Thursday, June 26, 2008

Peter and Paul

Here's my sermon for this Sunday with some ideas borrowed from Wiley Stephens.

Peter and Paul, Apostles
June 29, 2008
John 21.15-19
Thomas Arth

This week I’m taking my two daughters, and a friend of theirs,
and joining the youth from St. James & St. Brendan Anglican Church
on a three day retreat up north of Minden.
We’re looking forward to our retreat
and just the thought of it takes me back to my teenage years
and my camping trips and retreats with our youth group.
We had two annual retreats that we’d go on.
In mid-February we’d rent a winterized cabin at Camp Edgewood,
our synod’s camp and retreat centre outside of Guelph.
From Friday night until Sunday afternoon we’d spend time,
perhaps in Bible Study or discussion of faith topics,
we’d hike in the snow, we’d have a talent show,
we’d sing and play, we’d hardly sleep a wink,
but we’d have such a wonderful time
in the company of some of our best friends,
and we usually didn’t want to come home.

Our other retreat time was a camping trip
when we’d go to some Provincial Park,
usually on the first weekend in July.
I remember going on trips to The Pinery,
on the shore of Lake Huron, west of London;
or we went to Killbear
on the Georgian Bay shore near Parry Sound;
or we went to Cypress Lake
on the other side of Georgian Bay, up near Tobermory;
once we went to Algonquin Park;
and I remember Sandbanks,
on the north shore of Lake Ontario near Belleville.
Some time in June we’d haul out these ancient canvas tents
that the boy scouts in our church had long since stopped using,
we’d set them up on a sunny afternoon and make sure
that all the poles and stakes and strings were still there.
We’d try to dry some of the damp and mildew out
from the previous year’s trip,
we’d spray some waterproofing on
because it was bound to rain
on one of the days or nights we were camping.
Once we got to our destination and set up camp we’d hike and swim,
we’d sing around the campfire,
we’d worship and have devotional time,
we wouldn’t sleep much.
Some budding teenage romances would start up
while others might end.
It was such a wonderful time.
And again we wouldn’t want to go home
because that experience would end,
we’d be back to our daily routine.
The camping trip also meant
that we wouldn’t be getting together as a youth group again
until school started in September.

Just thinking about those times brings back such great memories.
If I could ever describe anything as a mountaintop experience
those retreats would be it.
I never wanted them to end.
The experience of love, of friendship, of God.
Those were God moments, when we could sing Christian songs,
worship together, talk about what God meant in our lives.
And it didn’t sound or feel strange or weird or un-cool.
It felt right, and perfect.
We were shut off from the rest of the world,
from the cares of life that might assail us.
We felt safe, we felt loved,
we felt close to each other and to God.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had that kind of feeling or experience,
if what I’m talking about makes any sense to you.
They were some of the greatest times of my life.
It might not have been a youth group, or even a church group.
I still get that kind of feeling when I take my family camping,
as I will in a few weeks.
I wish it could last forever, that it would never end,
that the real world and all it’s problems would just fade away
and I could keep on feeling what, to me,
is as close to perfect as it can be.

But life isn’t all mountaintop experiences.
You can’t live your life closed off from all of the cares of life.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection,
the disciples’ lives must have been in some kind of turmoil.
They had followed Jesus, they learned from him,
they saw the kinds of things he could do.
Peter declared, "You are the Messiah, the Son of God."
Then Jesus was arrested, taken away, tried, crucified.
Surely he could have saved himself. Why didn’t he?
After his death they were lost, but then came Easter.
He was alive again. He even appeared to them.
Thomas was given the opportunity to touch his wounds
to prove to himself that this was truly his Lord and his God. But what now?
This is just too much.
It’ll make your head spin.
Your emotions keep flipping,
you’re up, you’re down, you’re up again,
you’re not sure whether you’re up or down.

The disciples, in the midst of their confusion and turmoil,
went on a retreat.
A retreat for the sake of refreshment and renewal is a good thing.
But they were going to escape, to hide.
They were headed for a safe harbour.
The Sea of Galilee represented that for them.
They went fishing.
It was what they knew.
It was their livelihood for years
before Jesus came and called them to follow him.
But Jesus had showed them more.
He called them to drop their nets and follow him and fish for people.
As they followed they became witnesses to miracles
as the lame picked up their beds and walked,
the blind could see,
the deaf could hear,
the hungry were filled.
He opened the scriptures to them,
gave them a proper understanding of God’s word.
And they witnessed the chains of death broken.
Simon became Peter,
the rock on which Jesus would build the church.
But Simon Peter was anything but a rock
when he denied Jesus three times.
But in today’s gospel reading,
Peter is given the gift of another day, another chance,
the gift of forgiveness and new life yet again,
the gift of becoming that rock all over again.

The grace of a new day, of a fresh start,
is not just about saying what we’ll do.
It’s about starting to live a life molded by our faith.
It wasn’t enough for Peter to say, "I love you."
Jesus wanted more than a declaration of love,
he wants more from us than our weekly worship.
Jesus says, if you love me
"Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep."
But so often we’re more comfortable in our safe harbours.
We like to go on retreat, not for refreshment and renewal,
but for escape.
Imagine Peter saying, "Let someone else feed your lambs,
let it be enough that I say ‘I love you.’"
But the grace of another day,
the grace of forgiveness and a new start
brings with it a challenge to change.
Peter couldn’t remain in the comfort of his old fishing business.
The journey he set out on when Jesus called him to follow
wasn’t over, there was a long way to go.

Imagine Jesus standing on the shore of that lake,
looking out and seeing Peter and the others back at their fishing.
What must he have felt?
I wonder if he was heartbroken.
There on that boat were the heart of the team
he had spent the last three years or so assembling and training.
There on that boat was the community he formed
to be his body on earth.
There on that boat was his plan to spread the word
in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.
And what happened to his team, his community, his plan?
They spent the night on a boat fishing.
But had they caught anything?
There was no success and no faithfulness in their escape.
Once they listened to Jesus,
and cast their nets on the other side of the boat
they pulled up 153 large fish.
And they came up on shore and Jesus had breakfast waiting for them.
The boat was their safe harbour,
their retreat to escape
from the turmoil and confusion of the world.
It was their life before they met Jesus.
Now they were being confronted by Jesus.
"Do you love me?"
"Of course," Peter replied.
And all three times Jesus said, "Then show it."
"Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep."

The last words of today’s gospel reading
were the same words that got Peter and all the others
started on this journey of discipleship and faith.
"Follow me."
Jesus was giving Peter the gracious gift of another day to be faithful,
another chance to follow.
Peter would become the fiery preacher of Pentecost,
he would confront the high priest, the elders and the scribes
as they assembled,
he would reach out to the Gentile Cornelius,
he would be arrested and delivered from prison,
and according to tradition, he would be martyred at Rome.

We’re challenged to believe and change,
to change ourselves and the world
with the message of God’s love,
God’s forgiveness,
God’s grace.
We’re called to follow Jesus,
to continue in the covenant God made with us in holy baptism.
We ask these things of our young confirmands,
offering them a new day, a new start,
God’s gracious call.
But it’s a call that we can all respond to. Will you:
live among God’s faithful people,
hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
and strive for justice and peace in all the earth?
Will you?

The youth group I belonged to as a teenager
consisted of anywhere from 20 to 40 people.
As memorable and as wonderful as those retreats and camping trips were,
if we had stayed there, hidden from the world,
escaped from the every day,
then 30 or so young Christian men and women
would not have gone into the world
and lived out their faith.
You would not have had Peter Fischer or myself as your pastors.
Those retreats did serve to create wonderful memories
but also to nourish us in our faith
and give us a new day to follow Jesus.
God gives each one of you the same opportunity to follow,
again and again.
Will you?

1 comment:

Detail Boi said...

Those camping trips are some of the best memories for me... and I know that those memories are deep for everyone that went.

When I see my friends from those YG years, the experiences from those camping trips often come up in conversation.