Sunday, April 17, 2016

Discover Life, Again: Passion John 20-21 select verses

Discover Life Again: Passion and Commitment
Commerce Presbyterian Church, GA
By Rev. C. Craig Topple

Slide Intro:
How many of you have figured out what you wanted to do when you grow up?
Have you figured out what really motivates you, inspires you, gives you energy to spend countless hours working and yet, you’re willing to give more?  
What are you passionate about and how do you live into that passion?  
What have you committed yourself to because you decided, this is my calling, this
is how I can really make a difference?

These are hard questions, I think. We know we have one life to live.
We know we have made decisions we can’t undo.  We know that others have made decisions that have had a significant impact on our lives, for good or for ill, that can’t be undone.
Have we discovered what is most life giving for us?

Slide: Shawshank

Our series, discover life, again, began a few weeks ago by recalling the scene from Shawshank Redemption, where two men with life sentences were in the prison courtyard dreaming. Andy, dreaming about going to zihuatanejo, Mexico (I’ve been there). And Red responding: “Zewanta-what?”
Andy dreaming about possibilities. Red, could not dream.
“Red, the choice is simple,” his best friend tells him. “You can get busy living or get busy dying.”

Slide: Jesus appearances
We’re back this week to post resurrections stories about Jesus and his disciples found in the Gospel of John. The disciples, of course, had made a significant commitment to him.
They were passionate about their work. But there is a major shift--what had been the focus of their last few years, was gone, Jesus was no longer present with them like before. They are significantly shaken and desperately despondent.   
First,  they huddle behind closed doors fearful of the future. He appears before them and breathes on them--the breath of life that was from the beginning.
Breath in this breath of life.  

[I hope he hadn’t had some of those raw onions to eat like we had on our hotdogs from Wednesday night supper.  It’s funny how we can’t really smell our breath, but my girls were sure smelling mine after that supper.]

Jesus breathes on them, and the disciples are able to muster enough energy to return to something they once knew so well, and probably loved:  fishing..
But, as life would have it, they’re out all night and don’t catch a thing...
Fishing, like life, can be kind of boring--especially if you’re not catching anything--especially if you’re not passionate about anything.
I love how Jesus, for his second appearance act, comes to the shore and calls out to them, “Caught anything? And then: “Cast your nets on the right side of the boat; you’ll find fish there!”
Clearly a statement about political persuasions!  

In some ways all it takes is a simple adjustment: If it seems like you continue to come up empty, Consider a different approach.  If you're empty over here, cast your nets over have the tools, you have the ability, just hear my voice, make a little your passion, discover what you love to do, discover life.  

And you can see the shift in Peter and the others. From empty nets, to nets overflowing.
From dry despondency to splashing in the water and swimming passionately ashore.  

Steve Jobs, who's responsible for this thing (iPad), gave an inspiring speech about re-discovering what he loved due to a significant shift in his life, when he spoke to graduates from Stanford in 2005.

He says: I was lucky - I found what I loved to do early in life. [starting] Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation - the Macintosh - a year earlier, and I had just turned 30.

And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? But, at age 30 I was out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

Jobs remembers: I really didn't know what to do for a few months.... I was a public failure; I even thought about running away. But something slowly began to dawn on me - I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life--starting Pixar - which made Toy Story - And, he says, “I fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife and we would have a wonderful family together.

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple, Jobs reflected. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did.

You've got to find what you love.

An inspiring testimony from Steve Jobs, and when it works out that way great. But, this was a speech for college students, and focuses primarily on a career. Many of us are well into or beyond our careers.  But, I think there is still meaning here.  

Jobs says, Find what you love.

SLIDE: Do you love me
Peter and the disciples move from the boat to the shore and there they discover, a little meal over a flame, fish and bread.  And they rediscover what they love, or rather who they love.
Do you love me?
Do you love me?
Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.

To me, it is less about what we are doing, and more about how we are doing what we are doing.
As the disciples warm themselves by the cooking flame, rekindle your passion for love....
As the disciples’ love is reinvigorated, commit yourself again to love....

We can do what we do, and it seems quite empty.  But, what happens if we do what we do, with love in our hearts. Love for the people around us. Love for the gift of each day.

Quite often we want our day to day activities to fill us, We want others to fill us.
What happens when we are the ones, filled with God’s breath and our lungs are filled by God’s love for us, If we are the ones who are able to fill others with our love.
Do you love me? Feed my lambs

All of us, deep down, want our life to be full of meaning, purpose, hope, commitment, we want our nets to be full.  And one of the greatest gifts we can give one another as a church community, is to help one another discover our passion for love, to offer opportunities for loving commitment.

Passion is one of those tricky words. It’s used to talk about that almost obsessive attraction for another person  when we fall in love. And it’s a word to describe Jesus brutal trial and crucifixion. Talk about mixed messages…
But, that same passion that drives us when we fall in love is similar to the passion of God’s love for us, and how we can love in this world.
SLIDE: “A deep awakening of passion in us is something that will stir into life the passion that is in others too.” (JPNewell One Foot in Eden, p54)
Love passionately as you are loved passionately.

Four people from this congregation will commit themselves to serve this congregation as elders beginning later this summer; making a commitment in this way can be difficult for we are very busy people. But the nominating committee has seen the love of those being asked, and prays that their passion and commitment may stir life giving love throughout the congregation and into the community. “A faithful response to the grace of commitment, whatever the outcome, nurtures in us a strength and endurance of character that are not easily measured. Let us know however that in following this grace we are being restored to our truest selves.” (JPN One Foot in Eden, p64)

Slide Peace Pilgrim
Here is an inspiring story about a passion to love which turned into a deep lasting and unusual commitment. Some of you who were around in the 50s may remember stories about a woman known as Peace Pilgrim (from Peace Talks Radio)
In 1953, during the Korean War and under the ominous threat of nuclear attack Mildred Norman set off from the Rose Bowl parade on New Year's Day walking wearing  a t-shirt that read: "Peace Pilgrim"
And she walked...and walked. She walked for 28 years. She never used money. She wore the same clothes every day: blue pants and a blue tunic that held everything she owned: a pen, a comb, a toothbrush and a map. "I own only what I wear and carry. I just walk until given shelter, fast until given food," she said. "I don't even ask; it's given without asking. I tell you, people are good. There's a spark of good in everybody."
It sounds strange to many of me at least; but certainly sounds like a similar lifestyle to the one we worship in this place: Jesus, is who I’m talking about.
How did Ms. Norman come to have this passion and dare to commit herself on this journey?
A childhood experience, she said:
One night in the late 1930s, "out of a feeling of deep seeking for a meaningful way of life," she began walking through the woods. She recalls,
"After I had walked almost all night, I came out into a clearing where the moonlight was shining down. And something just motivated me to speak and I found myself saying, 'If you can use me for anything, please use me. Here I am, take all of me, use me as you will, I withhold nothing,' "
Peace Pilgrim remembers: "That night, I experienced the complete willingness, without any reservations whatsoever, to give my life to something beyond myself."
By 1964 she had already walked 25,000 miles. Eventually, she stopped counting.
In an interview, the manager of a small radio station in Knox, Ind., Ted Hayes, said:
"Peace Pilgrim, you know, there are a certain number of people who would probably think of somebody like yourself as a kook or a nut."
"Well, I'm quite sure that some of those who have just heard of me must think I'm completely off the beam," Peace Pilgrim responded. "After all, I am doing something different. And pioneers have always been looked upon as being a bit strange.
But, I am passionate about this: 'I shall remain a wanderer until [hu]mankind has learned the way of peace..
In the same interview, Tom Hayes noted how she appeared to be a most happy woman."
"I certainly am a happy person," Peace Pilgrim responded. "Who could know God and not be joyous? I want to wish you all peace."
Slide: Commerce
Peace be with you, Jesus breathed on his disciples.  Cast your nets to the other side. Come ashore and be fed. And then show your love for the world by feeding sheep and lambs.
JEsus said, “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”

We pray to God asking for the courage to lose ourselves to a passion for loving, a deep commitment for loving that will fill this world with peace.

In the name of life giver, the life teacher and the life sustainer. Amen

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Discover Life, Again: Encouragement; John 21:1-8

Discover Life, Again: Encouragement - John 21:1-8
Rev. C. Craig Topple
Commerce Presbyterian Church, GA:
  • A community of believers
  • A community of encouragers
  • A community that believes in the goodness in you!

With this passage in mind, let’s use our imaginations for a moment and put ourselves in the Apostle Peter’s shoes; imagine you are Peter:

Three years. Hard work. Early days and too many late nights. For what?
You gave it your very best, you sacrificed your career, neglected your family, spent your resources, And when you had nothing left, you reached deep down, and kept going,
all in the belief that this man, this unusually gifted and inspiring man, whom you even called, the Son of God, would become – must become  – the next great leader. But he’s gone.
The crowds are gone. The passion is gone. The vision that stirred your soul vanished,
What’s more; you thought you were going to make a big difference....But, in a panic you lied and denied.
Now it’s all meaningless. You’re simply numb.....
What will you do?  
“I don’t know what you guys feel like doing, but I’m going fishing...” You declare.
“We’ll go too,” chime in six others.  

Slide: Out on the boat
File:Fishing in the haor with
Ah the good ole in your face. Waves rippling.
this is where it all began, how simple life was back then before Jesus...

You play the scenes over in your mind….
Remember  when he first showed up on the seashore and called you to follow?
Remember when he was sleeping in the boat during that crazy storm?
Remember when he was like a ghost and walked on water?
Remember when he would mesmerize the masses with his teachings; he liked this spot right here….

You turn to the others…they’re faces are blank...
”Nothing…  nothing but empty nets.”
They nod…
Lacklusterly you keep at it, what else would you do? On into the night….
(Adapted from Bob Lupton’s Urban Perspective publication “Let’s Go Fishing, (Again)! 
Now, emerge from the scene: What is going on? Kind of sad really….
The risen Jesus had appeared to these disciples,
  • Thomas had touched his feet and hands,
  • Jesus had breathed Peace on them and commissioned them: Just as my Father has sent me, so I send you.
Even with all of this, they’re just not quite there...they’re stuck

Can we relate?  
  • Remember God’s calling in your life?
  • You’ve tried to serve God because you thought you could change the world! ...
  • You thought you’d make a big difference…..

But, sometimes you just get stuck… for one reason or another….I know I do.  

A young mother, Emily Rapp, gave birth to a son with a terminal illness, and she cared for her boy knowing he would die soon, which he did at two-years of age....
She could only process this experience by putting pen to paper which resulted in a touching memoir The Still Point of the Turning World -

This devastated mother talks about getting stuck:
When we’re stuck, we give up a bit, become more isolated in our own little worlds.
She says... “even The idea of getting stuck makes me sad,”
“‘Don’t get stuck!’ we tell one another. Erase those old tapes about who you are and move on! But to where? And to what? And why?” (p.99)
Maybe when we get stuck, the only thing we can manage to do is try to get back to what we once knew... Pick up the shattered pieces in a familiar place and space. Maybe there we can find some solace and clarity..

Slide: Stuck disciples went fishing.
Empty nets; dawn was breaking.
A figure surfaces unnoticed on the shore.  Another fisherman?
“Morning!” He shouts, “ Catch anything?”  
“Naw,” they holler.  

Slide: Cast your nets...

“Throw your net over the right side of the boat...” the stranger calls back.
What does this guy know? Oh well, Nothing to lose.
Almost instantaneously, the net started tugging with fish, big ones.
Seven weary fishermen become instantly wide eyed with excitement.  

A catch this big! “No one will believe this?!

Slide: It’s like catching a 15 pound fish in the Commerce Watershed!
Who is that guy? pause

Slide: Peter rubs his hazed sleepless morning eyes.  He squints…He looks....
“It’s the Master!” Says the disciple Jesus Loves
It has to be! - replies peter. Splash!

A wonderful story: A story for stuck disciples who get unstuck. From no purpose to great purpose. From listlessness, to life. Peter can think of nothing but going fishing; and months later he’s raising a woman from the dead!  
How? A key encounter; a simple exchange of words.
“Morning! Catch anything?!  “Nope... “
“Try the other side of the boat. “

He doesn’t scold and shame them: “Shouldn’t you be doing something else...that’s why you’re nets are empty…!”

He doesn’t become a drill sergeant: “Disciples, drop your nets and give me 20!”

He sees what they’re doing, and more importantly, he sees where they are…stuck.
And gives just a small word of encouragement in their fishing. “Don’t give up, don’t let empty nets get you down.” Another cast...then see.

A word of encouragement, and it makes all the difference.
Slide: The letter to the Hebrews says:
“Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds (10:24)

What a difference when you are offered encouraging words:
“Good job.”  (be sincere).  “Sister, you’re the best!” “Brother, you’re awesome!”
Especially when you’re stuck  

Listen to something very important:
there is something within each of us that has the power to change the world…
Think of your faith. Jesus, the light of life, lives in you.  

And what happens when we see that light of life within everyone? The goodness and life-spirit in all beings? Can we speak to others with nothing but encouraging words?
The power of a little encouragement--even over something a trivial as fishing--
“Brothers! Cast your nets again…” It makes all the difference.  

SLIDE: The late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, a great encourager, loved telling this story about that power: A young man and woman, Yankel and Hannah, both orphans, were to be married. Neighbors in their small Ukrainian town had supported them along the way by finding work for the young man, clothes and food for the wedding, even a small room for them to live. It was time to celebrate!  
But, the morning of the wedding the young man went on a morning walk; and
The chief of police was waiting outside. He immediately arrested the bridegroom and told the elders who were standing nearby that if they wanted the bridegroom to be released, they’d have to pay a bail of ten thousand roubles.
Ten thousand roubles!
The men didn’t even bother to ask the policeman what the young man had done.
Every few months the police would seize another Jew to get money to pay for gambling.
But, ten thousand roubles? That was more than the police had ever asked.  How could they raise that much money?
Word went through the community: We need money, lots of money.
People looked through their homes for something to give—clothes, chickens, a pot, a pan, a candlestick, a goat.  When they counted it up they had five hundred roubles.
They needed ten thousand roubles.
What to do?
Three rabbis were in the town.
shows three elderly Jewish
One, a young rabbi called Alter, along with two older rabbis. The three rabbis consulted.
This was an emergency!
Suddenly, Rabbi Alter said, “There’s a solution. It’s Zev.”
“Zev?!” The elder rabbis exclaimed.  
“Zev, the miser? He hates people.
He built his house on the hill so no one would bother him.
He has a sign in front of his house: ‘NO TRESPASSERS.’
He shoots if you come in sight of his house.
He converted from Judaism so he could make more money!
Why even consider him?”
“It’s not me who is considering,” said Alter. “It’s heaven who is pointing...
besides, who else in this town has ten thousand roubles? I’m going to see Zev.”
“You can’t go,” said the others.
“He’ll shoot you.”
“I’m going, says Rabbi Alter.

“ We’ll go with you and protect you...” They concede.
“On one condition,” demanded Alter,
“I do the talking and no matter what I say, you smile and nod.”
“Do you agree?” They  agreed.
The three rabbis started up the hill and approached Zev’ s house together.
The first miracle of the day: Zev did not shoot.
They knocked at the door and Zev himself opens the door!
“Rabbis,” he said.

“My GOOD MAN,” Alter began. “What a blessing that you opened the door.
What a blessing to see you.”  Alter poked the other two, who smiled and nodded.
“My Good man, we would never disturb you but it’s an emergency.
A big one.
Young Yankel, an orphan, who is to marry Hannah, another orphan, has been arrested, today, on his wedding day. He’s done nothing wrong, of course.
The police chief who arrested him gambled away ten thousand roubles,
so he needs to repay the money. That’s why we’re collecting money; we need ten thousand roubles. Can you please help? We know you have a good heart—” Alter took a breath.

“Emergency?” inquired Zev. “Young Yankel, the orphan?”  He ponders a moment.
“You are fortunate. I have emergency funds. I’ll get them for you.”
He went into his house and returned with a penny. One penny.
“From my emergency fund,” he said, holding up the penny and handing it to them.

“Wonderful,” said Alter. “What an excellent beginning. We all thank you. Yankel thanks you. Hannah, his bride, thanks you. Each of us appreciates your kindness.”
As Rabbi Alter bowed, he poked his brothers, who bowed and remembered to smile and nod.
Zev shut the door...
The three started down the hill.
The others chided the young Rabbi: “What were you thinking?”

Suddenly, they heard someone running after them. Zev’s servant: “My master has more funds for you. Please return.”

Zev was waiting for them. “I have found more,” he said. He held out... another penny.
The eyebrows of the two older rabbis shot up in astonishment.
Alter, however, said, “How very wonderful.
Zev, you have a heart of gold.
What goodness, what a difference this is going to make to this young man’s life.”
He nudges the older rabbi’s who remember to smile and nod.

At that moment, the three rabbis saw a light go on in Zev’s eyes:
“Wait. Wait. I have more.”
In he went, to return with a rouble. One rouble.
Alter said, “Zev, what an extraordinary person you are. You are giving so much. Zev, we thank you.
We are so grateful to you,” he poked his brothers, who remembered to smile.
Zev said, “Okay, just wait here.”
Zev came back with another rouble.
They continued to smile. The older rabbis thought that this could take years, even centuries.

“Wait,” he said, and after a half hour he brought out ten roubles.
An hour went by and he gave them a thousand roubles,
then two thousand, then five, then....

Finally, the second miracle of the day:
Zev gave the necessary ten thousand roubles so that Yankel could be released from prison.

Then he stopped and said,
“This young orphan, Yankel, he doesn’t have a father... Who will be giving Yankel away?
What if I give him away? What do you think?”
“Wonderful idea,” they all agreed.

It was one of the happiest weddings anyone had ever attended.
There was singing and dancing. Zev danced with the bride. He danced with the groom.
In his happiness, he danced with almost everyone at the wedding.
Third miracle: the joy of giving overcame Zev and he realized that he couldn’t stop there.
Zev declares he will provide for the education of their children and for all the orphaned children in the town.

At the end of the party, in the early morning hours, the three rabbis returned to the synagogue. The two older ones asked Alter, “How did you know? How did you know it was Zev?”
“He was the only person with enough roubles to pay the bail was Zev,” reasoned Alter.
“Heaven knew Zev wanted to give.”

Every one of us wants to give of ourselves, but sometimes we don’t know how.
Our spiritual muscles are weak, untrained. We need some help.
Sometimes we think others aren’t doing enough but it may be that they are doing all that they can until they get the encouragement to build up their muscles and do more.
In the beginning Zev only knew how to give one penny.
We can help to open the hearts of those who don’t even know how eager they are to give.” Sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement.
(Adapted from Diane Wolkstein adaptation from Shlomo Carlebach’s telling as found in Parabola Spring 2013 edition))

Morning! caught anything? Cast your net on the other side.

I love Peter’s reaction…SPLASH!  He Jumps in the water to get to Jesus.
“Swim, Peter, Swim!
His buddies are thinking: “Don’t mind us and all these fish!”

In our baptisms, we have touched that water...Water that reminds us again and again. I’m on your side...I’m with you...I’ll never leave you...I promise. .  

There on the seashore, they break bread, they eat  fish. They can breath again.
Here at this table, we are fed, and filled, and encouraged to go fishing!  

Fish for people by sharing God’s love for the world …I promise you, you will discover life, again.