Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Beloved, Peter and Faith

John 21:1-25
Since Easter we have been looking at what are called the ‘post resurrection events’ or the times that Jesus appears as the risen Christ as recorded in this well loved Gospel of John.

I have chosen to read the passage in its entirety; it is a bit lengthy so hang in there.  From the 21st chapter of John the first verse…..

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.”

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” So the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Here ends our reading and also the Gospel of John.

Imagine having gone through all that the disciples did during the last days of Jesus’ life.  A strange request for a donkey, palm branch waving crowds.  A final meal. Silver coins, darkened alleyways.  A cold night, a hot fire and a rooster crowing.  All the while the intensity grew.

Then, a horrible death that lasted for some time only to be followed by silence, sort of like that initial shock of silence after an explosion when no one knows quite what happened but the deadened silence instills fear.  Burial and Sabbath. 

But Mary witness’ of the empty tomb and her encounter with Jesus give the disciples a glimpse of what Jesus had been telling them about those years that he was with them. Jesus appears to the disciples, and to Thomas.  Seeing is believing but then he was gone again.  And they locked themselves in a room.

Wouldn’t you?  Come on – all these things are strange events and they just couldn’t string them together into any semblance of normal life like it used to be with Jesus.  They were changed and they knew it.  But they just didn’t know what to do so finally they resume life, as they knew it, or tried to at least.

Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanial and the Zebedee brothers and I’m assuming the rest decide to go back to the Sea of Tiberias or Galilee.  Up north from Jerusalem as the crow flies.  Might as well.  Jesus wasn’t around, it was back to business as usual, the ordeal was over.  I think it must have been a let down and a horribly confusing and mournful time. Here was this man who shook everyone up and turned their world topsy-turvey and then he was gone.  

And after any tragedy or death there comes a time when we realize that we have to pick up the pieces and reluctantly put one foot in front of the other into your newly ordered future.  It’s never easy.

But for Peter the fog lifts and he says, “I’m going fishing!” and the others follow him out on a very unsuccessful fishing expedition.  All. Night. Long.  No. Fish.

Then they hear someone calling from ashore, ‘Cast your nets to the right side of the boat, you’ll get fish there.’  And, of course, it was Jesus.  It was the beloved disciple who hears and understands that it was none other than their much-loved master.  And it was Peter who jumped in the lake and swam ashore.  They eat and Peter get’s his marching orders.

I want to sketch two portraits for you this morning of the Beloved Disciple and of Peter because you need the essence and spirit that both of these men display in this Gospel for a rich life of faith grounded in Jesus.

The beloved disciple, also known as the one whom Jesus loved, is a curious addition to the Gospel of John and you won’t find him in any other New Testament books.  He is commonly identified as John the Evangelist but there is much debate about that since the second century CE.  He has also been identified as Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, an unknown disciple, or as a composite for all faithful followers and disciples of Jesus.  There is no conclusive evidence nor is there any real confirmation on why his identity is concealed.  Suffice it all to say he holds a special place in this Gospel appearing six times and he is very special to Jesus.

If we were to look at the attributes that are displayed in the beloved disciple you’ll see that he is contemplative as he reclines close to Jesus as the last supper.  He is trustworthy, caring and compassionate as he is entrusted the care of Mary the mother of Jesus.  But most of all he is the introspective one, he is the one that takes the time to really know Jesus, to contemplate the mystery of who Jesus is and his divine nature.  The beloved disciple has understanding and lends that to John’s Gospel account.  Remember this Gospel is different from the other three.

And then you have Peter, dear, dear Peter.  Peter is always on the go doing something or other.  He is undoubtedly the leader of the disciples, not always stable in his faith but he tries.  And when he messes up, as in denying Jesus three times, he gets a chance at redemption as we see in the passage read earlier when he declares his love for Jesus three times.   And of course he is the rock upon which the church is built.  He was an active doer, he displays a very human response of faith that is to go out and be a witness, to heal the world. 

These two men are portrayed as rivals in the stories but rather than accept that point of view lets use what they both have to offer as a model for our life in Jesus Christ. 

We know that we need time to reflect upon the grace that God extends to us each day.  The ways in which we have been picked up from our lows and elevated to the heavens of happiness.  We need time in contemplation and prayer, a time to be mindful of our own spiritual need and nature and of those around us.  We need time to ‘Be Still and Know that God is God’, the words of import here are ‘be still’, release the tight grip that you might have on something and to be tranquil in the presence of a God who loves, who gives and forgives and who nourishes us for the journey of life.  Doing this imitates what the Beloved Disciple offers us.

And we also know that part and parcel of Jesus’ message to us is to go and do.  To get out of our easy chairs, off our duffs, get our hands dirty and spread the gospel with our actions. It was St. Francis of Assisi who said, ‘Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words’.  It’s to go to Biloxi, to go to New Haven, to pick up the phone and call others in the congregation who are in need of a caring call, make a meal, advocate for the oppressed, to fling open our doors to each and every person who comes a knockin’.  That’s what it is to feed and tend God’s sheep aka our fellow human beings.  It is the heart and soul of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it is clear as a bell. This is what we gain by looking at the actions of Peter. 

A balance that is struck when we emulate both the beloved disciple and the apostle Peter is what it means to live your life in Christ.  And you need that balance.  Like yin and yang, milk and cookies one compliments and completes the other.  All prayer with no action is an incomplete photo of faith life.  All actions without reflection is mere busywork.  You need both in a healthy balance to fulfill and be fulfilled in Christ.

And that’s the point.  Sitting in church Sunday after Sunday, hearing these post resurrection stories and encountering Jesus you can’t return home to the same old.  Encounters with Jesus change you as we have been shown today.

Brother Mark Brown from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist in Cambridge Massachusetts reminds us, “The resurrection appearances continue in us—we’re the risen body of Christ. Each of us, in a sense, and in a very flawed way, is a resurrection appearance. The story continues—there is no ending to the gospel, because resurrection continues in us.”

Amen and may it be so!

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