  I was a pitcher, a crafty southpaw.  When I pitched I was extremely focused.  I didn’t want anyone talking to me before the games and I didn’t listen to much of the crowd noise around me during the games.  But there was one exception.  My mother.  I could always hear her voice.  While my dad was always there also, he saved his comments and advice for a private conversation between innings or on the way home.  But my mother provided instruction, wisdom, and encouragement immediately, never caring who else might hear or if her comments were right or wrong.

It sometimes got a little embarrassing.  My mother would inform the umpire that his vision was lacking or that he was perhaps being overly sympathetic to the other team.  My mother, the pitching coach, would offer me suggestions as to what I was doing wrong, things she had heard my father say to me at home.  “Take your time.”  “Follow through.”  “Step toward the hitter.” “Keep your arm up.”  I would request of Mom that she lower her voice and not be so critical but it never seemed to work.  It was part of her nature to speak out and protect and support her children.

The funny thing was that I would ask some of my teammates about my mother’s comments and none of them could even hear what she was saying.  For them, she was just part of the cheering crowd.  I eventually figured out that even in the midst of competition, my ears were attuned to the voice of my mother.  I could hear her through all of the other noise and confusion around me.  While I wish I could still actually hear her voice today, that voice continues to speak to my heart each and every day.

Jesus tells his followers that he speaks with the voice of a shepherd.  It is a voice that we easily recognize.  It is a voice that creates trust rather than fear.  It is the voice of God that cares for our deepest needs.  It is the voice of God that wants the best for us in each circumstance.  It is the voice of God that speaks of a promise of love and care and protection.  It is a voice that is an assurance of that presence in times of struggle and pain.  It is a voice that brings mercy even when we do not feel worthy.  It is a voice that demands we live to our better nature.  It is a voice that we tend to hear even when the competing voices of the world do their very best to drown it out.  It is a voice that calls us to a deeper relationship with our Creator.

Jesus speaks to us about the voice of the Shepherd, who despite our occasional failures, who despite our inclination to walk away, who despite our willingness to trust in the wolves of our world- never, ever gives up on us.  He urges us to follow him, in tangible and concrete ways, promising that if we do we are more likely to hear his voice even more clearly, in the times and places we need guidance and strength.

On this day in which we celebrate and give thanks for human voices that support and direct and protect us- we also lift up the image of the voice of a Good Shepherd.  As believers in Jesus we know the voice.  It is always there.  It is the voice of the one who lays down his life to give everything for us.  Such is the love of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping Easter

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Keeping Easter”

Rev. Art Ritter

May 5, 2019

 

John 21:1-19

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

 

We celebrated Easter a bit differently in the Ritter household this year.  For the first time in thirty years, since we have had children, Laura and I celebrated Easter alone.  Maren and Max, of course have moved to Louisville KY, and Amelia spent Easter holidays visiting her sister.  Other that everything going on at the church, Easter was a welcome quiet day for us.  Easter dinner consisted of grilled trout, sweet corn and rice.  And yes, there was a cherry pie and a few pieces of chocolate candy for me.

The most notable thing for me about the children growing up at Easter is not the peace and quiet, but the lack of plastic grass from Easter baskets showing up around the house.  When Maren and Amelia were little, Easter plastic grass was like Christmas tree tinsel; it ended up everywhere- on the carpet, on the furniture, in the bathroom, on the back of the dogs.  I think I used to pick up Easter grass well past Memorial Day.   Perhaps plastic Easter grass is determined to live throughout the entire liturgical Easter season when the last strand was found on Pentecost.  It is kind of like the pieces of the palm fronds that I still found around the church this week, a full month after Palm Sunday.

Although we are technically in the midst of the Easter season, many of us have already moved on.  Easter Sunday is two full weeks in our rearview mirror.  Today we read the last of the Easter scripture lessons and we sing the last of the Easter hymns.  Do you even remember Easter Sunday?  Our Meeting House was packed.  The flowers were lovely.  The call to worship and processional was beautiful.  The Chancel Choir anthem was moving and joyful.  The energy of the children was contagious.  The food at the fellowship hour was terrific.  The Easter egg hunt was great fun.  The weather turned out to be perfect, something unusual for this Michigan spring.  But all of that may seem like a distant memory now.  Easter is over.  Our Easter celebration is as much of an historical account as the story of Jesus’ resurrection that we read in worship two weeks ago.  It is history.  We must admit that it is not easy to feel “Eastery” two weeks after Easter.

I find some comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my post-Easter sentiment.  The Scripture lesson from the gospel of John tells of the disciples and their struggle with their post-Easter feelings.  It was after Easter, perhaps even a workday Monday morning that followed a terrific weekend.  The disciples’ celebration of Easter didn’t include baskets of eggs or chocolates or worship featuring special music.  It wasn’t marked on their calendar.  The first Easter was a little less obvious.  The disciples were dealing with the mystery of those strange rumors and those even stranger appearances.  Jesus had appeared to them and had engaged them in some rather baffling conversations.  They were puzzled by these mysterious manifestations.  He had been them but it was different.  And so they kept gathering together, hopeful of what might be, yet confused and frightened about what to do next.

I read a commentary this week that suggested that Peter probably wished that the gospel of John’s Easter story would have ended with Jesus’ appearance with the disciples through the locked doors and the questioning of Thomas.  Peter was lost in the crowd that day, a mere bystander of Jesus dialogue with the doubting disciple.  Peter may have wanted to dodge the bullet of having to face the one he had betrayed.  But instead, the teaching continued in the Scripture lesson we read today.

The lesson begins in a very ordinary way- like so many of the scenes of the Bible when people bump into God in the least likely of places.  Jacob is one the run and meets God in a dream alongside the road.  Moses is tending sheep when he encounters a burning bush.  Those walking the road to Emmaus on Easter Sunday were quite literally trying to get away from it all when the Risen Christ appeared and walked with them.

Here, Jesus’ disciples are on a beach.  Having seen the Resurrection Christ twice already, they seem a bit troubled and confused again.  They are bored and restless and not quite sure what to do.   Peter had a suggestion.  He said to the others, “Let’s go fishing.”  While we might laugh at such a simple suggestion, it really wasn’t that strange.  Fishing is what many of the disciples did before they met Jesus.  It was their job and their vocation.  It was all they knew how to do.  As I think about it, the disciples weren’t really very good at being disciples until much later after Easter.  They didn’t seem to understand what Jesus was teaching.  They fell asleep when they should have been staying awake.  They worried about greatness when Jesus modeled humility.  They denied and betrayed Jesus.  They didn’t seem to grasp what was going on.  So now, immediately after Easter they were perfectly content to give up discipleship and return to what they were doing before all of this confusing death and resurrection stuff happened.

Although we profess to dread the routine, I believe there is something comforting about an ordinary life and a regular schedule.  I hear people remark about it all the time when they return home from travel, when guests leave, when the school year begins, or when a family crisis comes to some resolution- it is nice to get back into the regular routine.  The disciples probably weren’t looking for their lives to change.  In the midst of disappointment and mystery and confusion and anxiety, they sought comfort in going back to fishing.

Apparently they weren’t so good at fishing either.  The story tells us that they went out in a boat, fished all night, but did not catch a thing.  That is when the Risen Christ appeared to them again.  It was at sunrise, perhaps a time of day that was no accident of fate.  Jesus appeared just as a new day was dawning.  Night was nearly over.  He stood at the edge of the water.  Still, the disciples did not know who he was.  But they heard him call out to them, “Young men, have you caught any fish?”

In his book Sermons:  Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living, noted preacher Peter Gomes spends a couple of pages on this single question, “Have you caught any fish?”  He writes that Jesus was much like a good lawyer who never asks a question to which he didn’t already know the answer.  Gomes explains that Jesus’ question is not the pure rhetorical question that it might seem to us.  It is not the same question we might ask to a fisherman that we pass by while walking on a dock.  On that day following Easter, Jesus was asking a much deeper question.  “Young men, have you caught any fish?  How are you doing?  How are you getting along in your labor?  Are you satisfied with what you are doing?  Do you understand what your purpose is?”  As in his earlier call of them to discipleship, his question about catching fish was much more meaningful.

The disciples answered, “Not a thing.”  Gomes points out that this might be the answer most of us would give following Easter.  Easter has come and gone and we are back to normal.  We are confronted with the same old dead ends in life and the same apparent limits to what we can do about them.  We continue to fish out of the same side of the boat, even when the nets we pull into the boat are continually empty.  Gomes writes, “We have little to show for all of the energy, labor, imagination, and investment that we put into our lives and our work.”  We go about our business expecting nothing to be changed and thus nothing in life and in our world does get changed.

A friend once told me a story about her husband’s effort to mow the lawn.  He had a trusty old mower that he had nursed through use for many years.  It was continually breaking down and he was continually fixing it.  Most of the time it ran on fumes and prayers.  Last spring she purchased for him a brand new mower.  It was self-propelled, mulching, and push button start.  She thought such a new thing would make him happy.  She told me that her husband still prefers to use his own mower.  The brand new mower sits in the corner of the garage while he spends his time tinkering with the failing but familiar machine.  He just can’t bring himself to throw it out and embrace the new mower.

Jesus commanded the disciples, “Throw your nets on the other side of the boat.”  Life is not to be lived the same as it was before Easter.  Life is abundant and full.  Resurrection demands risk and change.  Easter must be fully experienced by stepping out of routines and ruts and tombs and trusting in promise and potential.  Jesus told his disciples to stop living as if nothing had changed.  Cast your nets on the other side of the boat and start living in Easter joy.

The story didn’t end there.  After the fishing luck had changed, the disciples sat down for breakfast.  I don’t know about you, but breakfast isn’t the most exciting time of day for me.  My eyes are barely open.  My conversation with my lovely spouse is limited to a few reluctant grunts.  My menu consists of a banana and a bowl of cold cereal.  But I love it that way.  That is the way I want it.  Breakfast is dull and boring and routine and comfortable.

Yet at this breakfast, Jesus appeared again to his disciples.  His appearance was another reminder that even if we choose to go about our business in the same old way, the Risen Christ will find us.  If our eyes can’t be opened by the wonder of the empty tomb, Jesus will find us in the habits of something mundane like breakfast.  The Risen Christ we experienced during alleluias and empty tombs is the same power we can find in the stress and worry of the days after Easter.  Surely the Risen Christ will find a way to change our attitudes and behavior in every routine of life.

Keeping Easter.  It is quite simple.  When we keep Easter we understand that resurrection is present long past one day and one man.  Keeping Easter is knowing that Easter is not just a church thing but a life thing.  Keeping Easter comprehends that Easter is opening ourselves up to the possibility that we might be changed.  Keeping Easter means that we can hold hope in the chance that the world, our tired and routine and dreary world, might be transformed by the power and the promise of the Risen Christ.