My Neighbor

A reflection on two weeks in Tanzania, Africa.  

Who is my neighbor?

My neighbor lives a ways away – 8,489 miles away from Ames Iowa to be precise. My neighbor is easiest to see in person via plane, tho that’s a full 24 hours of travel and isn’t cheap. But thanks to the internet, and email and social media, I can talk to them most any time.

Many of my neighbors are farmers. And commonly use animals in their daily work.  At least in the areas we visited. Many of my TZ neighbors are also landowners, owning property that spans back many, many, many generations of family.

Donkey, at the Ngorogoro crater

My neighbors, for the most part, have enough food to eat. This was confirmed with the pastors I spoke to. And it really surprised me. My neighbors provide for their family, food-insecurity isn’t a huge problem for them. Who knew?

Speaking of food, my neighbors know how to cook! Our group ate, and ate, and ate, between 5 and 7 meals a day. My neighbors, where we visited, eat local, almost exclusively. Whether it came from the ground, or tree, or bush or animal, it was generally fair game.

Sharing a meal at a house blessing in Shighatini

My neighbors know how to throw a party! We were warmly welcomed where-ever we went. My neighbors smile and chat, and pray in ways that had a calming effect on each of us. We knew, at all times, our neighbor cared for us.

Speaking of parties, holy cow do my neighbors know how to worship! Whether it’s in Swahili or the Pare dialect, or the language of the Masai – we heard each in worship – my neighbors know how to live it up, in praise of their Creator, on a Sunday morn.

Worship at the Hedaru Parish, full of song, dance, laughter and life.

My neighbors like to laugh, and dance, and sing, and bang drums and cymbals and laugh and dance and sing in ways and quantities that surprised us. My neighbors know how to celebrate their faith, LOUD AND PROUD. I can learn much, very much, about joyful worship, from my neighbor.

My neighbor has less money than I, less electricity, less internet, less stuff. But more time. And more joy. And more community. To these western eyes my neighbor lives life more fully, and completely, than I do most every day. To be honest the time, and joy and community my neighbor has available to them, in such large quantities, I am very, very jealous of.

This is my confession.

Roadside market, near Shighatini

My neighbor has skin so much darker than my own. So much darker than many of you. As the trip went on this difference seemed to matter less, and less and less. Until by the end of the trip this difference was hardly worth mentioning at all.

That was truly a gift. And it only happened by spending some time, a lot of time, with my neighbor.

My neighbor could use some help from me and the people in my town.  But in different ways than perhaps I’d first assumed. My neighbor already knows how to farm. But they could use some wisdom from ag science here, and sometimes some equipment and training too. My neighbor could use help with processing and packaging their food products, to help get them to a larger market.

This is something I hadn’t thought much on before.

My neighbor has access to water. But it could almost always be better access.

My neighbor has access to education, and values it. Tho my neighbor values having access to even better education. Their goal? To help their people thrive even more.

In this way I am very much like my neighbor.

My neighbor is a beloved child of God.
As am I.
As are you.

Because of this my neighbor shares a common ancestry, common purpose, and common destination to us all.

I really miss my newfound neighbor.

But mostly now I just call them friend.

And I can’t wait to spend time with my new friends, in person, once again.

Boy, outside the Hedaru hotel, using a handmade toy

Graveyards

I have a rather odd interest; I love traipsing around old cemeteries. It isn’t quite a hobby like video games or jogging. And it doesn’t produce the same sense of euphoria as writing sometimes can. And I don’t find myself cemetery traipsing nearly as much as those other pursuits either.

But yeah, put me in a cemetery setting and odds are I’ll tend to linger some. Likely more than most 😊

Spots
When visiting Jamestown Virginia in high school, as part of a nearby family reunion, I remember being fascinated walking through mostly wooded areas, learning about the early settlers buried there in 1607.

When Kathi and I honeymooned in Key West Florida, home to the southernmost point in the US, you can be sure we spent some time at their cemetery. Lined with palm trees and blue skies it’s a picturesque tropical setting, nestled in the middle of a residential area, practically begging to be explored.

While at a work conference in Savannah Georgia fifteen years ago Kathi and I tacked on some trip time to explore this serene, historic city. We went to two Savannah cemeteries if memory serves, maybe more. Each were lined with Southern Live Oak trees, complete with drooping, curvaceous branches, often draped in Spanish moss that sometimes reaches the ground. It’s gorgeous.

Bird Girl, Bonaventure Cemetery; Savannah, GA

And I almost got to the Vienna Central Cemetery while on business trip in Europe. One weekend a couple of coworkers and I took a train, from Budapest, to visit Vienna. But I couldn’t quite convince them one of the largest cemeteries in the world, with over 300,000 graves and 3 million internments, was worth the time. I mean come on, Ludwig Von Beethoven is buried there! Perhaps one day.

Sights
Besides the history and picturesque settings and celebrity status cemeteries often contain there are, of course, the gravestones.

Gravestones represent a marker of a person’s life, a summary of what makes them, well them. Many stones contain religious symbols. A cross for Christians, a star of David for Jews, alongside other religious symbols too countless to name. Each providing clues to what faith the person claimed while with us here on earth.

Other stones immortalize hobbies, vocations, and interests.

Last week I had the chance to preside over a graveside funeral service for Bernard Ortgies at the Ames Municipal Cemetery. Bernard was a member of Bethesda a while ago before moving to Florida in retirement. And I couldn’t help but appreciate the gravestone for he and wife Sharon. Under Bernard’s name is a square and compass, under Sharon’s a book, and between them is Cy the Cyclone. He was an engineer, she a teacher; they both were big ISU sports fans.

And while there I couldn’t help but notice a gravestone with the last name of one of our current members, Kepley. The marker is for Danny Kepley’s parents; mom was buried there in 2016, one day dad will be joined alongside her once again. The Kepley gravestone gets my attention every time – there’s this great image of a tow truck on it. The Kepley’s owned a tow truck company in the area – what a neat way to celebrate that identity. It’s about as cool a marker as there is.

Some markers contain a few final words from the person; some funny, others reflective. The Key West cemetery has both, next to each other.

The marker for Pearl Roberts, a local hypochondriac who died at age 50, reads like this: “I told you I was sick.

And right above that is the headstone for Gloria Russell. It simply says, “I’m just resting my eyes.” Downright poetic.

But for all the beauty and nature and history and symbolism and humor and poetry and earthly finality that cemeteries contain, there is one thing they don’t typically house.

At least when visiting hours are over.

Cemeteries aren’t meant to be a permanent address for the living.

And when the living find themselves taking up residence among the dead, and that happens sometimes, you know something is not quite right.

All of which leads us to today’s gospel.

Unclean Spirits
Luke 8 contains one of the more memorable biblical characters there is. A man who –

Was naked,
lived in tombs,
among the dead,
and likes to shout,
at people he’s just met.

Jesus, entering a new country, one with different religious beliefs, stepping from boat onto land, has this as his first impression.

Now I don’t get out of the US too much. Tho when passing state borders it’s always nice to see a “Welcome to Minnesota” sign or somesuch, and take a few minute break at the first rest stop.

Instead, the welcome sign Jesus got this day, when entering a new land, was a naked homeless shouting dude.

New country,
Different religion,
Naked guy approaches,
Naked guy starts shouting.

I don’t know about you, but if I stepped off a plane bound for a new destination and this were my first experience? I might just turn around.

But Jesus, of course, doesn’t do that.

He doesn’t turn away from the man;
He doesn’t return shouting with shouting;

Instead he engages.

The naked man falls down and shouts – at the top of his voice no less – “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of God? I beg you, do not torment me.”

Jesus then asks the man’s name.

The man responds, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him.

When unclean spirits of this world get a tight hold on us, or on loved ones, sometimes we can’t separate the person –

From the addiction;
From the disease;
From the stigma.

And we really should.

Christ is all about separating us from our demons.
And Christ wants us to help separate others from their demons. All in His name.

These demons then begged Christ to enter into a herd of pigs. A request Jesus granted. The piggy swine, apparently going peacefully about their piggy business beforehand, now go berserk, dash madly over a cliff, and drown.

It’s an absurd scene. I mean who’s ever heard of a swine stampede?
Theologian Patrick Willson concludes this:

“If pigs were runners, our bacon would look different.”

Noodle on that one.

Healing and Home
Separated from his demons, the man, now in his right mind, puts on some clothes. He then begs to go with Jesus and the disciples as they get back on the boat, to head home.

But Jesus had other plans. “Return to your home,” Christ responds. “And declare how much God has done for you.”

This, for a man whose demons had driven him away from others.
This, for a man who’d been living, in isolation, among the dead.

The man then went to his city.
The man then proclaimed all this.
The scene then ends.

Here
Admittedly scriptural talk of demon possession always strikes me as a bit wonky. At least when looking at it through the lens of our modern era.

Exorcisms these days are more likely to be paired with faith traditions that do things like snake handling and walking on hot coals. Which is not something you’ll see in too many Lutheran settings. Certainly not here 😊

Yet this concept of being possessed, being led out of your right mind, and driven by unclean spirits to do some crazy things, that part I get.

Many theologians conclude that the demons of scriptural times are today’s mental health diagnoses, today’s addictions. Illnesses like depression, schizophrenia, addictions like gambling, alcohol, overeating. And when these demons get ahold of us they can do some nasty, destructive things.

They can drive us away from loving friends, loving family, loving community. They can strip us of our worth, leaving a destructive path in their wake. They can lead us, either literally or figuratively, to premature death.

Yet Christ desires, for us, so much more.

And with the help of Christ, present with us through those same loving friends, family, and faith community, and sometimes counselors and modern medicine as well, we too can often find healing from these divisive demons.

I have a backstory that includes a clinical diagnosis of major depressive disorder. And looking back it really felt like death; life had lost all meaning. If you’re struggling with depression the door is always open. At least let someone know; there are good resources out there that can help you.

Others of you may have experience with addictions of various sorts. Let me encourage you to talk about your challenges with others, whether you’re knee deep in the demons now or solidly along the road to recovery. The more we share the more help we get. The more help we get the more we heal. The more we heal the more help we can eventually give to others.

Close
Cemeteries can be beautiful places. I’ll likely not stop enjoying them any time soon. Especially when hip tow truck gravestones are nearby 😊

But cemeteries and graves and tombs aren’t made for the living. They are relics of the past, monuments of what once was, markers of time now complete.

It is in these places Christ meets us where we’re at. The naked, shouting cemetery dwellers that we all sometimes can be. Christ then restores our mind, clothes our bodies, and sends us away from our own personal places of darkness. Sends us back to the city.

A city filled with friends, and family, and faith.
A city filled with Christ-followers, all seeking to be whole.
A city where you belong.
A city of light.
A city of life.

When you get back home, to your city, remember his one request.
Proclaim, my friends, throughout that city, how much Christ has done, for you. Amen.

Big Data

As you may know, my first career – prior to pursing a pastoral path – was in market research. I worked for the Nielsen Company for a dozen years. Nielsen is the largest market research company in the world, by far, in terms of employees and revenue.

The company thinks that’s a big deal. These days I’m kinda meh on it.

While there I managed large, syndicated surveys for most my tenure, helping banks, insurance companies and restaurants better market their warez. If you can figure out the who, what, when, where and why of consumer purchase behavior, and then predict that behavior with some level of accuracy, well, big bucks are in your future.

Tho given my shift in vocation it’s safe to say that any notion of big bucks, personally speaking, is decidedly in the past 😊

The surveys I managed at Nielsen had enviable sample sizes, at least when it comes to survey research. A small study was 10,000 completes a year, a larger study closer to 100,000 annually. And with those big numbers you could do big number crunching, segmenting people into all sorts of demographics and groups, all to better predict who would buy what.

Big Data
Admittedly having specific information on 100,000 people these days isn’t all that big a deal. Companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Netflix and Apple collect data, passively, through our many devices, and boast databases of information about millions, sometimes billions of people.

How many devices? One study predicts that by next year, 2020, more than 50 billion smart devices on our planet will be turned on at any given time. All equipped to gather, analyze, and share data across the globe.

50 Billion smart devices.
In a planet of only 7.7 Billion people.

The implications of all this, in terms of utility, are fairly clear: more knowledge, more information, more pretty much everything.

Now we just have to figure out what to do with it.

This massive data explosion is fairly new. Studies suggest more than 90% of data in the world has been created in the last three years.

Which makes the concept of big data, and what we do with all these learnings somewhat uncharted territory.

Today’s gospel text, from John 16:12-15, as you may have guessed, is not about big data. 😊

Truth
But it is about truth. And where truth comes from. And how we acquire it. Which has implications about what we do with truth once acquired.

Sometimes I think we confuse the notion of information, data, and knowledge and even education and facts and options, we confuse all of that with an understanding of truth.

I still have many things to say to you,” Christ begins, “but you cannot bear them now.” Jesus, speaking to the twelve, in his farewell discourse, was about to be arrested in the garden. And was giving the disciples some wisdom before his fate, and theirs would forever change.

“When the Spirit of truth comes they will guide you into all truth,” Christ continues. “The Spirit will declare to you things to come; taking what is mine, and declaring it to you. All the Father has, is mine. And the Spirit will take what is mine, and declare it, to you.”

It’s a beautiful description of the Trinity. The Godhead, three in one.

But it’s more than that. This text also describes the nature of divine truth and the conduit it flows through.

All divine truth comes –

From the Father,
To the Son,
And is declared,
by the Spirit,
to you.

It’s the Spirit, the active presence of God in our world, that keeps our faith traditions from getting stale. Otherwise we’d be talking about Jesus as just a historical character, a distant deity that lived 2,000 some odd years ago.

And that would kinda be that.

But Christ still has many things to say. To the disciples then, and to us now. And that happens, through the declarations, of the Spirit of truth.

Could the implications of big data, and the many things it says, be part of that? And if so, how would we know?

Big Data
Big data, and the researchers and scientific minds behind it can solve all sorts of real-world problems. And evolve our world in some amazing, jaw-dropping, potentially very positive ways.

Big data is being used to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS, and will likely one day find a cure for it. Thank God for medical advances past, present and future. But big data won’t put those live-saving treatments into the hands of millions that can’t afford them, both here and abroad. The energy for that initiative comes from elsewhere.

Big data is lowering food and water costs across the globe. But big data can’t explain why placing jugs of water, canned beans and blankets, in the Arizona desert, left for migrants that might otherwise die without them. Big can’t explain why providing that basic humanitarian aid, in the US, is increasingly being treated as a crime.

Big data is being used to better understand our exploding prison population. It just keeps on going up and up and up, doesn’t it? Big data has, fortunately, identified solutions that would reverse this trend. Two of the best predictors of lowering prisoner headcounts it turns out are 1) visiting inmates, and 2) providing mental health services to high-risk populations. But big data, and all the 1s and 0s that make it up can’t, in isolation, implement change. It can’t force us to care.

To address challenges like these that big data can’t solve alone we need another source. An older source. A timeless source. A God source.

We need, in short, God data.

God Data
The best source for God data, within our Christian context, is, of course, scripture.

Talk of healthcare, and food and water and prisoners and people from other lands is covered really, really well in our ancient texts.

Consider Matthew 25:35-40

For I was hungry, you gave food;
I was thirsty, you provided drink;
I was a stranger, you welcomed me;
I was naked, you gave clothing;
I was sick, you cared for me;
I was in prison, you visited.

The disciples then asked, Lord, when was it that we saw you in need like this? When was it that we did these things for you?

Christ then replied, truly I tell you, whatever you have done to one of the least of these, who are all members of my family, you have done to me.

This one scriptural text, this one nugget of God data, provides pretty clear direction on what we, as Christ-followers, are to be about. God data gives a faith-based lens to apply the learnings of big data. It gives us the direction and resolve to address real-world problems, faithfully, in ways big data, on its own, simply can’t.

Big Bomb
Parker Palmer’s book, To Know As We Are Known, begins with a reflection on the film documentary The Day After Trinity. The film is about the team of American scientists who produced the first atomic bomb. “Trinity” was the ironic code name for that original explosion. Even more ironic is to be talking about it, in the context of a church festival today, referred to as Trinity Sunday.

The film reveals that it was only on the day *after* this original massive explosion that the scientists stopped to analyze, and agonize, on the implications of their work. We still live with the implications of this earlier form of big data, daily.

American physicist Robert Oppenheimer, who helped develop the atomic bomb, in his post-Hiroshima pronouncement, concludes, “the physicists have known sin.”

That’s worth pondering.

Close
Let me encourage you, fellow children of God, to be on the look-out for the Spirit of truth. She blows in the winds of change, seeking to improve the lives of all of God’s children. She represents an evolution of progress. One we can experience personally. And she wants nothing less than to include you, and make you a vital part, of her sacred work.

I still have many things to say to you, Christ proclaims. The Spirit of truth will declare them to you, he reminds. Some of those things may just reveal themselves through the efforts of big data. Other results of big data have nothing to do with the Spirit at all. Or even run counter to the Spirit.

And to know, to really know, which is which, let me encourage you, fellow children of God, to do some fact-checking. And then proceed faithfully, seeking to follow the Spirit of truth wherever she goes. To do that, make sure you check all data, by referencing the original Source. Amen.

Blue binary code background

Ordinary Days

Our family dog died yesterday.  Her name was Chips; she was 18.  Or 126 in those fabled dog years.  The timing of her death wasn’t the best, practically speaking.  She died right after I’d left town for a twelve-hour church conference.  And my wife Kathi had the grading of papers and the chaperoning of our daughter’s field trip already on the docket.

The timing of death is rarely convenient I suppose.

We kept reminding ourselves how long she’d been with us.  And what a kind, tender and relaxed friend she was.  Heck, after 16 years in Florida she’d survived two more years up north.  And made it through two bitterly cold Iowa winters.  She’d learned to find comfort lounging fireside, and on beanbags.   And knew where to find the brightest, warmest spots to lay in the house to achieve the highest quotient of sunlight she could find.

For a dog from the Sunshine State, she’d adapted to her new digs really, really well.

While I was away my wife cleaned up the physical mess often associated with the final moments of life.  She found a small box and made an impromptu coffin, complete with Chips’ blanket and toy chipmunk.  And put her in the beer fridge freezer downstairs, anticipating burial would likely be a day away.

She told the kids.  Five-year-old Graham cried.  Hannah, now nine, stormed upstairs, angrier initially, loudly proclaiming that “I’ll never be happy again.”

Emotions were raw; we were all really pretty fond of her.

Truth be told we all cried that day.

Kathi ordered pizza that night and cuddled up with the kids to watch a Lego movie.  By the time I got home later that evening, I quickly realized the hard work of the day had been done.  As I tucked the kids into bed we talked of Chips, our joys, our sorrows, our memories of her.  We imagined her now running, carefree, in heaven, reuniting with her dog-sister Salsa.

Salsa and Chips go together.  One without the other is incomplete. We named them so for that very reason.  And now, after several years apart, they are together once again.

My wife had done the hard work that day.  I was grateful for her strength.  And proud to be on her team.

When it came time for the burial the next day I picked out a couple of shovels and a trowel from the shed. We selected a spot in the back yard not too far from our fire pit.  And near a large bush birds often gather at to sing.

Digging began.

I started in, Hannah picked up the spare shovel, Graham selected the trowel.

It was a family affair.  A pleasant, unexpected surprise.

Kathi suggested today might be a good day to plant a tree.  Hannah had been given a sapling at school on Arbor Day.  Mom and kids then shifted their focus to the tree, finding a spot for it, digging, and planting.

We then spoke of death, and life.  And how both were fully present in the back yard.  Fully visible from our kitchen.

Grave now dug I retrieved Chips and grabbed a small prayer book I use for funerals.  We gathered around the graveside.  Liturgy began.

First, Psalm 23, and valleys, and shadows, and goodness, and mercy.

Each of us shared a favorite story.  Of first meetings.  And high jumpings.  And dog runnings.  And comfy cuddlings.  And lamb-bone eatings, not too very long ago.

Liturgy continued.

Earth to earth. My wife placed a shovel of it on the grave.
Ashes to ashes. Hannah placed another shovel atop the first.
Dust to dust.  Graham took the trowel and added a bit more.

Rest eternal grant her, O Lord.

We imagined light perpetual shining on her now, and forevermore.

Kathi later joked that Chips been given a Lutheran burial.  My mind wandered to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and his own stories of dogs and the afterlife.  I realized she was probably right.

Graveside service now complete I dismissed the family to depart in peace – as pastors always do – and was again pleasantly surprised.

They wanted to stay and help put the rest of the dirt on Chips’ grave.  We took turns, with shovel and trowel, moving the earth to its final resting place.

Kathi found a gazing ball and stand in the front yard we’ve wanted to move for a while.  We decided it would make for a better gravestone, so we moved it to the back.  And that’s what it now is.

Kathi and I then went inside.  We embraced.  We sniffled.  We shared a kiss.

The kids asked if they could play outside.  Yes, of course.  We watched as they went to the playset to swing high, high in the air.  A playset less than 20 feet from the gazing ball now serving as a gravestone.

A gazing ball we can see from our kitchen.

And I realized, in that moment, that all was as it should be.

Getaways

My goodness, it’s early May. Where has the time gone? This weekend we celebrate our confirmands graduation. Next weekend we celebrate our high school graduates.

Heck, finals week at Iowa State starts Monday, and Ames public schools finish up the last day of the month.

You know what all that means.

Summer break!

Family vacations!

Getaways!

We take these getaways for lots of reasons. For one, our schedule, at least for many of us, gets leaner. With schools out students and teachers have more down time. Friends and couples find themselves freer to travel. Parents want to make the most of their time with their shorties, and take them to new and exciting places. Often grandparents and great-grandparents join in on the fun too. In this they help usher in grand traditions for the next generation.

We getaway, at least in this part of the country, to enjoy warm weather as best we can. Having lived in South Florida, below the frost line, for sixteen years, our family was used to seeing the annual influx of snowbirds each winter. People would stay for a long weekend, or week or two, or month or two, or half the year. With temperatures that only bottom out in the 40s most winters down there I totally get the draw.

And when weather warms up here? Heck yeah we want to get away to the great outdoors. Heck yeah we want to enjoy it as best we can.

Sometimes we get away to celebrate. Summers can be a reward of sorts. Another year of school successfully completed. Or another year of work navigated. Or an incredibly cold, record-breaking winter in Central Iowa – survived – we did it!

So we pat ourselves on the back, and look to get away. We look to recognize a job well done.

That is the case with our eleven confirmation graduates. Our confirmands have spent the past three years learning about and growing into their faith, making it their own. Confirmation now complete, school year almost over, celebrations now beginning, I’d bet you a nickel that each one of our graduates have some summer getaway plans forming they’re dreaming about.

And sometimes we get away to mourn. That was the case just over two years ago for my family. After being in a call process with a congregation in Chicagoland – for six months! – the call committee opted to not proceed with either candidate. My wife and I were heartbroken. We have family in Chicago. And lots of friends. And the Chicago Cubs. And deep-dish pizza.

Thinking optimistically, we’d even put an offer in on a house there that we adored. It was a mid-century modern home, built in the 50s with an open-concept kitchen, large fireplace and a massive family room with a wood-beam vaulted, slanted ceiling. It was so cool.

But none of that was to be.

Deep in sadness, Kathi and I did something anyone else that lives less than three hours away from the most magical place on earth would do. We took our family to Disney World!

And it was there, kicking it with the mouse, where we began to heal.

Disciples Getaway
Today’s reading from John 20 also features a getaway, and a famous one at that.

By this point the disciples had been part of Jesus’ ministry for about two and a half years. By then they’d pretty much seen it all. They’d dropped their jobs, left their families. They got away to learn from a charismatic man who simply said, “follow me.”

In their time together the disciples saw miracles performed, parables spoken, and travelled all over the place helping to get the message, of a truly great man, out to all who would hear. Over time they slowly began to realize, and then believe, that this truly great man, was so much more.

The last week of Jesus’ life, for the disciples that followed him, was particularly gripping. They were there for Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, complete with palm fronds waving. They dined at the Last Supper, eating of the bread, drinking of the cup. They were present at the Garden of Gethsemane when he was taken away. The were aware of his trial, and death, and had seen him after he’d risen from the dead.

And if that doesn’t make for an emotional roller-coaster, over one week’s time, then I don’t know what does.

It is in the aftermath of all these events where Peter makes a decision.

“I’m going fishing,” he declares. Another half a dozen disciples decide to join him.

Perhaps they got away to celebrate the end of a journey.

Perhaps they got away to commemorate the changing of one season to the next.

Perhaps they got away to reflect, trying to make sense of all that had happened.

Perhaps they got away to mourn, knowing the end of their story, at least as recorded in the gospels, was coming to a close.

Perhaps it was a bit of all of the above.

Rocking the Boat
The first night of the fishing getaway the disciples caught zilch, zero, nada. Now back on shore they saw there a mysterious man who then gave them some advice.

Cast the nets on the other side, the man said.

But not all the disciples understood, as this humorous comic suggests.

It’s a reminder that understanding the voice of God, and what exactly to do with it, can be a tricky thing.

Whether the disciples truly understood or not they decided to take this mysterious man’s advice. And they caught so many fish. 153 to be precise. So many they were unable to bring the net in. Instead they began to drag the net back to shore.

When John saw this fishy miracle he immediately recognized the mysterious man, and exclaimed, “It is the Lord!”

Peter, who had been naked in the boat, threw some clothes on, jumped into the water, and then swam to meet his savior.

It’s a fair question to ask at the point…

PETER WAS NAKED IN THE BOAT?!?

WHAT THE HECK WAS HE DOING NAKED IN THE BOAT?!?

He was hanging out with a half dozen of his closest dude friends, wearing nothing but his birthday suit.

Which, as we castanets is a reminder. Scripture is filled with humor. And filled with gratuitous nudity too. Aka it’s anything *but* boring.

Anyhoo, the disciples get back to the shore with their fish. We can presume, I think, that they were all now wearing clothes.

The seven then gather over a charcoal fire, sharing in a breakfast of fish and bread. Spending some time to catch up with Christ. It’s a holy scene, represented by a holy, complete number.

That sounds like a pretty good getaway to me.

Close
As spring winds down and we look toward summer vacations, let me encourage you do to something.

Look for signs, of the risen Christ, among you.
Look for Christ-signs in unexpected places.

Places like planes, trains and automobiles.
Place like boats, cabins and tents.

Look for Christ in nature, in people, in unexpected conversations.

Whether your summer getaways are to celebrate achievements or to re-group, or even to mourn something lost, look for Christ in these special, sacred moments.

While our family mourned the loss of a possible Chicagoland call exactly two years ago, God had something brewing while we traipsed around Disney World, busily getting away from it all. What was brewing was in this cute little town we’d never even heard of before, Ames Iowa. And before long, well, you know the rest of that story.

Wherever you go, whatever you do, look for Christ-signs, for they are all around us. And when you find them – for they are there – remember this. Today’s gospel ends with some of the last documented words of Christ ever recorded. And in those words Christ kept things simple.

When you spot Jesus out and about in this world, in whatever form that takes, may it remind you of something. “Follow me,” Christ beckons. “Follow me.”  Amen.