As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, God’s Gifts, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 14 February, 2016. The Reading was John 21:1-23.
Societies Contrasting messages
As I’m sure you’re aware now, I turn 30 today. And it’s with these big birthdays that you start thinking about your life, about making sure that you’re doing things that you should be doing. So earlier this year, I went to get a skin check, and you probably saw me with a bandage on the back of my neck where I had a biopsy done. All clear, which is good, but it was a bit of a wake up as well. I want to make sure that I’m around for as long as I can be for my kids – but my word is the world a tough place to live in.
So I start thinking – ok, I should start looking after myself – but how do I go about it? Do I go low carb or High carb? High Fibre, High Protein, low-fat, no sugar but high fat, there’s all these different messages as to what is best for our bodies.
And when you start thinking about cancer – what we hear in the news is almost always contradicted by another story just a few weeks later. Coffee is bad for you – followed up by a story a week later saying 2 cups of coffee a day can prevent cancer. Alcohol causes cancer – but tune in next week when we discover how a glass of red wine will prevent 34 of the most common cancers! Eating chocolate gives you cancer – but wait, it’s easter, so eat all the chocolate up – a bit each day is good for you anyway.
And these different messages, these contrasting, often contradictory messages aren’t just in regards to our health. I feel sorry for the girls growing up in our society. There is starting to be a bit more of a louder voice encouraging them to be comfortable in their own bodies, but every time you open a magazine you only ever see photos of skinny, perfectly proportioned and photoshopped bodies that only give an impossible ideal of beauty.
And if we were to listen to Australian politics we would only get ourselves even more confused – first the PM says one thing, then he says something completely different. First we hear that there are no children in australian detention, then we hear that they’ve just been reclassified and are still being housed within a detention centre. First we hear that they’re giving the states taxes, and then they’ve backed away from that. It’s almost impossible to determine what anyone actually is doing.
We receive confusing and contrasting messages about our discipleship
And when we turn to the church, unfortunately we don’t get things any clearer. There are so many contrasting messages that it makes it difficult to see and accept where God calls us.
For example, in John 15:12-14, we hear Jesus say “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Now, you could look at that and say that Jesus is commanding us to lay down our lives to show our love. And when we look at the history of the church, we see many people who have followed that path – those such as Martin Luther King Jr, or Bishop Oscar Romero are well-known, but there are many examples of Christian disciples who have given their lives in love: nuns and priests who have stayed at their ministries in Central America or Eastern europe, doctors and nurses in hospitals and health-care facilities in impoverished countries around the world. Just recently, as part of a BBC documentary on The Salvation Army, Paul O’Grady said that “When AIDS his London, I’ll never forget The Salvation Army. Because in the Westminster Hospital, this was a time when they had yellow tape across doors and you were expected to wear a mask and protection because they didn’t know anything about it. You frequently got nurses who wouldn’t work on AIDS wards, they’d say no. And who was there – The Salvation Army.”
And I think that’s great and all – but that’s not what God’s called me to. God’s given me a wife and children that I love very much, and sure while I’m willing to risk arrest for causes that I believe God calls me to stand up for, if it was putting my life at risk, it would be a whole different story. So am I a lesser Christian than those who are willing to risk their lives in love for others?
And then I think about the numerous Christians that I’ve met along the way who would never do anything nearly as drastic as what I did, yet still faithfully follow God’s call, and show love to those that are around them. For example, in our last corps, there was a woman by the name of Mary. This woman was the personification of Jesus’ love – she cared for everyone that she met, and was out visiting people and caring for people, most days of the week. I don’t think there will be a venue large enough in Devonport for when God eventually calls her home, as I know she has touched the lives of so many people. I could never picture her putting herself up for arrest like I did, but I would certainly never consider her a lesser Christian because of it. So how do we balance up these differing messages with the reality that we know?
John shows us the different ways that God calls people to live their lives
Well, thankfully, we get that clarity in John’s gospel that we heard today. Most commentators agree that this chapter was added on at a later stage, possibly to tie up some loose ends and some uncertainties in the Johannine community. And we’re glad that they did, because this passage adds some vital meaning to us.
We’ve got seven of the disciples heading off fishing – they were fishermen after all, and hey, a disciple’s gotta eat. And with night being the best fishing time, off they headed one night to go and fish. But maybe they were out of touch – they’d spent three years following Jesus, maybe they’d forgotten the right way to throw the nets, or had forgotten where the best spots were, but they caught nothing.
And as dawn is rising, a man on the shore calls out to them: “Friends, you haven’t got any fish have you?” Now with text we don’t know exactly what inflection was put on there, whether it was a question, or a statement, or even said in jest. But they called back saying they had none. And imagine their thoughts when the man called back “Throw the net on the other side” – oh yea, ha ha, very funny, throw the net on the other side. They do it and lift out a huge amount of fish – 153 to be exact. That would keep them fed for a while.
They realise that it’s Jesus and they come ashore, to find Jesus there with a fire, cooking a breakfast of bread and fish – yes, he already had a fish on the grill. Cheeky Jesus. But they add some of their fish to the grill and the interaction between Jesus and Simon Peter occurs. Jesus reinstates Peter, his three questions echoing Peter’s three denials. Then he says to him “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.” and the author adds “He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.”
Finally, Peter asks about the disciple whom Jesus loved. The gospel writer makes it quite clear that the fate of this person is not a concern to Peter, but to Christ. If he doesn’t die, or if he does, that is God’s call.
In these scenarios, we see how God calls and can use each of us. All those that were in the boat had a different pathway, but each of their paths was right for them. We had Peter, who according to apocryphal tradition, was crucified head down. We have the disciple whom Jesus loved, who wrote down what he saw so that we could have the gospel. We have Thomas and Nathanael, who needed to see in order that they could believe. And we have the Sons of Zebedee and the unnamed disciples, about which we hear nothing of them apart that they were disciples.
Our own faith pathways can be described in much the same way. We have those who are called to lay down their lives in love, we have those who write and help us understand our faith, we have those who need to see miracles in order to believe, and those who we hear nothing about, except that they believe. All are welcome, in the family of God.
No matter how we are called, all receive the gifts of God
And just as all these different pathways are shown in the gospel, it’s important to note that the disciples all receive the same gift from Jesus. All of them were in the boat when the miraculous catch of fish, and all received the breakfast on the beach. While each of them had a different pathway, all received the same gift. In the same way, while each of our pathways might be different, and while God may call us in different directions, we all receive Jesus’ gifts. From those who will give up their lives in love, to those who will struggle daily in what may seem the smallest places to bear witnesses to Jesus’ love – all receive Jesus’ gifts.
Go and live as Jesus calls you, and be faithful to that.
Jesus is calling everyone here. Whether you’ve been on the pathway for most of your life, or if you’ve only heard his call on your life today, he is calling you to live out his love in the way he is calling you. He has promised gifts to all who follow his call. Will you follow his call on your life today?