By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friend Church
May 15, 2022
John 13:31–35 (ESV)
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.”
Last week we celebrated the women in our lives that have encouraged us along the pathways of our faith journeys. As we celebrated those great women, I hope you saw a recurring theme. A theme of encouragement, discipline, of faithfulness, and most of all love.
We do not always see these things until days, months, or even years after the experience. It is difficult to makes sense of things in the moment, but only after time has moved forward. It is after the stress, the dust, the emotions have passed that we are able to see more clearly. We can often get caught in the moment. We want something, we perceive that we need something, and in the torrent the present we are unable to view the larger picture. All we have is what we feel now.
Today we read from the gospel of John. John, most scholars believe to be the last of the gospel account that was written. It was most likely written by the youngest of the twelve apostles, and by the apostle that experienced the most persecution. I do believe that the gospel, the letters, and the Revelation were all written by the apostle, some scholars have other opinions and I respect their thoughts, I just do not believe their arguments carry enough weight to counteract historic tradition. It is believed that John was a teenaged young man just beginning life as an adult in his culture. The traditions of the first century were that the children would attend schools and learn the basic tenets of faith and life so that they could participate in society, then when they became adults at around the age of thirteen paths were opened up to them.
The first path available is that they could be asked to become a disciple of a rabbi. This pathway would extend their education and would set a course for them to become leaders within the community. The disciples of these various rabbis would become teachers within the synagogues, they be arbiters of justice in disputes, and if they were of the proper linage priests within the temple. This path was not available to most within the community. Firstly, if you were born female, this option was not available to you for various reasons. Secondly, to be a disciple meant that you had to leave the house and follow the rabbi. You ate where they ate, you slept where they slept. You mimicked or reflected every aspect of their life. Their lifestyle became your lifestyle. This does not sound too bad unless you were unable to afford that lifestyle.
The second path for these young adults was that they joined their parents in their lifestyles. The parents, the grandparents, the aunts, and uncles all became your rabbi and you became their apprentice. Young women learned to manage the household and young men learned the trade of their fathers. If your father was an artisan, you learned those skills. If your father was a farmer, you became a farmer. If you father was a fisherman, or a carpenter, you took on that life and lifestyle. This second option was the option available to most of the youth. When you came to the age of majority, you became, you clothed yourself in the lifestyle of your family.
There is a certain beauty in that type of culture. You knew what was expected and you had a place within the community. But there is also a darkness. How many great people, great leaders, inventors, and dreamers were silenced because they never had an opportunity to explore?
It is in this background that the disciples of Jesus lived. From everything we know about the disciples, they were common. This meant that they would have been members of the second option. The opportunity of greater education had passed them by and they took part in their family business. There might be a few examples that break from that, like Matthew leaving the tax collector’s table, he might have ventured off to do his own thing. The basic premise remains, they were not in the educated, scribal class. These men and women were common.
When Jesus came to them and asked them to follow him, we need to understand what he asked. He was giving them the opportunity of a lifetime. He was giving them a chance. He offered them something different. He offered them a new lifestyle. He might not have been a traditional rabbi familiar to them, but they had a chance to do something different. And they eagerly embraced that chance.
John, if he was just entering into this apprenticeship age, is unique. All his understanding of life and faith would have been based on the teachings of Jesus. Where the others, since they were older had more exposure to the teachings of the other rabbis. This is why John’s gospel is so different from the writings of the others. His perspective has less of the traditional training because his main rabbi, his predominant teacher is Jesus.
John comes at his gospel presentation from a different perspective. And because of this unique perspective we are given something more. In John’s gospel we are shown a more abstract, theological story. An account written through the experiences of someone that has lived their entire adult life under this teacher. One that has suffered and endured. One that is less about trying to prove something, but one that is filled with hope. At least that is what I see.
In today’s passage, we meet Jesus just after he has washed the feet of his disciples. We meet him just after he had eaten what we call the last supper. We meet him just after Judas has left to fulfill the betrayal. The disciples are in this whirl wind of emotions that they really do not understand. Their teacher is being weird. And now they are getting a bit worried.
“Now is the Son of Man glorified…” Jesus begins to tell them. It is almost as if there is a conspiratorial tone to this discussion. You can almost feel the tension in the air, you can almost feel yourself leaning forward to listen with great intensity. I almost feel as if Jesus said these words in a somewhat hushed manner, a near whisper. He is letting them in on the greatest secret of the kingdom. A secret that only they, the true disciples are privileged to hear. “Now is the Son of Man glorified.”
They are leaning in to listen to Jesus. They are eager to hear what he has to say. They just know that at this moment they are going to get the strategic details that will allow them to throw off the cruel unrighteous rule of Rome and usher in the kingdom of God’s glory. “Now is the Son of Man glorified.”
Jesus uses the term “Son of Man” at this point for a reason. In the writings of the ancients this term spoke of something glorious. It was often used of the prophets to speak about the magnificent era when God would reestablish the kingdom. But when used in the other gospel accounts Jesus primarily uses the term to point to suffering. John uses it now to weave both ideas together.
Jesus begins this final teaching saying, “Now is the Son of Man glorified,” and he continues, “and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.” There is a great deal of glory being thrown around in this sentence. Five times Jesus says this. The glory of God and the glory of the Son of Man is tied up in what has now been set in motion. The mind of these disciples is drawn to Isiah 49, where the prophet speaks of the glory of the servant. They see Jesus as that man. Jesus by using the title Son of Man labels himself as that man. In this moment Jesus is taking all Israel, all humanity, onto himself. He is becoming the mankind in relationship with God.
This has aways been the case. John tells us this from the very beginning of his Gospel where he writes:
“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 all things made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-5, 9-14)
Light and Word both refer to the source of wisdom and knowledge of God, God himself. John is telling us that when the incarnation of Christ happened God and mankind were united. And since Jesus united divinity and humanity, he could reverse the destruction caused by the rebellious spirits that brought about separation and death. In Jesus, God would glorify himself by restoring what was once lost and reestablish our original mission, to make the whole earth a dwelling place for God.
Now, right now, the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. Jesus has their attention. Everything they had hoped for is being played out right before them. It is time!
Jesus then says, “Little Children,” This is the first time this term is used to describe the disciples in John’s gospel. It is a term of endearment, which was often used by rabis in reference to their disciples. But in this instance John is again drawing our attention to the introduction of his Gospel, those that believe will be given the right to become children of God. Jesus is confirming that they have believed. He confirms that they have recognized the Word and Light of God within him and have been given the honor of being his children.
But just as he confirms this in them, he says, “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.’” The confusion begins to set in. He is about to usher in the glory of God, and they cannot join him? How is this possible? This proves that although they believed, they did not have full knowledge. Although they were made children of God, they did not understand what it means to part of this family.
Jesus knows that the glory of God is found not in the methods of men but in obedience and submission. It is found in sacrifice and service. The glory of God is found in the mutual cooperation devoted to God the most high.
The ultimate expression of this mutual cooperation is found in the sacrifice of Christ. It is up to this union of divinity and humanity that can reverse the effects of the rebellion and reestablish the proper order. We cannot do this on our own because we are only one part of the equation. Humanity cannot lift itself up into God’s realm, God must come to us. Our responsibility is to respond to Him.
Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. Jesus brought the incarnate Word of God to mankind through his birth. He lived the Word of God with us in his ministry and showed us how to participate in that Word. God came to mankind in the incarnation. The glory comes when the Incarnate Word returns to the realm of God, and through this also lifts mankind back into that place. In Eden, mankind in our first parents Adam and Eve, lived with God. When the rebellion occurred that brought about death our first parents were removed from God’s presence. Our glory, our created nature, is to live with God. For our glory to be restored the Son of Man must face the curse of death and overcome its power in the resurrection. In Jesus, the glory of God in union with mankind is restored.
Jesus then looks at his disciples, his children, he explains to their confused faces that it is time to restore the Glory of God. They rightfully sit there dumbfounded. Even today we do not understand the fullness of this glory. For thousands of years Israel thought that redemption was through the actions of man. Just as their ancestors believed at the tower of Babel, man can build their way to heaven. The Torah teaches a different path yet the interpretation seems to point to similar result, man can make their own way to glory. Jesus looks at his confused disciples, his children, and says that he has a new commandment.
This new commandment is not at all new. It has been the teaching from the beginning of the faith of the Hebrews. The Shema states, “Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your might.” The Shema has been the prayer of Israel for centuries. And when Jesus was questioned about the most important commandment this is what he stated. He then says that the second is like the first, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These statements encompass the entire Law. The law is to love God and love our neighbors. Jesus looks at his disciples and says that he is giving them a new law, a new commandment. “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.”
The standard is love. The glory is love. The glory of God and mankind is encapsulated in love. Jesus is not only the incarnation of the Word; he is also incarnate love. He tells his disciples, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” This prompts them to consider the life of Jesus. What has he done, what has he shown them? Just moments before, Jesus took on the role of the lowest household servant and he washed the feet of his disciples. This is what Jesus is telling his disciples to do. The incarnation of love is service. It is becoming a servant to each other.
Paul tells us, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a) He also tells us in Philippians, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4).
This is the opposite of the teachings of Babel. At Babel man was focused on themselves and their own glory. Christ teaches a different path, a different way. It is not you that is important but the community together. You are important not in yourself but in how you interact with those around you.
Are we reflecting our own ambition for our own glory or are we living in the incarnation of love? Are we participating in vain conceit or are we working for the mutual benefit of those around us?
In Barclay’s New Daily Study Bible Commentary, he explains the love of Christ like this: “He loved his disciples selflessly…So often at the back of things it is our happiness that we are seeking. But Jesus never thought of himself. His one desire was to give himself and all he had for those he loved.” He goes on to say, “Jesus loved his disciples sacrificially… Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that love is meant to give us happiness. So in the end it does, but love may well bring pain and demand a cross.” And again, “Jesus loved his disciples understandingly…we say that love is blind. That is not so, for the love that is blind can end in nothing but bleak and utter disillusionment. Real love is open-eyed. It loves, not what it imagines people to be, but what they are. The heart of Jesus is big enough to love us as we are.” And finally in his fourth illustration of Jesus’s love Barclay says, “Jesus loved his disciples forgivingly…Jesus held nothing against them; there was no failure which he could not forgive. The love which has not learned to forgive cannot do anything else but shrivel and die… For that very reason, all enduring love must be built on forgiveness, for without forgiveness it is bound to die.”
Barclay is probably not the most scholarly commentator, but his simple words are powerful. Jesus commands us to love one another, just as he has loved us: Selflessly, sacrificially, understandingly, and forgivingly. Imagine if that was how we treated those within this meeting? Imagine if instead of arguing with your spouse you listened. Imagine if instead of wanting to play your game, you let play the one your sister or brother wants. Imagine the difference this type of love would make in that family. What if we go deeper? Imagine if instead of debating with those around us about improvements to the meetinghouse we simply listen to each other and move forward knowing that this is not ours but it is for the good of the community that we meet. Imagine when we see an area the meeting might be neglecting, we offer to fill the gap or step up to assist those who are already trying to fulfill the needs of the community.
We can get caught up in ourselves and our own ideas and we often forget why we are even here. What is the purpose of the church? I will probably surprise you when I say this, the church is not meant to be the institution to convert the world. The church is here to equip the saints to do the ministry God has called them to do. We are here today not so I can convince you to turn your life to God, we are here to encourage each other, to challenge each other to live a life with Christ in the world around us. We are here to encourage each other to take on the life and lifestyle of Christ so that we can join him in the glorious kingdom he has already established through his life, death, and resurrection.
We are here to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and to live the love of Christ with others. This is the lifestyle Jesus taught and shows us in the pages of the gospels. He made it his custom to worship in the synagogues. He withdrew often to the isolated places to pray, and he ministered to the community in word and deed. “Little Children, a new commandment I give to you,” he says to us all, “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.” The standard is not the law. The standard is love. Love that is selfless, sacrificial, understanding, and forgiving. Let us live by that standard. Let us provoke each other to love.
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By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 8, 2022
John 10:22–30 (ESV)
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.”
Today we meet together and we celebrate the women in our lives that have encouraged us the most. We celebrate not only mothers, but all the women in our Meeting because each one is important. Every person in this meeting is important. We are all important because we bear the image of God to one another. As we interact with each other, hopefully we get a deeper look or a deeper experience as to who God is. I do not usually give a Mother’s Day sermon, and Father’s should not expect one either, but this year I want us to remember the women in our lives that have been fundamental in our journey of faith.
When I look back on my life it can list off women that have been incredibly important in my journey. Edith Williams was the pastor at Mt Ayr when I was in elementary school. The main thing I can say about her is she was brave. She took a bunch of elementary and middle school aged kids and taught them about the Friends Church. Through her teaching if fell in love not just with Christ, but with the traditions and expressions of Friends. And as I have served on the Elders’ board for the yearly meeting for nearly ten years now, I have been glad that Edith took the time to teach me why we can be strange at times, and why that is important. Edith could also play a mean accordion and played it often at church, which can also show you just how brave she was.
Then there are other women that have been important. My great grandmother prayed a simple prayer using the same words nearly every day. I always thought it was odd because I did not grow up using written prayers as a child, but she always said the same thing. And then I learned about her life, her story. That simple prayer in a few words expressed the testimony of a saint.
My grandmother. There is a special place in my life for my Grandma Bales. I used to work on my uncle’s farm and every day we would eat lunch at Grandma’s house. My grandma could cook. She collected recipes and I remember once that the news paper did a story about my grandma’s recipe collection. She was also a master in the sewing arts. And the quilts she made are some of my most treasured possessions. But the best thing about my grandma is that she was the most loving person, but also one of the most abrupt people I have ever known. If she did not think you were doing something properly, she would let you know, she would make you so mad when she did that, but then after everything was done, she would have a piece of sourdough cake waiting for you. Most of you know that my oldest son was born out of wedlock, the person that was the most difficult to tell was my grandma, she was the one person that I never wanted to disappoint, the one person that was honest and encouraging, she could say a word and I would understand exactly what she meant. When I told her, she said this and I quote, “Well… that was pretty stupid wasn’t it.” She then gave me a hug and looked me right in the eyes and said, “if you do not take care of that boy, we will have problems.” You might not see her words as loving or encouraging. To me those words were filled with acceptance, grace, direction, and encouragement.
Then there is Lois Smuck. She was the wife of my pastor when I was in high school and college. She told me one day that I was going to be a missionary. I laughed at her. She did not care that I laughed at her, she continued to teach me and encourage me even though she knew everything about me. She knew my sins, and she still would tell me I was going to be a missionary. She would not for one moment, let me consider that God did not love me. She did not allow an opportunity for me to even humor the idea that my past could limit what God could do in the future. She just continued to teach and encourage through it all.
Then there is my mom. My mom is someone I wish I could be like. She married young, had two kids, and got divorced. Then she married again, had another child, then went to college to become a nurse and while she was in college, had a fourth child. She then worked as a nurse full-time, became an administrator at a hospital, walked away from that position and started her own business. My mom would always find a way to do what needs done. If I need advice, it is mom that I call and there is a reason for this. The first thing she will always say is have you prayed about it. It is in prayer that my mom found strength and this is the lifestyle she taught me. When you get stressed the first thing you do is stop and pray.
I mention these women in my life because they are important. Every individual in the church is important. There is a reason that you are here in this meeting. You may not know what that reason is at this moment, but there is a reason.
I will mention another lady from my past, Virginia. She was not my Sunday school teacher, she was not the pastor’s wife, she was just the mom of other kids in my church, and she worked at the library. She always brought home made cream style corn to potlucks and there was this one time she failed to fulfill what was expected. You would have thought someone died when all the kids got to the serving tables and saw that one crockpot was missing. Every child in the church looked forward to eating Virginia’s corn and suddenly it was not there. Thank God the next month she brought it again. But there was more to Virginia than the corn. She was often one of the parents that would either drive us to or pick us up from church camp. And it was always fun. But it was the library that was the most important part. She would occasionally give me a little suggestion of what I might like, and I remember once I wanted to be a bit rebellious and I checked out a book Interview with a Vampire. She did not judge me, because they aren’t supposed to, but she said something very interesting. She said, “this is one I didn’t think you’d pick out.” Then she said, “I’ll see in a couple of days.” I started reading the book and took it back in a couple of days because I did not care to read it, and when I brought it back, she like usually just suggested something else she thought I might like to read.
We never know who we are encouraging. And we might not realize how important our lives are to those around us. Each of us is important and each of us have an important role within this meeting and in the Kingdom of God. And we should remember those that have encouraged us and remind ourselves that we need to be encouragers too. I would not be in this Meetinghouse if it was not for those women. I would probably not even be in the church if it was not for those women. And of course, I would not be alive without a couple of them either.
But we need to take time to remember the important things. We need to remember important events, and people that have shaped our lives and our heritage. Today’s reading, we meet Jesus prior to his trial and crucifixion. This is one of the interactions that Jesus had that instigated the trial. John tells us when this interaction took place. It was at the time of the Feast of Dedication, in the winter, it is Hannukah. This celebration lasts eight days and it celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after the gentiles that ruled over them defiled it through pagan worship. John tells us what they are celebrating and remembering at this time, during this discussion, because it is part of what is discussed. Often, I have just overlooked the feasts, thinking they are just filler words that tell us what time of year or assist in letting us know where Jesus would be. But there is more to this.
This feast came at the end of a great war. A war of independence. Actually, it was a war of survival. The Greeks had ruled over Judea and when they came in, they loved their own culture so much that they felt it was essential to make everyone around them love it too. They came into Israel and began making laws. We often think of the Jewish heritage as being based on Laws, but really it is the Greek influence that gives us laws in this manner. The torah is Hebrew Law, but it is different. It is more like moral teaching and discussion than regulation. It is ok to cringe a bit there, I cringe as well, because we always think of the Hebrew Law. We discuss the vast numbers of laws that are in the Torah. We cringe because when we think of law, we have a western understanding that comes from ancient Greek influences.
This festival celebrated the triumph religious freedom. It recognizes the hand of God providing for the people that call on his name. This festival celebrates revival. They remember they celebrate and Jesus is there at the temple celebrating with them. He is walking in the colonnade of Solomon and people are gathering in the area to listen to him teach. They are there at the temple, getting away from the winter’s wind. And the people come to Jesus asking questions.
John often gets ridiculed for using the term Jews by scholars. I think the criticism is taken out of context but I do understand the point. There is a long history of violence against this people group. We know about this more today because of the actions that were taken during the Holocaust, and I did visit Union Station to tour the exhibit about that horrid event. I do not have words that can fully express the sorrow I felt especially when I am fully aware of how easily the villain of the narrative could have just as easily been me. I have that same capacity to allow that kind of horror to exist. But that was not the first time this group of people experienced that kind of hatred. We see it in the pages of scripture, and throughout history. The feast of Dedication celebrates victory over one such episode.
The Jews, John says, come to ask questions. There is a reason he speaks in these terms. He is speaking against a religion based on heritage and one of faith. Those who base their identities on their heritage alone claim that name, but those who live according to faith rarely take a name. They do not take a name because they simply live their lives. They are not concerned with their own rights or potential power because their focus is on honoring that of God in themselves and those around them.
They ask Jesus, “How long will you keep us in suspense?” This question has caused me some suspense. As powerful as the written word is, there is a weakness. How often have arguments been started over the misunderstood text message? You might have experienced this. You ask a question and someone responds with, “OK”. And you assume that there was a certain tone in that OK, and now you are preparing for battle. It can be difficult to adequately convey emotions in text, so we have tried to remedy this by incorporating the use of contemporary hieroglyphics. The context around this interaction is troubling. We do not fully know the tone. And because we do not know the tone the translators infer tone into the text. Most contemporary translations take a neutral tone, “How long will you keep us in suspense?” But many commentators question this translation because there are some indications that the tone could be a bit different which make a translation like, “Why do you plague us?” or even “Why are you taking away our life?”
I want us to consider the possible tones. If the emotional tones were a bit more sinister, they are not just wanting to know if Jesus is the Messiah, they are wondering why he is potentially causing this trouble when he is not meeting their preconceived idea as to who or what the Messiah should be. They have this mental construct of Messiah that has been developing over the centuries. He will be a great priest, he will be the conquering king, he will be a great prophet. Some of these ideas are so intense that some came to the conclusion that this would require a messianic team. Which is why they ask John the Baptist if he is the prophet. They have these ideas, and Jesus they acknowledge is a great teacher, but his teachings threaten the status quo of the established religion. They may be asking something more like this, “If you are not the messiah why are you ruining everything, we have struggled so hard to preserve?”
I want us to consider this for a moment. Why are you ruining everything we have struggles so hard to preserve? This question is coming during the feast of dedication, the feast that celebrates the reemergence, the victory, the triumph of righteousness over the efforts of the evil one to silence the people of Israel. I can see why some commentators might see a negative tone within these words. I have had similar thoughts over the years. As an elder within the Yearly Meeting, it is part of my job to toil for the preservation of our faith and practice. I have on many occasions felt emotions similar to this, at times I have directed some of those emotions at myself. Why am I ruining everything I have struggled so hard to preserve?
Then they ask that he tell them plainly. I have a confession. I am triggered by the use of the word plainly in this manner. I am triggered because it is a desire for a simple one-word answer to a complex multifaceted ideological construct. How do you answer this question, “Do you believe in war?” How can a person that holds a peace testimony answer that question? To say you do not believe in war is ridiculous because the news tells us daily that war is a reality if you believe it or not. The real question is how do you balance the reality of war with a testimony of nonviolent resolution to complex problems? Tell us plainly, they implore Jesus.
And this is where things get interesting. “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.”
Theological debates abound around these verses and those that follow. My sheep is seen as being the elect that are predestined. The idea of no one will snatch them away speaks to eternal security. We quickly skip over the answer Jesus gave and look at the illustration. His answer is that he did tell the people exactly who he was, but they do not believe. The works, this means his lifestyle. The things he says as well as the actions he takes speak a consistent message.
The early Friends first began for this very reason. Our recognized founder, George Fox, told a story about his journey of faith where he sought spiritual direction from religious leaders of his day. One leader said George just needed to get married and then he would stop worrying about these things. Another told him that he should just take up smoking. And another just yelled at him because he stepped off of the pathway and onto some flowers. He was seeking answers, he needed direction and spiritual encouragement, and the answers the religious leaders gave were platitudes, distractions, and ire. Words and actions.
Jesus illustrates his answer with a discussion of sheep. I grew up on a farm, but we had cattle not sheep. The care of these animals is different. You drive cattle, where you lead sheep. There is a relationship built between the sheep and the shepherd. This relationship is built over time and constant interaction. At first the sheep are afraid and they will run away from the shepherd but they will continue to talk to the sheep, plead with the sheep, call out to them often by name. Over time the sheep respond to the voice and with a word or whistle a single shepherd can gracefully lead the sheep from pasture to pen, without any trouble.
The people encircled Jesus and demanded an answer, Jesus responded by telling them that the answer they sought had already been given, and the reason they have not heard is that they do not yet recognize the shepherd.
This is where it begins to get even more interesting. The sheep reference is not lost on the people that encircled Jesus here at the temple. The Hebrew people have a long tradition of sheep and shepherd illustrations. In their mind they are God’s sheep. And this increases the tension of the question. Is Jesus saying he is the Messiah, is he saying that he is building his own sheepfold, what exactly is Jesus saying?
“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.” There is debate as to what this passage means. There are even various renderings within contemporary translations. Some of the translations, like the English Standard Version, focus on God. Where others like the New Revised Standard render their translation with a focus on the community, “What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.” I actually like the tension in the translations. It causes us to wrestle a bit in our minds. Is there power in the church or is it only in the Father? Is there a difference between the community of the Father and the community of the son? I wrestle with scripture and wonder.
The wrestling is good, because in the struggle we find clarity. The people encircling Jesus see themselves as the sheep of God. When Jesus says that his sheep hear his voice and follow him this gives them an answer. There is a difference between the voice that they are listening to. In their minds they are following God, and Jesus is just ruining everything they have struggled so hard to preserve. Jesus acknowledges them in this position. They are heeding to the voice of their shepherd. They are following, their lifestyle and their works all reflect the voice that they are listening to.
Remember up to this point Jesus is saying that the works; his life, lifestyle, and his words all direct those that will listen to the answers they seek. If they listen to his voice, they will be able to discern if he is the anointed one of God or not. He then illustrates his teaching by speaking about how the sheep follow their shepherd because they know his voice.
And then he drops the mic.
“I and the Father are one.” Again, we can get into theological debates over if Jesus is claiming to be God with this statement or if he is merely speaking of life and lifestyle. You can debate among yourself, but the rest of today’s reading is speaking about the life and lifestyle of Jesus. And because of this he is saying something profound. He is saying that the works of the Father and the works of his own are the same. What he is doing is what the Father is calling his sheep to participate in. He is telling these people that have encircled and interrogated him, that they would have their answer if they would just listen to the shepherd. If they are truly the sheep, they say they, are they could see that Jesus and the Father are acting in one voice. The fact that they are asking the question means that the things are not in sync. They accuse Jesus of trying to ruin everything they have struggled to preserve, but what are they preserving? What are they truly honoring with their feast of dedication? Whose voice are they listening to? Have they become the very thing they once fought against? And can we fall prey to the same?
If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:
To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 1, 2022
John 21:1–19 (ESV)
1 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. 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.”
I do not know how many times I read a passage of scripture and suddenly my mind is transported through time and space. If you ever wondered I have an overactive imagination. There are times while I will be sitting in prayer with scripture and during those moment, I can almost smell flowers on the air or taste bread that is being passed around a table. This week’s passage is a bit different. I was not transported into my little personal first century cinema but to my own personal history.
The past few weeks have been spiritually difficult for me. As you all know I spent a couple of months in Ukraine when I was in college. That time in my life was transformative. It was in Ukraine where God began to crack the hardness of my heart and show me that there was something more that he wanted me to do. Ukraine is important to me. I know that it is not the perfect nation, but for me it is a sacred place. I have been in conversations over the past couple of weeks and there are times where I have not been as tactful as I should have been. I may have even said words that are not becoming of a pastor. And I must confess that the peace testimony that Friends hold has been a bit shaky in my spirit, because in my mind and heart I want to make someone pay for the pain they have cause to people I love. It is irrational and I know it. But that is often the thing with emotions. God gave us emotions for a reason.
When the tanks and armored personnel carriers began to cross the boarders of Ukraine, when I began hearing about the missile strikes and the displaced civilians. It felt as if my entire life was beginning to fall apart. I began to sense my call into ministry in Ukraine. Some might think that is crazy and who knows it might be. I cannot fully explain it but while I was there, things within my life began to change. I was always a painfully quiet person, I am still quiet, but while in Ukraine the shell around me seemed to begin to crack. I began to talk more. I began to listen more. I began to interact with people, share my own faith and encourage others in theirs. I began to emerge into the person I am today.
Then the invasion happened and I began to question my own purpose in life. Everything I thought I knew about my life and the foundation I thought I built my life upon seemed to be shaking. And then I began to face other struggles. Stresses that I really cannot fully disclose but I will say that I have questioned everything I thought I knew in my life. My understanding of faith, church, my own nation and even myself. I have sat in my blue chair and wondered if my life has been a lie.
The problem with an overactive imagination is that at times you can get stuck within your mind. Why do I say this? Why do I admit to you all that I as a pastor and spiritual leader struggle? Because we all struggle. We ensnared in emotional traps and face an existential crisis that may cause us to take steps down a path we might not intend to travel.
This is what I see in today’s passage. The disciples went to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the most important feasts of the year. They went with their closest friend and the man they believed would usher in the kingdom they all longed for. They went with hope and joy. They knew that that Jesus was controversial but he offered them a different kind of life, and they wanted it with everything their being had to offer.
They went. They watched as the crowds hailed Jesus as a king. They watch as Jesus rode a donkey, and they wondered as Jesus overlooked the holy city in tears. They shouted with the crowds as they marched to the temple. They looked with confusion as Jesus washed their feet. They questioned their dedication when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him, and they wondered if it would be them.
They then watched as soldiers arrested their teacher, they looked at his broken body after Pilate and Herod decided to use cruelty as entertainment. They followed Jesus as he was wrongfully executed on the cross.
These disciples sat locked in a room wondering. Then different stories emerged. One of the women among them began proclaiming that she had seen their Lord. And this confused them. And then Jesus had visited them in the very room they were locked in. This happened again and they physically touched him, ate with him and they did not know if they were just seeing things or if it was real.
Eventually they left the holy city and they returned home. They began leaving in small groups because they did not know what was going on and did not want to attract attention. They were afraid and confused. They thought they had their life course set, and all at once everything they thought they knew toppled around them.
We look at these stories and we see them a simple news report. We do not often consider the emotions that they would be feeling. We do not even think of the people involved as actual human beings. They are just little bits of information. These were men and women. They lived lives. They experienced the same emotions and feelings we experience. And their lives can speak to our own.
Their leader was falsely accused of crimes and executed for those crimes. And they were his disciples. They had seen the risen Lord, but the facts still remain, they were potentially wanted men. They did not know what any of this meant. The confusion they experienced is far beyond anything I have faced. What does their future hold? What does all this mean?
They are back in Galilee. Commentators have a few theories about why they are back in Galilee. Some say that they have falling back into their old lifestyle. Some say they were commanded to return. I fall into the idea that they simply went home. You cannot really stay in the rented room in Jerusalem forever. But they slowly make their way to Galilee. And seven of them are together. Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, the sons of Zebedee, and two others. And Peter says, “I am going fishing.”
Are they returning to their old lifestyle? Maybe. Are they turning their backs on Jesus? Possibly. We do not know. All we know is that Peter was a fisherman. His life has been turned upside down. He is going back to something he knows and understands. He is going back to the basics.
We have all been there. Life throws us for a loop and we are back at square one. In the twelve years I have been here, I have had to restart my 2nd job several times. I will begin, work my way up, then something will come up and I will have to make a decision that would require a sacrifice for church or work. And then I start over. I worked from entry level to management and went back down to entry level a few times in twelve years. I was faced with a dilemma, choose to keep your job and miss a church meeting, or change jobs so you can attend a meeting. That is a tough decision to make. But we make them. We choose to decline a promotion, we choose to move to a different location, or we choose to immigrate. We are constantly making decisions and at times those decisions bring us back to square one. We are forced to start over.
Peter is sitting at home and he finally decides, “I am going fishing.” And the others say we are going with you. Notice who are with him. Thomas, good old doubting Thomas. He had just proclaimed the divinity of Jesus, and here he is on a fishing boat. Then Nathaniel, John has not mentioned this guy since the beginning of his gospel account. Nathaniel was the man that Phillip came to get and Jesus proclaimed in John 1:47, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.” Why is it these seven?
It is as if everything is restarting. We have the fisherman, the no names, the doubter, and the guy barely mentioned. It is as if they are going back to the initial calling. They go out and they fish all night and then there is this guy on the shore calling out to them. “Hey children (or friends) do you have even a morsel of fish?” It is almost hilarious if you stop and think about it for a bit. I wonder if any of them felt as if they were experiencing a glitch in the matrix. The seven are probably laughing in their frustration. No, they say. Not even a bite. Then this man says, “why don’t you throw your net on the right side.”
This scene has played out before. Early in the ministry of Jesus these men, at least some of them, had been in this very boat before having a similar conversation. The previous conversation played out a bit differently. Previously Peter did a little arguing, “I have been out all night and have caught nothing but for you I will do it.” This time, there is not a single discussion, they just do it. Why?
They have been working all night and they know that the fish just are not where they thought they would be, but they throw out the net. They humor the man on the shore because what is the worst that could happen? They either catch fish or not. They can then come to shore and have a little chat with this guy and laugh together. But something happens, the net is full. The beloved disciple, who I believe is John, recognizes the scene. This has happened before. He turns to Peter and says it is the Lord.
Then without a moment of thought, Peter grabs his clothes and dives off the boat, leaving everyone else struggling with the net. He swims to the shore. The funny thing is in the wording. There is no indication whatsoever that Peter’s rush to get to the shore got him to shore any faster than if he would have stayed in the boat to help bring in the net.
I want us to just consider the scene and consider your own life. How many times have we faced a life changing challenge that made us feel as if we were starting all over again? How do we approach it?
The disciples returned to their old life, and many have said that they were wrong in doing so. But I want us to think about something. They were changed. The response that Peter gave from the first miraculous catch to the second is different. He is less arrogant. He is more apt to humor those around him. Did you notice that? He is no longer the same person he once was. He is still very much Peter; we see that when he jumped into the sea without thinking twice. And you almost get the feeling that even though Peter left the six other disciples without help, they were more gracious. John, or the beloved disciple, told Peter who it was knowing full well what would happen.
When they get to shore, they see that Jesus has already prepared a fire and started cooking a fish. He asks them to bring some more from the catch. This tells us that they are real fish, 153 real fish. That is oddly specific. It is so odd that several people have made attempts to explain why it is so specific.
Ammonius a theologian from Alextandria in the 6th century says: Peter drags the dragnet with the others, bringing the catch to Christ. The hundred can be understood to mean the fullness of the Gentiles. The fifty refers to the elect of Israel who have been saved. And the three set one’s mind on the revelation of the holy Trinity, to whose glory the life of the believers who were caught in the dragnet is naturally connected. Fragments on John 637.
Augustine of Hippo says: When to the number of 10, representing the Law, we add the Holy Spirit as represented by 7,25 we have 17. And when this number is used for the adding together of every serial number it contains, from 1 up to itself, the sum amounts to 153. For if you add 2 to 1, you have 3 of course. If to these you add 3 and 4, the whole makes 10, etc. … All therefore who are sharers in such grace are symbolized by this number, that is, are symbolically represented.
Jerome, the man that first translated scripture into Latin makes the claim that they caught one of every type of known fish, which he believes represents the redemption of all creation. Each of these ideas are remarkably interesting, while also most likely being completely bogus. Why would John write the number? Because they were wanting to split them equally. It is still odd that they would be so specific with the number. This is where the symbolism comes into play.
The disciples returned to their livelihoods. There is nothing wrong with that. Working for a living is an honorable thing. When the voice of the Lord spoke, they responded. They exhibited their faith. Everything was falling down around them yet they still listened to the call and responded. Jesus asked them if they had any fish. When he asked that the word means if they had a bite, he did not necessarily ask if they had caught their livelihood but if they had caught something to eat at that moment. Jesus asks knowing full well they had not caught anything and that he had already cooked their breakfast.
They responded out of faith. They did the work even though it did not make sense in the moment. They looked at their broken life and they continued to move forward. And the result was that they were given an abundance. There were seven of them and the catch if divided equally would result in approximately twenty-one fish for each plus six to cook now. Jesus had one fish already on the grill so each of them would have taken home twenty-one fish and eaten one. God will provide.
As they ate, Jesus takes Peter off to the side to talk to him. He speaks to Peter because he knows that Peter is struggling more than most. Peter loves Jesus and wants more than anything to follow and serve. Yet, in Peter’s mind he is a failure. He set out to serve and yet in the time of greatest need, Peter denied Jesus, just like Jesus said he would. He failed, and yet Jesus still blesses him. This tells us a great deal about hope and grace. God does not expect us to be perfect, he only wants us to live for him in obedient faith. God will provide for our needs if we trust him. If we listen and respond to his word, we will realize that he has provided even more than what was necessary. I am not saying that God will bless us because we have given to the church. I am not promoting a health and wealth theology. What I am saying is that when we trust Him, when we respond and walk in faith God will provide. Even when we stumble and make a fool out of ourselves and him, God will provide. Even if we feel as if we are a complete and utter failure, God will provide in some way.
We might not notice it nor understand how but God will provide. In the past twelve years, I have had to restarted my career outside the church four times. I sat at home wondering how we could possibly stay when I could barely pay for gas to get to work. It has not been a walk in the park, but I have never been without.
Paul teaches us in his epistles to be content with what we have. He says that he will praise God when he has plenty and when he is in need. He will praise God in health and in illness, in his freedom and in his bondage. It is our attitude that is important. It is where we place our faith that is important. Is our faith placed on ourselves and is our attitude focused on our own needs and desires, or are we focused on Christ? Peter went fishing because they needed to eat, but when they came up empty and he heard the voice of God he responded even though he did not realize who was speaking. We have great opportunities all around us. Maybe God is calling you to give it a shot. Maybe he is calling you to take a step of faith. What would it hurt? Well, we might end up back at square one. No, we have more experience and a different perspective. And we have a greater story, and hope.
Before we moved back to Kansas City, my wife Kristy was finishing her Fine Arts degree at Wichita State University. She was working late into the night trying to get her final project completed. She had built this amazing statue constructed out of ceramic triangles put together in various formations. This all symbolized the various aspects and experiences that make each one of us uniquely who we are.
She was placing all these pieces together, and eventually it began to take on a form that would resemble a person. This thing was nearly as tall as she is and it was looking amazing. She had one piece to complete the structure, she needed to put on what would be the head. As she was putting this one piece in place, she did not have it centered properly and the adhesive we were using to hold the pieces together failed causing everything to come crashing down. An entire semester’s worth of work was now a pile of ceramic shards, and the final presentation was in less than six hours. What do we do? We have failed. Life has crumbled around us.
Jesus took Peter aside and asked him “Do you love me?” He asked him this and Peter answered until he came to the revelation. God does not require perfection he wants us to abide in him and grow from that. Kristy’s symbolic life had crumbled to the ground and all we could do is sweep it into a pile and take what came. A couple of weeks later she had an art show the weekend before we moved. People walked through her exhibit that was an abstract conceptual self-portrait and some who visited were moved to tears as they began to understand what she was saying through her art. Everything was in shards mere days before and yet at that exhibition the triangular structure that had fallen was present for all to see. A different approach was taken and different materials were used but the message was still there.
Peter thought he failed. Peter felt as if he was being forced to return to the life he had before. And Peter was willing to accept that. But he heard that voice. And he threw the net. He got a taste once again of the hope he once knew. And then Jesus his Lord and his God, took him aside and asked do you love me? And he asked this until Peter knew that the only thing that really matters is to Love God, Embrace the Holy Spirit, and to Live the love of Christ with others. That is our mission. That is our call. It is not about being perfect but helping one another through another day. Helping each other find the strength to begin again, through and with Jesus. Our mission is to listen to Jesus as he calls out to us, “Follow Me!”
If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:
To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.