May Sermons


May 5, 2019 - 3rd Sunday of Easter - John 21:1-19

May 12, 2019 - 4th Sunday of Easter - John 10:22-30

May 19, 2019 - 5th Sunday of Easter - Guest Preacher Rev. Howard Boswell

May 26, 2019 - 6th Sunday of Easter



3rd Sunday of Easter - John 21:1-19


After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.3Simon 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. 4Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6He 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. 7That 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. 8But 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. 9When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11So 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. 12Jesus 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. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”



Interpretation of the Word 

For those of you who heard my Easter morning sermon, you might remember that I said that I wasn’t going to try and convince you that Jesus had been resurrected  and was really alive.  It is something that is difficult to explain and there are those who don’t necessarily believe it.  People, such as the Union Seminary President Serene Jones who shared in an interview with New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof, that she did not believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead.  She claimed this in part because “the gospels are all over the place” about the resurrection and she cited the fact that Mark, the earliest dated Gospel, brings down the curtain on his Gospel presenting only an empty tomb but before a single human being had as yet shared the news of any so-called resurrection.  It is true, that Mark ends in a confused if not frightened silence but that hardly means the gospels just generally end the story there or that Mark failed to notice a miracle had taken place.


And yes, the other two Synoptic Gospels, Luke and Matthew, don’t have very many verses post-resurrection, all of 4 and 5 verses respectively.  Jones would argue that this is exactly why it is difficult to “prove” resurrection and therefore believe in it.  However, this discounts the Gospel of John, while yes known for its very spiritual and poetic language, has 33 verses depicting a post-resurrection Jesus. Yet, when we take a look at these verses in John, as we have been the last week and this week, we might be a bit confused, perplexed even at the picture of Jesus that we see.  As you listened to the passage, did you notice this is not your typical pre-death Jesus story?  


This is not our typical pre-death Jesus story because if we take a look at what is going on in this text, we will notice maybe a few things that seem a little, ok a lot, of odd.  


First of all, Why were they fishing?  They were disciples, who had seen the risen Lord. So why had they gone back to fishing? Shouldn’t they be out telling others of what they had seen?  When we think of the disciples, we think of them as called away from their fishing for fish duties so that they might fish for men and women.  So now we are left wondering if they have gone back to their old lives, even though they have seen the risen Christ.  Did they give up on spreading the message?  Or were they trying to figure out a way to financially support their fledgling movement and they knew how to fish so they figured they would make a little money doing what they used to, in order to rent space, buy supplies, you know be bi-vocational.  Not unheard of in ministry.  


Ok, so what about the fact that they did not recognize Jesus?  They had all been in the upper room, so why did they suddenly a week or two later not recognize him again? Wasn’t Jesus with them most, if not all of the time.  What else was he doing if he wasn’t with the disciples?  It is just a little strange for Jesus to not be with them all the time and then when Jesus does reappear, the disciples don’t recognize him from a little ways out in the water.  Most if not all of us have been on the edge of the lake in those pre-dawn and dawn hours, and we have attempted to look across the lake, and can barely see the end of the dock, so maybe there was fog, or steam coming off the sea that made it difficult to see.  


We won’t get into the necessity for Peter to put on his clothing before jumping in to the sea to swim to Jesus.  Which actually turns out to make a bit of sense based on ancient fishing practices, according to a Texas A&M Nautical Archaeologist.


Alright then, but why was Jesus having a campfire?  Of all the things he COULD have been doing, and DID before his death, why is he sitting around a fire?  Was death really that cold, that Jesus needed to warm up by the fire?  But seriously, Jesus healed the sick, fed thousands, and so much more before he died and now, he is just hanging out on a beach.  Maybe though, this is exactly what the disciples needed, to be fed by their Master and Teacher.  Maybe they needed reassurance that the mission they had been called to was one they were really up for.  How many of us feel more suited for a mission AFTER we have been fed?  No one wants to work on an empty stomach. 


With all of these oddball things, and a few more unmentioned, going on in the story, we might be tempted to miss two very important things underlying in the text.  We might miss that this passage is about belonging and purpose. 


While Peter maybe the center of attention, we all know the feeling of needing to feel accepted by a larger group for who we are, foibles and all.  We all have this deep desire to belong.  So Peter maybe went fishing because he didn’t feel like he belonged any more or that he was worthy of being a part of disciples and the message that they were tasked with sharing.  So maybe that is why he turned back to his old life of fishing, but if we know Jesus, then he is going to use even our biggest mistakes to guide us on his path. 


Jesus wasn’t going to let Peter go so easily.  Jesus uses Peter’s old vocation to show him that trusting in the Lord and what Jesus tells them, will help them multiply their catch.  As painful as it might have been to have Jesus question Peter not once, not twice but three times about Peter’s love for Christ, this wasn’t meant shame Peter.  INstead it was meant to remind Peter that he BELONGS because he loves Jesus.  Jesus is reminding Peter that he not only belongs to the band of disciples, but more so he belongs to Jesus, and the mission he has been selected for.  


This passage reinforces this calling that Peter and the other disciples had even more so.  Before Jesus’ death they were followers of Jesus, now they are called to be leaders.  They all belong to Jesus, and his mission.  They didn’t have to return to their old lives, wondering what to do with themselves now that Jesus was gone. Which brings us to our second underlying message that this passage is about purpose.  Peter, and the disciples, need to know that what they are doing matters.  Jesus tells Peter and the disciples to Follow me.  He is also saying, “Follow the impluse of love wherever it leads, knowing that where love is, God is too, and therefore you will never be alone, no matter where you go.  Follow with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, trusting that all will be given until you when you do.”  Peter and the disciples need to know that it is not just some dream, but that it is important and that if they didn’t show up then someone would notice.  


Within the context of this passage, we, alongside of Peter, find that we have this same desire to belong and to have purpose in Christ’s mission here on earth.  Jesus is not just speaking to Peter, or the disciples here, but he is giving us the same invitation into a community where we belong and a lifetime of work worth doing with a sense of purpose.  Jesus meets us on the beaches, in the grocery store, in the book club, in the garden, in the fields, in the office, wherever we might be and calls out to us, and invites us to remember that we belong to a much larger mission.  We have a purpose that is so much bigger than our everyday existence.  


“But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Because, indeed, this story is not yet finished. There are so many other things that Jesus did that John couldn’t imagine writing them all. And there are so many things Jesus is still doing through each one of us here that the tale of them would fill all the books of the world.


4th Sunday of Easter - John 10:22-30


22At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”25Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.”


Some years ago a professor from Emory University relayed an experience he had in Moscow at a Russian Orthodox cathedral one Sunday morning during the worship service.  As was customary, the worshipers all stood for the entire service.  As is also typical of the Orthodox tradition, this soaring cathedral’s ceiling and walls were covered almost 100% with icons, bright paintings depicting the apostles, John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, and of course the Lord Jesus Christ himself.  At one point early in the service, the professor from Emory was staring up at some of the icons/paintings on the ceiling, admiring their beauty. Suddenly he felt someone whack him on the shoulder from behind.  Turning around, he saw an older man who then said to him, “You are disturbing the worship: this is not a museum!”  The Orthodox claim that they most certainly do not worship the icons nor do they merely admire them.  Rather icons are windows on the divine: you worship God by seeing God through them.  The professor merely staring at the icons was messing up everyone else’s worship.


Jesus’ miracles were like that, and Jesus makes this clear in John 10.  People were supposed to see God through the miracles.  They were not supposed to get hung up on the sign itself but follow to the place to which the sign pointed.  Maybe that’s why in John 2 even something like turning water into wine was said by John to have been a great sign of Jesus “glory.”  From the outside looking in, there does not seem to be much “glorious” about Jesus providing wine to already besotted wedding guests.  But if you looked through the miracle to see the divine Father standing there, well, then there was glory enough to go around!


Understanding this is not always easy though.  Understanding is a cognitive process.  It implies perceiving  the intended meaning of words and language and events.  Belief, on the other hand, goes a step further.  Belief requires an acceptance of something as true.  Jesus encountered a whole variety of people in his own day who understood his words and languages and events but did not believe them. They did not know that they could see God through him.  Christians in our own day need not look far to find those who are more concerned with understanding religious arguments and theological claims than believing in the One who is the object of religion and theology: The God revealed in and through Jesus Christ.


God who shepherds us, who leads and loves us, who is with us in the midst of all the ish that is life.  This is who Jesus is point us to, just like those icons on the ceiling and walls, we see a God who loves us.  This is a God, who fights to be our God, our one and only God.  This shepherding God, leads us out of slavery, comes to us through the prophets, renews and revives us when we are in exile and calls out to us to hear and respond to the voice of love.  


Author of Holy Textures: understanding the Bible in its own time and ours,  David Ewart, suggests that "The challenge for most mainline Christians is not following Jesus. We've been taught pretty well about that. The challenge for us is recognizing Jesus' voice."  Maybe, we are struggling to hear or understand Jesus’ voice in the midst of all the other noise out there in the world.  There sure is a whole lot of noise too, and some of that noise even comes from others who call themselves “Christians”.  It becomes increasingly difficult to hear the voice of Jesus, when it is wrapped up in falsities and things that are just unkind, and unloving, things that are anything but Jesus-like.  So it is important to be able to distinguish the voice of Jesus from the noise and the lies and the hatred and the lies that are being spread in the name of “Christianity.”  


I bet as a child you could distinguish YOUR mother’s voice from anyone else’s in a crowd.  There are some who say that a newborn baby can distinguish their mother’s voice at birth.  I am not 100% sure about that, but I can tell you that when Elleanor was just weeks old, she knew my voice.  She would look towards it, and once she developed the capacity to smile for more than just gassy reasons, her looking was accompanied by a smile.  Jesus wants us to have that same kind of recognition with him.  Do we necessarily hear the direct voice of Jesus, probably not, but we know when Jesus is speaking, when we hear the call to feed my lambs and tend my sheep, and care for creation, and love one another as Jesus has loved us, then we hear and understand the voice of Jesus.  Jesus wants us to not only hear his voice but to know it and respond to it, so that when we respond, we become windows through which the rest of world can see  who Jesus is, God with us. 


We, as the church and people of faith, need to be like those icons in the Russian Orthodox church, and the miracles of Jesus.  Not museum pieces and not parlor tricks, but windows through which the world can see and even experience the glory and love of God.  The world needs to be able to see God through the church, universal and local.  


We are windows through which people can see God and maybe even experience the love of Christ.  If people can’t see that love, because of our own personal fears that are stoked by politics, by the media, by people who look and act and love differently, or by some other earthly threat, then we need to reassess, re-evaluate, and return to the heart of the gospel, we need to listen for Jesus’ voice, and not only hear it but understand it.  


John 10 challenges to us to wonder if we always know what is what with Jesus and with being his disciple.  It kind of looks like pausing and listening to see if we recognize the voice of the one who calls us.  It kind of look like understanding with our whole selves the charge of our Shepherd to lean into where Jesus calls us to go.  It kind of looks like living lives of faith that allows people to see Jesus through us.  May it be so this day and always.  Amen.


“How Will They Know?”

John 13:31-35

Sermon Preached by the Reverend Dr. Howard W. Boswell, Jr.

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 19, 2019

Kirk O’Cliffs Presbyterian Church

Mineral, Virginia


Before I read from John’s Gospel, I want to thank Lindsey and the session for the kind invitation to be with you all on this wonderful occasion. I think I’ve known Lindsey for over ten years now. Through a series of circumstances, which I won’t share with you at this time, Lindsey became a member of my congregation and the Presbytery of Western New York ordained her at Kenmore Presbyterian Church, where I served for 19 years. I suspect you know it already, but God blesses you through Lindsey’s ministry.


A reading from John, chapter thirteen, verses thirty-one through thirty-five:

 When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.  Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." 


This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.


Today, we celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism for Elleanor Jane Williams. Now, you notice that I said, “We,” not, “I.” As I understand what we do here today, there are at least four parties present: Elleanor, of course; Lindsey and Roy; all you all (I love being back in Virginia!); and God.


You notice I didn’t include myself. Probably I fit best with the third party, “all you all,” but as both preacher and celebrant, my job is to proclaim God’s word and to provide a framework for us to make promises to God for Elleanor. It would be difficult for me to say how many times I’ve filled this role over the last thirty-four years, but let’s say that it’s more than a few. Whenever we baptize a baby, the celebrant, presider, minister, whatever asks a series of questions. 


Today, I will ask Lindsey and Roy whether they want Elleanor to be baptized. Since we’re all here together, I think the answer to that question will be a resounding, “I do!”


Yet, the second question is always where the rub is, “Relying on God’s grace do you promise to nurture Elleanor Jane in the life and faith of the Christian community?” Now, Lindsey and Roy, I have no doubt that you will say, “I do,” but I want to make sure you understand this promise.  Now, I thought I knew nearly everything about baptism before our daughter, Kate was baptized thirty years ago, but over the last three decades, I realized how little I really understood. 


Lindsey and Roy, to nurture Elleanor Jane in the life and faith of the Christian community means more than making sure she comes to worship and Sunday School. It even means more than worship at home, if you do that. I think it means that you nurture Elleanor Jane in the life and faith of the Christian community by loving her and loving one another. It’s why the question begins, “Relying on God’s grace.” We need to know we’re loved in order to show love.


Friends, I will ask you whether you “promise to guide and nurture Elleanor Jane by word and deed, with love and prayer.” Also, I will ask you to “encourage her to know, trust, and follow Christ and to be a faithful member of his church.” Now, I’ll admit over the last thirty-four years, I’ve used those questions to guilt folks into being Sunday School teachers. I’m not proud of it, but I have. 


Yet, I want to tell you something. You may know it already, but it bears repeating. Every church in everything it does teaches people who Jesus is. Let me say it again, “Every church in everything it does teaches people who Jesus is.” 


I cannot remember who said it, but I heard long ago, “The faith is not so much taught, but caught.” Through “word and deed, with love and prayer,” we bring Elleanor Jane, other children, and others “to know, trust, and follow Christ and to be faithful members of his church.”


It reminds me of what Jesus said and did to his disciples on the night Judas betrayed him. In John, during dinner, Jesus got up and washed the disciples’ feet. He told them, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” Now, I’m not saying all we need to do is break out towels and basins and begin to wash one another’s feet. Yet, I am saying Jesus left us with an example of how we are to be together, servants of the Servant Lord, able to place ourselves at one another’s disposal.


Later, after Judas left, Jesus turned to the eleven and he said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Nowadays, churches ask, “How will they know?” We wonder what attracts people, what people need. Let me make it present. When all is said and done, how will Elleanor Jane know?


Here’s what I think. When I was in ninth grade, I started going to Youth Group at my church.  Every Sunday evening, we’d begin with singing and one of the songs we sang nearly every week went,

“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 be one day be restored:

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love;

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”


Listen: when people talk about why they don’t go to church, why they think of themselves as spiritual and not religious, they point to Christians. They believe in Jesus, but they aren’t sure whether we do or not. Friends, we are the only living reminder that Jesus walked this earth. It is up to us to show Elleanor Jane, other children, one another, and others that there is a God who knows them through and through and loves them still and all. How will they know? “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”


January 20, 2020


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