Monday, 20 May 2019


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Established May 2009, Little Rock, AR

Recent Sermons

Fish, Fire, and Forgiveness

May 5, 2019

May 5, 2019

Fish, Fire, and Forgiveness

Yesterday I preached at one of my favorite churches, New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.  A comfortable mix of black and white, the church is only ten years old, and they are clear about what’s at stake. You will understand why I love and respect this congregation when your read their vision:


We are a social justice ministry inspired by the grace and truth of God and the life and teachings of Jesus to advocate as agents of the Holy Spirit for systemic change in our community, produce equal access to just opportunities and confront inequality, oppression and the social ills which result from those causes.


I believe they are actively living into this sense of calling.

I used John 21, the fitting epilogue to the whole Gospel, to sort out the meaning of the great catch and the untorn net; Jesus cooking for his friends by the fire; and the forgiveness extended to Simon, son of John, who had failed so miserably as a faithful disciple.  According to Alan Culpepper, world-class scholar of John, Peter is the most complex character in the Gospel, next to Jesus.  (Mary Magdalene is surely complex, also.)

Can you imagine how Peter was eager/not eager to see Jesus? Interestingly, Jesus did not bring up the scene in the courtyard outside the high priest’s home, the scene of the denial—and ironically, the scene of another charcoal fire. Why add further shame to Peter? There was not finger wagging.  Rather, the conversation affirmed the leadership role that Jesus beckoned from him.

Forgiveness does not wait for repentance. Indeed, as Miroslav Volf puts it, how can someone repent if we do not forgive.  That is what Jesus grants to Peter in this scene.  Yes, he needed fish, but he needed forgiveness more. Jesus is asking Peter nothing less than to be his partner in “drawing” (same word as the hauling of fish) all to him.


It will the same for us. If we would serve others well, it must come from a deep conviction that we are working alongside Jesus. Not only will it give our lives their true dignity, but it will transform places of need from despair to the possibility of resurrected life.

Jesus knows our names, and when he calls us by name, we know that we are claimed. You can tell that someone loves us by how they speak our name.  Just as he had spoken to Mary in the garden, now he speaks to Simon, son of John, by the sea.

When we respond fully to his gift of life to us, to his forgiveness, we will see the world differently.  It does not have to remain the same.  We can be resurrected to walk in newness of life, and we should expect to be given work to do, just like the haul of fish.



The congregation blessed me more than I blessed them, and Pastor Wendell Griffen is my cherished brother.  He is leading this church into the future, especially as he names it the beloved community.

Molly T. Marshall