In early June, I was the preacher for weeks 1 & 2 of Montreat High School Youth Conferences. Six hundred kids attended the first week and 1200 kids the second week. The theme was “Be the Difference” with a sub-theme each day. The theme for Thursday was “Be the Difference With Your Peers.” This sermon is from evening worship on Thursday, the fourth day of the conference.
My third sermon on Pentecost can be found here.
Liturgy for this service can be found here (scroll down for Thursday).
Jesus invites us into the risen life, a resurrected life.
This Jesus story in the Gospel of John invites us into a story when everything feels like it’s over, and something entirely new begins again.
When has that been for you?
When something felt like it was over and something entirely new begins again?
Our breakfast on the beach story takes us to death and resurrection, that the resurrection of Jesus means God is always doing a new thing.
God is always with us, God is always around to show us beauty in the present moment, God is always there to show us love in one another and in the neighbors and companions God has given us.
This story today is about death and resurrection, it’s about faithful dying and discovering resurrection, or new life, is always around us.
This is my faithful dying and resurrection story.
My dad died almost four years ago.
My dad had been living with Parkinson’s for about a year. Parkinson’s is a disease of the nervous system that affects movement, slowly, over time.
Parkinson’s is similar to Alzheimer’s in that it creates a very, very long goodbye.
My dad had also been living with arthritis in his spine which made it painful for him to walk.
In moments when humor was needed with our dad’s physical struggles, my twin brother, John, along with our older sister, Paige, would describe our dad’s body as “a hot mess.”
I got the phone call from John, my twin, on a Sunday afternoon.
Dad fell in the backyard. He had a massive heart attack. The paramedics revived him, he’s at the hospital, he hasn’t woken up.
I flew to Columbus early the next morning to be with my mom, Paige and John.
Our dad was in a hospital bed with lots of machines and tubes that went beep over and over again. He was on a ventilator, unable to breath on his own. He could open his eyes, he could hear. But we weren’t sure what he was hearing or seeing.
He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t move. His fall had left him paralyzed.
Within 24 hours it became clear to us that we needed to take my dad off the ventilator.
Our dad was always clear about his wishes for the end of his life—he had it in writing, he had told us verbally what we wanted.
My dad’s hospital room turned into a steady stream of friends and colleagues coming to say goodbye.
I was so taken, so thankful for their courage to come to his bedside, stand next to his dying body, grab his hand, touching the last of him.
My dad’s body wasn’t serving him anymore after his heart attack.
He couldn’t breathe on his own.
His body was paralyzed from the fall, and he had Parkinson’s. My dad’s body wasn’t serving him, his body unable to stay alive without machines.
We needed to let our dad die.
And that’s what we did.
Grief is hard, it’s very hard work. It’s hard emotions.
My 14 year old son, Sam, I mentioned last night, who said it’s easier to look away has told me before that he doesn’t like feelings, his feelings make him feel uncomfortable.
In my grieving, at one point, I told my spouse, Bob, I felt like I spent my days wanting to punch people in the face.
People would ask me simple questions and I would just look at them like “seriously, you have a question about the church database? My dad just died. Back off.”
Bob reminded me that I wasn’t walking around punching people.
My thoughts hadn’t become actions. Yet I knew I was suffering, and I needed some change.
My mind would go back to my dad’s hospital room, picturing his body all hooked up to those machines that went beep, remembering how his body wasn’t serving him anymore.
A question finally came to me “what isn’t serving me anymore?
What in me, in my life isn’t serving me anymore?
What did I need to let go of? What did I need to release? What did I need to die to in order that I could rise, I experience newness?
What did I need I need to die to in my life in order that I could experience a more authentic me?
What did I need to die to, let go of in order that I could love more, share more love?
What did I need to die to in order that I could be transformed, I could be made new, create a new beginning, participate in a risen life now, a resurrected life where I let go of fear and live more boldy for the sake of Jesus.
Let me be very clear about how I am using the words “What I need to die to.” I didn’t think I needed to physically die in order to be experience the risen life.
By using the words “what do I need to die to” I’m not taking about physically dying.
Jesus wants me to live just as Jesus wants you to live. Jesus wants to meet me in this life just as Jesus wants to meet you in his life. Jesus wants me and you alive on right now, right here
There have also been some of us who have been told “I wish the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender part of you would die.” Or “I wish your struggle with gender identity would die” or “I wish your skin that’s black and brown would die.”
This is exactly what happened in Orlando—a man wanted people to die because they were LGBT folks with black and brown skin. That’s not what I’m talking about when I say “what did I need to die to.”
Those things are of our essence, those things are part of our being made in the image of God.
Before my dad died, I had already done some death and dying.
When I was in Atlanta I had to let go of, die to the future I had envisioned for myself.
I had to die to the ways I thought about what it meant to be successful. I had to die to the ways of thinking I had to have all the answers and be perfect.
The Apostle Paul had to die to how he was living in the ways of the Roman establishment. Paul died to the ways of violence in order that he could rise, be made new in God’s love.
The young man born blind at birth had to die to the reality he wasn’t blind anymore, he had a new identity of follower of Jesus.
The crowd around the young man had to die to the young man’s old identity, rise to his new identity. The same with the young man’s parents.
The football team from Olivet, MI from the video this morning in keynote….had to die to what it meant to be a football team.
They had to die to what it meant to score a touchdown.
Justice Miller, the wide receiver died to his own ways of being himself—he said that before that series of plays on the field, he was concerned about himself. After that, he wanted to make everyone’s day.
What in your life do you need to die to? What in your life is keeping you from loving, from caring for those around you? What needs released?
Maybe it’s you thinking your love doesn’t matter to someone else, that you don’t matter to other people.
Maybe it’s thinking you matter too much, your sense of entitlement needs to die.
Maybe what’s needs to die is the thinking you have nothing to offer yourself, your friends, those around you.
Maybe what needs to die, needs to be released is you think you will look uncool for loving the world.
Maybe what needs to die is the image of yourself, how you look and dress because your image preserves your ego, your sense of self. A lot of times we focus on our image, how we look in order to wall ourselves off from the fear that we’ll be rejected.
Expectations? Priorities? Fear? Anxiety?
Internal voice that tells you to look and be like everyone else. Maybe self-hatred needs to die because you don’t feel you are worthy of God’s love?
Almost on a daily basis, I have a conversation with my internal voice, my inner critic that tells me to stop.
My inner critic tells me that idea I have for worship might make me a target for conflict, I’m not that creative….remember that idea of being a doctor or a lawyer might voice might say……maybe I should have done that instead. You’d probably be better at it.
I know that the dying I have done in the past few year, the letting go of things that aren’t serving me like letting my inner critic drive my choices, is connected to my dad’s death. Silencing my inner critic are moments of resurrection for me.
There are parts of us that we need to die to, die to thoughts, ideas, choices, beliefs that aren’t serving us anymore.
We die to those ways in order to create new ways to serve in love.
Why is this dying so important? Why do we need to let go of these parts of ourselves?
Our breakfast on the beach story is about Jesus’ resurrection, and it’s about Jesus death.
You can’t get to Jesus resurrection without claiming the horrific way he died.
God is pushing us to walk right into this story that is about Jesus’ death and dying because God wants so much to include us in God’s resurrection. We can’t get to new life, new beginnings without the experience of some type of dying and God wants nothing more for us than to be resurrected.
After Jesus’ died, as Rodger mentioned this morning, the disciples went back to what they knew—fishing.
Jesus asks for fish—the disciples initially had none. Jesus gives them a bit of instruction because the disciples were fishing on the wrong side of the boat.
This was Jesus way of saying, “ok, when God says to do a new thing, God means a new thing so get on the other side of the boat.”
Once they catch a net full of fish, Jesus immediately invites them to come, have breakfast.
There was a charcoal fire with fish and bread—a really beautiful image.
With the sun rising, Jesus tends to a fire to make a breakfast of fish and bread.
As the disciples are learning to fish again, fishing from the other side of the boat, as Peter is naked, putting his clothes on, jumping off the boat, as the disciples are learning to see Jesus, see him as the resurrected one, as all of this change is going on….
Jesus invited them into a moment of nourishment, of community.
The meal of fish and bread has Jesus was teaching the disciples, yet again, how to be companions, friends with each other.
As I shared in last nights sermon, “companionship” means “with friends” or “with bread” in Latin.
This is how we are the difference with our peers, our companions, our church members, we stop, we sit down, we share a meal to tend to the ties that bind us. We take care of each other with a meal and conversation.
Considering change is part of who we are, how we are made up as humans and as people of God’s way, nourishing, feeding, caring for each other is crucial.
We need to die to, release, let go of the ways we skip over listening, looking, and feelings the emotions of who and what is around us.
When we skip over moments to be tender and loving and kind, we miss turning towards love.
We need to die to the ways that keep us from realizing Jesus is in front of us and the ways Jesus call us to be companions with each other.
As a Church we can get consumed by keeping the church alive. We can obsess over how many new people members we get in a year, how many are in a youth groups, are we entertaining you all enough.
We can spend all our time on agendas that stay focused on the building and budgets and making sure worship and the choir sounds perfect.
But really…that’s not our work as the Church.
Our work is death and resurrection, dying and rising.
As the Church we are called to practice loving and being loved.
And we need to die to the ways that keep us from loving and being loved.
Montreat—Churches love nostalgia. Nostalgia is a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.
Maybe you’ve heard things like “oh, years ago we used to do this” or “remember when we used to do that….that’s when people loved coming to church.” Or when suggests a new idea, a change in worship and someone says “oh, we can’t change that, that’s not how we do things.”
Jesus death and resurrection tell us that dying and rising is the least comforting way to new life.
Death doesn’t take us to the point where we can finally feel in control of our lives.
It actually does the opposite.
Both death and resurrection toss out the familiar, our comfortable hopes, and re-fashions a future, unhinges us from the past that we cling to.
The disciples went back to fishing on one side of the boat.
Jesus said, “it’s a new day, a new time, time to fish on the other side.”
This is why Montreat the Pentecost story has you all as the ones to dream and envision a world made new.
The way you make a difference as peers is when your church peers stays stuck in the past, consumed with doing the ways of yesteryear over and over again,
Your work is to disrupt those ways, your work, your visioning and dreaming means asking your church why do we do what we do, what we are doing and is what we are doing practicing loving and being loved?
One Sunday at Church of the Pilgrims, my son, Sam, and I were looking for something to eat in the church’s refrigerator.
As we rummaged around the refrigerator, Sam pulled out a thing of guacamole and read the expiration date. Sam said, “Mom, the expiration date on this is 2007.”
After I almost barfed in my mouth, Sam said, “wow, I was 6 years old when this guacamole expired. Then Sam said…. I wonder what I was doing when I was six years old….
Ok, so when your 14 year old starts to get all nostalgic about expired food in the refrigerator….the church refrigerator might just need to die.
We can fear the future of our churches, it can be very hard to let go of the past.
Sam tossed the 2007 guacamole into the trashcan. In an incredibly simple physical act, Sam showed what is needed in so many of our churches—that we need to die to some things, let things go in orderto make room for something new that is needed now….and what’s needed now and always is to live in the ways of God’s love.
Once again, this is why the Pentecost story calls you, the youth, to envision and dream.
Because the adults in the Church are clinging to 9 year old guacamole, clinging to the past, fearful of change and what change might bring.
Sometimes children, youth are more courageous than parents, adults.
Sam’s the one who tossed out the guacamole. He didn’t ask permission. He said this is gross. Tossed it. Done. Finished.
Goodbye guacamole from 2007—you aren’t serving us anymore.
What need to die in order for new life, for us to experience and witness the resurrection?
I asked that question to Pilgrims Session, our governing body, this past March.
So, what here at Pilgrims needs to die in order to create space for love and compassion to rise up, come alive in us?
Rob Nelb, who is an elder on Session, immediately raised his hand and said,
“I think we need to move coffee hour that we have after worship from the community room down the hall to the sanctuary.”
Rob had noticed that few people were going into our community room down the hallway from the sanctuary after worship, people were staying in the sanctuary. Rob said let’s have coffee hour in the back of the sanctuary after worship.
Rob said, we have all these beautiful and creative and vulnerable experiences in worship—we need to stay in the sanctuary, drink punch, eat salty snacks, and be together in this space that has given us so much life.
Two weeks later coffee hour was in the back of the sanctuary.
And we are much more of a community.
Pilgrims died to a 30 year old way of doing coffee hour for the sake of love, for the sake of strengthening and nourishing relationships at Church of the Pilgrims.
This was Rob being Jesus like, saying we are fishing on this side of the boat with coffee hour in the community room, while everyone is on the other side of the boat in the sanctuary.
And now after worship, with coffee hour on a couple of tables behind the last set of pews, we savor our worship experience and we savor the relationships that have been created and been made new during worship.
What has to die in your church in order for more love to happen?
Something has to die in order for love to happen, there has to be a death in order for love to rise up, come alive, be resurrected.
That’s the story God so lovingly wants for us.
We are called to die to those ways that push us to obsess over things as a Church like longevity and security, significance and being the most popular church on the block.
Remember that Jesus went from having a few thousand in feeding of the 5,000 to a handful of followers to Maundy Thursday when he gathered to share the bread and the cup to Good Friday when he was put to death with 2 others and a handful of people, mostly women, looked on.
Jesus—not exactly the cool kid on the block.
We are called to die to ways that keep us from loving and being loved in order to live into God’s resurrection because God wants nothing more for us than to include us in God’s story of death and resurrection.
The hard part about the work of love is that our part is the dying part. The resurrection is God’s work.
When we moved coffee hour into the sanctuary we didn’t know how it was going to go.
When the Apostle Paul was transformed, the young man healed, the Pentecost community disrupted by the Holy Spirit….something came to an end.
Something died in order that Paul could live in the ways of love, in order that the young man could be part of a new community, in order that the Pentecost church could come alive after the death of Jesus.
My dad’s death called me to ask “what isn’t serving me anymore” and now I’m preaching at Montreat.
Almost two years ago, Mary Goodnight Thomas, one of our co-directors, sent me the email asking me to be the preacher here at Montreat.
First I almost deleted the email because I thought it was a pitch to come to church camp and why would I want to do that?
I called Mary and said “you know I preach to about 80 people on a Sunday.”
Yes, we know said Mary.
You know we have a rainbow flag over our sanctuary doors that says “All Are Welcome.” Yes, we know that.
You know we’ve been ordaining elders who are lgbtq and doing marriage equality before all of that was legal right? Yep, we know.
You know I’m UCC not PCUSA. Yep, know that too.
Ok, let me talk to my spouse Bob and run this by him, thinking oh Bob will shut this down. Who wants to parent three kids solo for 2 weeks?
I tell Bob and he says, “wow that sounds like a great opportunity, you should really do this.”
At that point, the only thing stopping me from saying yes to this was my own fear and anxiety. So I died to that and here I am with you.
We are here to nourish and love, serve and feed, care for each other.
Montreat you can be a difference for your peers, your Jesus companions by trusting that God is doing something new with you, God is doing something new with your peers, your neighbors. You can make a difference by being about love, the dying kind of love.
The kind of love when we step back, take a breath, and we can say, something is dying here and my God it’s still beautiful.