“Do You Love Me?”

This was the title of the October 21 sermon by Associate Pastor Sarah Brouwer at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. [1] Below are photographs of Rev. Brouwer and of the church’s front entrance.





Preparing for the Word

The following Prayer of Confession was led by Executive Associate Pastor Meghan K. Gage-Finn with the congregation’s responses followed by silent prayers of confession:

  • One: O God, we confess that we need to approach the world differently, and, with your help, turn our judgments into acts of grace.
  • All: Help us to show grace to one another, and ourselves, O God.
  • One: As we pray, and name those things we are not proud of, we encounter all of the insecurity and fear that keeps us from loving ourselves and one another.
  • All: Help us to trust in your forgiveness, O God.
  • One: The Spirit leads us to seek and name the truth; in turn we can begin to reconcile, and heal wounds kept invisible.
  • All: Help us to rely on your Spirit, O God.
  • One: Injustice continues, and because of our privilege we are able to tune it out, and leave those who suffer in our wake of ignorance.
  • All: Help us to pay attention and engage in the work of justice and peace, O God. 
  • One: We come together to confess, to support one another in the hard work of being honest, and to marvel at the gift of God’s grace.

Listening for the Word

The Scripture: John 21: 1-19 (NRSV):

“After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’  They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.”

“Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’  So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’  When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.”

“When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.”

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, “’Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

 The Sermon:[2]

“For the disciples in our text for today, going fishing wasn’t really an option- more of a necessity, as they needed to eat. But, we find them, too, with a sense of longing, because at this point they were grieving Jesus’ death. And so, they return to the Sea of Tiberius to do some fishing. Maybe they also just needed something to do something that felt familiar and brought back good memories. Tiberias, or more commonly called the Sea of Galilee, was near where the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 had taken place and where the Sermon on the Mount happened. It’s also where Jesus walked on water and calmed a storm. So, the disciples got out of town and headed to the beach, a place of memories. And while it might have seemed like a good idea to begin with, after fishing all night long and catching nothing, they were left even more emotionally, spiritually and physically worn out–maybe even ready to give up.”

“At a very low moment, scarce of food and hope, Jesus appears on the beach, at first unrecognizable. They see him from a distance, with the fire already going, preparing fish and bread for them. He tells the disciples to put the net in the water one last time and pull up some fish. And they do and [obtain an] abundance of fish. Then, the best thing ever happens. . . . . One of the disciples recognizes that it’s Jesus and Peter is so excited he jumps awkwardly and half-naked into the water, filled with abundance and joy that his friend is back.”

“I love Peter’s response. He doesn’t stop to check himself for appropriateness. He doesn’t try to make sense of the situation. Peter is unabashed in his eagerness to meet Jesus on the beach and it’s almost as if he loses his mind a little bit. He loves Jesus in an uncalculated, inexplicable way. And Jesus loves them, too.”

“I heard someone say once that this scene is so simple it’s hard to know what John is getting at. But, maybe that’s the point. It’s an encounter of abundant love  — no more and no less. It’s a memory the disciples had that John decided to write down. And they probably left some parts out — how the fire on the beach warmed them after a long, cold night on the boat, the crackling sound of the fire and the smell of the smoke as it cooked all of the fish, the nourishment of good bread and protein after hours of hunger, and the safety and communion they felt in Jesus’ presence. What a welcome, simple meal, after so much betrayal and death.”

“In many ways the story from John’s Gospel is one of scarcity and fear, which does not seem far from where we are today. A basic meal of plentiful fish and bread and a God who shows up when hope seems lost stands in stark contrast against the forceful and scary regimes of Jesus’ time.”

“The disciples’ initial lack of recognition of Jesus is a good reminder to me that scarcity can keep us from seeing abundance. Sometimes we miss the forest for the trees, when it feels like everything is wildly and irreversibly out of control. For the disciples it was grief over Jesus’ torturous death and the loss of a future for the people of Israel. For us it’s the partisanship and vitriol and lack of truth or accountability. I will admit, it is sometimes hard for me to imagine where God is showing up these days.”

“In the same way Jesus showed up resurrected on the beach of the Sea of Galilee and fed the disciples, the Body of Christ (the Church)—[according to William Cavanaugh, a professor who studies Catholicism in the Global South]–must continue to show up and disrupt history and stay visible. In the disciplined act of showing up, we [are formed by] the church . . . into a body that is not disappeared, but seen and heard and countercultural and subversive. It’s an act of resistance to all that tries to dominate us. In our showing up we declare that scarcity does not have the final word, and there is, in fact, abundance to reveal.”

“When the disciples are bringing their boat in to meet Jesus on the beach, he tells them to put their nets down just once more to see what they can pull up. It’s a really quick moment in the story that I’ve already glossed over, but John takes the time to mention that 153 fish are pulled out of the lake.”

Again, I don’t fish, but can you imagine taking that much Walleye out at once? On a little boat? With a net that, as the story says, has questionable ability to hold them all? It’s a crazy amount of fish. But, even crazier is that Jesus greets them in his resurrected body. Now, I know this is hard for all of us to wrap our minds around, but try to suspend your disbelief for just a moment, and imagine it. The raw wonder of it. The God we have shows up in a body and eats. It’s real and messy — think of all the sand in the food. But, this is the posture of abundance. Eating together in the midst of grief. Showing up for a meal when all seems lost.”

“And Peter, he not only says he loves Jesus, but he shows up, too. When he hears it is Jesus standing on the shore, he lets nothing stand in his way — not his own knowledge, not a boat, not feelings of fear or regret, not a sense of unworthiness, scarcity or anything else. It is less about him, he seems to realize, and more about Jesus and the meal he has prepared and the love that is offered, and finally, what he can offer others.”

“And so we must go and do as Peter did, without fear or rhyme or reason, with illogical joy and love. God shows up and so must we.”

“Thanks be to God.”


The setting of this encounter is important. The Sea of Tiberius was also known as the Sea of Galilee, where so many important events in Jesus’ life had occurred. This was news to me.

Peter and the others clearly were grieving Jesus’ crucifixion and perhaps were feeling abandoned and as a result perhaps were turning away from being His disciples and instead returning to their previous occupation of fishing.

Sensing all of this, Jesus out of love for them appears on the shore to make their breakfast and produces the large catch on the last try.

Jesus then challenges Peter three times with the question, “Simon, son of John, do you love me? “ Peter’s repeated response, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” shows that he did not understand why Jesus was asking despite the clues provided by Jesus —“Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” and “ Feed my sheep.” These responses are telling Peter to return to being His disciple, rather than fishing. That is how Peter and everyone else should demonstrate love for Jesus —by their acts of love for others–not mouthing words of love to Jesus.

Previously, I must confess, this passage did not mean much to me. Jesus asking the same question of Peter the second and third times, I thought, was being rude after Peter gave a  correct and truthful answer the first time. The passage also shows this was not a conversation. If it had been, after Peter’s first answer, then Jesus would have said something like, “Well, as I think you know, you need to demonstrate your love for me by tending to our flock. Help the people.”


[1] The bulletin for this service is available on the church’s website.

[2] Sermon, Do You Love Me? (Oct. 21: 2018).   This extract deletes the pastor’s personal observations that parallel those of the disciples.

[3] This blogger would appreciate comments from biblical scholars about the validity of his reactions to this biblical passage.

The Vocations of A Pastor and Her People

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church

Vocation or calling was the overall theme of the inspiring January 26th worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. Earlier posts have discussed two focal points of the first part of the service—Preparing for the Word. They were the Prayer of Confession and the Anthem based on “God Be in My Head” from the Sarum Primer of 1514.[1]

Rev. Meghan Gage-Finn
Rev. Meghan Gage-Finn

The second and central part of the service was “Listening for the Word” with the reading of three passages of Scripture: Acts 9: 36-43; Acts 16: 9-15 and Romans 12: 1-8 and commentary on them in the Sermon “God Is in This Place” by Rev. Meghan K. Gage-Finn.

This post will discuss the third passage and the accompanying commentary. (A prior post recited the passages from Acts and the commentary that at least three of the four people had different gifts and vocations.)

Romans 12: 1-8 (New Revised Standard version]:

  • “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
  • “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”

The clear message in this familiar passage is everyone has different gifts and, therefore, different vocations.

Rev. Gage-Finn told us that she recently had heard “a retired executive . . .  [say] that in all his years as a corporate professional and faithful church leader, he had never once been asked about his work and his faith and how the two either did or did not intersect for him.”

This comment had prompted Rev. Gage-Finn’s realization and confession that in her conversations with church members she had not asked such questions. And this realization motivated her to begin doing so and thereby expand her vocation as a Minister of Word and Sacrament. Here are some of the responses she received:

  • “Many could identify that, though they weren’t directly sheltering those who are homeless or clothing the naked every day, they have gifts and skills from God that they feel they can put to good use. One person said, ‘instead of looking for all the ways my job and career weren’t worthy, I began to search for ways they were. I looked for ways, big and small, I could make a positive impact on those around me every day and started focusing on those things.’”
  • Others said “they can see that God is at work in and through them, shaping and guiding them through difficult times and situations in their work. “
  • Another member told her, “In my case, I believe experiencing or finding a sense of call is that time when one ‘comes to peace’ with the intersection of those things that bring you joy and lift you up, and those activities that you’ve had some success with, and those areas where society will actually pay you a wage. That to me is finding a sense of call. This exactly means understanding that something that I thought was my sense of call is not really in the cards.”
  • Others “spoke of feeling that work and life away from Westminster can sometimes be challenging or in conflict with what they hear and learn about each week when they come to church. It doesn’t always fit.”

These responses prompted Gage-Finn to declare, “God is surely in this place [Westminster] while we are here, but in all the other places in our lives, at work and at home, in the boardroom and the cubicle, God is there.”

On the other hand, she said she had “learned from listening to you . . . that there may be a disconnect between what you do Monday through Friday and what you hear and experience at Westminster. Some are able to make that bridge, but for others it is hard and should be lifted up.”

“If we are people of faith when we are here and when we leave here, claiming that God is in this place and all places, then who we are and what we do is very much connected to our neighbors and our community. We know that Westminster is a telling presence . . . . At the same time, we are each as individuals working to be a telling presence, marketers of this Good News if you will, no matter where we are. We acknowledge that God is in all places and that we are all, as children of God–our most important title–ordained to the ministries of love, hospitality, and kindness, ordained as stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

Here is “my hope for you today: what you do matters, not because if you are an architect or engineer we can use you on the property committee, or if you are in finance or accounting your gifts could be used for the budgeting process. Because you are created in the image of God, you matter to your colleagues, your family, your community, and to God. Your life’s work matters. In all that you do, find ways to live and work with faith and integrity, and when you feel the disconnect, know that we will keep asking and listening and supporting, with God’s help.”

[1] The Bulletin for the January 26th service is available online along with the text and an audio recording of the sermon and a video recording of the service. Another blog post discussed Westminster’s order of worship while clicking on “Westminster Presbyterian Church” in the Tag Cloud at the top right of the blog will give you all of the posts about the church in reverse chronological order of posting.

The Vocations of Tabitha, Peter, Lydia and Paul

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster          Presbyterian Church

Vocation or calling was the overall theme of the inspiring January 26th worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. Earlier posts have discussed two focal points of the first part of the service—Preparing for the Word. They were the Prayer of Confession and the Anthem based on “God Be in My Head” from the Sarum Primer of 1514.[1]

The second and central part of the service was “Listening for the Word” with the reading of three passages of Scripture: Acts 9: 36-43; Acts 16: 9-15 and Romans 12: 1-8 and the preacher’s discussion of them. This post will recite the first two passages and the commentary on them in the Sermon “God Is in This Place” by Rev. Meghan K. Gage-Finn. (A subsequent post will recite the third passage and the accompanying commentary.)

Acts 9: 36-43 (New Revised Standard version):

  • “Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, ‘Please come to us without delay.’ So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.”

Acts 16: 9-15 (New Revised Standard version):

  • “During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.”

Rev. Gage-Finn said that Tabitha was “the only woman in the Bible to be given the designation of disciple, . . .[and she had the] gift[s] of sewing [and charity that] may not be perceived as important as the gift of teaching or prophecy, but her ministry and her work in the world [in making and giving clothing to widows] was in gratitude to God and it was her way of following her Lord.”

The story’s inclusion of Peter illustrates his vocation. Peter went with the two men, “not knowing what was needed of him. [His vocation was being] . . . available to the ways God would use him, the ways a community might need him. Peter was simply open to the ways God would work through him to serve others.” Paul’s going to Macedonia can also be seen as fulfilling the same vocation of responding to requests for his presence to advance Jesus’ mission.

The story about Lydia, according to Rev. Gage-Finn, was another example of someone who was “available to the work of God.” Lydia was “a successful business woman who dealt purple cloth, which was of great economic significance in that day. She mingled with the wealthy, yet her further distinction is that her conversion to Christianity [was the first] in Europe, at Phillipi in Macedonia, and through her Christ’s ministry was furthered in that region. . . . Lydia demonstrates her conversion through hospitality [to Paul].”

Note that the three of the four people in these passages had different gifts and used them in different ways. They all had the same mission, but different ways or vocations of fulfilling that mission.

[1] The Bulletin for the January 26th service is available online along with the text and audio recording of the sermon and a video recording of the service. Another blog post has discussed Westminster’s order of worship while clicking on “Westminster Presbyterian Church” in the Tag Cloud at the top right of the blog will give you all of the posts about the church in reverse chronological order of posting.