John 14:23-29

23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate,[a] the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

Revelation 21:10

10 And in the spirit[a] he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

Last week we talked about the passage in John about a new commandment, that’s really not new, but Jesus was directing it towards his disciples. To really love each other well, to have an attitude of love that is authentic for one another. An attitude of love that is marked by commitment, trust, and presence…which means when you are with someone, you are really with them!

I’ve had some folks model that for me throughout my life. I can point to certain times in each chapter in my life where there was someone who I felt really believed in me.

Those friendships weren’t perfect, I had disagreements, disappointments, as well as great moments of togetherness and joy. Yet, through it all, there was an underlying sense of belief.

I think that this belief is more than believing in a set of rules or precepts, I think belief is that foundation of faith, it’s personal, it’s relational. When you believe in someone, you are letting go of your small case ego in that friendship as best as you can, you give yourself over to them in an appropriate manner depending on the relationship. You lean in on each other.

Those kinds of relationships lead to transformation. They are not transactional, they are not built on doing something for someone else so that they will return a favor some time. No, it’s an unconditional response and proposition of authentic friendship….which is rare in this world at times, yet it is what we are called to do as a church, as the body of Christ with one another…and as we model it, the world can see a glimpse of heaven, or God’s presence.

My friend, Phillip Roebuck lives close to us. Which is great, he was on the student ministry staff after graduating from Harvard. I’ve mentioned him before. But, he is someone that believes in me and has a deep love for my family. He tutors our son on a regular basis.

We also love to argue at times. One time, several years ago when he was interning for me, we were co-leading a Sunday School full of teenagers. We started talking about the concept of heaven and hell. I think he was just taking the opposite of whatever I was saying, just to be a devil’s advocate (no pun intended). So, we went down this path towards debate. It was brilliant, give and take, passionate, and really filled with good thought…at the end, one of the students, a young lady, pulled us aside and asked if we were going to be OK with each other, if our friendship was damaged. We laughed a bit, and assured her we were OK, on the contrary, it was a great exercise in civil and loving debate, it wasn’t personal, there were no personal accusations or mean spiritedness…or personal agendas of trying to win a point, etc. It was a great example of growing through dialogue, even if we were taking opposite viewpoints.

I also felt comfortable in that debate because I knew, and still know, that Phil believes in me and I in him. We worked really hard in leaving our smaller case egos at the proverbial door of our friendship and we are able to work together extremely well.

Sometimes, life can be so busy that we don’t see each other as much, but that doesn’t matter…we jump into a fun conversations and share life together when we are togehter. In those conversations, there is such a sense of connection and depth…or real love for a brother.

Those are the kinds of relationships that we should all be striving for in the church.

Our passage this morning gives witness to that kind of love, that kind of friendship. Jesus is saying that if you love him, and Jesus knew that his disciples, his audience, really did love him, then to model that love by following his teachings. His teachings are much more about restoration of friendship, restoration of community, and honoring one another than anything else. Jesus even says that this kind of love, this teaching of real, authentic community, gives evidence to God’s making God’s home with us.

Community is a word that I throw around a lot. I’m not sure what images that conjures up for you, but when I say community, it’s my understanding that is a word that describes being in deep unity with folks in a close proximity, working out our relationships, being committed to one another. Commitment, unity, coming together…all of those words share the same root as community. When we celebrate communion together, that word means a coming together in union, unity with each other.

We can’t do this community thing on our own. We need each other, and we have a gift of being called together as a church community placed in a particular neighborhood. We also have communion with God, a God that holds it all together. God’s Spirit, the “advocate” that Jesus talks about is the glue, the energy that forms us and binds us together. This spirit lives in every nook and cranny of our lives, the lives of others, and the space between us. It is flowing, shaping, forming even as we speak. Spiritual growth is developing an awareness of God, others, and ourselves and how or why we act or react to certain things, people, situations.

When we do this work of spiritual growth through worshipping together, through meditation and prayer, through developing obedience in how we treat one another whenever we are together or how we respond to the gifts that we have as a community with the needs of a community or others, we begin to experience peace within and with others.

This peace is not absence of conflict, it’s more about a state of being which then produces action. We have had some amazing meetings at Fleming Road UCC. Most of them great conversations…some hard conversations as well. But, overall, they have been beautiful and eventually peaceful and another witness or testimony to God’s Spirit at work in and through Fleming Road UCC.

We try to understand peace from the world’s perspective, which is oftentimes simply appeasement. But, the peace that God gives helps us to confront our fears, to love those around us and ourselves, and to see God’s imagination at work in our lives together. We see that God’s home, as it says in John and that John gives witness to in the Revelation passage is with us. We are not alone, even as we struggle towards a deeper experience with a God who is a mystery, but demonstrates love through Jesus and binds us together by the Spirit….a God who believes in us, even when we may struggle in our belief in God.


John 13:31-35

The New Commandment

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him,[a] God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.33 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.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Revelation 21:1-6

The New Heaven and the New Earth

21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her
husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home[a] God is among mortals.He will dwell[b] with them;
they will be his peoples,[c]
and God himself will be with them;

4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,for the first things have passed awa

5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

I’ve had some interesting discussions this past month. Many of them have been around church growth. It’s interesting to note, by today’s metrics, Jesus would have been considered a failure at church or spiritual growth. He had some big events from time to time, but most of those folks didn’t really stay with Jesus through to the end. He had a pretty solid leadership team of 12, or so it seemed. In Jesus’ darkest hour, right when he needed folks around him, they all deserted him. Didn’t even acknowledge that they knew him. In Peter’s instance, even denied ever being around him. When Jesus died, from the outside looking in, it seemed like this whole reform movement that Jesus started was done.

On the spiritual growth side, Jesus didn’t offer a 10 point plan for improving yourself, or a 12 week Bible study of some sort. On the contrary, the stories Jesus shared rarely gave straight answers, and Jesus’ model for his disciples was one of extreme hospitality and breaking some of the social norms of the day. Most rabbi’s were content to be in the temple or synagogue, but Jesus spent most of his time outside the temple listening top people’s stories. And, when he was pressed on issues, his response was to exhort folks to love one another. Jesus, of course, modeled loving others pretty well.

Yet, oftentimes folks wanted a comfortable religion, a faith that they could construct and understand. Something that could be scaled. It’s funny in a way, because Jesus is saying in effect, I’m not worried about what’s on the surface, but he’s looking at something different that isn’t measured by the metrics of success as the world sees it, but is measured by character.

As we come to our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus has just finished sharing the passover meal with his disciples. Judas has just left to betray him. You’d think that this would be the darkest hour. Jesus knew something was about to happen that wasn’t going to go well. Yet, Jesus gives this wonderful discourse about God’s glory and love.

This is a humble glory. God’s glory is in Jesus, the representation of all humanity. Even as humanity betrays Jesus as Judas does, there’s something deeper going on, a flow of God’s Presence in humanity through Jesus that somehow is at work whether it is recognized or not.

Jesus, in this statement, is seeming to say that somehow, in his darkest moments, in a place where we may view as a time of a failure of relationships, that God’s character doesn’t change, that God still believes in humanity, has faith in a deeper flow of goodness and relationship. He is faithfully present to others and to the moment.

Yes, it is humbling for Jesus, I’m sure, to know that his closest friends have, or are about it, betray him. Jesus had worked on a reform movement within the faith system of his day, he had built into folks for 3 years, and now, that faith system wanted to scapegoat him and kill him, and those friends were about to disappoint Jesus. It would have been easy for Jesus to think he was a failure, yet, he was saying that God was being glorified.

When I ran the Boston Marathon in 2016, it was the culmination of 2+ years of training, qualifying, and then getting in through a lottery.

It was a great experience, yet I was injured going into the race as many of you know…I could hardly stand up in the pulpit of the church I pastored at the time the following week!

The race setting was amazing, yet also a huge disappointment for me personally. When I talked to my daughter after the race, the day and the moment caught up to me and I cried on the phone. At times over the past three years, I could have thought of that race as a failure. In a sense, it was, I didn’t re-qualify, I could not run through my leg giving out, even though I finished the race, I crossed that line, it was a struggle.

Yet, there was glory in that failure. I was humbled, which is good. And, I was able to see an entire community rally around me. Literally hundreds of friends messaged me and sent encouragement. My own daughter knew exactly what I was going through and was able to articulate it with a couple of simple questions and comments.

I know that I’ll run more marathons, and that I will work to qualify for Boston again, yet I would not trade this marathon for anything because of the relational blessings from it. I felt a deep sense of love. I may fail miserably in future races as well, but that’s OK, if you don’t risk failure, then you don’t grow and you certainly don’t move forward.

Which, Jesus goes on to talk about in this morning’s passage. He tells them again, that he will be leaving, that they won’t be able to find him or go where he is going. There is a sense of deep relational connection in this statement.

Then he says that there is a new commandment, love one another. As he has loved us. If we do this, others will know that you are my disciples.

It’s interesting to note that loving others isn’t really a new commandment, it’s throughout the Old Testament. Jesus is saying though, that his followers, his disciples, as imperfect and as much as they fail, must love one another in an even deeper, new way. We have opportunities as Jesus followers, called together in particular communities and churches to demonstrate something that is rare in this world. A deep sense of commitment and joy in each other. It’s a love that defies our sensibilities and desire to be in control. We understand Jesus to be the connecting point of all humanity, that Jesus gives us eyes to see each other in new ways, to hear each other with new ears. Even if we’ve been around each other for decades, if we stay committed to one another, willing to withhold judgement and risk trusting one other, to be present with ourselves, others, and with God…we can love well and show others a different way of living. Jesus does not desire to control anyone, yet his love for others moves things, mountains even…and people.

The church is not supposed to be an institutional entity, it’s supposed to be a way of life. What would it look like if we really practiced this intense kind of love? What would it feel like to walk into this church on a Sunday morning and look around you and not see others as persons with agendas other than to be loved and to love you back? How would that change our worship services? How would that give us spiritual growth? Would others be attracted to that kind of love as well?

We should not approach church meetings as business meetings, but opportunities to not only work on the mission of this church to love well it’s neighborhood, but to love one another, to function as an opportunity to look around a table and be filled with joy for the folks that you are sitting with? What about our neighbors, what if we looked at them and spent time with them as Jesus did.

I think it would change everything. We would grow in our faith and others may want to be around us even more!

The writer of the book of John, where our gospel story comes from, got it. He often referred to himself as the “person that Jesus loved”. Wouldn’t it be great if we could go around claiming that?

There is a sense of accountability as well with love, we can have hard conversations, we can entertain doubts, failures, and true teamwork when we love well. Love isn’t the absence of hard times, we don’t shy away from our personal or corporate history, on the contrary, we look back and practice “examanen” which means to examine or look at our histories, our past through the lens of God’s love and grace.

We might as well start loving well now, I don’t care if you are 7 or 77, we are bound to one another.

In our other lectionary reading from Revelation, the writer, again, John the disciple whom Jesus loved, says that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. These are not dualistic separate entities, heaven is God’s presence. God, the perfect lover, the one who whispers in our ears that we are loved, has made his home with us. We have the joy of loving others, of building God’s vision of kingdom presence now! Not in the future…and we have the promise that this is forever. This is not simply a moment in history that we are together, we are bound together forever!

May we live now, deeply in love with one another as God is in love with us. May we practice faithfully presence.

Julian of Norwich

We have a few families in the United Kingdom that we are pretty close to, they have all been tremendous encouragers and we’ve been able to foster community in unique and beautiful ways over the years despite the Atlantic Ocean being between us.

Two families are the Sexton’s and the Graveling’s.  They live in Norwich, UK, we’ve been there a few times and I love going there.  Actually, our son Brennan is going there this summer and live with the Sexton’s for a couple of weeks to be with their son (who’s a good friend from when they were 4 and 5 and we were all at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA) and to work with refugees and asylum seekers through an organization they work with called English Plus.  I’m excited for Brennan, for what he’ll learn as he experiences this…he’s a good listener and worker, and simply a great person!

One of my favorite spots in Norwich is the anchorage for Julian of Norwich, and I hope Brennan is able to check it out.  She was a Christian mystic 900 years ago who lived in a small room for several years.  Yet, from that room she listened to God’s voice.  Thousands of folks came to her small anchorage, and she gave out words that she heard from God to folks…and, in so many ways, she started a revival, even in a time of such great upheaval and uncertainty…much like today.

Julian’s Anchor in Norwich

I’ve been thinking about Julian of Norwich recently, and then yesterday, I read this. I thought it was appropriate for where I find myself these days in my thinking about being connected to the Divine and to all things and people around me.  

“The all-powerful truth of the Trinity is the Father, who created us and keeps us within him. The deep wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, in whom we all are enfolded. The exalted goodness of the Trinity is our beloved Lord: we are held in him and he is held in us. We are enclosed in the Father, we are enclosed in the Son, and we are enclosed in the Holy Spirit. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are enclosed in us. All Power. All Goodness. All Wisdom. One God. One Love.”

And my favorite quote from Julian of Norwich which I read in her anchor in 2014, in the midst of a hard season where I was leaving a difficult situation:

“And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceeding well.” 

Friends, may we find ways to still our hearts and minds, to listen to God’s voice, to know God’s voice…and to follow that Voice where it may lead us.  I believe that voice is speaking to us through others, through folks that we are with, really through things and people all around us…let’s listen, and then move towards what God is doing and being…even as we do and become.  


John 10:22-30

22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter,
23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah,[a] tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.[b] 30 The Father and I are one.”

If you are like me, you want to figure things out. Sometimes I get impatient with myself when I can’t do that! I want to know what’s going on, then get into the flow and make things work.

I want certainty. And, as we’ve said before, this thing called faith doesn’t promise certainty. But, we are called to live into relational fidelity as our friend, Walter Brueggemann often reminds us.

I recently read in the book, The Great Cloud of Unknowing, we cannot know God, but we can experience God.

The folks following Jesus in our Gospel lesson are looking for certainty, they want to know, is Jesus the Messiah, or the Anointed One, the Christ? This has huge implications. Christ is not Jesus’s surname, Christ carries with it promise, presence, and meaning that was understood before Jesus and became manifested in the historical Jesus after his resurrections.

And Jesus gives them a pretty direct answer by not saying, yes, but pointing to his actions, and putting it back on them and their unbelief. That his works testify that he is doing the Father’s work.

Faith is something that we all have, but oftentimes we drown it out. We don’t slow down, we don’t listen. We don’t believe that we are all “Image Bearers of God”, made in God’s image. We live life, go from one thing to the next. Yet, we long to belong, or to know and to be known. Which gives witness to the divine call, the divine flow, that moves in and around us.

Jesus gives this answer about sheep knowing his voice. This is an agrarian society, they understand sheep. They also know that sheep trust their shepherd.

A few years ago, friends Steve Chalke, Andy Sexton, and Andy Matheson had invited us over to London to check out first hand their community hubs and school academies. I have been on a quest to see what folks are doing to be a part of the “new church” or the recalibrated church. I want the church to have a better story emerge and to adapt and re- function even as we honor our past and work to be present with one another. I’m curious with our conversation partners over they years, locally and globally, as well as collaborating with other on practical projects or experiments. I believe that groups like Oasis, the Parish Collective, our denomination, and others help the church be the community based blessing that we are called to be.

So we took them up on it.

On one leg of the journey, we were supposed to stay at our friend Andy Matheson’s house. He sent us a message a couple of days before we were to arrive to say that his daughter’s family decided to come in and that he was going to have us stay at a friends’ house who were on vacation in Greece. At first I was disappointed as I was looking forward to being with Andy. But, of course, I said “no worries” and took it in stride. When Andy picked us up at the train station to take us to our lodgings, he told us that he had failed to mention that the house we were staying was an English Manor house on the estate of the Earl of Essex, Penshurst. So, for the next 4 days we stayed in a 7 bedroom, 5 bath house on a hill overlooking Penshurst. It was fantastic!

The house we stayed in.
Our view from the house.

On several of the fields we were overlooking, there were hundreds of sheep in various fields at different times during the day.

One afternoon, friends of ours from Tonbridge, the Kenny’s, were visiting with us. Our kids are of similar ages, so they all went out into the fields to try and catch sheep, try as they might, they couldn’t catch them…however, they did step in quite a bit of other very messy and smelly things…yet, fun was had by all, even if a few sheep may have been a bit rattled.

I tell you this because our passages this morning are about sheeps and shepherds. I read once that you cannot very easily approach sheep…they are sheepish if you will. They aren’t easy to heard either, unless you are their shepherd. Shepherds, especially in Jesus’ time, spent a lot of time with sheep. Shepherds had a way of gathering sheep, by simply calling them out. Sheep will follow the shepherd because they recognize the shepherd’s voice. They trust that voice.

In this passage, we are sheep, you and I together. It’s obviously a metaphor, but much like the beauty of the landscape at Penshurst, we are live together in a beautiful world. We also produce a lot of smelly and messiness. Our relationships with each other are filled with craziness at times, we don’t always follow or lead each other well. There are dangers around us, and sometimes there are other forces out there, thieves such as depression, loneliness, selfishness, pride, or addictions, or folks not being the best version of themselves, or fully understanding themselves or others that come in the middle of darkness as it says in John 10:10 that kill and destroy the lives that we were called to live.

Yet, Jesus tells us that he has come to give us life. When we slow down, or get caught up in recognition of good things around us and the origin of that goodness, we can recognize the voice of the true shepherd, the voice of Jesus who has entered in the fields of our lives, who walks with us and towards us…walking through the messiness to call us towards new fields, new adventures.

We often recognize the voice of Jesus through others. Maybe we literally hear words from Jesus through others such as a speaker, or maybe even a preacher. Or maybe we recognize the voice of God through something we read, or a song we hear. Maybe it’s listening to our neighbors. Or, maybe it’s seeing someone else practice charity through actions or giving themselves away.

We know it when we see it and hear it though, especially as we train our eyes and ears to see and recognize the true shepherd.

Friends, we have said it before, we are living in a new place with church. The old forms simply don’t work anymore. The world is crying out for us, the church, to be an example of goodness, of the good shepherd, to be reflections of Jesus’ actions and to reflect and amplify the voice of the Shepherd who is calling us towards him, towards abundant life, towards being one flock. This shepherd has laid down his life for us, yet in doing so, has overcome all of the messiness in our lives and is creating something new and beautiful as he leads us into new fields, filled with beauty and relationship.

This passage talks about eternal life. The listeners would have understood that this carries a meaning about the quality of life, more than the quantity of time. Life with Jesus, trusting in Jesus and the work of the Christ that transcends time, space, history, is something that we can live into daily.

And, Jesus goes on to make the statement that the Father and he are one…that there isn’t division between the divine and humanity. All of our stuff is being used to make something good.

So, let’s listen to the voice of the Shepherd, let’s love each other well, and let’s play in the fields of Cincinnati and the world and be the diverse, yet unified flock God’s marked us out to be…we can do this, we can believe in each other as God does with us, trusting each other, loving each other, and changing the world in the process.


John 21:1-19

Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples

21 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,[a] 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 yardsoff.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, andbread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 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. 12 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. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Jesus and Peter

1When 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.”16 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.” 17 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. 18 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.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Acts 9:1-10

The Conversion of Saul

9 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.”

I grew up fishing with my dad. I have to admit, I wasn’t good at it and didn’t particularly enjoy it. I think it was because it was something my dad loved, and really wanted me to love it…but, I just didn’t. Although I do have good memories of going to his favorite lake to fish and camp. Jericho lake near our house in Louisville. I went there recently after my dad’s death last June.

It seems like a lot of times growing up, I had passions for some things like adventures in hiking mountains or sports, where as my dad had other passions such as fishing, carpentry, and classical music.

As I grew older, as I said in the children’s moment, I had some deep friendships with folks who were great fisherman. I began to realize that fishing can be a fun exercise. It’s peaceful, strategic, and there is an art to it. I have been amazed at some of my friends with a gift for fishing. They simply know where to put their lines in the water, and the patience and talent to lure fish onto their hooks!

I think it turned when I went to Alaska with Debbie and our daughter McKenzie 15 or so years ago. We went to visit friends and to explore some of the beauty of Alaska.

Our friends were also avid fisherman. So, every other day we went salmon fishing in some gorgeous place. One day may be fishing off the coast of Valdez in a boat, the next maybe in a remote glacier lake casting towards the sunrise over snow capped mountains.

I still wasn’t that great of fisherman, but even there I caught enough fish to fill a huge box of salmon steaks to ship home!

There was a gradual change within me towards fishing…a conversion if you will!

Our gospel lesson this morning finds the disciples after Jesus’ death and resurrection. They are near the Sea of Tiberius, they have heard rumors about Jesus’ resurrection, Peter has even seen evidence as have others, but the new reality is still sinking in. They have been living under a perception of what faith meant, they had put their hopes and dreams in a visible earthly kingdom, and the Jesus that they followed…well, even though he may have risen, the images of him being crucified, and their shame in deserting Jesus was almost too much for them to process.

So, what do they do. They go fishing. They grew up around it, it gave them fellowship, a source of income, and they were good at it.

The fished all night. They knew the right places, they had the right technique, they had the correct bait to attract fish, yet, they caught nothing. All night, nothing.

The next morning, they see this guy on the beach yelling something to them. It’s interesting that our text says “children”. Some texts use the word friends, but children could apply. They had not reached a point of change or growth in their understanding. Their faith was still maturing. But, I also like friends. Both work here. Calling the disciples children wasn’t saying anything about their character, I think it was a term of endearment, as well as a desire for growth.

What else does Jesus tell them? Throw your nets on the other side! I’m sure they are thinking, how would that help? We know these waters, we know how to fish…moving our nets a few feel won’t do anything. Yet, they had fished all night with no results. They were doing what they always did which got them something in times past, but nothing on this day.

So, they take a risk, trust this guy on the beach, and throw their nets on the other side. What happens? We all know, they caught more fish than they could pull in! 153 to be exact! Now, here’s a think about biblical numbers, this says nothing about goals. I used to be on staff at a church that said we wanted to go out and “net 50” new families in the church during a fall. It didn’t happen, nor was that biblical. We can read too much into numbers, but essentially it a reporting of something that happens out of obedience and deep, loving, honoring and unshameful relationships.

We see that happening here in this gospel lesson. When Peter realizes that it’s Jesus, when his eyes are opened to his friend, he puts on his clothes and jumps into the sea to swim to Jesus. Now, I’m not sure of the custom at that time about fishing without clothes, and I’ve read a lot of commentaries on this passage, and I’m still not sure on why you’d put on clothes to swim even…yet, that’s in the passage…and it shows Peter being Peter, impulsive and passionate…and a leader that others would follow.

Which they do, they get to shore and Jesus invites them to cook breakfast together. He doesn’t hand them the food, they pull in their haul, start a fire, and cook together.

After breakfast, they have this wonderfully awkward and hard dialogue. Jesus asking Peter 3x if he loves Jesus. I believe that Jesus is restoring Peter. Peter denied him 3x on the night before he was crucified, so he asks Jesus 3x. It must’ve been somewhat hard for Peter as evidenced in the passage. Yet, he eventually catches on, and Jesus gives him the charge to build up the church.

Friends, this passage can speak to us in our personal lives and in lives together as Fleming Road UCC. There may be things that we’ve done for a long time in our lives that simply are not working anymore, we need a fresh perspective, maybe we need to put our nets somewhere else. We certainly need to slow down, and listen to the voice of God calling us to jump out of whatever boat we are in and swim towards this Jesus who continues to beckon us towards deeper relationship with him, ourselves, and others.

As we do this, we will find ourselves in the midst of conversion. Conversion is a lifelong process. The Benedictine monks got it, they would pray for Stability, Obedience, and Conversion daily.

I believe in this process of change and growth. I often tell folks that I don’t go into our neighborhood seeking converts, I go for my own conversion! As we build authentic friendships, all of us change and grow for the better.

One of our other scripture lessons this morning is the story of Paul’s conversion.

It was dramatic, on the road to Damascus, a blinding light, and the voice of Jesus. It was also dramatic when you consider that Paul persecuted Christians, killed them, separated families, instilled fear in the early church. Yet, love penetrates even the most darkest of places when we come before the light of God’s presence and hear the voice of Jesus calling us towards the other side of the boat, out of what we’ve become used to, and into the wide open spaces of God’s expansive love.

This church, our lives, we are in the midst of conversion. All of us, myself included, are moving towards new chapters in our lives. That is good news for me, for us, and for all of those around us.