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05.16.21 Normal. Not Going Back, but Going Beyond l John 21.1-19 Sermon Summary

by on May 18, 2021

So many people want to return to normal, and I say “yes!” if normal has been interrupted by pandemic. But what about when normal has been interrupted by resurrection? Nonetheless, things were returning to normal for Jesus’ disciples according to one story in the Gospel according to John

The disciples were together, but not all of them. Some of them were named and others just mentioned. This is important to note, because it invites us into the story. We often feel like disciples that aren’t name-worthy.

They appear to have ceased expecting Jesus and so Peter says, “I’m going fishing” and the others join him. They have no luck all night. Then at daybreak—the beginning of a new day—the long night comes to an end. Here is an allusion to Resurrection, and Jesus appears, though he is unrecognized. After all, they weren’t expecting him.

Suddenly the disciples have a miraculous catch of fish and return to shore to discover that Jesus has prepared breakfast with fish he already had. Jesus invites the disciples to bring some of their fish also. The story ends with Jesus feeding them, though now in the meal they recognize him.

There is a coda to the story having to do with Jesus and Peter. Three times Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep. Peter seems concerned about the others, but Jesus assures him, “If you love me over these, feed my sheep.”

Peter has been selected, like the original Deacons in Acts 6, to feed the people of God. But why is Peter selected?

One reason is because Jesus enjoys including us. Like the disciples’ fish during breakfast, Jesus invites us to participate. He doesn’t save us apart from us. He doesn’t redeem the world apart from the church’s ministry. And he doesn’t feed his sheep without selecting some to assist. 

Another reason is because Peter loves Jesus. In his love, he is committed to putting the will of Jesus over the desires of his peers. 

A third reason Peter is selected is because Peter will follow. Jesus tells him that even when it gets hard, even when he is led where he doesn’t want to go, Peter will follow.

Today we give thanks for ordered ministries Class of 2021, for our Ruling Elders and Deacons who are rotating off their boards at Pentecost next week. This class’ ordinary terms began in 2018, and our thanks for this class must begin with gratitude for the Nominating Committees of 2018 and 2020. 

Ruling Elders serve on the Session. Since 2018 members of the class of 2021 had the experienced the following leadership challenges. They were the ones who finalized sabbatical planning with me, and on top of that they planned our congregational renewal. This is the class that created the Renewal Commission. These achievements occurred in the first year of Tom K and Cathy W’s term.

Then the Session led the church through the Sabbatical and Congregational Renewal they had planned. They managed staff turnover in children and youth ministries and conducted the post-sabbatical follow up. Shortly after this the pandemic began and we had staff turnover again. 

We had to make decisions about building and its use for worship, education, and fellowship. The Ruling Elder Ordination Question is: “Will you be a faithful ruling elder, watching over the people, providing for their worship, nurture, and service? Will you share in government and discipline, serving in governing bodies of the church, and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?” The pandemic challenged Sessions all around the nation with how to do this faithfully.

Isabella W joined the Session in 2020. We had to confront financial challenges, including getting the Paycheck Protection Program Loan. The Session created the Revision Committee to assist with building and technology planning, faced more money issues, and deliberated when to reopen the building.

Some of this work is ongoing, and the incoming class of 2024 will take it up. But this Session and the class of 2021 leave a solid foundation.

My personal quote from class of ’21 member Tom K is, “Well, we’ve managed once again to stretch forty-five minutes of material into two hours of meeting.” (Often it was three hours.) Cathy W is a professional librarian. She provided literature review and other research for the Session. She first served as a youth elder many years ago, and I had the opportunity to serve with her for that year. Now she represents a generational bridge and offers valuable nuanced perspectives whenever asked. (One often has to ask and never regrets doing so.)

You’ve heard the phrase, “Baptism by fire”. That was the experience of youth elder Isabella W. Shouldn’t it really be, “Baptism by White Water Rapids”? Isabella was ordained and installed during the pandemic and she contributed to extraordinarily consequential decisions for our congregation.

Our Clerk Marilyn S, who is the longest person serving Session except for me, remarked recently, “I can’t remember a Session having accomplished so much.” I agree. Let us give thanks to God for the Session class of 2021!

The Deacons class of ’21 also started in 2018. The Deacons have the additional challenge of rotating board leadership every year. Recently they have had the benefit of Commissioned Pastor Barb G as a consultant, and honorary class of ’21 volunteer the Honorably Retired Rev. Susan H. 

The Deacons carried additional responsibilities through the Clergy Sabbatical and Congregational Renewal by maintaining close contact with you and offering you extraordinary pastoral care. 

Because of the pandemic, they moved their meetings online which is hard for people-people like Deacons. They came up with creative ways of caring since there would no longer be incidental social contact during worship.

It was the Deacons who delivered the resources for worship to you during Advent and Lent. They have fielded additional requests for financial assistance, and had to make ministry adjustments related to IHN and GAMAM.

From the class of 2021 I am grateful for the minutes of Kathy K. Since I can’t make every Deacon meeting, her minutes kept me current. You might want to reach out to the Ks. I predict Tom and Kathy may suffer from some depression given the vacuum their leaving the Session and Deacons will create in their lives. Or maybe we should ask one then other out, since they may need a break from one another now that they’re not meeting all the time.

As a Deacon, Pat W has managed her Faith family while also managing her large extended biological family, oftentimes simultaneously. (I know something about this.) Still, she has rendered faithful, creative service. (I pray the same may be said also of me.)

Mary M. is concluding her second term as a deacon during my pastorate. Both times she was the moderator. I’ll always admire Mary as the moderator wo moves business along! She is immediately responsive. Don’t run a mere idea by Mary because if you change your mind you’ll discover she’s already begun to run with it.

The Ordination Question for Deacons is: “Will you be a faithful deacon, teaching charity, urging concern, and directing the people’s help to the friendless and those in need? In your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?” This class of 2021 with all the Deacons have earned our thanks many times over for answering this question so faithfully.

It seems we are close to returning to normal. Praise and thanks be to God. But let’s go beyond normal! May Jesus surprise us on the other side. Let us continue to feed his sheep, following him, and following the example set by the Ruling Elder and Deacon classes of 2021.

One Comment
  1. Susan Hartley permalink

    Thanks Tom, for the recognition of me and all of the elders and deacons. Great sermon.

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