ÒPersonally Encountering ChristÓ                                                     April 14, 2013

Revelation 5:11-14 & John 21:1-19                                                  Stephens City UMC


Grace and peace to you from God our father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


I.              Malcolm Muggeridge who did so much through his BBC reports to make Mother Teresa known to the world so that people would contribute money to her work once confessed that the major difference between Mother Teresa and him was that she stayed and confronted the poverty of India while he left and returned to Great Britain.

A.   For many of us we can more easily relate to Malcolm Muggeridge than to Mother Teresa.

1.    ThatÕs because when life becomes difficult, when we canÕt find our way, when we are totally confused, when things are not going our way then we tend to leave, to run away from the situation.

2.    And when we do make our exit we usually seek the entrance that leads back to our old familiar routine which in MuggeridgeÕs case was England.

3.    You know – the ways things use to be, the safe and the comfortable.

4.    Those old patterns of thinking and behaving just feel right, kind of.

5.    Oh, we know we should move forward, but going back is so easy to do and so we do it.

B.   As some unnamed author wrote in an article entitled ÒInterrupting the SilenceÓ and IÕm going to share a number of thoughts from that article, thatÕs what happened to Peter and six others in our Gospel lesson for this morning.

1.    Jesus had appeared to them on a number of times but they hadnÕt seen him for a while so impulsive Peter took the lead and basically said, ÒWell, I donÕt know what to do next so IÕm leaving Jerusalem and going back to the Sea of Galilee to return to fishing.Ó

2.    Peter was so confused about the Jesus stuff that the best option he could come up with was to walk 80 miles north to Caperanum to where it all had begun.

3.    By doing that Peter was returning to his life before Jesus.

4.    That wasnÕt a good decision because that was like Jesus hadnÕt had any effect on him.

5.    Even worse was that others joined him so if I had been Jesus I would have wondered if I had had any effect on those I thought had been closest to me and in whom I had invested a lot of time as well as myself in teaching them.

6.    Jesus may well be thinking that today of us.

C.    But I guess that thereÕs a kinder way to look at this.

1.    Perhaps Peter didnÕt set out so much to catch fish as to catch answers to the questions that were nagging at him.

2.    During my life time I have resided in 22 different houses, apartments or dormitories.

3.    I have lived in a lot of different communities and known all sorts of people.

4.    Like Peter I have walked away from a number of people and situations, but like Peter I have never been able to get away from myself and my issues.

5.    Every place I have lived and the people I have met have influenced my life and Peter could not escape the impact on his life from having spent three years with Jesus watching him heal and feed and forgive.

6.    Those experiences had been profound.

7.    And most particularly Peter could not escape his experience of being with Jesus during JesusÕ final week of life.

8.    That experience had included: the last supper, JesusÕ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, the questioning by others while Peter warmed himself by the charcoal fire, the denials Peter issued, the cock crowing, the look from Jesus, the cross, the empty tomb and those peculiar words from the risen Jesus ÒPeace be with you.Ó

9.    If I had been Peter IÕd been fishing too and I would have needed a lot of fish to deal with all the questions on my plate.

10.Questions like: Just what have I done by denying Jesus? What were those three years all about? I thought I knew who Jesus was but just who is Jesus? Where am I suppose to go? What is going to happen to me? Where is my place? What is my purpose?

11. I appreciate Peter because he was in the dark and too often I feel like IÕm in the dark on some things so I want to join Peter in the night fishing that John describes.

D.   Tell me, what are you fishing for in life?

1.    Are you asking questions similar to PeterÕs?

2.    Are you seeking your place in life, are you seeking a peace that passes understanding?

3.    Are you in need of a sense of meaning and affirmation?

4.    If you had to assign a context to your night fishing would that context be confusion or failure or loss or sorrow?

5.    Like Peter we all inevitably face the things we have done and the things we have left undone.

E.    If so then fish on because in our Gospel lesson Jesus comes and says, ÒChildren, you have no fish, have you?Ó

1.    In all honesty those long ago answered ÒNoÓ and if thatÕs your honest answer then thatÕs your best answer.

2.    Notice that after that honest answer that Jesus told them to cast their net on the right side, Òand you will find someÓ he said.

3.    Indeed they did.

4.    And what a change!

5.    No longer were their nets empty and no longer were they empty.

6.    Again, as the article ÒInterrupting the SilenceÓ notes, ÒThis movement of the net from one side of the boat to the other symbolizes the disciplesÕ resurrection. It is the great Passover. Jesus calls us to move out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.Ó (Interrupting the Silence, April 19, 2010)

F.    What I want you to recognize is that Peter and the other disciples on that morning had a personal encounter with the Lord.

1.    Quite properly and accurately they proclaimed, ÒIt is the Lord.Ó

2.    And because of that personal encounter their emptiness was filled as was symbolized by the abundance of fish.

3.    They were large fish, 153 of them which some say was the number of nations in the world at that time, but as IÕve worked on this sermon IÕve wondered if 153 was the number of questions those disciples had that got answered.

4.    Again, the article ÒInterrupting the SilenceÓ offers some other insights in that:

Darkness was driven away by the light of a new day.

A new charcoal fire kindled hospitality in the place of the cold ashes of rejection.

The last supper became the first breakfast.

Confessions of love overcame denials of fear.

5.    I would put forth that that morning Peter and those disciples moved from Good Friday to Easter and the question for you and for me today is are we still on Good Friday with all our sorrow and pain and disappointment and regret and sin or have we moved to joy and healing and happiness and confidence and life?


II.            I think the answer to that question has to do with whether or not you have had a personal encounter with Jesus.

A.   Hopefully here at this church we have helped you to have a personal encounter through worship or music or a Sunday school class or a small group or a mission project or in a number of other ways.   

1.    That has been my experience here while serving as your pastor.

2.    In Advent and Lenten studies, in co-teaching Christian Believer with Waverly, in Confirmation classes with our youth, during worship services, when weÕve hosted the homeless over Christmas through WATTS, and even on occasion during some committee meetings I have experienced a personal encounter with Jesus and you have shared with me that you have also.

3.    Blessed be the Lord for those times he has been on our shoreline and has helped us in our struggles by first helping us to find answers to the questions before us and then has fed us.

B.   Today I want to affirm that that has happened here but I also want to talk about another place that happens and that is Camp Overlook.

1.    The camp we here on the Winchester District share with the members of the Harrisonburg and Staunton Districts is located near Harrisonburg and was established as a site for Christian ministries in the early 1960s.

2.    I was blessed to have known some of the founders of Camp Overlook and twice have served on its Board of Directors.

3.    It is a place where Jan and I have sent our children as campers.

4.    Ben served for four years on camp staff and Laura is getting ready to go back this summer for her third year on staff.

5.    While our children were growing up I served three different appointments of which two out of the three had a strong Sunday school program for them.

6.    Much of their biblical knowledge and depth of their faith can be traced to their experiences as campers and staff members at Camp Overlook and for that Jan and I are extremely grateful.

7.    IÕve said it before and IÕll say it again, if you want your children to have a personal encounter with Jesus and to learn more about the Bible and discipleship, then send them to Camp Overlook.

8.    I know money is tight in some families and people feel obligated to send their children to soccer camp or band camp and those are good experiences, but do not neglect their spiritual formation.

9.    Years from now they will thank you.

C.    ThatÕs the testimony of a woman who went to Camp Overlook as a camper five decades ago.

1.    She recently wrote to the Camp that she remembers an evening chapel service where the campers were told they were to be the light of the world.

2.    Moreover, they were told that Jesus was calling each of them to share His love; to commit themselves to discipleship; to make a decision as to who they were going to follow.

3.    This happened along the shoreline of the swimming hole.

4.    This woman recalled that as she surveyed the shoreline she had a personal encounter with Jesus and for the first time in her life she was keenly aware of the Holy Spirit.

5.    That was the night she made her initial commitment to Christ and those of us who have been Christian for years known that you end up making many commitments to Christ because thatÕs how you grow in faith, but there has to be a first and for many children and youth that first commitment occurs at a Christian camp.

D.   Personally Camp Overlook is a place I go for spiritual renewal.

1.    As a number of you know I am part of a group of clergy who gather together on the mountain at Blessings Lodge at Camp Overlook for five days prior to Ash Wednesday every year.

2.    We spiritually prepare for Lent by following the discipline of a monastery by rising every morning for morning prayer at 5:00 a.m. and holding four other prayer services during the day as well as daily receiving Holy Communion.

3.    Other than meals we are in silence so we can give ourselves to listening and speaking with the Holy Spirit.

4.    Each year we learn more about what it means to be Òone in the Spirit, one in the Lord.Ó

E.    Camp Overlook isnÕt just for children and youth – it is for all GodÕs Children no matter your age.

1.    One of my hopes is that weÕll do more to avail ourselves of the opportunities that are offered at Camp Overlook in the way of marriage enrichment retreats and planning retreats and service projects such as when I and some other men went this fall to chain saw fallen trees and move limbs to clean up the camp and to use that wood for camp fires – camp fires that often are times not only for physical warmth but for spiritual warmth.

2.    Remember, it only takes a spark to get a fire going.

F.    As we read in JohnÕs Gospel, long ago Jesus did that with a charcoal fire.

1.    My experience has been that when Jesus finds something that works to bring people in personal relationship with Him that He keeps using it.

2.    If you have children and havenÕt picked up a summer camp brochure let me encourage you to do so after the worship service.

3.    If you are an adult look for announcements about spiritual growth opportunities at Camp Overlook.

4.    Maybe someday IÕll be able to convince one or more of the groups in our church to go on a retreat at Blessings Lodge which is very nice and the food is great.

5.    ItÕs less than an hourÕs drive.

6.    And itÕs worth it because Jesus still comes to the shoreline to meet his people to answer their many questions and to feed his people so that they can carry out the work of tending his lambs and feeding his sheep.