So as you can tell from this morning’s singing and dancing and energy, this past week was CVBS. That’s Community Vacation Bible School. That’s a program where we partner with eight other churches to put on 40 different Vacation Bible School’s in houses and front yards and back yards and parks all over three counties. Over a thousand children heard the gospel message from start to finish this past week and we pray that the work begun in these children and in their families will be brought to the completion by the God whose grace never lets us go. It’s a God and a grace we are going to talk about and celebrate this morning as well.
My earliest memories of Vacation Bible School involved writing on a white board in permanent marker. My mom was setting up her room to teach while my brother and I and the other teacher’s son watched movies, played games, and got into a little bit of trouble. Sorry Messiah UMC Trustees. But I remember being in Vacation Bible School every year as a child. I volunteered with VBS in high school and college. And when I felt a call to ministry and started looking back on my life I remembered a couple moments in VBS when I began asking questions and talking and thinking a little bit differently than my peers and saw the roots of my call beginning even then. So VBS is a big part of my story of faith and it will be a big part of some of these children’s stories of faith.
If you had to reduce the gospel to five sentences, what would you say? If you had to reduce our faith to five phrases, what would they be? If you had to reduce the grand story of Scripture to ten words, what would those words be? This past week our children learned the following: “God rules. We sinned. God provided. Jesus gives. We respond.” That was the gospel distilled into five phrases and each phrase served as the theme for a days lesson. And taken together, I think it’s a pretty good cliffs notes of the Christian faith.
Most of us gathered here for worship have no trouble with the first four. We know that there is a God, an amazing all powerful awesome creator God. This God made everything there is from the largest star to the tiniest quantum particle. This God ordered the universe. And this God has made Himself known to us through creation and through covenant. However, our response to this faithful God was to be unfaithful ourselves. We have sinned, we have hurt God, and we have hurt each other. Our desires are disordered and oftentimes instead of seeking the blessings of God or others we seek to satisfy our own wants. However, that is not the end of our story.
Instead of leaving us to our own devices, God joins us where we are and comes into the middle of our mess. God tries to lead us in the way of righteousness and when that goes not work, when that does not sort us out completely, Jesus gives his life to reestablish and restore our relationship with God. Through the life, death, and resurrection of God we have new life as children of the living God. As Paul puts it, once we were no people, but now we are God’s people. This is what our God has done for us and this is why we are here today.
But yet, there’s still one more part of that Gospel. There’s still one more part of the way of discipleship. You see, its easy to give ascent to a gospel that says God gives, we sin, Jesus saves. That mostly is about us being who we are and God doing things on our behalf. Where we stumble is on knowing what to do next. Where we get tripped up is in what happens after Jesus saves us. What do we do? Even if we want to respond, it can so often be hard to know what responding looks like.
Now don’t get me wrong, we’re here today in an attempt to respond to what God has done in our lives. Coming to church, coming to worship, that’s our response to what God is doing. But what else are we to do? It feels like there should be something more, it feels like our response to what God has done, making us his people, should require more of us than one hour a week. And yet what does that response entail?
We are not the first to have this question. We are not the first to wonder what we should do in light of God’s mighty acts in Jesus Christ. There’s this great story of the disciples in John’s Gospel after the crucifixion of Jesus, after the resurrection of Jesus, that gets at this very question.
John 21:1-13 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas also known as Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him for he had taken it off and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.
So just a quick bit of backstory before we dive right into the text. This story is about the risen Jesus appearing to his disciples. But this is not the first time the risen Jesus has appeared to his disciples. Jesus appeared to Mary on that first Easter Sunday and she told the rest of the group. Then Jesus appeared to the disciples, well all of them except for Thomas. They disciples told Thomas and he, say it with me now, doubted. So Jesus appeared to all the disciples including Thomas.
And then John tells us that Jesus did many more signs and wonders that are not mentioned in this book. So ostensibly the risen Jesus might have appeared to his disciples more times than even this awe just don’t have a record of it! And all of this happens in John before we get to our story this morning.
So Jesus has appeared to either Mary or the disciples at least three times. They have had this moving, powerful, world shattering experience of the crucified and dead Jesus rising from the dead and appearing in their midst. Multiple times. And Jesus has spoken with them, taught with them, been with them. And our story begins with the disciples going fishing.
Why is this detail important? Well we have a list of the disciples that were there and went fishing. The first person mentioned is Simon Peter. Another couple mentioned are the sons of Zebedee. And for those three, along with Peter’s brother Andrew, before they were disciples of Jesus they were fisherman. So even after Jesus has appeared to them, showing that the cross and death did not have the final word, Peter means to go back to his old life. He wants to go back to fishing.
And this is so normal, isn’t it? I know in my spiritual life there are countless times when I have had an amazing experience of grace, when I’ve been on a mission trip or a retreat, and come back knowing that my life is forever changed. And then before you know it, I’m right back to doing things the way that I’ve always done them. Instead of going fishing for people I’ve just gone back to fishing.
This Scripture lesson and this sermon are coming out of the Bible story lesson from day 5 of CVBS. Day 4 was about understanding that Jesus’ death and resurrection restore and repair a relationship with God. And it is incredibly important for Christians to tell that story to their children. Seeing ourselves as being redeemed by Christ, seeing our relationship with God restored is the central piece of the Christian faith. And yet it is imperative that we understand that the story doesn’t end there. It is imperative that we understand there is an additional part to this. It is crucial that whether it is in teaching our children or in talking about it ourselves that we see our need to respond. Because it is so easy to see ourselves as children of God and then to stop there. It’s so easy to experience the resurrection and stop there. It’s what the disciples did. And it’s what we can do too.
So they go fishing and they don’t have any luck. They’re out fishing all night and catch nothing. When all of a sudden they see a random guy on the shore who cries out to them, “Hey, why don’t you try the other side of the boat!” Which I just love. They’ve been out there all night long and the advice they get on how to be successful is to try the other side. It sounds like a taunt. But Peter tries it anyway, though I can’t imagine his annoyance, and wouldn’t you know, the stranger was right. More fish than the net could hold are caught. And all of this makes sense because the stranger was Jesus.
They go over to Jesus who eats breakfast with them and then there’s the following exchange between Jesus and Peter.
John 21: 14-19 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Now there is a ton of imagery and allusion in this passage. Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves Jesus three times just as Peter denied Jesus three times. Jesus talks about his sheep resuming the language of Jesus being our shepherd. And we have this wonderful imagery that Jesus employs to talk about Peter’s own crucifixion.
But what I want to talk about what’s going on in this passage in the plain sense. Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” That’s a question we are all asked as we come to see ourselves as children of God, as we come to see ourselves as redeemed and restored people. God in Jesus Christ loves us. We in turn love God. But again we have this nagging sense of what does that mean? What does that mean for our lives? What does that mean we should do?
Peter had shown that he wasn’t sure what it meant. What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus apart from literally following Jesus around? Jesus gives Peter a command and in it is the answer we seek. “Feed my lambs.” Again Peter is asked does he loves Jesus. And Jesus says “Tend my sheep.” A third time Peter is asked does he love Jesus. And Jesus says “Feed my sheep.”
When we look at what it means to respond to Jesus, when we look at what it means to live out our relationship with God, how we do that is service. How we do that is service to the people Jesus loved so much he served, loved so much he healed, loved so much he died for. How we do that is through serving our neighbors.
That is why the end of our mission statement and the end of our discipleship process is at we live lives of service. That’s why, here at Spirit & Life, we encounter Jesus in worship and in small groups all directed to us serving our neighbor. We believe that responding to an encounter of Jesus, responding to meeting God in worship and growing deeper in our faith in small groups, is about service. That is how we take what we do in here and let it make an impact out there.
We had a great week at CVBS. We had fun singing we had fun dancing we had fun playing games and making crafts. We learned a lot about God and a lot about Jesus and a lot about our faith. The same thing is true for what we do here at Spirit & Life. I like to think we have a lot of fun in worship. I know there is a lot of fun had in small groups. And I know that there is a lot of deep learning and incredible connection both with God and with others that happen in this space for worship and in people’s homes for small groups.
But the disciples didn’t learn from Jesus, worship Jesus and then stay in their small band alone together. The end for them wasn’t simply following Jesus, the end for them was following Jesus by serving the world.
Similarly the end for us is not just worshipping and being in relationship with God. The end for us is serving God all our lives through serving the world. Now, we might ask how do we serve the world? How do we, like Peter, feed and take care of Jesus’s sheep.
The genius of CVBS is that is allows kids to use their circle of influence to serve others and introduce others to God. As a kid your circle of influence are the kids who live near you. The kids who you see in school, the ones you see at the pool, the ones you see at the library, the ones you see at the playground. When we put a CVBS is someone’s front yard we unleash children to be missionaries in their neighborhoods and say come have fun at my house this week. Now I’m about to steal something from my bishop so if you saw the Annual Conference worship service last week and you think what I’m about to say sounds familiar, yeah I stole it from her. She won’t mind. What is your circle of influence? No, really. Say it to me. What is your circle of influence?
Those are your sheep. And you need to feed them with the very word of God. You need to give them the living water. You need to introduce them to Jesus.
But there’s a second dimension to service that’s about taking what we do in here on Sunday mornings and have it directly impact the world out there.
But when I think about how what we do in here can have an impact out there, I think about a Sunday in April when we packaged 10,000 meals to send abroad. I think about a young person spearheading a project to make 100 health kits to send to people who have to flee their homes. I think about the Sundays we spent collecting things for CVBS as people brought in Capri suns and rice Krispy treats for children they’ll never meet. I think about the countless times we have participated in the Feed My Sheep program. And it’s when we do those things that what we do in here isn’t just confined to this space. It isn’t just confined to this day. Suddenly that day, that hour, becomes something bigger.
If these children respond to God’s love and working in their life, CVBS will be about something much bigger than one week and much more important than fun. If these children respond to God and become disciples, serving in our world, than CVBS will be something bigger.
But I want to make CVBS bigger than just that one week, I want to make CVBS not just a thing in the past. I want to challenge all of us here to respond to God’s love and to show our children how to respond to God’s love. I want us in the next couple weeks to collect one can of food for every child that attended CVBS that we can donate to ACTS. There were __ children that went to CVBS. Which means we need to collect __ number of cans of food.
On the ACTS website they say they are in desperate need of canned vegetables, canned fruits, canned beans, canned tomato sauce, and canned soup.
Will you do that with me? Will you respond to God and serve the world with me? Will you show our children how we are to respond to God’s love in the world?