So I meant to do a closing blog to mark the end of my year in DC which is STILL coming, I promise! But in the mean time I hope this gets you all by. I gave a Sermon a my home church today, Holy Way Presbyterian Church in Tucson, AZ. I tried to make a parallel between the scripture and my YAV year, I hope you enjoy it!
According to John, Jesus appeared again to the disciples, this time at the Tiberias Sea.
This is how he did it:
Simon Peter, Thomas , Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the brothers Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.
Simon Peter announced, “I’m going fishing.”
The rest of them replied, “We’re going with you.”
They went out and got in the boat. They caught nothing that night.
When the sun came up, Jesus was standing on the beach, but they didn’t recognize him.
Jesus spoke to them: “Good morning! Did you catch anything for breakfast?”
They answered, “No.”
He said, “Throw the net off the right side of the boat and see what happens.”
They did what he said.
All of a sudden there were so many fish in it, they weren’t strong enough to pull it in.
Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Master!”
When Simon Peter realized that it was the Master, he threw on some clothes, for he was stripped for work, and dove into the sea.
The other disciples came in by boat for they weren’t far from land, a hundred yards or so, pulling along the net full of fish.
When they got out of the boat, they saw a fire laid, with fish and bread cooking on it.
Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught.” Simon Peter joined them and pulled the net to shore—153 big fish! And even with all those fish, the net didn’t rip.
Jesus said, “Breakfast is ready.” Not one of the disciples dared ask, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Master.
Jesus then took the bread and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish.
This was now the third time Jesus had shown himself alive to the disciples since being raised from the dead.
The word of God, for the people of God, Thanks be to God
Would you pray with me?
God, If you don’t speak, it won’t get said. Speak Lord now, to me and to all of us. Amen
(Prayer Cred goes to the PC(USA) co-moderator Denise Anderson at the NEXT Church Conference (I didn’t say this at the time))
I’d like to preface this Sermon with a few important details if I could. Many of you know me, I’ve been attending this church for the past 21 years, which means I can now legally drink in the church. I just spent the last year in Washington, DC as a Young Adult Volunteer which I like to describe as Americorps but through the Presbyterian Church and I’m about to start my second year of being a Young Adult Volunteer in Asheville, NC a week from tomorrow. I also think it’s important to note that I will not be going to seminary to pursue parish ministry even though this is the 4th sermon I’ve given in the past year, which is something I would not have believed if you told me a year ago, but that’s one of the themes of my Sermon this morning: Things change.
Starting with a bit of biblical background, this chapter in John is considered to be the epilogue of this Gospel. If it wasn’t for this chapter, John would have ended with Jesus appearing to doubting Thomas and giving them one last teaching. Instead of ending with the disciples seeing Jesus as they knew and loved him, it takes a turn, with the disciples seeing Jesus in a brand new way and they knew it was him even though it wasn’t. Just think about how far these smelly stubborn fishermen have come.
Their lives had changed. Something happened after this profound, phenomenal experience of being one of Jesus’ disciples. Not only has their willingness to believe changed but even their ability to fish isn’t what it used to be. As my good friend and fellow YAV Emily Wilkes pointed out to me, as fisherman this is what they are supposed to be able to do, Fish! But after being a disciple of Jesus, they don’t know how to fish anymore. Things change.
A recurring theme in the gospel of John is that Peter is often wrong. Let’s go fishing he says! No fish. He tells Jesus, You won’t wash my feet! Jesus says Yes I am. Peter says, I will lay down my life for you! He denies Jesus 3 times. I don’t want it to seem like I’m coming down on Peter here, in fact quite the opposite. I feel like Peter’s tendency to be wrong shows how beautifully human he is. Being wrong is a part of life. It’s never fun to admit it especially in a public setting or to a teacher or mentor in your life but as humans we are bound to be wrong from time to time. Jesus provides the forgiveness and grace to Peter when he’s wrong so why aren’t we able to provide that grace and forgiveness to each other?
One of my favorite books I read this past year is “Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People” by a Lutheran pastor in Denver, Nadia Bolz-Weber. She says, “The thing about real grace is that it stings. Receiving grace is the best terrible feeling in the world. I don’t want to need it. Preferably I could just do it all and never mess up, which may be what I prefer but not what I need. I need to be broken apart and put back together into a different shape by that merging of things human and divine, which is really screwing up and receiving Grace and Love and Forgiveness.” I heard at one point this year that If you either need to pray and don’t know what to say or if you haven’t prayed in a long time and you’re trying to get back into it, just start off with Thanksgivings and asking for forgiveness. Which for me was HARD. I didn’t pray often before this year and even when I did all I did was ask and ask and ask for things and after a while it seemed like a one sided relationship of me asking God for things and not really doing anything in return.
What I came across in my research is that despite how easy it sounds in this reading, it is not easy moving a fish net from one side of a boat to the other. So the fact that these fishermen, who I like to think of as a group of teamsters who know their trade and don’t need advice, the fact that they just did what this random guy asked them to requires them to take a leap of faith and Surprise! It paid off.
Deciding to be a YAV was my leap of faith. I didn’t want to leave Portland a year ago but I realized that my life at the time wasn’t what I wanted it to be. So I took this leap of faith with the hope of it leading to a job that wasn’t in a hospitality industry. Well I didn’t get exactly that, but I did get a lot more gear that I didn’t ask for. I honed my skills that I already had and picked up new ones, I made fantastic new relationships with friends and mentors, I gained new ways of looking at the world around me and my faith.
One of my favorite stories about my faith this year has to do with one of my least favorite things, tourists. One half of my work placement this year was at a Presbyterian church in DC, Church of the Pilgrims and during the season of epiphany we focused on embracing our own belovedness, truly seeing ourselves as beloved children of God. Not only that but realizing that it doesn’t end there, if I am a beloved child of God then everyone else has to be to. It was around this time that it was Cherry Blossom season in the District which is the first week that starts the season of tourists in DC. I was down on the National Mall one afternoon admiring the Cherry Blossoms, getting some pictures and there were SO many people down there with their hats and strollers and I love DC shirts getting in my way and in my pictures. SO in that moment, instead of getting grumpy and angry toward these well intentioned strangers I chose to take up the mantra, “They are a beloved child of God, they are a beloved child of God” and it got to a point where I said to myself, There are SO many people down here, I really don’t think God really loves ALL of them! It was in that moment that I still felt like such a child in my faith. Which I am. I am a beloved Child of God, just like everyone else.
Another change of perspective this year became clear to me in my last week in DC. I was at my favorite museum, the Hirschhorn museum of modern art, with my roommate Angela. There was one piece that was called Venus of the Rags which depicts the your traditional Grecian statue of a woman standing in front of a pile of rags with sort of a thoughtful stance (you can google it if you’re really curious). One family walked by and I heard them joke, “That looks like our laundry room”, I later saw this statue used in the context of “what should I wear?” But when Angela and I saw this, we thought of the many situations that we had been in this past year when we are serving at soup kitchen or something of the sort. Sometimes you end up working in the closet trying to get clothes out to the guests who need socks or shoes or a new jacket or some pants that fit. The reality in those situations is that the chances are incredibly good that what they are looking for either isn’t in the right size or isn’t on hand at the moment and even if it is there and it is in the right size, it most likely would not be in a condition that you would want someone to wear. Our Venus of the Rags was different from most people who saw it. It was a beloved child of God who has to decide which rag is good enough to get them through the night or the winter, or the next time they might be lucky enough to receive something better than a rag in their life.
There were times of spontaneous moments of prayer throughout my year. My favorite one happened when I participated in a memorial service and marched throughout the streets of Washington for the citizens of DC who died on the streets in the past year. I helped make the 80 some signs writing the names of these beloved children of God on white picket signs, marched through the streets with these signs, then participated in a vigil for them outside the building for DC’s local government. The last part, which I chose not to do, was stay out overnight in solidarity with people who didn’t have a bed to go home to, and they had one of those big tents and heaters so it wouldn’t have been terrible but it just wasn’t something I was willing to do. But my roommate Lynette chose to do this. Even though I knew she would be fine and wouldn’t be alone, it was still hard for me to just leave her. So as I got on the bus to go back to my safe home and warm bed, I just felt this overwhelming feeling that I should pray. I prayed for Lynette’s safety and for the safety and well-being of everyone who sleeps on the streets on a regular basis, for everyone that doesn’t have a safe home and warm bed to come home to and I quickly became that person crying on the bus. Not sobbing mind you but I had tears coming down on my face and for the first time in my life I had this undeniable feeling that the Holy Spirit was with me. I still have a lot of questions in my own faith journey but one of my certainties is that the Holy Spirit is like the Force in Star Wars. This strong spirit that binds us altogether and which amazing things come from. I don’t know if that feeling was a call to service or maybe it was all in my head, but I’m so grateful that I was able to feel it. And I wouldn’t have felt it if I didn’t try tossing my net off the other side of the boat.
To make room in my life for all these and more new ways of looking at the world and looking at my own life I had to die to how I knew and looked at things before this. I had to die to a way of doing things that weren’t serving me anymore to make room for new things that would better serve me. The disciples had to die to what they knew about being fishermen in order to become fishers of men. What do you need to die to, in order to make room for something new? It’s not meant to be a self critique, it’s about allowing yourself enough grace to take an honest look at your life and figure out what isn’t serving you anymore?
At this time in my life, I can’t exactly see Jesus as the disciples did, I can’t see how he is calling me or what he is calling me to do. But that’s partly why I signed up for another YAV year. I need more intentional time of service, simple living and living in community to figure that out. Despite everything that I don’t know, I know my new community and I are going to Asheville in a week and I know God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit will be there. There will be bread, there will be fish, there will be a fire and we will be fed. Amen.
Thank you all for your support! You’ll be able to find all the blogs for my upcoming year in Asheville right HERE so stay tuned!