The Gardener | Caleb Schut

She supposes that he is the gardener.

Mary supposes that the man she turns and sees strolling through this cemetery garden is there to pick weeds and prune olive trees. She thinks he is the gardener.


The Bible begins this way: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 

John’s gospel begins this way: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John’s gospel makes the point, over and over again, that something which started during creation, at the foundation of the world, found its fulfillment in Christ.

The creation story of Genesis ends in a garden. Adam and Eve are hiding. And God is searching for them. Adam, where are you? Eve, why are you hiding?

And so, John’s story ends too, in a garden. His story ends with a woman searching for God. Where is he? Where have you put him? Tell me where he is.

We have come full circle, and we find ourselves back in the garden. Mary supposes that the man she sees that Easter morning is the gardener.  And notice, Jesus does not correct her. John does not correct her, either. Because John wants us to see that she is not wrong. The gardener in Genesis searching for Adam and for Eve is one and same as the gardener that is sought out and found here by Mary.

On that morning, the story that began in a garden in Genesis finds its fulfillment in a garden outside of Jerusalem, where the woman who searches for Christ, finds him. Through tear-blinded eyes, she calls him the gardener, and she is not wrong. The same God that sought Adam and Eve in the Garden in Genesis is the God who has made it possible for all humanity to come out of their hiding.

“Mary,” Jesus says. 

And at the sound of her voice, she realizes that the gardener is none other than her beloved teacher, her friend.


As we come to this table, we hear his same voice. Where are you? Why are you hiding? We hear him speak our names, “Mary. Kathy. Jason. Jess.” If we can muster up some fraction of the curiosity and hope that caused Mary to go to the tomb on Easter morning, then we too can hear the voice of the gardener call our names and invite us to come out of hiding. We too can meet the risen Lord Jesus. 

Prayers of the People


God our Father, by raising Christ your Son you conquered the power of death
and opened for us the way to eternal life. Let our celebration today raise us up and renew our lives by the Spirit that is within us. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

We pray, O God, that you would look with mercy on those who today are fleeing from danger, homeless and hungry. Bless those who work to bring them relief; inspire generosity and compassion in all our hearts; and guide the nations of the world towards that day when all will rejoice in your Kingdom of justice and of peace. 

We pray, Lord, for boldness to live as those confident in your resurrection. May we proclaim new life through our daily interactions with others. We ask that we can be your hands and feet each day to those who are eager to have your word displayed to them.

Lord in your mercy....Hear our prayer

Dry Bones | Caleb Schut

Ezekiel 31:1-14 | Dry Bones

Part 1. Death. 

Ezekiel is placed in a valley of dry bones. Very dry bones. They are the house of Israel. God asks Ezekiel, "Can these bones live?" The answer seems obvious. No, they cannot. They are bones, scattered through a valley. The context for this vision is that Judah has been sacked by Babylon. The story of God's people, which began with Abraham, seems to have run its full course. Israel was destroyed in 722 BC. Judah is now destroyed in 586 BC. What is left is a valley of bones. 

The image of bones reminded me of a trip I took to Rwanda. We visited a museum that tells the story of the Rwanda Genocide. In 1994 over 100 days, nearly 900,000 people were slaughtered. Our student group visited a site where room after room was full of bones. Skulls sat on shelves like books. On the ride back to our hostel that night, one of the students said to me, "tell me about your God after that." It was a jarring question. I had been pondering the same sort of dilemma she had. I was speechless. 

I imagine this is how Judah is feeling. "Tell me about your God, now," Babylon seemed to say with their swords and dominance. "Tell me about how great your God is, about His steadfast love, about how His mercies are new every morning." Judah is hopeless and they need a vision. They need to believe that God is still God.

Part 2. Prophesy.

"Prophesy to the bones," God instructs Ezekiel. He begins to speak to them and as the Word of God goes forth from him mouth, the bones begin to move. The text tells us what it sounds like...they begin to rattle. Soon they are coming together. Bones that were broken in the heat of battle are mended and put together. Wounds that were caused by the sword are healed by the word. The Word of God goes forth and reverses the effects of violence. God's word breaks the cycle of violence. In Ezekiel's vision, God's people are restored, not by sword or strength, but by the Word of the Lord.

Next, Ezekiel prophesies to the Spirit. The Spirit of God (or breath of God) moves in the dusty remains and brings life. Just as the spirit breathed life into dust at creation, so God's spirit brings life again. The God that created in the beginning would create once again. God is not a static deity stuck in the past. He is the living God whose breath would continue to create and would constitute a people once again. 

Part 3. Life.

God causes life to flow into the bones of Judah. There had been no cause for hope. What is more helpless than a pile of dry bones? Nothing. Judah is done. The people of God, their story, is finished. They are like the disciples on the evening before the resurrection. They are in some dark room. The windows and doors are locked. They keep their voices down in order to not be discovered. Their head rests in their hands. There is no reason to be optimistic. But God's stubborn love, his steadfast faithfulness is more resilient even than death. God had made a covenant promise to Judah, that they would be his people and dad-gum-it if God wasn't going to see His promise through. Even if that meant breathing life into dry bones. Even if that meant making the Word become flesh and dwelling among us. Even if that meant taking on the form of a slave and becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. God's steadfast love had to be satisfied. 

God's love does not give up on His people. Can these bones live? The answer is no...unless there is a resurrection. Unless God can create again. If God can make life come out of death, then perhaps, yes.  Perhaps these bones can live. 

Prayers of the People

God of peace, we continue to pray for those affected by the violence in our city.  For those who have lost friends or family members we ask that you would comfort your people and provide your presence to them.  We ask that people would react with love and not with revenge in the wake of tragedies.  We thank you for organizations who work every day to eliminate gun violence in our city. May they continue to be beacons of hope in communities who need your transforming presence. 

Discerner of hearts, you look beneath our outward appearance and see your image in each of us. Banish in us the blindness that prevents us from recognizing truth,
so we may see the world through your eyes and with the compassion of Jesus Christ who redeems us.

Lord in your mercy...Hear our Prayer

1st Sunday of Lent | Chuck DeGroat

God is good.

You are enough.

You can come out of hiding.

But the serpent said to the woman, “you will not die! For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. -Genesis

On Sunday, our guest preacher, Professor Chuck DeGroat, reflected on how Lent is often used as a time for Christians to hone in on how sinful and dirty they are. We give up ice cream or alcohol or coffee as a small token of the sort of self-control that would make us better human beings. Ash Wednesday begins Lent with its token phrase: from dust you were made and to dust you shall return. Lent is sometimes perceived as a time to grovel at God’s feet and hope He finds our sacrifices enough. Chuck encouraged us to think of it differently by approaching the story of Genesis differently. 

What if Adam and Eve were not motivated by pride, but by shame? What if the context for sin’s grand entrance into the world wasn’t that Adam and Eve pride-fully believed that they ought to be God? What if sin crept into our world through the serpent’s hiss that convinced Eve that she was not enough? In the garden, Adam and Eve listen to the voice that tells them that they need to know more; they need to be more than they are; they are not enough.

Adam and Eve believe this lie. They act on this shame-filled insecurity by eating the fruit and they immediately go into hiding. The belief that they are not enough drives them into hiding. “We all hide,” Chuck said. Each of us hides and disguises ourselves. Anger, alcohol, food, sex, and addictions of all kinds serve as hiding places. In our hiding, we often expect God to come searching for us with a scowl and heavy footsteps. Chuck suggested that when God comes walking through the garden in search of Adam and Eve, He does not come in wrath. He searches earnestly, wanting Adam and Eve to come out of hiding. There are consequences to Adam and Eve’s sin, as there are consequences to our sin. But God does not give up his relentless pursuit of connection with us. He comes in search of Adam and Eve because He loves them. In Christ, God comes in search of a world in hiding. 

Lent invites us to come out of hiding. It invites us to believe that we do not have to be anything more or less than what we are.

During Lent, God asks, Where are you? 

We do not have to lie or hide in shame. 

Here I am. 

Prayers of the People

God who breathes the spirit of life within us, draw out of us the light and life you created.  As we continue our Lenten journey, help us to find our way back to you.  Help us to use our life to reflect your glory and to serve others and your son Jesus did.

We give you thanks for the encouraging word we hear from Andrew, Amy and Irene Fields.  May you continue to bless, encourage, and provide good health to the Fields family as share your good news in Columbia. 

We pray for those who struggle with depression this time of year.  We ask that you would be their refuge in this time is struggle.  Walk before them and beside them so that they may reach out to you on their journey of difficult days.  Help us all to realize that in you there is joy and the promise of lasting peace.

We thank you, God,  for the many ways you strengthen us and reveal your life to us. Grant that your Spirit may overwhelm us more and more, enabling us to be your witnesses in an unhappy world. May your Spirit give us hope for this life and for the life to come.

Lord in your mercy....Hear our prayer

Transfiguration | Bob Reid

The Transfiguration

 “While he was speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the clouds a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.”-Matthew 17

“I would do anything humanly possible to have you leave this service knowing that you are implicated in the transfiguration of Jesus.”

The Transfiguration of Jesus refers to the occasion on which Jesus climbs to the top of a mountain with Peter, James, and John. While they are at the top of the mountain, Jesus’ appearance is transfigured into a dazzling vision and Elijah and Moses appear alongside of him. The disciples hear the voice of God affirm who Jesus is. It is an odd scene-dramatic and fantastic. It is not a story that I (or most people, I assume) feel personally implicated in. So, when Bob leaned forward and said in earnest, that he hopes that we leave feeling implicated, he had my interest peaked.

What does this bright episode of light and sound mean for me? Bob began by pointing out that for Peter (as evidenced in 2 Peter 1), the Transfiguration was a moment of clarity about Jesus’ identity that gave the disciples and assurance of who Jesus was. In this moment on the mountain, the veil is pulled back on Jesus’ identity and he is revealed in his glory. The event occurs on the Sabbath day in three gospels and on the 8th day (the day of the resurrection) in Luke. The point being that in this moment of transfiguration, things are the way they were meant to be. Alongside of Moses Christ is revealed as the fulfillment of the law. Alongside of Elijah he is the great prophet.

We are invited to participate in transfiguration as well. From glory to glory, Paul says. In Jesus’ transfiguration, the veil is pulled back. For a moment things are the way they are supposed to be. The New Testament talks about our own transfiguration as we are united to Christ. Our union with him transforms us so that it is “no longer I who live, but Christ in me.” There are moments in our lives where the veil is pulled back and we can behold the glory of God in a brother, sister, or enemy. We can see them as they really are. Perhaps there are times when we look in the mirror and realize that the promise spoken over Jesus, “This is my beloved with whom I am well pleased,” is spoken over us.

Prayers of the People

Lord God, We are in need of a glimpse of Jesus who is the truth – the truth that love is stronger than hate; peace is possible; and life can emerge even in the midst of devastation. We pray for that truth to be known:

We are in need of a glimpse of Jesus who is the life; inviting us to follow in his footsteps as he trod the way of love and justice, inviting us to follow him in prayer as he lived out his faith and made You known.

We give thanks for the good news that unfolds in the world as people dream your dreams, follow your nudging, and seek you in the faces they meet each day. Perhaps, O God, it is the only Transfiguration we really need.

Lord God, Renew and restore a vision of care for your creation. Remind us to take what we need and no more. Encourage us in a counter-cultural faithfulness that is not about consumerism. Spur us with new insight and deeper understanding that we may live mindfully each day, conscious of the impact of we do and fail to do.

Draw us to the rhythm of Lent as it unfolds in our midst; a sacred invitation to explore the corners of our soul. Open us to your light that we might see ourselves clearly, with all our fears and faults and faith, with all our desires and dreams and duties. Help us to see our journey as a place of your appearing – that like Peter, James, and John we may come down from the mountain and set one foot in front of the other in your name and for your sake.

Lord in your mercy....Hear our Prayer

Leviticus, really? | Caleb Schut

Leviticus 19

Isn't it odd that we read from a book of laws written a thousands of years ago for a group of semi-nomadic ancient near-eastern tribesmen with the expectation that perhaps this text was relevant and even life-giving? I hope you found it odd. Leviticus is worth reading though, for two reasons (beyond its being in the Bible). First, it is the heart of the Torah. It is 3 of 5 in the collection of books ascribed to Moses. The laws and instructions of Leviticus are what distinguish and set Israel apart. Israelite children often start their biblical education with Leviticus because of its importance. Secondly, Leviticus, at its core, is about a group of people called by God, trying to figure out what it means to be that people. So are we. We look back in order to look forward. 

Leviticus 19 is a unique set of commands placed right at the heart of the book. We'll look at a few of those specific commands, but it is important to note, right off the bat, that Leviticus 19 frames the commands this way: You shall be holy, as I the Lord your God am holy. The list of commands is not given under the auspices of pleasing an angry God by getting on his level. The people of God should be like the God they worship. Each of the subsequent commands tell us something about who God is, they meant something for Israel, and they mean something for us. 

For example: When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather all the gleanings of the harvest.

God: is uniquely generous and his economy prioritizes the poor. 

For Israel: this meant leaving food in the fields and money on the table. Grain was currency, and to leave it in the fields or on the ground was to leave money in the field. It became a rule of thumb for the Israelites that 1/60 of their fields would be left unharvested. This law reminded Israel that they had a legal obligation to leave enough in their fields for those without fields. 

For us: we must live under the authority of God's economy, wherein squeezing every ounce of profit and every drop of energy out of people is not the goal. The dollar is not god. God is uniquely generous and his economy prioritizes the poor and so should ours. 

Another example: The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. You shall not curse the deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.

God: defends those who have no defense.

For Israel: The hired worker/laborer was someone at the bottom of society, possibly with no legal status. They were an undocumented worker, the sort that was regularly taken advantage of. Wages were garnished or payment was held until the next day to get another 12 hours of cheap labor. But God insists that Israel imitate God in his commitment to justice and to those who cannot defends themselves. 

For us: Sometimes it feels like we’ve made so much progress. But we also live in a world that charges exorbitant interest rates on loans to the poor because we know we can get away with it. We take 10% of a hard earned check just to get it cashed, simply because you live in dirt-poor part of town. We live in a world that is far more eager to push lottery tickets than it is to push affordable housing. We allocate resources in ways that lead kids to believe that the only way up is through violence and then we roll our eyes when we see that another one has been shot. And I say “we” not because any of us are directly involved in these decisions or transactions, but because that does not entirely exonerates us.

What does it mean to pay the hired man his wages, to not put stumbling blocks in front of those who have no one to defend them? It means, at least in part, that we dive deeper into our partnership with Breakthrough Urban Ministries. My time spent over in Garfield Park makes me so thankful for Breakthrough, whose social workers make sure that the poor know what resources are available to them. It makes me thankful for their clinic that helps folks navigate insurance and  health care for their families. 

Leviticus 19 is full of commands that tell us about our God. He is generous. His economy prioritizes the poor. He does not act out of fear, but out of love. He defends those who have no defense. He shows no partiality. Be holy, therefore, just like your Father is holy. We have been called and set apart as God’s new community, called by Christ to imitate Him; To be like the God that we worship. 






Prayers of the People

We pray for those struggling with illness. A friend of the church wrestling through a second cancer diagnosis; A friend nearing the end of a struggle with ALS. God of peace and mercy, be near to those who are scared. Be courage to those who face difficult paths. Bring comfort to all afflicted by illness.

We pray for organizations like world relief and others who care and support refugees. As the current admission numbers has drastically been lowered there have been staffing and funding challenges. But most of all we pray the refugees whose lives are in our hands and we pray that our presidential administration would understand the needs of the refugee and those who seek to help.

Loving God, we pray for the unemployed and underemployed. May you open doors and provide opportunities for meaningful and fulfilling work.

Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer

Freedom to Be Real | Bob Reid

Freedom to Be Real | Matthew 5:21-37 | Bob Reid

Last week our reading ended with these remarkable words of Jesus: unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you won’t enter the kingdom of heaven. On the face of it , this seems like NOT very good news. The scribes and the Pharisees were the experts at keeping the law. They had a place in the social, political, and religious hierarchy that gave them authority in matters related to the keeping of the law.  They were seen as moral heavyweights in the community. If what Jesus means is that I have to go the religious leadership ONE better, then don't sign me up. 

But what if exceeds their righteousness actually means a new approach, a fresh approach to understanding what God wants from people regarding righteousness? 

In the homily Bob talked about the way in which Jesus approaches the Law in a radically different way than did the Scribes and Pharisees. In Matthew 5:21 and the verses that follow, Jesus presents a picture of our relationship to the Law that is at once more radical and more life-giving than the Scribes and Pharisees. 


In one important sense, this portion of the Sermon on the Mount can be seen as Jesus’ taking the power away from the Scribes and Pharisees - the power to interpret what counts for righteousness before God And he does it by talking about the Law in a much more radical way than the Scribes and the Pharisees did. When Jesus says "you have heard it said but I say to you" he is saying you have heard it said that righteousness consists in checking the boxes the Scribes and Pharisees check. After they check them they sit down in satisfaction that they are righteous and then they judge those who have not conformed as they have and they call them sinners. Such an approach to keeping the Law is superficial and breeds hypocrisy. Quick aside: Jesus never confronts the Scribes and the Pharisees for doing their job per se but for hypocrisy- for being obsessed with limiting their liability; by being obsessed with outward conformity and not caring about inward realities; by taking an approach to God’s Law that would enable self-righteousness and close the heart to the messiness of loving others as God has loved us. What Jesus does here is to take the way that the Law was interpreted by the religious leaders of his day and suggest that their approach left people imagining that God wanted people to be good and religious and good at being religious. Life is messier and better than that: the Law actually exposes our hearts as roiling and divided, incapable of loving others as God has loved us. What is behind Jesus’ teaching here is the truth that the Law is meant to point beyond itself to the need for a heart that is transformed by God’s love. Jesus' focus on the radical nature of sinfulness here is not meant to make people feel bad because their hearts are crooked and their motives are impure. Rather, he is simply describing how things really are, a reality that people who are good and religious and good at being religious tend to whitewash over. You can manage a certain kind of outward conformity and pass yourself off as a good person but holiness is about being changed by God’s mercy in the depths of our hearts. A righteous relationship to the law is about dealing with things at the radix, or root - Jesus is radical like that. Jesus implies that if you want to explore what righteousness looks like,  quit playing religious games and making other people feel bad about themselves by making it seem that what God wants is for people to be religiously accomplished and outwardly good. 

When Rowan Williams talks about holiness in his excellent little book called Being Disciples he borrows a phrase from an Evelyn Waugh novel where one character says of another: “she was saintly but she wasn’t a saint”.... Williams goes on: the character in question was strict, devout and intense, but the effect that she has on those around her was to make them feel guilty, frustrated and unhappy. In contrast, holy people, those who are saints rather than saintly,  actually make you feel better than you are.  

The pursuit of goodness can be experienced as if you are taking part in a competitive examination in which some people are scoring very well, others are on the borderline, and some are sinking below the line. But the holy person somehow enlarges your world, makes you feel more yourself, opens you up, affirms you. THey are not in competition; they are not saying I have something you haven’t… When I think of the people in my own life that I call holy, who have really made an impact, it’s this that comes across most deeply in them all. These people have made me feel better rather than worse about myself Or rather, not quite that: these are never people who make me feel complacent about myself, far from it; they make me feel that there is hope for my confused and compromised humanity. God is big enough to deal with and work with actual compromised and imperfect people.” 

The supremely holy person is Jesus who makes us feel that no matter how crooked our hearts are that there is hope and there is hope because the law points beyond itself to Jesus who meets us in our mess and says to us that that is exactly where righteousness happens. Righteousness happens when we come to the end of our capacity to be good and give up trying. Then we get about the business of being made new. 

Prayers of the People

We pray for our consistory, pastors and staff of Grace Chicago.  We thank you for the calling you have provided to each of them and the ways you are using them to carry out your mission here in the city and beyond. 

God and Father of the poor, the oppressed, the refugee, and the alien, who inspired these words to be written in our Old Testament, “So you too should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt”: we invoke the power of the Holy Spirit who inspired those words of Scripture, and the name of Jesus, who descended from a displaced people and was murdered by the state; we ask in Jesus’ name for your Spirit to incline our hearts and the heart of our country towards the needs of refugees. We pray that our nation’s policy towards refugees will always heed the words of Jesus, if you have done it to least of these…. you have done it to me. 

We continue to pray for those who continue to grieve the loss of loved ones.  May you provide comfort and peace to those who grieve and may your love be more evident to them in this difficult time.  

We pray for Nettelhorst School and all Chicago schools.  May you continue to use these institutions to provide an atmosphere that inspires children.  We ask that our systems of government can work together to support, improve and fund the educational needs of all our children. 

Lord in your mercy...Hear our prayer  


Salt and Light | Bob Reid

 Matthew 5:13-20 | Salt and Light


“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven.” –Jesus

What is the nature of Christian witness? What should Christianity’s witness look like? The images that Jesus uses in Matthew (city on a hill, light in the darkness) have inspired some bizarre applications. The United States has, throughout its history, borrowed the language of Jesus as a rallying cry. Churches have applied Jesus’ words in myriad ways, sometimes in self-sacrificial ways, at other times, in order to justify violent hegemony.

On Sunday, Bob preached a sermon about the nature of the church’s witness. Here are three points I found most significant:

1.     Not you, but y’all.  Bob made the point that Jesus is talking to the church. In other words, Jesus’ audience is not a group of people who are unfamiliar with each other and who will therefore have to go off and apply these truths on their own. Jesus is talking to the community who is following him. He is telling them what their community must look like. Jesus is creating a new community. In his life, death, and resurrection, he redefines what it means to be the people of God. Here, he is telling that community what they will look like. This statement about salt and light isn’t for the context of a you-God relationship. It is for a community of faith wrapped up in the life of Jesus.

2.     Not imperative, but Indicative. Strangely enough, Jesus doesn’t say, “You should be like salt. Or, you should be a light. Or, you should be a city on a hill.” He says that it is simply a matter of fact that the community who follows Jesus IS salt, light, and a city on a hill. We should not deceive ourselves, thinking that we have a choice in whether or not we are light or salt. Being the church necessarily implies that we are witnesses. What there seems to be some variance in is to what extent we point people to God’s love for the world rather than to our own glory.

3.     Following Jesus Visibly. Bob closed his sermon referencing Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer is a German theologian who was killed during WWII for being a part of a resistance movement against Hitler. Bonhoeffer had a rich understanding of what the community of faith ought to look like. Being a city on a hill took on significant meaning for German Christians during WWII. He insisted that the church be a visible sign of God’s coming kingdom. Bob mentioned Grace Chicago’s partnership with Breakthrough Urban Ministries as an example of how we practically and visibly seek to live out the gospel.

As the church, we are called to “live in a way that draws all to God’s love for the world.” We do that as we embody God’s love in our own community and as we engage our city in ways that point back to God’s love.

Prayers of the People

We pray for those who have lost family members recently. Many in our community are mourning losses. We pray that you would pour out your Holy Spirit upon them that they may know your presence in this difficult time.

Our prayers go out to the family of a youth who was killed over the weekend to the violence that continues to plague our city. The young man was from the southside and was a former farm worker at the Gary Comer Youth Center. We pray that city leaders can continue weaken the gangs in our communities and that both state and federal leaders can work together in a manner that truly seeks the best for all people in our community.  May we all seek your wisdom to how we can be a part of your vision in this time.

We pray for Andrew, Amy and Irene Fields in Columbia.  We pray for Andrew as he teaches and takes on some new responsibilities.  We pray especially for the students in his class, many of whom are new and adjusting to seminary life. We also want to lift up to you Amy as she has been in poor health since they returned to Columbia.  We thank you for her continued improvement and ask that she can return to full health soon.

Lord in your mercy....Hear our prayer





Fishing For People | Pastor Bob Reid

Matthew 4:17-20

“From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea-for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately, they left their nets and followed him.”

As a child, I found the idea of “fishing for men” odd. In Sunday School we sang the song, “I will make you fishers of men…if you follow me.” That never sounded like an enticing proposition. If I follow Jesus, I will get to fish for people?I will get to cast out nets in order to catch as many people as I could? No thanks. As a child, the idea of fishing for people was unappealing. It hasn’t grown in appeal over time.

The church’s interpretation of Jesus’ proposal to Simon and Andrew to make them fishers of people has taken on some dangerous forms in the church’s history. I've seen evangelism tracts that 'fish for people' by expounding upon the terror of what might happen if you don't jump into Jesus' net of salvation. Entire centuries have been dominated by Christian crusades that seek to convert through violence and manipulation.  Subtler versions of guilt and coercion can be found in Christian churches all over the world, justified by the command to fish for people. 

On Sunday, Pastor Bob reframed Jesus' command. What is Jesus truly inviting Simon and Andrew to be a part of? What is at the heart of Jesus’ missional longing to fish for people? Bob suggested that what Jesus is interested in is flourishing joy for his disciples and for the world.  Jesus teaches his disciples “the true value of a human life.” The ministry of Christ and his disciples is not characterized by aggressive evangelism or coercion. It is characterized by Jesus’ great love for each person he comes in contact with.

Joy, Bob suggested, was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. Christ came that human beings might have life, and life to the full. The joy of the flourishing life is at the core of what Jesus and his disciples are about. 

Two weeks ago, Miroslav Volf preached on two infinities that keep us from true joy. On Sunday, Bob talked about two nihilisms that we must avoid in order to experience true joy.

Nihilism is simply extreme rejection. The first rejection, or nihilism, that Bob mentioned is the rejection of this world for an eternal and spiritual world. American Christianity has offered a brand of this nihilism. People with this posture view the world as a sinking ship. The world is going to “Hell in a hand basket.” The Christian's task is to save as many souls as one can before the ship goes down. Jesus is the life jacket of salvation that keeps us floating.

The second nihilism is a complete rejection of God or meaning. The earth and all that is in it has no purpose beyond the sensations of pain or pleasure. This nihilism leads to complete self-absorption. Since there is no purpose beyond my own experience, I should eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow I will die. This nihilism leaves victims in the wake of its selfishness. It leads to restlessness and anxiety that can be masked for a moment but can never be quenched apart from God.

Jesus offers us truth and life in between these two worlds. At the heart of Jesus' ministry and his desire to "fish for men" is a longing for human beings to experience true joy in the Holy Spirit. Jesus wants us to be fully human, living profoundly in this present world, seeking its shalom, while also resting in the reality that God holds all things in his hands. Jesus will make his disciples followers who experience true joy, and who point others towards the same joy that can only be found in Christ. 

Prayers of the People

We continue to lift up to you our nation in this time.  As we enter a time of transition and uncertainty we ask that your people would continue to lift up prayers for those in power.  We thank you for our nation of freedoms and pray you would continue to raise up leaders who desire your wisdom, grace and power to be the true guider of our people.  

Gracious God, we lift up to you those who are searching for employment.  May you open doors to new and promising opportunities.  Give wisdom to the search so that each finds fulfillment in the opportunities the job provides.  

Lord in your mercy....Hear our prayer

Miroslav Volf Guest Preaching

*Audio of Volf's homily from Sunday is available here

Grace Chicago was honored to host Dr. Miroslav Volf this Sunday. Volf, the Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale, is regarded as one of the most important political theologians in the world today. Few theologians or authors have influenced Grace's mission and vision as profoundly as Dr. Volf. In Pastor Bob's introduction, he specifically referenced the role of Soft Difference, an article Volf authored about how the church ought to exist alongside of culture. If you're interested in hearing more from Volf, we recommend the article mentioned above, his classic work Exclusion and Embrace, or the interview below with Krista Tippett.   

Homily Recap |  Luke 10:25-28 | Written by Caleb Schut

Volf began his homily by quoting Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: "Look at the birds." Human beings are not much like chirping contented birds. We are, Volf suggested, more like scurrying rats or marching ants. The culture that we live in rewards scurrying and marching. It does not reward the rejoicing contentment of chirping birds. The world that we live in warps our habits and even our desires in such a way that experiencing joy is quite difficult. "Joy crowns a life lived well," Volf suggested. It stands beside righteousness and peace as foundational qualities of the Kingdom of God (Romans 14:17). 

Living the good life (a flourishing life) has everything to do with right action (righteousness), the right circumstances (peace/shalom; Volf pointed out that God is a circumstance. Being love by God unconditionally is the most important circumstance), and joy (inner satisfaction). While there are feel-good pills, there are no feel-joy peels because feeling good and experiencing joy are two very different things. "I can just feel good, period," Volf said, "but I can never just rejoice, period. You always rejoice or experience joy over something." Experiencing joy is related to, and in some ways dependent upon peace (circumstance) and righteousness (acting rightly). But, as Volf sees it, there are two major inhibitors to joy. Volf described them as two bad infinities. 

The first bad infinity is the infinity of desire. Human beings are insatiable. John Rockefeller's famous quote comes to mind. When asked how much money is enough, he responded, "just a little bit more." The story of Adam and Eve not being satisfied with their lot in the garden is another example of how discontent is, perhaps, in our nature. Volf suggested, though, that modern markets also stoke the fire of insatiability. "The more cake you eat today, the more you will want tomorrow," Volf said. Markets do not simply respond to needs and wants, they create them. The market cripples contentment.  This infinity of desire makes joy impossible. We are never content with what we have or how much we have, and we are therefore unable to rejoice at the gifts we have received. We constantly long for more and better. We even ordain this desire and admire it in people.

The second bad infinity is the infinity of responsibility. We live in an intensely competitive world in which we sense a moral responsibility to do more and to be more. We view it as a sin to be doing as little as we are or to be content with amount of good that we are doing. We feel guilty about not doing enough. On the rare day that we don't experience this guilt, we feel guilty about not feeling guilty! We are unable to experience joy because of the pressing moral responsibility of doing more. We cannot find any rest or delight in the idea that what we have done is enough, or in the truer reality, that we are not God and cannot save the world. This insatiable guilt of responsibility "bleaches the color out of life" and "shrivels the muscles of joy." 

The infinities of desire and responsibility keep us from experiencing contentment and joy. The deception that we never have enough nor do we ever do enough constricts our ability to rest and rejoice. Volf commended the practice of Sabbath as a beacon leading towards true joy. However, Sabbath is not primarily rest from work. It is more fundamentally a rest from striving. It is a break from the endless striving that keeps us from experiencing true joy. We live in a world of scurrying and marching, but joy will come from looking at the birds of the air and learning to be a bit more like them. 

Prayers of the People

We pray this week for our country as we have a presidential transition.  We pray for our president elect, his family and for all those who will be seated in leadership around him.  We pray that God would soften hearts and allow grace, mercy and wisdom to seep in at every possible opportunity. We also pray for many who experience fear in this uncertain time.  May you take the burden of our fears, the uncertainty of our hopes and the anxiety about our future into your hands. 

Lord Jesus, we pray for protection to those who have fled their homes because of violence or unrest in their communities. Give them strength on their journey and we ask that they may find places of compassion at which to rest.  Ease their fears as they have thrown their lot with strangers.  And keep alive the vision of having a secure and welcoming home. 

Open our eyes Lord to the world around us.  Show us what we should see but from which we hide our eyes.  Open our eyes to to the shape of our kingdom.  Show us what life should be if only we could see in wisdom.  Open our eyes to the people around us.  Show us what we should see, but we fail to notice. 

Lord in mercy......Hear our prayer