Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why Death?

As I read the gospel for this Sunday (All Saints’ Sunday), I can’t stop wondering why. Why did Jesus wait before heading to see his sick friend? Why does he get so emotional at the tomb? Why does he raise Lazarus back to life but not bring back so many other people whose sisters and mothers and brothers and children missed them? Even more foundationally—why death itself? Why?

Preparing for a sermon this Sunday, I am reminded of some funerals I’ve been a part of recently. Although the context—like the readings—changes with each death, the message for the moment is largely the same. We have hope in the midst of loss. More directly, we believe that even death—the representation of our greatest loss—cannot withstand the life-giving power of God as revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Although this Sunday isn’t a funeral, it’s a chance to say the same thing.

The “why” questions go deeper than the ins and outs of the gospel lesson. Mary’s “why weren’t you here” becomes our “why did this happen?” And our puzzlement at Jesus’ weeping invites us to ask what good could possible come from the death of a loved one. But Jesus takes us to that point. He lets Lazarus die to help us answer those questions, but the answers we get aren’t direct. They’re subtle, round-about answers that point us to bigger, more important conclusions that a simple “why” would ask. Jesus shows us that, regardless of why a death happens, death doesn’t win. Why? Because Jesus has the power to defeat death. We might not ever know why someone dies just as we might not understand why Jesus let his friend die unnecessarily, but we do know that there is hope beyond this life.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Simon and Jude Who?

Sometimes advice isn’t really worth getting it. In John 15 (the gospel lesson for Sts. Simon & Jude), Jesus outlines for his disciples what life will be like because of their discipleship, and I wonder whether they wanted to hear it. “By the way,” Jesus explained, “if the world hates you, maybe you’ll be comforted in knowing that it hated me first.” Yeah, thanks a lot.

If you were trying to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to those who hadn’t heard it or at least hadn’t accepted a call as his disciples, how would you phrase the message? “Become a disciple of Christ and the world will hate you!” Hmmm, maybe not. And that has me wondering…why did the early Christians accept such a call—especially in a world in which followers of Jesus could have been tortured and killed because of their faith?

Many early Christians considered it a badge of honor to meet their death in Jerusalem just as their Lord had. Part of what it meant to really, really believe in Jesus was to accept a miserable fate in a world that hated them. And that might be true today in some parts of the world, but not many. Not that long ago (mid-19th-century), missionaries would leave home and head overseas expecting never to return. They considered it a badge of honor to give up everything to take the good news to undeveloped places. And that might be true of a few missionaries today, but not many. What happened to discipleship?

As I read Jesus’ advice for his followers and remember Simon and Jude, of whom we know virtually nothing, I feel God calling me to accept the anonymity and obscurity of discipleship. It’s easy to be a Christian in this world, but it’s hard to be a disciple. Discipleship is walking a path that isn’t of this world—so much so that the world might even hate us. That hatred might not be persecution or violence. It might be as simple as walking out of step with the values of society.

I like this quotation about Simon and Jude from

As in the case of all the apostles except for Peter, James and John, we are faced with men who are really unknown, and we are struck by the fact that their holiness is simply taken to be a gift of Christ…Holiness does not depend on human merit, culture, personality, effort or achievement. It is entirely God's creation and gift. (full text here)

Being a disciple means accepting a call that isn’t confirmed or validated by the world around us. The only status by which we are judged is the life of him who walked before us.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Learning to Listen Like James

How many public figures have had to dodge the bad press that comes from a notorious sibling? Didn’t Clinton have a half-brother, whom he later pardoned for a cocaine conviction in the 1980s? Likewise, there are plenty of Internet stories about Obama’s alcoholic half-brother, who lives in a Nairobi slum. Can these really be the brothers of presidents?

One day, while trying to teach in his hometown synagogue, Jesus was interrupted by the people’s murmuring: “Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Aren’t his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? Who does he think he is?” Even Jesus, it seems, was known by his siblings—a burden he tried to shake: “Prophets are not without honor except in their home town.” The backstories that everyone knew made it hard for them to believe in the otherworldliness of Jesus.

And then there’s James. Who was he? The bishop of Jerusalem? The author of the book in the New Testament that bears his name? Today’s reading from Acts suggests he was a leader of the early church. In the middle of a controversy, he spoke up with a clear and clarifying voice of reason—a gift the church needs today. As the debate over the role and identity of Gentile Christians  rolled on, James made a simplifying point: “…we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.”

Sounds simple enough. What must a Gentile do to become a Christian? Let’s keep it simple. Avoid meat sacrificed to idols, steer clear of fornication, and don’t eat strangled or blood food. Those three things should let us move forward as a church and get past this controversy. It was a case of adiaphora—determining what wasn’t important enough to fight over. If that word sounds familiar, it’s probably because the Windsor Report, which was developed in 2004 as a response to the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. What must we agree on? What can we just let go? Whatever your position on issues of human sexuality, I hope you can see an attempt to maintain the unity of the church in the Report’s language.

Again and again, we face challenges in the church—things that threaten to tear us apart. What matters? What can we let go of? James seemed to rise above his label as the unworthy brother of Christ. To the early church, he contributed by listening and sharing what he heard. He started with the scriptures, but he listened with an ear for what was needed to hold everything together. It was, in fact, a creative listening. He was willing to let go of some important things (circumcision) because he knew that unity in others (blood, fornication, idols) was more important as a way of holding the church together. Who out there is listening and reinterpreting the way James did? How can we all learn to listen like James? 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Next Stop: Jerusalem!

The season after Pentecost is coming to a close in a few weeks. Several things give that away. First, it’s almost November, the first Sunday of which is usually observed as All Saints’ Sunday. In most years, there are only three Sundays after that before Advent starts. Second, we’re up to Proper 25 this week, and there are only 29 “propers” (or appropriate, appointed lessons) for this season, so we must be close Finally, we can tell that we’re almost finished because this Sunday’s gospel lesson (Mark 10:46-52) also signals that Jesus’ life is coming to a close.

As Mark tells the story of Jesus’ ministry, he only includes one trip to Jerusalem—the final, triumphant, and tragic one. And, right before Jesus enters the city (Palm Sunday), Mark tells us the story of blind Bartimaeus. If you flip the page in your bible, you’ll see that the very next verse (11:1) begins, “Now when they drew near to Jerusalem…” So this is it. This is the very last story before the intensity of Jesus’ last days begins. The pattern of the Christian year is to take us through Jesus’ ministry during the season after Pentecost, leading us back to the cross in time for the final Sunday of the season. Although a conversation about it will have to wait for a few Sundays, in recent years, that Sunday has been called “Christ the King,” and we can see the tension between Christ’s kingship (expressed through the cross) and the kingships of the world (usually expressed through earthly power).

But back this Sunday’s reading. Mark gives us one last intentionally evangelistic moment before the chaos in Jerusalem unfolds. And this is the first time in Mark’s gospel that someone who is healed is invited to follow Jesus. Usually (think of the demon-possessed man who lived by the tombs), Jesus says, “No, you can’t follow me. Stay here.” But this time Bartimaeus gets up and walks the last few miles behind Jesus and into Jerusalem. Why Bartimaeus? Why now?

Every preacher who has had to preach more than once in the last six weeks is familiar with the “cost of discipleship” theme that seems to pervade Mark 9 & 10. We’ve had terribly uninviting lessons like “pluck out your eye” and “divorce + remarriage = adultery” and “sell everything you have.” If we’re going to treat this gospel lesson for what it really is—the last reading in this series—we can’t ignore that focus on how much it costs to follow Jesus.

Bartimaeus is in the unique position of literally following Jesus for a few steps (verses) before reaching Jerusalem. (Actually, Jericho isabout 34 miles away, but Mark doesn’t care. He’s never really been a good geography student, and he’s not going to allow this detail to get in the way of a good story.) Unlike all of the other would-be disciples, Bartimaeus won’t have a chance to get distracted. If he’s going to follow Jesus, it will be to the end. The rest may have only been interested in walking the path for a little while before letting disillusionment set it. This time, Bartimaeus won’t have a chance to get distracted. His discipleship leads straight to rejection, pain, torture, and death.

How long is it on our own path of discipleship before we reach adversity? For the last two chapters of Mark, Jesus has been getting his closest followers ready for the trouble that awaits them. And, if we’ve been taking his words seriously, he’s been getting us ready as well. If we’re going to follow him now, it will be through the hardship he’s been describing. Like Bartimaeus, some of us never get the chance to walk a comfortable road as disciples. Others walk a long way before we reach trouble. Either way, we are promised that the path won’t be easy. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Disemboweled by a Lion

After the teacher posted the cast list in our classroom, several people asked me, "Are you glad to be the Narrator?" "Sure," I replied (lying). "That's the best part in the whole play." I was asked by friends, other teachers, my parents--everyone wanted to know about my part. "Yes," I assured them (lying again), "I don't even have to memorize my lines." The truth was that I wanted to be Ebeneezer Scrooge in our class's production of A Christmas Carol. Why would anyone want to be the Narrator? As I remember, Michael Fillingim got the part I wanted, but I wouldn't dare let anyone know it.

How often does that happen in our lives? Someone asks us how we like our new job, and we reply, "I love it. I was ready for a change (fired)." Someone asks if we're recovering from the death of our father, and we tell her, "Yes, actually I am really thankful that he is at peace (haven't slept in weeks)." Someone asks if we like our new house, and we say, "We feel so at home now that we've downsized to a house that's right for us (couldn't afford it)." We try to convince others that the crisis we're facing isn't really a crisis. But, when we do, I think we're really trying to convince ourselves.

Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch. He was arrested and tried by the Romans and sentenced to die in the arena of the capital city. He was shipped from Turkey to Rome, stopping along the way as an example to other Christians of what might happen to them if they did not abandon their newfangled faith. But, instead of having the desired effect, parading Ignatius around only encouraged the faithful. That's because Ignatius embraced his fate with amazing confidence. To his admirers, he wrote, "I am God's wheat, ground fine by the lion's teeth to be made purest bread for Christ. No early pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth." You can read more here.

Unlike the disappointed Narrator, Ignatius meant it. And that's bizarre. This man was being sent to have his guts ripped out by lions. As he so gruesomely put it, he was going to be ground up like flour between the teeth of lions. And yet he still embraced that sentence with joy in his heart. That's ridiculous. That's foolish. What kind of person says that and means it?

Well, a Christian does. He (and so many other martyrs like him) understood what real faith was all about. In the lessons for Ignatius' day, Jesus says, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain," and Paul writes, "Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" Those have always seemed like nice words of encouragement to me, but Ignatius heard them and believed them literally. Would death by lion stand between him and God? No, it would bring him closer to God. Would the painful tragedy that awaited him diminish his faith? No, it would become a source of strength. How could God lead him to this hour? Only by his gracious, loving will.

We are Christians. We believe in life after death. We believe in hope beyond tragedy. We seek not to escape the pain of this world but to walk through it. Sometimes people walk a life of faith in the midst of pain that I can't even imagine. Torn apart by lions? No problem.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Idle Hands

We are about two-thirds of the way through a men’s breakfast and bible study on Ephesians. Each week, I learn something new about the Christian faith, and I keep looking for ways to share insights that are found in that setting with others. Today is no different.

This morning, we read Ephesians 5:3-20. That’s the bit where Paul writes about sexual immorality and how Christians should walk as children of light, exposing the “unfruitful works of darkness.” We talked a good deal about sex this morning, but, in the midst of that conversation, someone asked a question that led me to a new place.

“Paul tells us to take full advantage of our time (vs. 16), which I understand, but then he goes on to say, ‘because the days are evil,’ and I don’t get that. Why does he say that?” Great question. I didn’t know the answer, and that’s what I love most about bible studies like this one—mutual discovery and edification. This is a conversation—a back and forth—from which all of us can learn.

As we thought out loud about it, we remembered a little bit of what Ephesus was like in Paul’s day. There were lots of pagan temples and dodgy religious practices. People enjoyed the company of cultic prostitutes, who offered a mixture of physical pleasure and religious experience. We wondered together what it would have been like to live as a minority Christian community within that world of sexual promiscuity, idolatry, and sin. I suggested it might be like working at an accounting firm on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. You know, your normal, average, every-day accounting office that just happens to be on a street that represents indulgence of every kind. I’m guessing that a CPA in that firm would need to plan his lunch hour pretty carefully or else she or he might be led astray by the world that surrounds that office.

And that’s the point. Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop. We must take full advantage of our time in order to avoid succumbing to the ways of the world that surround us. We must spend our hours singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs because, if we don’t, careless time gets us into trouble. That’s a true today in Decatur, Alabama, as it is in New Orleans as it was in Ephesus.

Christians are in recovery. All of us are. We are in recovery from sin—an addiction that means we can’t afford to spend our time carelessly. These are evil days, and temptation surrounds us on every side. Idle time isn’t good for a newly recovering alcoholic, nor is it good for new Christians either. Instead, we must take advantage of our time. That’s not a fire-and-brimstone sort of warning. It’s just good advice. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Jesus' Autobiography

The first shall be last, and the last shall be first. Well, that’s Sunday’s gospel. But it’s also today’s gospel lesson from the Daily Office (Luke 7:18-35). Sort of. Maybe it’s because I’m already thinking about what I’ll preach this weekend, but I’ve got that idea on my brain. And I’m seeing lots of parallels between the two passages.

In Luke, John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to Jesus to ask the popular preacher whether he is the one Israel has been waiting for. Jesus doesn’t say yes, but he comes close: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.” I remember Graham Stanton stressing to me over and over in seminary how rare it is for the historical Jesus to make Christological claims about himself. This was one of his favorite passages. Once he got started on the subject, he furiously made connections with the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Essene community, this reading from the gospel, the passage Jesus is near-quoting in Isaiah, and our understanding about who Jesus is. It was fascinating. And I can’t really remember most of what he said, but I do remember one thing: if you’re making a case for yourself, you put the best argument last.

I remember that fact because I also learned it in 6th-grade English class. When you write an essay (or a sermon) and you make your three points, you should save the most convincing for last. Build up to the really powerful point, unleash it right before the end, and then wrap everything up while the reader (or audience) is still swooning from your big punch. Makes sense, right? Well, then why did Jesus end his series of self-descriptions with “the poor have good news brought to them?” If you wanted to go out on a high-note, wouldn't you end with “the dead are raised” instead?

Well, it depends on what the audience is looking for. We think of the messiah’s power in terms of the feats of wonder he displayed during his lifetime. The more unbelievable miracles are more impressive than the minor displays, and behind all of the miracles comes the counter-cultural teaching. But that’s not what Israel was hungry for. This Sunday’s lesson is from Amos, a prophet from Judah who went north to Israel to preach against the oppressive practices of the elite, who had built their wealth (literally their “houses of stone”) on the backs of the poor. Today’s OT lesson in the Daily Office (Micah 2:1-13) brings the same message to the Judeans of the south: “Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in their power. They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance.”

What was the #1 problem in Israel and Judah during the 800 years before Jesus was born? Well, some might think political strife (Babylonian exile, Roman occupation), but the prophets consistently point to a deeper problem. The rich are taking advantage of the poor. The powerful are oppressing the weak. No one remembers those who are being downtrodden. The prophets’ message was a) the oppressors are condemned and b) someday the poor will be raised up. Well, God’s people had been waiting a long, long, long time for the latter to come to pass, and Jesus came to make it so.

What’s the best news Jesus came to preach? Usually, I think of forgiveness, reconciliation, eternal life, entrance into the kingdom, etc.. Rarely do I consider the good news being brought to the poor, but that’s the kind of messiah Jesus was. How different does the goal (the end or the telos) of our faith look if we remember that when Jesus built a case for his messiahship he listed preaching good news to the poor last? Doesn’t that turn our understanding of God’s kingship on its head?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

He Loved Him

Jesus looked at the man and loved him. That’s where my focus is this week as I prepare to preach on these lessons. Mark gives us a very different portrayal of the encounter of the man who comes to Jesus asking what he needs to do to get into heaven. In Matthew and Luke’s account, it seems like the man might be trying to justify himself—as if the “rich young ruler” were there to confirm for himself that he was already heaven-bound. But Mark doesn’t let us off so easily. He lets us know that Jesus loved him.

After Jesus rattles off the commandments of how to live in community with others (do not steal, kill, bear false witness, etc.), the man responds, “Teacher, all of these I have kept since my youth.” Then, Jesus looked at him and loved him. I feel pity in that love. I feel hope and desire and selfless concern from Jesus for that man. Mark’s little addition changes the way I encounter that man because he lets me know that Jesus looked at him not as my cynicism might behold him but as only God could see him.

Here is a man who genuinely, honestly, plainly wants to know what he has to do to get into heaven. He’s heard that Jesus knows a lot about God and about his kingdom, so he comes to him and asks for help. Jesus gives him the short and obvious answer—keep the commandments—and them man says, “Yes, I’ve done all that. What else? Am I missing something? I want to be sure.” And Jesus looked at him and loved him. And it is because of that love that he says, “Go and sell everything that you have.”

Jesus knew what was keeping this man out of heaven, and he also knew that there was nothing the man could do about it. As the man’s heart breaks, so does Jesus’. What must I do? You must give everything away. But that is too much. How can I do that? I know it is too much, but that is what you must do. I want more than anything to get into heaven. But you still don’t want it enough.

Jesus looks at us and has pity. When he looks at us, he loves us, too. And we ask him, “What must we do to get into heaven?” And, when we ask, what is his reply? Is it to sell everything? Is it to give up our lives? Is it to pluck out our eyes or cut off our hands and feet? How will the extravagant cost of discipleship be demanded of us? What will we be asked to pay? Whatever it is, it is too costly. We may want eternal life more than anything else, but we still do not want it enough.

Who then can be saved? With us, it is impossible, but with God—even that is possible. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Opening the Church's Doors

How much time do we spend in church? As a clergyperson, I’m not in a good position to answer that. But what about everyone else? How much of our time do we spend actively participating in church? Two hours a week? Four hours a week? Maybe for the most dedicated, no-life-but-the-church people it might be as much as six or seven hours out of a 168-hour week. If the average person gets eight hours a night of sleep, that means we’re spending a maximum of about 6% of our waking time in church. Still, that’s pretty impressive.

So here’s the big deal: if people spend no more than 6% of their time in church, why do preachers like me act as if 95% of what you really need to know and learn is confined to what transpires in the church building? I read today’s gospel lesson from the daily office (Luke 6:39-49) and found Jesus’ words very unsettling:

I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.

Hearing the words in church and putting them into practice in the outside world are two very different things, and I wonder how much of my focus is encouraging people to do the latter. If I search down deep in my preaching and teaching style, the answer ashamedly would be, “Not much.” I think many clergypeople like me think that getting people in the door is the real goal of a minister. “If I can get them in, I can fill them with what they need to know.” Really, though, my goal should be turnover—not chasing people away from the congregation but encouraging people to go out and do something. The evidence of that might not ever be seen within the church-house walls.

The question goes beyond the preacher, however, and extends to everyone else. As a church community, where is our focus? Is our identity as “church”—as the body of Christ—centered on what happens inside the building, or are we more concerned about taking what we hear and experience at church out into the world? Where is the gospel lived out? When is the gospel lived out? Is it Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights, and the occasional weekday bible study? Or does a life of prayer, study, and reflection sprout into a life of action that has no limits?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

It's All about the Children

I've heard the collective groan of RCL preachers out there--those of us who are facing some lectionary challenges this Sunday. Sometimes the crafters of our weekly readings take time to make subtle, gentle connections between the readings, allowing the preacher to tease out an insightful sermon that is shaped by two or more of the lessons. Sometimes those who stitch the lectionary together make choices I don't understand, and I struggle in those weeks to pay attention to more than one reading. But, on Sundays like this one, there is almost no choice. The OT (Genesis 2:18-24) and the Gospel (Mark 10:2-16) make it hard to preach about anything but marriage and divorce.

My friend Steve Pankey wrote earlier in the week about the pastoral challenges these readings present, and I like some of his humorous but half-way-serious suggestions for opening jokes, which you can read here. More importantly, however, he makes the point that preachers must be careful not to "proof text," and take one reading out of context and beat people over the head with it as if it were the whole gospel. Like him, I cringe to think about the bad, grace-less sermons that will be preached this Sunday.

In yesterdays bible study on the lessons, someone asked me, "Where's the grace in this?" Sure, sometimes Jesus is sharp in his application of the law, but there should be at least a shred of redeeming gospel-love in the reading. If it is to be found, I think it is located in the tension between the Pharisees and the children, whom Mark sandwiches together in this gospel lesson.

The reading starts with the Pharisees trying to test Jesus, and I think "test" is a key word. In the back of our minds, we should be asking, "How are these religious authorities approaching the kingdom of God if they keep coming to Jesus with tests and traps?" Then, after Jesus lays out some pretty serious consequences for divorce and remarriage, he points to the children who were trying to approach him and declares, "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." That should help us realize that we, like the disciples, are in danger of receiving Jesus' teachings more like Pharisees than like children. And, if we want to get into the kingdom, we'd better start like children.

What is Jesus teaching on divorce? Does the "Matthean Exception" apply? Should we allow divorced people to remarry in the church? Must the bishop give her/his approval? What about third or fourth marriages? All of those questions are Pharisaical. Children don't ask questions like that. Children know that divorce is wrong. They know that marriage is a special, blessed, and holy thing. They approach marriage like Genesis 2 (totally and completely) and not like Deuteronomy 24 (legalistically and fatalistically).

Does Jesus like divorce? No, of course not. Divorce is another reminder that the world we live in is broken and has fallen out of sink with God's will. If we, like the Pharisees, want to ask, "What's permissible?" the answer will always be, "Only perfection." But that's not the point. Jesus didn't start out trying to teach the people about marriage and divorce. He isn't giving us instructions on how to live together. He's responding to a stupid question by pointing out that such an approach to God's kingdom is wrong in the first place.

So take heart, preachers and congregations. As long as we approach God's kingdom (and this Sunday's readings) the way a child would, we'll find grace and hope and redemption.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Faith Starts

Where does faith begin? Is it when our heart’s questions find their answers? Is it at the point at which we surrender ourselves fully to God? Or does faith come by degrees—with each answer and each tiny new sense of dedication revealing faith where it once did not exist?

In Luke 5, Jesus interrupts a sermon on the lakeside to call some new disciples. Simon Peter, James, and John were all at the shore, having been out fishing all night. Jesus invites them to cast their nets in a new place, and, despite the unlikelihood of catching anything, they haul in two boats full of fish. The sight of the fish was enough to convince Peter, who falls on his knees in devotion to Jesus.

Although his reaction was one of surprise, I don’t think this moment caught Peter completely off-guard. His words to Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” suggest that there are some background details to which we aren’t privy. Otherwise, Peter’s reaction seems even stranger. But, for whatever reason, the enormity and strangeness and surprise behind the catch of fish was enough to bring brash and bold Peter to the ground in a confessional moment. Something happened that hit Peter squarely in his heart.

I think that’s where faith comes from. Peter had been fishing and catching nothing—all night and basically for his entire life. Jesus stops and meets him right where he is—still in the boat, wrapping up the nets after a fruitless night. Then, Jesus enters Peter’s life right at that critical point of need and reveals a new connection. The circumstances were begging for an intervention, and Jesus provided one that translated into faith.

Faith comes when something is missing and that greater power beyond our control reveals to us a bridge across that gap. Life catches us up short, and God extends his hand to us. A huge catch of fish may have represented a worldly success, but, if the miracle behind that catch was limited to a financial or professional gain, Peter and his companions never would have made the connection. A good night’s catch might have kept them in the boat. But Jesus showed them that he had more in store for them than that. He was offering them something more—to meet a deeper need that a lifetime of fishing couldn’t meet. And so he offered to make them fishers of people, and they said yes.