Monday, April 16, 2012

God Speaking: Like an Outfitter

Preached on Sunday, April 15, 2012
Scripture readings: Psalm 23; John 21:1-14

On one of our rafting trips on the Wallowa and Grande Ronde Rivers, we took a break at a spot where there were already some other rafts drawn up on the shore. There were people working there, pitching tents and setting up awnings.

They were outfitters. They belonged to a business that guided tourists on the rivers and took care of them on their journey. They guided them. They protected them. They fed them. They set up their tents for them. This was their way of giving their customers a true, wild river adventure. So they said.

They seemed to like what they did. They claimed to be very good at their jobs.

When we read the twenty-third psalm and say, “The Lord is my shepherd”, we are saying, “The Lord is my outfitter.” A shepherd is a sort of outfitter for sheep.

The Old Testament King David, who wrote this psalm, started out as a shepherd, the youngest in a string of eight sons. He was never likely to do any better in life than be a shepherd working for his brothers. Life told him, at the start, that he needed to be humble, and he got a lot of wisdom from thinking what it would mean to be a person who was like a sheep; being guided, and protected, and cared for by God as his shepherd.

It is the nature of God to be an outfitter of his people; and really of his whole creation. There is another psalm that says: “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:15-16)

It is the nature of God to be an outfitter. He took care of his people when he led them out of slavery in Egypt. God brought them food, and gave them water to drink. God kept their clothing and their sandals from wearing out. God showed them when and where to set up camp; and when to break camp, and what direction to go next.

God even provided them with traveling money. But that is another story. (Exodus 12:35-36)

The outfitters on the Grande Ronde gave their people a pretty comfortable adventure. As we read about the adventures of the chosen people with God in the wilderness, it becomes clear that having God as your outfitter never takes the adventure out of the experience. It never feels easy. The word “comfort” would not describe it.

Jesus is a bit like an outfitter in the last chapter of the Gospel of John. He directs his disciples to a lake they know very well, in the north of the country: a good fishing lake. He knows that they know where the boats are. He seems to be on shore watching them fish all night. He gives them some successful advice when they need it. And he has breakfast ready for them when they come in for the morning.

Now the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus is the Word of God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life.” (John 1:1-4)

Jesus, as the Son of God, has always been God always speaking himself, and expressing himself. Through Jesus we see who God is. Our relationship with Jesus is what our relationship with God is, because we were made through him.

So John tells us that the one who guides us, and protects us, and feeds us, and quenches our thirst, and shelters us is the one who suffered and died for us on the cross. He is the one who defeated the power of sin, and death, and the devil by rising from the dead. It is the nature of Jesus to be our outfitter even in the face of death itself.

The psalm tells us this. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”  (Psalm 23:4)

In fact Jesus shows us why we fear no evil in the shadow of death. On the cross Jesus carried our guilt, our regrets, our failures, our weaknesses, and even our fears and doubts. He shouted from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46)) God took even our fears and doubts into himself. Jesus is God doing this.

Our experience with Jesus will tell us that Jesus’ outfitting our journey does not make that journey easy, because he didn’t make it easy for himself. If it were easy, it would be no adventure. Crosses and resurrections are extreme adventures. That is his trademark as an outfitter.

It is the nature of the God who created us in his own image to be a lover of adventure. If we want our journey to carry his trademark, if we want to be the people who have been made in the image of God (as we see that image in Jesus) then we must be people who are ready for the adventure; even though that adventure may be difficult and challenging.

Good parents want this for their children. They don’t want their children to be so afraid of life that they do not go ahead and live.

 In Jesus, God may not make us comfortable; but he does make himself our comfort. In Jesus, God may not make our adventure easy; but he does make himself our strength. He gives himself to us as our example, our companion, and our guide. We are never entirely on our own, because he is our Savior and our Lord.

One nice thing about rafting on our part of the Wallowa and the Grande Ronde is that the stretches of calm water and rapids are beautifully arranged. The rapids are challenging and exciting, but they don’t go on forever. Each set of rapids ends so that you know you have been stretched, but not stretched beyond your limit.

There is enough calm between the rapids to relax and even get impatient for the next section of white water. If you want to go forward, you have to row harder in the calm, because the water is slow. In the wild parts, the water itself carries you forward, and you are too busy dodging the rocks to think about how hard you are rowing.

When we meet the disciples by the Lake of Galilee, which got renamed in honor of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, it is hard to tell whether they were on a calm stretch, or on one of the rapids of their adventure.

Of course Galilee is a lake and there are no rapids at all. But I wonder what was going on inside them, on the river of their hearts and their minds.

These people had been sent by Jesus on a mission. When Jesus went to see them after he rose from the dead, he told them, “As the Father has sent me I am sending you.” (John 20:21)

They had followed Jesus on his mission to the end. They would have felt some fear at the thought of being sent like him.

They were on the Lake of Galilee because Jesus has told them to go and meet him there. The Feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was going to come upon them, and equip them, and empower them for their mission had not yet come.

They were in between. They knew they were supposed to do something, but it was impossible to visualize it. They were not convinced about what that something ought to be. They certainly didn’t know how they would do it.

They didn’t even know how to think about it, or how to pray about it. They felt inadequate and powerless in every way. They were waiting for further instructions, and they had no idea that Jesus was already outfitting them and instructing them while they muddled around looking for something to do and fishing in vain.

The friends of Jesus found themselves in an odd position. Jesus had died and rose from the dead. They had seen Jesus, and they had been sent by him. Now they seemed to be diverted by Jesus into meaningless stuff while life changing demands and challenges were just around the corner.

I think that this is part of the outfitting of God for our adventure. No matter how strange and intimidating, so matter how uncertain and uncomfortable our lives become, there is always so much “stuff” coming at us that can’t be ignored.

All of this “stuff” seems to have no meaning, in the sense that it has nothing to do with the huge concerns in front of us. But these things are meaningful.

They are the seemingly small, ordinary concerns that drive us crazy because we think they get in the way of the big things. We need to be taught to see the meaning in them. This is part of our equipping.

We need the small and ordinary things to remind us that we are ordinary. We are as humble, and as simple, and as basic as sheep; and that is a good thing. There is a holiness to be found in our smallness, and we must learn to respect it because so much of God’s love is spent on what we might consider small and ordinary.

God has outfitted life with a thousand common things to do. No matter how tall the mountain or how wild the river is, no matter how long and unrelenting the waiting seems, we still must eat, and sleep, and walk; and care for animals, and pets, and homes, and family, and neighbors. God himself is with us in our duty of seeing to these thousand ordinary things.

What wonderful miracle did Jesus do for his friends by the lake? He made them the very same breakfast they would have made for themselves, if they had caught some fish in the night. There was a fire started early enough to sink into coals for cooking the meal, without burning it or smoking it. There was some flatbread. There were the fish.

Jesus loves to think of the simple things that we might do for ourselves. Jesus gave his friends the living demonstration that (risen as he is) he is not above simple things. He is not entirely above us.

All that ordinary stuff is just as holy as it is necessary. We need to be thankful for every ordinary thing we have to do, no matter how much it all seems to get in the way of the big things.

Another lesson about the breakfast on the beach is that it spoke to the worry and stress of their hearts and minds. In all their confusion about what to think, and what to do next, they found that Jesus had them on his mind. Jesus was prepared to take care of them. Jesus had been working for them even when they hadn’t been aware of him. Jesus was watching them even when they didn’t see him.

On the before Jesus was arrested and crucified, he warned them what was coming, and he told them that they would have joy because they would see him again. (John 16:19-20) Even though Jesus rules in heaven, there is a sense in which we live, as Christians, by seeing him. This is faith, and faith is not as blind as some people would tell you.

But there is another source of joy that we can have when we do not think we can see him. That is another joy of faith, knowing that Jesus sees us. We are never out of his sight for one moment. While Jesus told them about his coming death, he also promised them this. “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:22)

Maybe it sounds like the same thing, but it is not the same. There is a joy that is equal to the joy of seeing Jesus. That is the joy of being seen by Jesus.

Jesus always sees us. Just like the disciples fishing on the lake all through the night, seemingly all for nothing, we are never out of his sight. This is our safety. This is our strength. Always being seen by Jesus is part of how he outfits us for our adventure.

When the disciples brought their boat and their haul of fish to the shore they found a big breakfast waiting for them. I think that the meal Jesus prepared for them was more than enough. John doesn’t tell us that they actually put their fish on the fire to cook, alongside Jesus’ fish. Jesus only offered them some room for their fish: “Put some of those here!”

No! Wait! I think they did put part of their catch on the coals, but that was for their second breakfast. Why would you have only one breakfast, when you have been out fishing all night?

Jesus had done enough. Jesus didn’t need their help. There was nothing lacking in what he had prepared for them.

We need to know this, if we are going to live as the friends of Jesus whom he has sent on a mission in this world. We need to know that Jesus has taken care of everything. There is something about who he is and what he has done that is enough.

When someone tells us that Christ is counting on us, we are in real trouble if we don’t know how to say that we are counting on Christ. When we hear someone tell us that Christ has no hands but our hands, we need to respect the urgency they want us to feel, but we also need the confidence of knowing that it isn’t exactly true.

We are his hands, his feet, his voice; but Jesus has hands we don’t know of. There are others working and praying in ways we do not know. We don’t know anything about them, but they exist.

The most important thing to know is that Jesus has power of his own to work without us. There is real power in what he has done for us and for the world. There is power in his death on the cross. There is power in his resurrection. They have more power than ideas. They have more power than inspiration. They have more power than motivation. They deliver a power into the lives of those who trust him. They deliver a power that works in the world that God loves.

Jesus standing on the beach, waiting for his disciples to come in and be fed and refreshed teaches us that we do not carry Jesus, but Jesus carries us. The Lord will provide a way. Jesus doesn’t need us, but he loves us, and he wants us, and he calls us.
We are the luxury of God. God is our bread. God is our necessity, just as much as food, and water, and sleep, and air. But we are a luxury to God. God does not love us because he needs us. God loves us because he wants us. God does not call us because he needs our help. God calls us because he loves adventure and he wants us to share this love with him.

When we were children, watching other children play, the best part of going to play with them was not because we thought they needed us. The best part of going to play with others was that we saw the abundance and the joy in their play and we wanted to be a part of it.

The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit are full of abundance and joy in their playing in the creation. The adventure is not to be found in their need, because they have no need. The adventure is found in their joy.

But there is still the greater joy of being wanted; and being invited and called. This is what God in Jesus meant when he gave them a big catch and called them to share it with him. Jesus is God calling us; actually calling us to enter into his joy and share it with him. This is who God is, and he came in Jesus to show us this.

This is the God who sends us. Jesus sends us just as he was sent. He is God, the great outfitter of the adventure. He died and rose from the dead to change us from within, to change our attitudes, to free us from our past fears, and regrets, and failures. He has set us free from what other people have concluded about us, and from their judgments. He has set us free from our own self-condemnation and self-limitation.

Our limitations don’t come to an end, but God’s power steps in. God’s word to us is what he said to Paul, when Paul hit a wall that he called his “thorn in the flesh.” God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my grace is made perfect in weakness.” As a result of this, Paul spoke of the paradox of our weakness and God’s strength this way: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) This is the joy of what it means for us to be part of God’s creation, and the object of his saving love and power.

God outfits us in Jesus to give us freedom from every thing we have ever known before. In that freedom God gives us a new life fit for such an adventure; the adventure of being sent into the world by Jesus.


  1. good morning Pastor Dennis,

    yet another inspirational piece.

    the will of God will never take all of us where the Grace of God will not protect us.
    yes, Jesus see all of us.ll the time.
    i pray for health and strength all the time.

    thank you for your presence and continued support. it does really mean a lot.


  2. Men came from the sea
    with their unusual catch,
    one hundred and fifty three.
    A fire burned on the beach.

    They had expected nothing,
    Now there was a glut,
    And also this man waiting.
    The charcoal was white hot.

    But was the man there?
    One moment, it seemed so,
    The next, he was not.
    Master, they said, don't go.

    Like thin air shimmering,
    when powerful heat bakes it,
    he continued his waiting.
    Indefinite. Definite.

    The fire burned on the beach
    with their unusual catch.
    They had expected nothing.
    Now there was too much.

    Poem by Andrew Motion

  3. Good morninnnnnng, Pastor Dennis. Lovely and important words. Jesus as the power...
    we have to be grateful.

    God bless you.

  4. @Kay.What a cool poem. It makes me go back to the beach to see it all again. Curious!
    @Betty and Isabel: thanks for your presence and your thoughts. I am thankful for you both will be praying for you both.