By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 19, 2019
John 13:31–35 (ESV)
A New Commandment
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Living the Christian life is one of the most difficult simple things to do. Yes, that sounded like terrible grammar because it probably is. The basics of Christianity are simple: Love God, Love your Neighbor as yourself. Three things, that is it. Love God. Love Yourself. Love your neighbor. Three very basic things that should not be that difficult, but have you tried it? We might get one or two pretty good, but all three is very difficult to get all the time.
Today we meet with Jesus and his disciples in the upper room, on the Thursday evening before his arrest. This day in the history of the church is called Maundy Thursday. Maundy is one of those wonderful words that very few of us know the meaning of anymore. Since most of us only see it in relation to Holy week services, if at all, we assume it might mean something like mourning. It really means feast, so the day is feast day, or the day we remember the celebration of the last feast Jesus shared with his disciples. There are many important events occurred during this feast. And some of them have been made into ritualistic sacraments that many celebrate during their meetings for worship, but it is important to remember the meaning behind those rituals.
The first event that occurred this day was Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. This is one of the most profound of the events because of its oddity. In ancient cultures to touch a person’s foot was not something that you would want to do. They did not have wonderfully constructed footwear as we have today with memory foam insoles and arch support. In ancient times you would be lucky to have something covering the sole of your foot at all, and if you did have something on your feet it would likely be in an open sandal form. They are walking around with next to nothing on their feet and they did not have the extent of pavement that we enjoy today, so they often walked through dirt. If you happened to live in an area that had stone walkways you were lucky to an extent. I say to an extent because there was always the chance that some beast of burden had passed by before you, leaving evidence behind. There is also a good chance that there was raw sewage running along the roadway as well, because not all areas had the hygienic improvements of roman civil engineering. Those that traveled these ancient pathways had dirty, disgusting feet. Imagine walking into a house or place of business with your feet caked in this mix of mud and other refuse. People often get upset if you walk with your shoes on their carpets today, but we can remove our shoes, your feet need to stay attached. The remedy to this problem was to provide a servant to wash the feet of the family and guests.
The servant that washed the feet was considered the lowest of all the servants in the household. They were dirty lowly servants. Jesus took on that role. This act is something that most of us cannot even fathom let alone participate in. If I were to bring out a bowl to wash feet most if not all of us would hesitate. We hesitate because we are self-conscience of ourselves and we do not want to reveal our feet to people around us. This hesitation is not felt by others of the Christian faith, in many churches the priest or pastor will wash the feet of their congregations during the Holy week service of Maundy Thursday, and in many Anabaptist traditions they regularly included this ceremony with the next sacrament we will briefly discuss.
The washing of the disciples’ feet gave them something important to consider. Their teacher is washing their feet. The highest, most prominent member of their small social group took on the role of the lowest. This act is one of service and submission, it is physically showing those around that I am lower than the one whose feet I am touching. The disciples like many of us hesitated and refused, but Jesus told them that they either let him serve them or they would have nothing to do with him. Peter then boldly said, “Not just my feet but my head and hands as well.” Jesus responded to Peter’s outburst by says his body is clean and just the feet need washed. So, this act of washing feet, has been associated with the cleansing of daily transgressions and is often used as a symbolic act of repentance and reconciliation. It is a beautiful and humbling ceremony.
After Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he asked them to explain what he had done for them. They must have stared blankly at him in shock, because John does not record a response. Jesus then answers his own question by explaining to them that they call him teacher and lord, but he washed their feet as their servant. He is master and servant. He then says a servant is not greater than the master, and we should do as he has done. The point is that we are to serve those around us. Get down in the dirt, getting our hands dirty with everyone else. In the business world this servant leadership is so important that you can get a master’s degree learning the techniques. I will give you the education today for free. A leader should be willing to do anything and everything they ask those they lead to do. No job is above or beneath anyone. A CEO should be willing to scrub the toilets and the janitor should be willing to step up and help wherever they are needed. This is the way Jesus encourages us to live.
After this profound teaching, they begin their meal. It is important to remember that this is an actual feast. It is the Jewish celebration of Passover, so there are very important symbolic foods around. We focus mainly on the bread and wine because that is what is mentioned but there is also lamb, apples, bitter herbs, vegetables, and a hard-boiled egg. Each of these foods have a meaning and how they are eaten has meaning as well. Jesus takes the bread; they would have at least three pieces of bread on the table because they have three bread rituals. The first is just eating the bread, then they eat the bread dipped in the bitter herbs, then they eat bread making a sandwich with the bitter herbs and the other foods. I have only read about the meal I personally have not had the pleasure of participating in one myself, but I find it interesting that the dipping of bread is mentioned in John’s gospel account. The rituals around the eating of the bread tell the history of Israel, and Jesus says this is my body broken for you. He is saying that he is the bread, he is the fulfillment of Israel, that he is taking all that history and future on himself. All that brokenness and sorrow, all the bitter experiences, all the pains, as well as the hope and pleasure. This seeming simple staple of life is him.
John’s account of the feast does not mention the wine, but in the Passover meal they drink four cups of wine. There are several understandings as to why they have four cups dealing with the sorrows placed on Israel during their captivity or the exiles that the Israelite people have faced. In the other gospel accounts Jesus says that the wine is his blood spilled for you. While they drink these cups of wine, they recount their history and at certain points in the story they spill some of the wine, because they do not want to ingest the words. Again, I have only read about the meal I have not participated so I cannot say this for certainty, but I find it interesting. Jesus is taking on those things we spill it and he is the spillage. That which they cannot ingest he takes for them.
The bread and the wine have become a ritual to many, but the meaning is much deeper. The staples of life have meaning, and we need to remember and share the meaning, both the hope and the sorrows. From the moment after Jesus washes the disciples’ feet until the time, he goes to the garden to pray, every word spoken could be attached to some aspect of the Passover feast. Jesus is attaching his story to that meal. He is taking all the history of Israel on himself and telling his disciples that he is their history and their future. This is the mindset of those at the table when Jesus speaks the words of today’s passage.
He had just washed their feet; their master became their servant. He had begun the Passover feast, uttering the words required and expending on the story with his fresh teaching. And that teaching is what we begin with today. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
A new commandment I give to you, love one another. We look at the word new and we think that it means something different, something that will replace the old. If we were to look up this word, we would find that it can mean many things, but unseen is one of those meanings. Unseen in the since that it was not often practiced. Jesus did not give one single command that was not already present in the scripture, when he says new, he is simply emphasizing it in a way the established religion failed to recognize. Its new, like new math its still math just looking at it differently and often hard to understand if we are used to doing things the old ways.
After siting with new for a moment I looked up commandment. When we hear the word commandment we often think of law. Which it is, but it is so much more than just law. We live in a nation where we have the rule of law. Which means that our civil society is structured in such a way that we can know what is acceptable or not. We call that rule of law the constitution. If we want to simplify constitutional law to the very basics, the constitution is what our government cannot do, or the commandments. Included in our constitution is something we call the “bill of rights”. These are the things that our government really cannot do. Torah in many ways is the basic framework of Israel’s civil society. It is telling them the boundaries of what they can and cannot do, as a nation and as individuals. There is something about these documents that we often fail to consider, they do not hold us back but instead they should encourage and direct us. If governments can’t do these things, that gives us the freedom to fulfill the needs ourselves. They are our rights. And that is how commandment can be seen, not just rules but rights, not just orders but also commission, not just commanded order but disciplined instruction. Jesus is saying we have the right to love one another. We have the commission to love one another. We have the instruction to love one another, and we do this by practicing the life that he lived with us.
He said, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Have we really considered what those words might mean put into practice? It is something that is truly new, or unseen because so much of our world operates in a realm somewhere other than love. We do not even really know what love is. We are told so many things about love but so much of those definitions have less to do with love and more to do with infatuation or lust. Our world and each of us need to learn what love really is. We have hope because Jesus showed us what love is. “Just as I have loved you,” he says.
This is why I spent so much time explaining the events that happened on this day. Jesus washed their feet. Jesus feed them a feast and explained what that feast means. Jesus then pointed to the greatest hope; he would suffer so we can be free. He would suffer so we could be glorified with him. Jesus loved so we can love. He loved by doing. Love is an active verb. It is serving those around you. It is rolling up your sleeves and breaking a sweat with those around you. It is setting aside some of your desires to make sure those around you have the things they need to survive. It is willingly getting your hands dirty so that the entire community can benefit. To love your spouse, you need to serve your spouse. No longer thinking I want, but they need.
Being a Christian is the most difficult simple thing to do. To live our lives serving others all the time leaves us vulnerable. What happens to me? If I spend all my time looking out for others how can I enjoy my own life, and the fruit of my labor? If I focus on serving, who will serve me? What if those I serve do not appreciate or acknowledge my service? I know that these questions cross our minds, because pretty much every one of them crossed mine in the past few days. It is difficult to be a Christian because so many people aren’t. Those that do not live a life loving others as Jesus loved them, often try to exploit our service and we become bitter. This is where the discipline comes in, this is where the community comes in. We are here to serve one another to share the burdens, joys and sorrows. This is where we meet Jesus. He loves us, he serves us, just as we serve him. This does not mean we control or can exploit God, but he is with us in the dirt. When we are wronged, we take those emotions and we spill them out on Jesus and he takes that on himself, and his blood covers us, and his body feeds us. He takes the bitterness from us and points us again toward hope.
Do you understand what Jesus has done for you? He washed our feet because our daily walk has caused them to get dirty. Let him wash them so that we can go back out fresh and new doing it all again. Do you understand what Jesus has done for you? He took on the cross, our sin and our shame, though he was without sin, so that we could release our bitterness and pain and be made new. Do you understand what Jesus has done? He loved you. He being God came down to live among us and with us in the dirt. And all he asks in return is that we love like he loved. Simple right?
As we enter this time of open worship and Holy expectancy let us embrace the love of Christ. Let us focus on what he did for us and then let us consider how we can reflect that to those around us. Let us imitate his life so that we can participate in his glory.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 12, 2019
John 10:22–30 (ESV)
I and the Father Are One
22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
Whenever I read a passage of scripture, I find it fascinating. At times the fascination is something within the passage that I have not noticed before. At other times I am fascinated because God showed me something that either I have overlooked or those that taught me have overlooked for decades. Then there are the times I just sit and imagine the scene that is set there, and I just get caught up in it.
Today we meet Jesus in Jerusalem, this is before his trial and the days leading up to that. This is in the winter. The past few weeks during our Wednesday bible study we have been discussing a series called The Rock, the Road and the Rabbi, this series is by Kathie Lee Gifford and Rabbi Jason Sobel. While listening and discussing this series we have engaged some things that we do not normally encounter, simply because we are not Jewish. Rabbi Sobel is a Messianic Jew, he grew up in a Jewish family and he knows the traditions and history behind the various travels of Jesus. In the first session we started with the birth of Christ, so there was a discussion over the actual day of Christmas. To be honest I am no closer to knowing the actual day Jesus was born than I was before, but in the course of that discussion Hanukah was mentioned.
While I was growing up, we did not discuss Hanukah, and when it was mentioned I was told its Jewish Christmas. For a while I accepted this and did not think anything about it, because as far as I knew it was not mentioned in scripture. Well it is mentioned, and today’s passage tells us that Jesus celebrated Hanukah, because it is a celebration and feast in remembrance to the rededication of the temple of God. The actual rededication of the temple is not mentioned in our bibles, but it can be found in first and second Maccabees, which is one of the books of the Apocrypha. The celebration is in remembrance of the miracle where the sacred oil that should have only lasted one day lasted long enough for the blessing of more oil. This is a simplified explanation, but the reason this is important was because after the rebuilding of the temple the Hellenistic overlords after the campaigns and death of Alexander the Great, wanted to force the Jewish people to submit. And they decided that to do this all Gods should be worshiped in the temple. They brought a swine into the temple and offered it as a sacrifice on the alter. This was called the abomination that causes desolation. This act rendered the temple unholy, so from that moment on the Jewish people whose faith revolved around the temple could not be assured of God’s favor. But some priests in saved some oil and were able to get that sanctified oil safely out of the temple so that it was not desecrated with the rest of the temple. This oil was to be used in the sacred lampstand, the menorah, which represented the eternal light of God present in that place. There was not enough oil to keep the lamp burning for the time required to rededicate and purify the temple, but the priest decided they would act in faith and proceed with the dedication, trusting that God would provide. God did provide, and this dedication of the temple inspired the nation to fight for their independence which they won.
Jesus celebrated this feast, the feast of dedication. He celebrated this feast at that very temple. I encourage you all to look into the celebration of Hanukah it is a beautiful celebration, one that lasts eight days. I encourage this because there is something of value to it. The light burned for the necessary time because God provided. In the darkest days, when hope was nearly extinguished the light remained.
Light is a powerful symbol. In most traditions of faith there is a place for light and fire. Even our own tradition which strips away most meaning from physical symbols, uses the mysterious term inner light. Light represented the presence of God, it represents knowledge and wisdom, that we are not alone. In our world of electric lights, we do not quite grasp the fear of the dark that many in the ancient world had. We do not understand because it is rarely dark now. We have night lights in the rooms of children so they can see the path to their parents’ room. We can yell at Alexia or Google and our smart light fixtures will turn on and if we are tech savvy, we can program music and our thermostat to adjust along with it. But in those ancient days the only light that they would have would come from a small oil lamp. That single flicker of light in the darkness, is enough to calm a startled heart. Light is powerful.
Jesus is at the temple celebrating the feast of dedication. He is walking among the people that winter day, looking at the temple, which is larger than an NFL Football Stadium, walking around in the complex that can surrounds it. And we are told he is walking in the colonnade of Solomon. The temple itself was built to the exact dimensions recorded in scripture, but when Herod renovated the complex, he extended the court of the gentiles to the west. The eastern wall where Solomon’s porch was located remained in the same position that the eastern wall had always been. Jesus walked along this area. This covered area that was originally built for the king to enter the temple grounds without facing the elements. Some believe that this portion of the temple complex was the only remaining remnant of the original temple. When the temple was rebuilt and remodeled, they surrounded the entire complex with these covered walkways, and within these porches or colonnades the various teachers would teach. I do not know if there is any special significance to this colonnade, but we do know that it became the place of meeting for the early church prior to the destruction of the temple.
Jesus is walking to the temple during the feast of dedication, he is walking in the Colonnade of Solomon the king of Israel known for his great wisdom. He is walking the pathway the kings of Israel would have walked into the temple, and he is walking among the Jewish teachers and those wishing to gain God’s holy wisdom. The image this first couple of verses has is astounding. He is walking and those around begin to ask questions. “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ tell us plainly.” They say. I want us to just sit with this image in our mind. The Jerusalem temple complex is probably the greatest religious complex ever built by mankind. The greatest scholars gather in these colonnades every day to teach those that want to learn, daily. And on that day, a day dedicated to celebrating the temple Jesus is asked of these things, while he walk through the porch the kings once walked.
“Are you the one?” they ask, “will you just tell us plainly.” Jesus responds, “I told you and you didn’t believe, I showed you and you did not believe.” Imagine hearing this. Did they miss something? Jesus then goes on, “You do not believe because you are not among my sheep.”
These people are not common people out in the Galilean countryside, they are the ones at the temple. These are the devoted faithful members of society. These are the religious elites, and Jesus looks at them and said you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. Jesus is telling them straight up that if he is the messiah, they are walking the wrong path. If he is the Christ, then they are following the wrong shepherd. If he is the one, they claim to be looking for then they are looking in the wrong place, because his teaching and his lifestyle should show them exactly what they need to know. His sheep know his voice.
As I considered this passage this week, I thought a great deal about Hanukah and the significance of that celebration. I thought about the temple and the words that Jesus spoke, and I thought about my mom, because it is Mother’s Day. And then I thought why on earth did the lectionary put a Hanukah passage during Mother’s Day. I thought maybe I would teach on one of the other passages, but the Acts passage in the lectionary is about a lady dying and I really did not want to talk about that either. But I got to thinking the relationships we celebrate this day. I know that for some of us our relationship with our mother may have been stained. I know that for many of us our mothers are no longer with us. For some of us we had wonderful mothers and they live far away. I know some of us have not been blessed to be mothers, and others might like some time off from that blessing. But there is a unique relationship the feminine aspect of humanity brings to us that should be celebrated. One that often resembles a flickering light at night.
Jesus told them that his sheep hear his voice, that he knows them, and they follow. There is a security in that voice, a peace. Just last evening Albert tripped while playing and scrapped his arm along some bricks. He came running into the house looking for only one person, mom. He sat with mom and cried. There are those people we go to when we are hurting, when we are scared, or do not know what to do next. They are safe and provide reassurance like no one else can. That first person is often mom. I am a lucky one, because my mom was and is that safe place. I know I can tell my mom anything and she will listen and encourage. Now that I am an adult, she does not always have advice to give because my course in life is different than the course my parents took, but she listens, and she encourages. And I know she wishes her son would let her listen more, but I just do not talk much. My mom is encouraging to me because she points me back to Christ.
Twenty years ago, I was a scared kid with a secret. I sat in my bed not knowing what to do, I thought I had brought shame upon my family. I came to my mom confessing that I had gotten my girlfriend pregnant. That day was the hardest day of my life, but I could not sleep until I told my mom. My mom’s reaction that day has more to do with why I am standing here than anything else. She did not yell, she did not scream, she did not belittle or condemn me at that moment. She looked in my eyes and she saw the fear and she cried with me and gave me a hug. She loved me even though I felt as if I should be rejected. She brought me in she made sure I knew that I was loved before she did anything else. She showed me Christ. She provided a place of comfort, security, and acceptance no different than when my wife held Albert while he was hurting last night. My mother empowered me to move forward, she encouraged me to stand strong and to face the challenge set before me. Were there cross words, absolutely, but all were deserved and spoken in a context of acceptance.
Jesus said to those around him that day that they do not believe because they are not among his sheep. Do you recognize just how heavy those words are? Here they are sitting in the colonnade of Solomon on the eastern wall of the temple during a feast celebrating God’s miracle and Jesus is telling them they do not believe because they are not among his sheep. They are unable to see the hand of God when Jesus heals, even when they are celebrating a feast to remember God’s hand providing. They were unable to hear the voice of God even when they were listening to his teaching. They were unable to see or hear the truth because they were not among the sheep. Which leads to a question who where they among?
Looking at this passage we can determine that having the proper belief does not determine salvation. Participation in religious activities also does not determine our place with God. It is hearing his voice, knowing him, and following. I say this as someone that loves religion. I am someone that loves theology. I love knowing and deepening my knowledge. Yet this means nothing if I do not listen, know the voice, and follow.
Jesus is saying, like he says so often, that the kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God is right here all around you if we would turn, repent, or change directions. This was the message he preached throughout his ministry; it is the message that John preached in the Jordan. It is the same message that the prophets of old spoke, and it is the same message that has been spoken by Moses and was given to the Fathers of Israel. “Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This very prayer said by every person that day and many today is crying out to Israel to listen to the voice of God, and to follow. This is the eternal light celebrated in Hanukah, to trust in the one that can make something out of nothing and bless it. And what does God say to Israel? “’Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
I love religion, I love theology, I love spiritual disciplines that can direct people into a more satisfying spiritual life. All of that is just empty if I do not listen, hear, know, and follow him. I could stand here and debate why my faith is true, but if I do not live it out what value does it have. I know many people that had all the right answers, but when I got to know them, I stopped listening because everything they said was empty. When I was in college, I even tried to distance myself from religion wanting instead to be a man of science. I still love science. But that rejection of God and embracing the ways of the world had consequences. That day I confessed to my mom; I saw the truth. “Hear O’ Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” That day I saw acceptance and encouragement. I saw someone willing to live out everything they professed. Someone loved even when I failed to meet the expectation.
Jesus walked in the colonnade of Solomon, that winter day, going to celebrate the feast of dedication. The light of the world, when to celebrate the light that persisted. Israel faced darkness at that time, and God provided the light they needed to accomplish the task set before them. We have enough darkness. We have enough people hurting, we have enough rejection, and injustice. We can see the darkness, but what about the light? That day Jesus told Israel that he and the Father were one, of the same substance, equal, they wanted to kill him for that, and they eventually did. But the light persisted.
Do people see the light when they are among us, or do they see shadow? Hear O Israel, listen and know, obey and follow. Are we among the sheep or somewhere else? Hear O Israel. The Lord is my shepherd. We have enough darkness step back and let the light shine. We have enough fear step back and let the shepherd lead. Turn and repent. Love God embrace the holy spirit and live the love of Christ with others. I am here today because someone I was around did just that, are we willing to do the same?
By Jared Warner
May 5, 2019
Willow Creek Friends Church
John 21:1–19 (ESV)
Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples
21 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 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.
4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net on 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 of the quantity of fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. 8 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Jesus and Peter
15 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.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved 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. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Last week we met with the disciples in the upper room. They sat in this room because it was where they stayed just prior to Jesus’s trial. This was the room where they celebrated their Passover meal, it is where Jesus washed their feet and where Jesus explained the meaning of life. Which is what I think the elements of communion represent. They came to this room and they stayed in this room because it had meaning to them. It was a safe place for them, comfortable and secure. They could stay in that room sitting securely behind the locked door, they could stay in that space not worrying about what the world might think of them. Not worrying that maybe on the other side of the door they could face trials as well. They stayed in that room because they were surrounded by friends and family. People that had similar ideas and experienced similar events. We like the safety of the familiar. No matter what happens in life it is good to know that you can go home. I yearn for places like that at times. Places where people do not judge my success or care about what I am doing. A place where a hug is the greeting and food is soon to follow.
The disciples had stayed in this place for a while now. They had been there for over a week eating and worshiping together. They were trying to grasp just what life from this point on would be like. They had spent three years following Jesus. They walked where he walked, ate what he ate, served where he served (or where he directed them to go). For three years Jesus was their life. They believed that he was going to be their king. They thought that he was going to unite Israel and usher in a new era like that of their King David. A time where they could live and worship without any fear or outside influence. They desired a safe kingdom where they would be free.
But something happened that changed everything. One of their own betrayed Jesus, and the result of that betrayal was the death of their king. They watch him walk through the city carrying a cross. They watched as people mocked and spit on him. They watched as their own nation rejected the very person, they devoted their life too. They watched with the knowledge that just a few days prior the very same city cheered and proclaimed him to be their king. But everything changed. The king was hung on a tree. Shamed and cursed. The injustice of that event rattled them to their very core.
They buried him in a grave. They wrapped his broken body with strips of linen, and they watched as government officials sealed the tomb with a massive stone. They watched as everything they lived and dreamed was sealed in cold stone. Do we understand how significant this would have been? Their dreams died, and what they lived for was sealed away never to return. The loss they must have felt. Total loss.
Then something amazing happened. After three days Jesus rose. He visited them as they sealed themselves in a room. They went out and they found their remaining friends and brought them back to the room. He lives…but what does that mean?
They remained in that room unable to find a direction forward. The betrayer killed himself. And the others sealed in a room, self-imprisoned. Why? Because most of them were no better than Judas and they knew it. Peter denied Jesus three times on that night. Mark is believed to have run away naked. And every one of the men but John had pressed back into the crowds as their teacher faced his greatest trial. Each one in some way rejected their beloved teacher. He lives but who are they? Are they still disciples, do they still have any claim to faith? They denied, they doubted, they ran away, they cried when they should have stood firm, they let an injustice happen and they took a step back and watched. And they locked themselves in a room, afraid to move forward and afraid to leave. They wanted to stay, but could they? They, in their mind, had failed their king. He was triumphant, but who were they? In that place, Peter stood, and he said, “I am going fishing.”
The most amazing thing about scripture, is that the people within it are so real. In so many systems of belief those people regard as sacred are larger than life and can do nothing wrong. Our scripture has amazing and miraculous feats, but it also shows the humanity. David was a man after God’s heart, but David was a terrible father and a womanizer. Solomon was the wisest man of his era, attracting the attention of the rulers of the entire world, yet he the man who built the temple of God was an idolater. Samson killed an army with the jaw of a donkey yet threw away his entire lifestyle for the attention of a daughter of his enemy. The Apostles could heal the sick, yet they locked themselves in a room. Peter the rock of faith denied his Lord. Our heroes are human. They are very human, like us. They do amazing things at times and they fail miserably.
They sat in that upper room, they considered what to do next. Jesus had not told them what to do and he had only come to them a few times. They know that everything was changing but they do not know what to expect. Peter stands up and says, “I am going fishing.” In that one seemingly simple statement Peter expresses what so many of us feel. When he says I am going fishing he is saying, I am going back to my old life.
I want us to sit with this phrase for a while. “I am going fishing.” He like so many of us tried and failed. He tried to live a life of a disciple. He tried to do good works. He tried to be a good person. But when the test came, when he could have stood in faith and support of his Lord, he denied him. He denied Jesus his best friend, he denied him because he was afraid. We often think of our spiritual leaders and spiritual ancestors as being heroic in their faith, but each one of them is human and they often fail. I am not excusing the injury that people might cause to their friends and families, but we all struggle in life.
People have this idea that they are too sinful to be in the church. That they need to get their life together before they can attend. If this was the case every church building would be empty today. We all fall short of our own personal expectations; how can we stand before a God whose expectation is Jesus? We fail, so we like Peter say, I might as well just fish.
The man who struggles with addictions to explicit materials tries to stop, but he fails. He says to himself I am going to turn over a new leaf and be pure from now on, and ten minutes later something triggers in his mind and he falls again. So often we judge that man and tell him it is unacceptable, and we are right it is unacceptable. It injures the ones closest to him, it erodes trust and it creates expectations on others that cannot be fulfilled. We judge him, condemn him, we see his struggle, but do we help? Those that are struggling need encouragement not judgement. When they face judgement from others or themselves, they look at their life and say I might as well just fish. I give up. I can’t be holy. And they return to a lifestyle of harm.
We see this in many forms. We see it in those that struggle with body image issues, with people that struggle with substance abuse, with students who struggle in a subject in school. They face a challenge and instead of asking for assistance they just throw up their hands and give up. “I am going fishing.” Peter says, and what do the others say. “We are going with you.”
They might be there to support their friend who is struggling, but I do not really think so. I have a feeling they are all looking at their lives of the past few years and they all feel the same. They are thinking, “Peter you are right. You denied him, and we ran away too. We do not deserve to be in this room, we do not even deserve to say that we were once Jesus’s friends. We let him down and we might as well fish too.” I thought about this and wondered what Matthew would have done on that boat. They all went, even the ones that were not fishermen. They stayed together even in their disgrace. They go out on the boat and they fish all night catching nothing.
Imagine how they might feel at that moment. Many of these men were experienced if not masters in their trade. They left that life to follow Jesus, they left this life they knew and were secure in. They left that life, risking everything only to return feeling as if they failed. Jesus lives but what are they? They get on the boat, and they fail again. They fail at the one thing they had going for them. They go back and they cannot even catch enough fish to feed themselves. Imagine sitting on that boat. Imagine the anxiety and the depression they may have experienced. They went home and a hug was not waiting for them and the smell of grandma’s cooking was not filling the air. They labored all night and they experienced yet another failure.
Have you been in that place? Have you found yourself so focused on the things going on around you that you are not able to lift your head to see what is in front of you? They struggled all night throwing the nets out and pulling them in. They rowed to another area and threw the nets out again, and again, and again. Their bodies are fatigued, their emotions are a wreck, and they are now starving and have no fish. Then someone on the shore yells at them. “Children, do you have any fish?” You can almost feel the tension in the air but look at their response. They only say one word, “No.” They feel like failures. They feel as if they have nothing to offer the world, but in their frustration, they reply to this question as men with integrity. The reality of the situation is even though they feel like they have nothing to offer the world or God, when they respond to those around them, they are not angry or bitter, but they are polite. Then the guy on the shore had the nerve to tell them to throw the net on the other side.
What would you say at that point? I think at this point the disciples were probably beginning to laugh a little. They were probably thinking they were in experiencing déjà vu. They throw the net and struggle to pull it back. The ones in the other boat come and join them when they see the struggle they are having and together they pull. As they are doing this John and Peter look at one another and John says, “It’s the Lord!” Jesus lives and they feel as if they failed. He takes them back to the beginning of their journey. To the moment they first believed and reminds them of who they are. Peter reaches for his clothes and jumps into the water. He swims as best he can to the shore. While the others row to shore.
In their failure and in their back-sliding struggle Jesus finds them. He tells them to bring some fish and to come and eat breakfast. He reminds them of who he is and who they are. He is with them as they recollect the memories of their past experiences, and slowly they begin to reemerge. Jesus sat with them eating bread and fish. He laughed with them and he looked into their eyes and saw their sorrows.
They had met with Jesus now three times after his resurrection, and they are still unsure as to what to do. They want to continue but how? Jesus looks at Peter in this moment and he asks him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” This statement is filled with such relational history. When Peter’s brother Andrew first brought Peter to see Jesus this is how Jesus addressed him. “You are Simon Son of John, you shall be called Cephas (which means Peter).” Jesus is reminding Peter who he is. Then he asks do you love me more than these? I have heard many comments on this, but as I was studying the commentator says that Jesus is reminding Peter of his own words during their Passover feast. That Peter loved Jesus more than anyone else and would give his life for him. Jesus is reminding him of who he is, he is reminding him of what Peter claimed, and he is reminding him that nothing has changed. Peter answers yes. Jesus asks again two more times and Peter affirms that he loves Jesus. He does this right in front of them all. Imagine the pain that Peter was experiencing, imagine the pain Jesus must have been experiencing as he watched and pushed his friend to tears. But it is important.
They are all feeling like failures, wallowing in their own self judgement. They have lost sight of who they are or what they are to do. Peter was the one taking this all the hardest. He said he would die for Jesus, yet he denied him three times. So, Jesus asked three times do you love me. Three times peter answered yes. And in that discourse Jesus tells us the point and purpose of the church. Do you love me? Feed my lambs. Do you love me? Tend my sheep. DO YOU LOVE ME? Feed my sheep.
They forgot who they were, because in their mind they were cowards and failures, unworthy to call themselves disciples. Yet Jesus will not leave them there. He takes them back to the beginning the moment they first believed. He reminds them of the begin of their relationship, and that he called them. He acknowledges their struggle, and he meets it head on. Do you love me? I know you denied me I told you that you would, but do you love me he asks. If you love me, feed and teach the young. If you love me encourage those around you. If you love me, help provide for the needs of others. If you love me, Jesus says, follow me. Just like you did when this all began.
We get caught up on many things. I am not good enough, I sin, I am not the best. Or maybe they are not good enough, they sin, and are not the best. Friends this is not what we should worry about. Of course, they sin, of course you sin, we are human we struggle, and we fail. And we fail with gusto. This does not mean we stop. It does not mean we should lock ourselves in a room. It does not mean that we should go back to our previous life and lifestyle. We are people loved by God. Loved to such a degree that he sent his son to live among us, to teach us, to encourage us and to die and rise to save us. He came to redeem us, to restore us to our rightful place, in communion with God. Never forget that. I am Jared son of Carl, but I am also beloved child of God and so are you. Because of this follow and return to your rightful place, follow your creator, redeemer and friend. Follow and as you do feed his lambs, tend his sheep, and feed his sheep. You are beloved and so is every other person. They are his not ours, and they are also loved. Feed those that need it and tend those that are injured. Remind everyone you meet that they are loved.
We can often lock ourselves in rooms out of fear. We can also turn our backs on who we are and return to our old ways. We can be distracted, and our attention moved from truth to a lie. But one thing remains. God loves you. God wants you. God came for you. And God wants to bring you home. As we enter in to this time of open worship. Answer the same question that Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love him.” If you do what is he calling you to do?