Monday, June 22, 2015

Friendship and Charleston

Yesterday I finished a sermon series called, "My Favorite Story."  We asked people from Chain of Lakes to share their favorite Bible stories and then interviewed people whose stories we chose.  Yesterday we looked at the story of Jesus and Peter on the beach.  At the end of the sermon I talked about how this story related to the horror of what happened in Charleston.  The video of the sermon can be found at:

One of the most important questions we will ever answer is the question, “who is Jesus?’  Our answer is important because what we say and believe about Jesus along with the intensity of our belief determines a lot about who we are as people.

It’s a hard question because how do we adequately describe in language, the Son of God.

Ever since Jesus entered the world people have wrestled with this question, “who is Jesus.” 

We have all sorts of titles for Jesus—Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Savior, Jesus is Messiah, Jesus is the Christ, Jesus is Suffering Servant, Jesus is King, Jesus is the Son of God.  These titles are true.  But unless we can get underneath the title and be clear about what they mean the title is really not that significant. 

On occasion Jesus asked his followers, “who do you say that I am?”  He wanted to know how people viewed him.  He wants to know how we view him.

Today I’m going to share an answer to the question, “who is Jesus.”  By the end of this sermon I’m going to give you two things.  I’m going to give you a one word response to the question, “who is Jesus?’ and I’m going to show how this response can impact the world. 

With that introduction let me share that I’m completing a four week sermon series today called, “My Favorite Story.”  A while ago I asked you to share your favorite Bible Story.  Many of you did.  For the past four weeks we’ve gone deep into each of the four stories.  The AIM of this series is simple—we want every person to have a grasp of the story and go deep into its meaning. 

We started the series by looking at the story of Mary and Martha.  This was a story that Lena Truong chose

We continued by looking at the story of Ruth.  This was a story that Paula Blair chose

Last Sunday Pastor Kate preached about Esther. 

Today we’re going to look at the story of Jesus and Peter on the beach.  This is Chris Audet’s favorite story.

To help us go deep into the story we’re sharing video interviews of each person who chose the story. 

I’ve written a devotion for you that revolves around the theme of friendship.  I encourage you to use it this week.  I think you’ll be blessed as you use it each day.  In the middle is a place to take notes.  I believe God might say something to you in this sermon that you’ll want to write down.  On the back is our congregation’s prayer requests. 

Let’s review the story of Jesus and Peter on the beach.  We only find the story in John’s gospel.  The story took place a few weeks after Jesus’ resurrection.  Seven disciples were gathered together.  Peter told the group he wanted to go fishing.  So the seven got into a boat and went fishing.  They fished all night and caught nothing.

Just after daybreak Jesus stood on a beach.  As they were in the boat the disciples didn’t know that the man who was standing on the beach was Jesus.  Jesus yelled to the guys, “You don’t have any fish, do you?”  They yelled back, “No.”  Jesus told them to put the net on the other side of the boat.  They did.  The net became full of fish. 

The disciple who was described later as the beloved disciple recognized that the man standing on the beach was Jesus.  He told Peter.  Peter was either naked or had some undergarments on.  When Peter saw Jesus he put on some clothes and jumped in the water to swim to shore. 

When the seven disciples got to shore they saw a charcoal fire.  It had fish and bread.  Jesus told the disciples to bring some of the fish that they had caught.  The disciples had caught a large amount of fish—153.  Jesus told the disciples, “come have breakfast with me.” Jesus gave them the bread, and he gave them the fish. 

A few weeks ago I interviewed Chris Audet about the story.  I started out by asking him what he liked about the story.  He shared this clip.  It’s about ninety seconds.

for me it kind of captures a sort of a poignant and fleeting moment.  Jesus has come back from the dead.  You’ve had the big reveal.  Mary Magdalene has seen him, his mother has seen him, the disciples, Peter, and even Thomas has seen him—he’s touched his side.  There’s been a lot of that initial interaction.  This is prior to him ascending. And leaving them and then the Holy Spirit coming down.  Kind of the last moment of them having a normal—like, the guys are out fishing.  They are excited.  Peter sees Jesus coming and says—wait a minute.  That’s Jesus.  I’m going to jump off the boat and go up to him

Paul:                      Kind of like this poignant moment

Chris:                     and then.  Just the fact of them coming together and.  Jesus made breakfast for them on the beach.  Kind of like.  it’s such a beautiful picture of just their relationship as friends.  Yes--he’ll ascend to heaven.  They’ll go out and be persecuted.    All of these things that will happen afterwards.  They even hinted at that.   At what might be coming or what to expect.  That moment.  It’s such a beautiful moment of friendship 

I loved what Chris said.  It’s a beautiful picture of their relationship as friends.  It’s such a beautiful moment of friendship. 

I think the story helps us with the question, “who is Jesus.”  Jesus is our friend.

I would encourage you to write this down.  Jesus is our friend.

This idea that Jesus is our friend is certainly not a new idea and on the surface it might not seem that significant of an idea.  But if we push into it, I think we can see it’s a powerful idea.

It wouldn’t surprise me if many of us question, “how can I be a friend with God?” 

How can we be friends with something as big and awesome and impersonal as the Creator of the Universe.  How can we be friends with perfection?  the holy?

If you’re like me you know that we haven’t led a life that is perfect.  We’ve made mistakes and sins.  We’ve done things that we’re not proud of. 

Perhaps some of us feel we’ve been casual or even apathetic about God.  For some of us perhaps coming to worship depends on how we feel when we wake up on a Sunday morning.             Or perhaps when we come to church and if we’re honest we have to admit that the importance of Jesus isn’t that high. 

What’s so cool about God is even though we’ve made mistakes, even though sometimes we’re apathetic, and even though we don’t value Jesus as much as we could—Jesus still wants to be our friend.

What’s so beautiful about this story is how Jesus embraced Peter.  Rember Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.  The night before Jesus was crucified Peter denied knowing Jesus.  He denied that Jesus was his friend, he denied that Jesus was his Lord, he denied even knowing Jesus. 

Jesus was still willing to say to Peter, “come have breakfast with me.”        

The point is we don’t have to wonder whether we can be a friend with God.  Our friendship starts with God’s desire to be friends with us.  Even if we’ve messed up, or we’re at a point where we’re casual about our faith, or we know our motivations are not quite right, Jesus still wants to be our friend
When I interviewed Chris I discovered that he understood this dynamic of friendship.  I asked him how this story has inspired him.  This is what he said: 

I had a really interesting experience about a year ago that involved that story.  I was really struggling with, you know, where I was in my relationship with God and what was going on with my life at the time.  One of the things that always bothered me about the story at the same time that I liked it so well is that it was something that seemed so fleeting.  It was going to end so soon.  The word I got or the impression I got is it doesn’t have to end.  We can be in that intimate relationship with Jesus and have breakfast with him.    It’s a quiet moment among friends.  Not this (you know) ongoing burden or pressure to fit an expectation.  It’s just, “come have breakfast with me.”  That was really precious to me. 

Jesus wants to be our friend.  It’s as if he asks us all the time, “come have breakfast with me.”

Having breakfast with friends is so much fun.  I remember last month I had breakfast with a friend—David Maghakian.  David just retired as pastor at New Life Presbyterian Church.  We hadn’t seen each other in a while, so we set up breakfast at Keys.  This breakfast was on a weekday.  And I had so much work to do that I wasn’t sure that I had time.  But when I got to Keys it became clear to me that this is where I needed to be.  David and I got caught up on our lives, we laughed a lot, we had fun with our waitress.  It was a beautiful moment of joy and fun and friendship.  Both of us were in the presence of something special.  When I reflect on that breakfast now I think, “I’d like to have a breakfast like that every day.”  We can have that breakfast every day. 

            In the interview I asked Chris about this invitation of “come have breakfast with me.” I asked him if this was a constant invitation from Jesus to us.  Chris was definitive in his answer. 
Yes.  It’s that he is Emmanuel.  He is God with us.  So in the midst of whatever we’re going through—the good, the bad, the busy, the frenetic—all the things that we’re dealing with on a day to day basis or even the extreme tragedies that happen.  He’s saying, “come away with me.” And have this time even in the midst of all this.  We can still sit down.  I’m not here to—I am here to change the world, but I’m not here to fix you.  I’m here to be with you. 

I love what Chris said about Jesus.  Jesus is not here to fix us.  He’s here to be present with us.  By experiencing that presence we can be inspired to become who we want to be and who God wants us to be. 

To say Jesus is our friend isn’t quite enough.  Let’s push into what an impact this can have on us and on the world.             

How does saying Jesus is our friend make an impact on the world?  I’ve thought about this as I’ve thought about the horrible tragedy that took place in South Carolina
This has been a really hard week for our country.  On Wednesday night Dylan Roof attended a Bible Study at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.   A hour into the Bible Study he started shooting people.  Nine people died and all of the victims were black. 
This was a hate crime.  Certainly Dylan Roof was targeting African-Americans.  Emmanuel AME Church is known in Charleston has a history of standing up for the African-American community.  Dylan Roof was intentional about the race of the people he murdered.
            I’d like for us to reflect on this tragedy for a moment through the lens of friendship.  I’ve done a lot of reading since Wednesday about Dylan Roof.  He didn’t have a lot of friends.  One article said that he had African-American friends, but it’s hard for me to imagine that he had many deep conversations about race with them.  Over the past few months he’s become a loner—he’s discarded his friends.  Dylan Roof didn’t have the type of friends who steered him in a better direction. 
            What’s so amazing about this story is how many of the families of the victims responded to Dylan Roof.  Did you see what many of them said to Dylan Roof at a pre-trial hearing on Friday?  They forgave him.  It’s as if they said, “I’m willing to be your friend—you who murdered my family.” 
When I first read about this I have to admit there is a part of me that thought, “they didn’t really mean that.  They are just saying that.”  I think it was authentic because of their faith.  These angels—and at that moment these people were messengers of God.  These people couldn’t have said something like that unless they knew at a very deep level that Jesus was their friend. 
What they did was a supernatural act.  People just don’t naturally forgive the murderer of their family.   People can’t do that unless at the core of their being they can say that Jesus is my friend.
One final point.  Our friends reveal a lot about us.

I want to encourage us to do something.  I have a challenge.  Make a list of your closest friends.  Put five people on the list.  After you have the list ask yourself, “How many have a different skin color than you; how many will vote for a different Presidential candidate in the next election; how many don’t believe in God.”  Do these people look like me and act like me and think like me?  Or do I have some diversity in my friends.

In the age of Social Media it seems that we live in an Echo Chamber.  We make comments and then many people just echo our comments.  If our friends are only an extension of our own identity, then we need some more friends. 

I love the people of Chain of Lakes.  One reason I love you is I come into contact with people who are very different than me.  We’re not trying to create an echo chamber at Chain of Lakes.  Let me give an example.

Two weeks ago Jonathan and Judith Tse celebrated the high school graduation of their son, Fon.  It was a really busy day for my family.  Amy and Hannah were going one direction and I was going another direction.  I decided to drive to Forest Lake for Fon’s graduation party. 

SLIDE            Here’s a picture of Jonathan and Judith and Fon.

I got there a bit early.  Fon and his friends were celebrating in the lower level of his home.  They were dancing and playing loud music.  Jonathan was sitting in the garage.  I hadn’t had the opportunity to talk to Jonathan for a while.  I went to the garage and we talked. 

We had a wonderful conversation.  Jonathan is one of the smartest people that I know.  He has a passion for the people Cameroon, his native country.  And he has ideas about how to help them.  The evening before he and many other Cameroonians had partcicipated in a fundraiser in St. Paul for a school in Cameroon.  It was fascinating to listen to Jonathan talk about this school and what a difference it was making in the lives of children.

That 45 minute conversation was one of the best conversations of my week. 

I thanked Jonathan for the conversation.  But I want to thank you—the people of Chain of Lakes for the conversation.  I would have never had that conversation if Chain of Lakes Church didn’t exist.  Our faith community has led Jonathan and me to be in relationship with each other.    

We’re not always going to be a small church.  But today we’re a small church.  But even in our small church we have people from many different countries—Cameroon, Mexico, Ghana, Haiti.    

We need this diversity.  We need communities where people will cross lines—whether it’s racial or political or class lines—to develop friendships.  The church is not called to be an echo chamber.  We are a community where strangers become friends. 

Friends, our friendships have resulted because Jesus was willing to say on a beach—come have breakfast with me.  That invitation has changed everything.

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