Sunday, April 19, 2015

They’ll Know

They’ll Know 
John 21:1-14
April 19, 2015
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

John 21: 1-14

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, 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 yards off.

 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." 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.

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. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

You know, Jesus spent a lot of time outdoors. It was pretty much like camping, I imagine – sleeping where you can, cooking on outdoor fires, lots of walking – or hiking, as the case may be. I love this particular story because for me it illustrates the hospitality that Jesus calls us to, and demonstrates it for us.

He could have stood there on the lakeshore, arms crossed over his chest, tapping his foot, wondering why the disciples weren’t out there doing what he told them to do. He could have asked them, point blank, why they all went back to work at their old jobs, instead of pursuing the new careers he’d given them. Of course, we can imagine why they went back to fishing – easier work and shorter hours than ministry, for one thing! But Jesus didn’t offer any recriminations. He just waited for them to finish their work and then come away to be with him, to break bread with him.

The disciples had left off being disciples and gone back to being fishermen. But seeing Jesus there by the lake shore, they remembered their calling and rushed back to be by his side.

Sitting there by the fire, tasting the bread and grilled fish, listening to the waves lap at the shore, being in the presence of Christ, they were restored and called back to themselves, to their real lives – not their old lives, but their new lives, as fishers for people.

I think that is what camp does for us.
I think that is what retreats do for us.
They don’t call us away to some other place, to get away from real life.
They call us back to real life, so that we can share the love of Jesus more fully.

For many people, their most powerful, spiritually formative moments have taken place at camp or on retreats. It was certainly the case for me – not as a camper, but as a camp director. I’ve told you this story before, but it bears repeating, as we think about Jesus calling us to our true selves through the ministry of camps.

Buffalo Gap Presbyterian camp is in West Texas, where the summers are blistering hot, the land is boringly flat and the climate is incredibly dry. Really hot. Really flat. Really dry.

I’ve never been sure if I was asked to direct camp there because of my great talent for ministry with children, or if the Presbytery leaders wanted me to get a foretaste of hell. In any case, there we were. In July.

Did I mention that it is hot, flat and dry there?

It was Sunday, and we were registering kids in the dining hall, the only air-conditioned building in the compound. And there, in the distance, came Ross. He was a stocky, blue-eyed kid with a reddish brown buzz-cut, freckles across his nose, and a slight curl to his lip that made you think he was about to squint like Clint Eastwood. and push a handrolled cigarette into the corner of his mouth.

It really was like a scene from “The Good the Bad and the Ugly,” the rays of heat rippling up from the dusty ground, as he swaggered into the door and handed us his paperwork. We could tell we were in trouble. And we were right.

The first night, he beat up another boy. The second night, he cheated all the other boys out of their canteen money, in a rigged poker game, to which he had made up the rules. The third night, Ross conned Chad out of his new $80 suede high-tops. The following morning, in arts and crafts, Ross painted the shoes lime green. At lunch that day, he said, “Miss, I haven’t had to take my Ritalin all week!” And at counselor prayers Thursday morning, we gave thanks that it was the last full day of camp, and that in the morning, Ross’s parents would come and get him!

It’s my belief that there is no one in the world meaner than a 5th grade girl, and the girls at Buffalo Gap validated my belief in the way they treated Ross. They wouldn’t sit by him at Bible study. They wouldn’t look at him during team sports. They wouldn’t dance with him at the dance, even though he had put on a clean shirt. The boys were either in awe of Ross, or scared of him, I’m not sure which. The counselors in the boy’s cabin rolled their eyes heavenward and sighed whenever his name came up. Nobody liked him.

Except for Joel. Joel loved Ross.
Joel was only in second grade – far smaller than the other boys. Ross liked to pick Joel up by his head. Joel thought this was tremendously amusing. And Ross was kind to Joel, because Joel was just a little kid. Ross was obstinate, unruly, untruthful, violent and smart-mouthed – except where Joel was concerned. And Joel, my nephew, suggested that Ross should play the guitar for the Thursday night talent show at the campfire. That’s how it was that Ross came and asked me if I would teach him to play guitar for the talent show at the end of the week.

Now, you know, Jesus taught us to be kind and loving and to serve God and welcome others. Jesus said we should welcome the stranger and he liked to hang around with the worst kind of people. Jesus loves everyone. Even boys like Ross.And so, because Joel suggested it, and because of Jesus, I swallowed a scolding lecture about respect and kindness, and I bit my tongue to hold back all of my admonitions about the value and beauty of my Martin guitar. I sat down with Ross during free time and taught him to play a simple song, a two-chord song.

The night of the talent show, we gathered around the campfire. We roasted marshmallows and weenies. The counselors did skits making fun of the kids, and the kids put on skits making fun of the counselors. We sang songs together. Then Ross walked over to me and took my guitar. Everybody fell silent – either in horror or disbelief. And then, Ross began to play and to sing. As he did, all forty children joined in:

“We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord.
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored,
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love”

We adults listened in stunned silence, and when they finished, there was only the crackling of the fire and the locusts whirring, until someone began to pray.

Now, none of us dared to ask,
because we knew
that Jesus was with us in that moment.

And this was not the first time, and surely it was not the last,
that the risen Lord came to his disciples
while they were at camp.


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