Sunday, February 21, 2010

First Sunday in Lent Year C 2010

Revised Common Lectionary
Scripture Texts for Year C, First Sunday in Lent
Deuteronomy 26:1-11 * Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 * Romans 10:8b-13 * Luke 4:1-13

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 ------------
26:1 When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it,

26:2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.

26:3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, "Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us."

26:4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God,

26:5 you shall make this response before the LORD your God: "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.

26:6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us,

26:7 we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.

26:8 The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;

26:9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

26:10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me." You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God.

26:11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 ------------
91:1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,

91:2 will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust."

91:9 Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place,

91:10 no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.

91:11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

91:12 On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.

91:13 You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

91:14 Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.

91:15 When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.

91:16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

Romans 10:8b-13 ------------
10:8b "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);

10:9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

10:10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

10:11 The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame."

10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.

10:13 For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

Luke 4:1-13 ------------
4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,

4:2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.

4:3 The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread."

4:4 Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"

4:5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.

4:6 And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.

4:7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours."

4:8 Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"

4:9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,

4:10 for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,'

4:11 and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"

4:12 Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

4:13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

What Will You Do With Your Gifts?

We're doing a "spiritual gifts" inventory with our elders these days, and I have to say that I'm having a hard time with some of the assumptions this particular resource makes.

First off, it seems to imply that various talents we might have been born with are "spiritual gifts." Now I know this seems nitpicky, but it doesn't seem to me that Peter was born with the ability to preach or heal the sick or raise the dead. We might even argue that Jesus wasn't born with such gifts. Only two of the gospels even mention his childhood or infancy and apart from his precocious interview with some temple teachers he is not reported to have done or said anything very remarkable.

But there does seem to be, in Acts as well as in three of the four gospels, some very dramatic changes that come with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter, who couldn't get anything right prior to Pentecost, comes piling out of the house on Pentecost morning preaching a bold gospel in foreign languages he'd apparently never studied. Jesus, who apparently didn't do much of anything worth reporting before the dove descended on him and God said "This is my Son," would soon thereafter heal thousands and do various miraculous things that looked very much like things God does.

When spiritual gifts are discussed in Paul's letters they are never things like being good at fixing the plumbing, or being an entertaining public speaker, or playing well with others, or anything like that. All the Spirit's gifts seem to be oriented to the mission of God, to bring his kingdom bursting into the fallen world.

It might at first seem a little freaky that Jesus would be led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil. But if we keep in mind this notion of the gifts of the Spirit, it might begin to make more sense.

"If you are the Son of God," says the devil. In other words, the devil is saying, "Now that you have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, along with the mighty power of God, what are you going to do with it? What are you going to do with this gift?"

The devil quotes psalm 91, the prooftext of every health-and-wealth evangelist. A fast-growing pentecostal church near here has Psalm 91 listed right on its sign, and I happen to know that they use the psalm as the basis of their new member class. They see the whole message as the remarkable and outrageous proposition that God just wants to bless you with all kinds of bounty as his way of letting the world know he's a loving God. He wants to give you everything you want, protect you from every threat, heal you from every illness. Period.

Now, given what we know about the biblical role of the devil, I think we can be reasonably sure that the devil knows how to interpret the bible rightly. It interests me that few biblical scholars would identify psalm 91 as a coronation psalm, that is, a psalm meant to address a king of Israel. But it seems to me that's how the devil understands it, and strange as it may seem, I'd believe the devil's interpretation before I'd believe a biblical scholar's. The devil is quoting scripture that relates to the Messiah. It's the Messiah that will be protected and lifted up and provided for and so on. This psalm, in other words, is not addressed to every believer in God, or even to every member of the Jewish people, but specifically to the Messiah, the king, the Son of God.

And so the devil is trying to get Jesus to use this amazing title and gift wrongly. This is what this temptation story is all about. It's the devil's job to trip us up, to prove that we are unworthy of God's love and blessing, that we are worthy only of his punishment. God has named Jesus his Son, the Messiah, the one like the son of man, the savior. It's essential that before Jesus begins his ministry that the Spirit allow, in fact insist, that Jesus get the full temptation treatment.

You and I enter this picture as Jesus' followers. As we saw with the apostles and those who heard them and believed, this same gift, this Spirit, this "sonship" or "offspring-ship" in relation to God, is offered to everyone who hears the call of Jesus and accepts that call to be his disciple. And it is highly likely, though not necessarily inevitable, that if we receive such a powerful gift, we will also have to go through the wringer before we're set free to do mission.

Jesus preaches a parable about this, I believe, about the sower and the seed, that teaches that we must be well-prepared if we are to receive the word, allow it to take real root in us and then bear abundant and faithful missional fruit. But most of us will not be well-prepared. We will be poorly prepared, and when we get driven out into the wilderness, we will not be able to resist the devil's temptations. We will want to use the gift we have been given wrongly. And we will lose it, just like that.

We all have talents and skills and gifts, but none of these necessarily serve us in the real work of the kingdom. In fact, most of them will get in our way, and should probably be set aside. We need to come to a place of real emptiness and powerlessness in order to receive the gift of the Spirit. We need to have that clear sense of being nothing much more than a wandering Aramean who would be an unknown slave if it it weren't for God, who makes us everything we are, if we are anything at all.

This is the place of baptism, of dying to the false and incomplete and fragmented life most of us have been tricked into living, of just letting it all sink into the waters and wash away forever.

When the Spirit comes, it comes with new life, new identity, new gifts. And the big test that must be given before we can be trusted with such an amazing new life is really whether we own these gifts or God owns them. If we own them, we do what we want with them, good or bad. If God owns them, we do only what God wants done with them.

Strangely enough God will keep all the promises of Psalm 91 for Jesus, but not in any way that Jesus or anyone else could possibly have expected. So it is I think for us. Psalm 91 is a trustworthy psalm for the children of God. But a child of God who becomes his or her own parent is no longer God's. The person who takes the gifts of God as their own possession, and not as a stewardship of gifts belonging to another, gives up all the promises of psalm 91. The moment we say, "God is going to make my business successful, God is going to heal me of my heart attack, God is going to bring my child home from the war," both the gift of God's power and the promises of God are withdrawn.

Have you received God's Holy Spirit? Have you been rescued from the half-lives most people live? Have you entered the threshold of abundant and eternal life in the kingdom? Have you been gifted with the equipment of mission?

What are you going to do with that equipment? What are you going to do with the world-changing power of God?

Are you ready to have such a thing?


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany Year C 2010

06 Epiphany C 10
February 14, 2010

Exodus 34:29-35
29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34 but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Psalm 99
1 The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
2 The LORD is great in Zion;
he is exalted over all the peoples.
3 Let them praise your great and awesome name.
Holy is he! 4 Mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity;
you have executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob.
5 Extol the LORD our God;
worship at his footstool.
Holy is he!
6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel also was among those who called on his name.
They cried to the LORD, and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;
they kept his decrees,
and the statutes that he gave them.
8 O LORD our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them,
but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
9 Extol the LORD our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for the LORD our God is holy.

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13 not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. 14 But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

1 Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

Luke 9:28-43
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"--not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not." 41 Jesus answered, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here." 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

The Secret to Doing Miracles

I’m pretty sure most of us here today would say out of hand that doing miracles is beyond us. Miracles are for people like Jesus and Peter and Paul, or for really super-spiritual people we can’t hope to ever become.

But today I want to let you in on the secret, the secret to doing miracles.

Do you remember Apollo 8, the one that circled the moon? It was Christmas eve when the capsule rounded the moon and earth rose over the moons horizon. The astronauts trained their camera on the tiny blue ball floating over the wide expanse of the desolate lunar surface. And as the whole world looked at itself from the highest vantage point ever achieved, the astronauts began to read, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”

There are times and places in our lives when the veil that hides the glory of God slips away. Barbara Brown Taylor calls them “thin places.” They can be at the top of a mountain or far out in space. They can be in certain unforgettable life moments. When my daughter Hilary emerged into the world and opened her beautiful blue eyes for the first time. Or when Bishop Bob Isakson placed a stole on my shoulders and said, “Receive this stole as a sign of your work, and live in obedience to the Lord Jesus” . Or when Liz walked down the aisle at Faith Lutheran Church wearing a simple cream suit and carrying a small bouquet. Thin places, where the veil that hides the glory of God slides away.

Under the veil is the glory of God, and under the veil is also the demonic. Sometimes when the veil slides away I see God’s glory. Sometimes when the veil slides away I see demons. When the veil slides away from my image in the mirror, I see both.

Why does God hide his glory behind any kind of veil? God doesn’t show his glory to the crowds that incessantly follow Jesus and his disciples, begging them for favors. He shows himself to a few disciples on a mountaintop, who are so overwhelmed they never speak of it to anyone, though of course, eventually they must have, or we would not have the story.

Maybe it’s because we are so quick to fear the threats of the lesser spirits, the demonic forces in the world. “You can’t trust other people. You can’t share because there’s not enough. You can’t forgive because you will be taken advantage of. You’re on your own.” Or maybe it’s because we’re so deeply connected to the demonic, so convinced that the worldly powers we confuse with God will lead us to something we want. Yet all these spirits do is confuse us, blind us to God’s glory, make us deaf to his word, enslave us and finally simply kill us. Our lives in the end become a useless waste.

Did you notice the little parallel in Luke’s story? When he is on the mountaintop, and he begins to shine with God’s glory, the voice of God comes in a cloud, saying “This is my Son; listen to him!” And then when Jesus and the disciples come down off the mountain, another father says, “Look at my son; he is my only child.”

Perhaps the words of the father at the bottom of the mountain are needed to understand the words of the Father at the top. “I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him.”

“Suddenly a spirit seizes him.” Perhaps this is God’s perspective, God’s exasperation, God’s frustration, God’s desperation, that we also hear in Jesus’ response. “I beg you,” we might imagine God asking us, “to look at my humanity; it is my only child, and a spirit seizes it.”

The father at the foot of the mountain, and Jesus’ disciples as well, fail to see behind the veil. All they can see is this lesser spirit, all they can believe in is this destructive demon. They fail to see God’s glory hidden in themselves, the power of God over all such little spirits. You will notice Jesus is exasperated, annoyed. He is not surrounded by people who are stupid. He is surrounded by people who ignore the mountain of evidence God has given them, evidence that he will work through them to bring the world out of the darkness and into the light.

Sin and death, the compulsive power of lesser spirits, is likened in the New Testament to blindness and deafness. In the twelve-step fellowships, we often hear that alcoholism is the disease that tells the alcoholic it’s not a disease. Sin blinds us and deafens us to the light and voice of God, telling us all the time that it’s simply common sense. We become helpless victims that are nevertheless convinced we are free and powerful. We are told that real freedom, real justice, real holiness is beyond us, that we can’t achieve such things, that we should just accept our human nature.

We become very much like the possessed boy, being tossed about and dashed to the ground against his will. What we believe to be human limitation is actually the demonic voices of the fallen world telling us, “Give up. You can’t be what you are meant to be. It’s just the way things are.”

But it isn’t. The demon lies. You are meant to do miracles. You are meant to cause water to spring up in the desert. You are meant to heal the sick and give sight to the blind, to bring the mighty down from their thrones and to lift up the lowly, to shine with the light of one who has come into the presence of the living God. That’s true human nature.

When Moses and Elijah appear to Jesus, it is of Jesus’ death and resurrection they speak. Our English translation says they spoke of Jesus’ “departure,” but Luke’s Greek word is exodos.

The exodus Jesus will make, through the cross and out of the tomb, is from an old incomplete humanity into a restored, complete humanity. This new humanity is the new promised land, and following Jesus means to go on an exodus from the old to the new. It means embracing God’s miracle in us.

In the fourth century, yes, that’s about one thousand six hundred years ago, a teenaged nun named Egeria made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and there witnessed the rituals of the Jerusalem church during Holy Week, that is, the week before Easter.

In those days, people were baptized only on one day a year, usually after an intense three-year period of preparation. The candidates for baptism would be taken to the church deep in the night before Easter by the whole community of believers. They would remove all their clothes and be anointed with oil. They would turn to the west and raise their arms and loudly renounce Satan, then turn to the east and confess their faith. Amid prayers and hymns they would descend into the waters of baptism. When they emerged, they would each be clothed in a perfectly clean white robe, a sign of their victory.

And then Cyril, the pastor of the church there, would sing a hymn to them:

May God deign then to show you this night
The darkness that is as bright as day…
For each man and woman among you
May the door of paradise swing wide!
Enjoy then the perfumed waters;
Receive the name of Christ
And the power to do deeds that are divine.

The secret to doing miracles is to let the Holy Spirit do the miracle of transforming you.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany Year C 2010

February Drafts
05 Epiphany C 10
February 7, 2010

Isaiah 6:1-13
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!" 9 And he said, "Go and say to this people:
'Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.'
10 Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed."
11 Then I said, "How long, O Lord?" And he said:
"Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant, and houses without people,
and the land is utterly desolate;
12 until the LORD sends everyone far away,
and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.
13 Even if a tenth part remain in it,
it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak
whose stump remains standing
when it is felled." The holy seed is its stump.

Psalm 138
1 I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing your praise;
2 I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness;
for you have exalted your name and your word
above everything.
3 On the day I called, you answered me,
you increased my strength of soul.
4 All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O LORD,
for they have heard the words of your mouth.
5 They shall sing of the ways of the LORD,
for great is the glory of the LORD.
6 For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly;
but the haughty he perceives from far away.
7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies;
you stretch out your hand,
and your right hand delivers me.
8 The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11
1 Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you--unless you have come to believe in vain. 3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them--though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

Luke 5:1-11
1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." 5 Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Saints Hidden in Sinners

If you want to be a pastor in Deltaville sooner or later you will have to get in a boat with a waterman.

When Duck Ruark invited me to go pull pots with him one morning a few years ago, I took him up on his offer. I arrived in the wee hours of the morning and we boarded his little open boat and trundled on out of Jackson Creek into the mouth of Fishing Bay.

Duck gave me a running commentary on the life of a waterman and I could tell he loved the work, that it was, as he said, in his blood. I remember him telling me that the fun of it was in the pot-pulling. You never knew what would come up out of the dark and murky bay water.

He showed me how he caught the buoys with his boathook and wrapped the line around his little power winch and pulled up the pots. He made it look easy of course.

It so happened that day that the weather was warm and the bay was, as the locals might call it, flat ca’m. Not a wave in sight. It also happened that just about every pot was chock full of fat beautiful crabs. We joked about taking preachers along to pull your pots.

We joked about it, but I think we both felt something special that day. As I reflect on it this morning, I think old Duck and I got a little taste of paradise that day.

When I was a child and came to Deltaville in the summertime, I would sometimes get to go out with Jesse and Mabel Hurd in Jesse’s old deadrise. Usually we’d pile a bunch of cousins and aunts and uncles into the boat, everybody with their own fishing line, and Jesse would always be able to find where the fish were schooled up. It seemed like we’d just drop our lines and pull them right back out again and there would be a fish on them. All kinds of fish. Spot, sugar toads, croakers. It was, well, paradise.

Paradise is the wonderfully good creation of God, suffused with his living Spirit, in which all things flow together in a kind of symphony of life. Paradise is full of astounding abundance, everything needed for everything to live, growing with abandon, a lush garden.

This coming week, we’re going to start our reading group around a book called Saving Paradise. One of the points the Disciples’ scholar Rita Nakashima Brock makes is that paradise is not some lovely dream, it is in fact an ethical measure. Paradise is not some future reality that will probably never come, nor is it a past utopia lost in the mists of time. Paradise is here right now. We’re living in it. It’s only a matter of opening our eyes and unstopping our ears.

Of course, once we open our eyes and unstop our ears and we see the paradise we live in, we also see all those forces that conspire against it. And those forces, well, they see us too.

Life unbound, life unending, life in abundance, that’s paradise. But at the same time, there is things loose in paradise that have twisted it, raped it, harrowed it. The scriptures call these forces sin and death, the powers and the principalities.

Paul tells us this morning that the matter of first importance in every apostle’s preaching, what was “first handed on” to every one of them, was a rather simple story. Christ died. Christ rose from the dead. And the living Christ appeared to his disciples. Resurrection.

Many Christians believe that resurrection is when you die and your soul goes to heaven. But this is not what the story tells us. The story tells us that Jesus came out of the tomb and appeared to his disciples. The story tells us that he ate and drank with them, and that they touched his glorified body. Certainly, Jesus was different than he had been before the crucifixion, but this was not a ghost, not a disembodied spirit floating around. This was a living person, right here in the world.

Now, before anyone gets nervous, I will say that the scriptures also speak of a kind of holding place for the dead, a place of rest and joy. And we know that many people have seen this place in their near-death experiences. The only point I’m making is that this is not resurrection, nor is it eternal life.

Just as paradise is all around us, suffused with the Spirit of God, if only we have eyes and ears to see and hear it, so resurrection life, eternal life, is also offered to us here and now. It is part and parcel of paradise, the goodness and fullness and eternity of the life of God.

So when Peter puts out his boat into the deep water, and pulls up net-full after net-full of fish, until his boat is nearly sinking under the weight, he finds himself suddenly in paradise.

His reaction is interesting.

I invite you all to reflect on your own experience of God’s calling. What was that moment when you sensed the living presence of God, felt the membrane separating heaven from earth split open, and heard your name on God’s lips? Have you had that experience?

Of course I’m not asking if you had a hallucination. My own experience of God’s call was not a hallucination. Even so, I couldn’t really tell the story of it without speaking as I just did.

When did you have that experience? Have you had that experience? I know there are some here who have, and I suspect there are some here who haven’t yet.

If you have then you probably know something about both Isaiah’s and Peter’s reaction. When you feel the presence of the Holy One, when you find yourself in the throne room of heaven, or for that matter in the sudden shocking abundance of paradise, when your eyes are opened and your ears are unstopped, not only do you see the glory of God, you also see how far short you fall from it.

How skeptical I have been all these years. How slow to believe. How little I have expected from the God who made all things that live. How faithless I am. And here I am in God’s presence. Now I see what I did not know, now I hear what I never heard before. Surely he will strike me down forever.

Instead, he invites me to serve him. And of course, I’m terrified.

One of the Methodists’ greatest preachers is William Willimon. In a sermon on this text, Bishop Willimon said that it’s not death that scares us the most. It’s resurrection.

God says, “Come away from the dead-end life you’re living, drop it all, everything you value, everything you think you’re good at, everything you think you know. Just walk away from it. And I will lead you into a new life, a new, unimaginable, abundant and eternal life. Leave the world of scarcity and fear and death, and come with me into Paradise.”

Just as Peter pulls abundance up out of the empty waters, so Christ pulls saints up out of sinners.

In the twelve step fellowships, the one step out of the twelve that the founders regarded as the most daunting was the sixth step: Humbly asked God to remove all our shortcomings. Who really wants to be transformed that much? Who can even imagine it?

And so I tend to believe Willimon. It’s not death that scares us most. It’s resurrection.