Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Easter 3C April 14, 2013

“Do You Love Me?”

John 21:1-19

After these things…it is still all about Peter, isn’t it? 

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed it or not, but throughout the gospels, it becomes almost glaringly obvious that Peter is very, very fond of the first person singular.   At nearly every pivotal moment, Peter finds a way to make it somehow always all about Peter.  Let’s review some of Peter’s more memorable gaffes.

Matthew 14…now here’s a classic Peter scene.
The disciples go out in a boat, a storm blows up, and Jesus comes walking on water out to the disciples.  And what’s Peter’s response to this miraculous action?  Let me do it too!
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 
Followed, inevitably, in typical Peter style when he loses his nerve:
“Lord, save me from drowning in the water.”
It happens again and again in the gospels.  Peter slows down the action because it’s always all about him. And Jesus always has to stop what he's doing and step in to save him. 

At the transfiguration.  That glorious scene on the mountain top.  The shining white clothes of Jesus.  The holy presence of the Moses and Elijah.  Peter sees this incredibly powerful scene and in a heartbeat he turns it all around.  Suddenly, the transfiguration is all about him, about what Peter wants to do, Peter’s vision, Peter’s plans…

“Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings for you and Moses and Elijah.”
Thank goodness for God’s voice from heaven which finally shuts him up and redirects his attention:
Uhhhh…Peter…it’s not about you.  It’s about my beloved Son.  Remember?  Stop talking, Peter.  Listen to him!

At the last supper in the gospel of John.  All the disciples are having their feet washed by Jesus and everything is going swimmingly until Jesus comes to the feet of a certain disciple named…you guessed it…

“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” “You will never wash my feet.” “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  And Jesus has to explain everything to Peter.  Again.  Yes, your feet, Peter.  You don’t get a pass if you want to be my disciple.

Later, Peter takes his sword and Peter, acting alone again, cuts off Malchus’ right ear.  And everything comes to a screeching halt.  Jesus has to stop again to save Peter.  Peter…Peter…Put your sword back in its sheath. 

And it gets worse.
I…don’t know him….I don’t know him.”  Three times he says it.  Even when Jesus predicted that this moment would come and Peter knew it was coming.  But, when push came to shove, it was all about Peter.  Peter chose to save his own skin and deny his Lord.

Even after all these things. 

When we arrive at the scene depicted in our text today, we really do not know how much time has passed since the disciples last saw the resurrected Christ.  We don’t know how long it’s been since Jesus blew the wind of the Holy Spirit into them and showed them the scars on his hands and his sides.  Could have been a couple days.  A couple weeks.  A couple months.  But it’s clear that the magic of Easter has worn off.  The lilies are beginning to droop.  The crowds have disappeared.  After all of those Easter things, the disciples are in seeming disarray. 

There’s only seven of them left…did you notice that?  Only seven.  We don’t know where the others have gone.  Maybe they’ve gone home.  Maybe they’ve gone back to doing whatever it was they were doing before.  But in the last chapter of John, all we have are these seven guys.  Which suggests that things are already coming apart at the seams for this group. 

And Peter, the lone wolf disciple says, “I am going fishing.”  
That’s not really much of an invitation, but the rest of the disciples say, “We will go with you.”
It’s as if they don’t know what else to do.   Fishing sounds as good a plan as any.  Do something they know how to do.  Go back to a comfortable routine. 

The night passes.  They catch nothing. And then when dawn comes and the sky begins to brighten, Jesus shows up and sees the seven of them floundering out on the sea.  Jesus tells them to cast their net on the right side of the boat and before you know it, they have so many fish that they are absolutely overwhelmed. 

But that’s not the curious part.  We know that part.  We expect that to happen.  It’s Jesus.  It’s loaves and fishes.  Here’s the curious part.

When Peter hears it is the Lord , he puts on his clothes, for he was naked. 
It’s such a Peter thing to do, isn’t it?  Because it doesn’t make any sense.

I mean, if you want to swim fast to the shore would you put on a bunch of clothes and then jump into the water?  Have you watched Olympic swimmers?  Do they wear a lot of stuff if they want to swim fast?  Peter puts on clothes when he hears it is the Lord.  He puts on clothes, jumps into the lake and leaves everyone else behind to deal with the net full of fish.

And what is waiting for Peter on the shore is Jesus and a charcoal fire.  Because after you’ve been swimming in a lake, early in the morning while wearing heavy clothes, it is very likely that you will feel COLD when you get out of the water.   And what better way to warm yourself, if you are Peter, than a charcoal fire? 

Where have we seen this scene before?  Oh, I know.  John 18.
The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ 18Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

Jesus is giving Peter a do-over.  Peter gets to play this familiar scene again.  Right here at this charcoal fire.  Shivering in sopping wet clothing.  Jesus is giving Peter an opportunity to understand, once and for all, that it isn’t all about Peter.  It never has been all about Peter. It’s all about Jesus and the incredible, dangerous, extraordinary ministry that Peter is going to be able to do when he gets it through his thick, Peter skull that Jesus is the center of the action. 

And it seems to me that Jesus has been trying to get the church to do the same exact thing for the past 2000 years.  Realize that this is not about us.  It’s about Jesus.  And every time we wander into first person territory about what we want, we need, we think – we slow down the work that Jesus needs us – needs US – to do.

I have no doubt that Peter loved Jesus.  In every single moment of self-centered Peter-ness that we see all over the gospels, it is clear that Peter loved Jesus.  I’m sure Jesus knew it too.  But Jesus knew that just loving is never enough.  And we know that, too.  Love is never enough if it is not accompanied by action.  Jesus has been saying it all along to the disciples, to Peter, to anyone who would have ears to hear him. 

Jesus had to make it plain for Peter and  continues to make it plain for us.  It is high time for you and me and the church to get beyond our neediness, our self-absorption, our comfort and, let’s face it, our fear of being naked before the Lord.   We have to love Jesus more than we love these things we know.  The things that keep us safe.  The things that weigh us down when the time comes for swimming.  We have to love Jesus more than we love ourselves.  This is not cheap grace.  This is not an undemanding love. 

“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Feed my lambs.”
“Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Tend my sheep.”
“Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
 “Feed my sheep.

But, that’s just the outward conversation. Because what Jesus is really saying is: If you love me, do something about it. Show me that you mean it. And, Peter, it cannot be like the last time.  Not like the last time when you were warming yourself at a charcoal fire. This time, feed. Tend. Do it. This time.  Follow me.

This isn’t the first time Jesus told Peter to “follow me.” But this time it’s different. This time there’s no room for Peter’s denial. For his sinking doubts. This time Peter is to follow Jesus all the way. In love. In ministering to others. In spreading the Good News. In life. In death.

I started working on this sermon on Thursday afternoon.  And I was still thinking about this goofy breakfast on the beach scene when I left the church to head down to Hazelwood on Thursday evening. 

True pastoral confession here.  I really, really didn’t want to go to Hazelwood on Thursday night.  I had already had a full day -- meetings at Presbytery all morning, visiting BJ at Passavant, sermon prep, a conversation with Keith about ministries here at the church.  I wanted to go HOME.  I wanted to be HOME.  I felt like I had done enough for Jesus for one day.  I did not want to go to some lady’s house for a two hour bible study with a group of people who are forming the new church in Hazelwood led by my friend Rev. Karen Battle.  I don’t know these people.  That is not my responsibility.  That is not my church. 

I didn’t want to go to Hazelwood on Thursday night.  I was hungry.  I was tired.  I was done. 

Talk about first person singular.  A lot of I-I-I in those sentences.  It was all about me on Thursday evening.  So what happened next shouldn’t really be a surprise.

Susan, do you love me? 

Oh man.  That’s the kind of thing that happens when you read the Bible, you know.  Jesus shows up and gives you a hard time.  

Susan Anderson Maxwell Rothenberg.  Yeah, you. Daughter of Robert and Janet…do you love me?

I was about as weighed down as a person can get when I dragged my self-absorbed, sorry self down to Hazelwood for bible study on a Thursday night.  I had a million reasons not to show up.  And all of them were about me.

Do you love me?

Have you ever heard that voice?  It can be so clear on some days.  That voice was the text message I got earlier in the day from Karen reminding me that I needed to be in Hazelwood at 7 p.m. sharp.  That voice was the email on my phone giving me very specific directions to the house in Hazelwood.  That voice was lifted up from this scripture reading that had been rolling around in my brain and my heart.

Do you love me? 

So it didn’t really surprise me when I arrived in Hazelwood at Miss Vanessa’s house and discovered that she had cooked dinner.  It didn’t surprise me when Miss Vanessa gave me a giant bear hug and led me to her dining room table.  It didn’t surprise me to look at the table and see a giant platter of beautifully prepared broiled fish.  

Jesus set it all up and I walked right into it.  Just like Peter.  On the beach in those wet clothes, warming himself at a charcoal fire, eating the meal prepared by his Lord who had sought Peter out, one more time.  Peter was invited back into a life of service in a community fed, led and centered on Jesus.

Where are you in this story? How have you been called to care for the people and world God loves so much?

It can be enormously difficult to move into a future that is uncertain.  But our situation as the church today is no different from that which faced the disciples.  Like them we are tempted to stay with what is familiar.  Like them, we prefer the comfort of what we know as opposed to the unknown.  Like them, we get tired, discouraged, wondering if Jesus will ever show up.

But, I am convinced…until we let go of what we want, what we need, what we think and allow Jesus to be the center of all we do, our nets will be empty.   When we cast our nets into new places, all of those places where Jesus is just waiting for us to show up, we will be blessed by more fish than we can count.   That’s seems to be the promise here.  Do you trust it? 

Sometimes finding what we’re looking for requires just the slightest adjustment in our way of seeing.  

Sometimes pulling up the net, moving it a few feet over, throwing it back in the same waters, can make all the difference.

Jesus is crazy enough to not give up on Peter.  In fact, Jesus is crazy enough to hand over the keys to God’s kingdom to us.  All he asks is, “Do you love me?  Okay then.  Tend my sheep.”

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Easter Sermon, Year C

“Beautiful Brokenness”

Luke 24:1-12

In 1944, Lt. Hiroo Onoda was sent by the Japanese army to the remote Philippine island of Lubang. His mission was to conduct guerrilla warfare during World War II. Unfortunately, Onoda was never officially told the war had ended; so Onoda continued to live in the jungle, always preparing for that moment when his country would again need his services. Eating coconuts and bananas and deftly evading search parties that he believed were enemy scouts, Onoda kept himself well hidden.  For almost 30 years, people dropped leaflets telling him the war was over, but no one could convince him that he was no longer in a world in which killing on a national scale was still the order of the day.    When Onoda emerged from the dark recesses of the island, finally convinced the war was over, he said:

“Suddenly everything went black. A storm raged inside me. I felt like a fool for having been so tense and cautious. Worse than that, what had I been doing for all these years? Gradually the storm subsided, and for the first time I really understood: This was the end.  I pulled back the bolt on my rifle and unloaded the bullets. . . .”

I do not think it is an overstatement to say that for the past 2000 years, human beings have lived with the same kind of dark illusion that kept Onoda hidden in the jungle.  For whatever reason, we still move through our days as if we live in a Good Friday world – the world in which fear, hate and violence hold sway. 

The illusion that we live in a Good Friday world isn’t really so far-fetched.  In fact, it’s entirely understandable. Like Pilate, most political bureaucrats still seek to pass the buck.  Most of Christ’s disciples still act an awful lot like Peter, hardly daring to confess that they know a Savior of peace before a hostile world.  Like the temple leadership -- the Sadducees and Pharisees -- many leaders in the modern church still deify their own personal prejudices, morality and creeds instead of a God who loves the whole world without exception.

And the majority of ordinary people do not gather together in a mob to cheer gross miscarriages of justice. But we are not often moved to protest injustice either.   After all, it is what it is.  And what can we possibly do about it? 

Yes, it is easy to believe that we live in a Good Friday world.  It is easy to believe that nothing much has changed. 

Yet, we come together on Easter morning to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.  We affirm that belief quite visibly today.  In our greetings to one another.  In our music, our flowers, our very presence in the building.  Believing in resurrection is one thing we organized Christians do really, really well.  We practically fist bump as we proclaim to one another that He is Risen!  But behind every fist bump, I still sense the force that was at work on Good Friday.  Fear.  Raw, barely hidden, and powerful.  

None of us deny that we know Jesus as blatantly as Peter did on Good Friday, or treat the story of Christ’s resurrection as dismissively as the disciples treat the women.  But do we actually believe that love has won won?  Do we dare trust that all that goodness we saw utterly destroyed on the cross is not only alive again but also as alive as any of us sitting here today?   We anxiously and even belligerently affirm the truth of bodily resurrection, as if that solves everything, when in fact we’re hard pressed to describe how resurrection actually changes anything in how we live our lives.   

Easter demands something more of us.  Easter demands that we must live as if the wondrous love of Jesus is not only alive, not only true, but the only truth that matters in a world of illusions. 

2,000 years later, we still – still – are at war with our fears.  We still do not believe that death has been defeated.  We have not pulled back the bolt on the rifle and emptied the bullets.  We still huddle in the dark shadows of Good Friday, as if death were the order of the day.

So we should take delight in the fact that the first witnesses in our story today in Luke found the empty tomb to be a complete surprise.  Even though Jesus talked about it, predicted it, spoke openly of his death and resurrection throughout his ministry, no one in this story -- or any of the gospel stories -- greets the news of the resurrection by saying, “Praise God!”  No one shouts “Hallelujah!” when they hear the news.  And absolutely no one says, “I knew it.  It all happened just like Jesus said!”

No one expects resurrection – certainly not the women who come to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body.  They expect to find death.  In fact, it is only when they are reminded by the two men in dazzling clothes that they recall Jesus’ promise.

Then they run back to tell the rest of the disciples, only to be greeted by utter skepticism.  In fact, Luke tells us that the disciples regarded the women’s testimony to be “leros,” which the NRSV politely translates as an “idle tale.”  But if we look at the original Greek, the more accurate way to describe the disciples’ response is – “Sorry, ladies.  That’s crap.”    

Who can blame the disciples?  Resurrection isn’t simply a claim that Jesus’ body was somehow magically and mysteriously resuscitated.  It is so much bigger than that.   Resurrection means that everything we see and experience as reality – violence, jealousy, anger, greed, power, prejudice, sickness, even death – is an illusion. Resurrection means that God entered into human history not to fix what is bad, but to create an entirely new reality. 

Which is scary.  If even the dead won’t stay dead, what can you count on?  Resurrection upsets everything.  It breaks every rule.  Even the awful rules which, while awful, are at least rules we know.  Resurrection throws us off balance.  It turns neat and orderly and predictable into messy, surprising, and none-too-comfortable chaos. 

But amidst the cries of “crap,” Peter hears something else.  Peter, who has been utterly broken by false bravado and fear.  Peter, who cut off ears and then pretends he had never heard of Jesus.  Peter, who ends up sobbing bitter, shameful, regretful tears.  Peter listens and hears something in the frankly unbelievable testimony of the women.

With bitter brokenness still clutching at his throat, tears of regret and loss still running down his face, Peter gets up and opens the door, stepping out into the newness of a Sunday morning.  Peter hears the muffled voices of the others through the door.  The sun is just beginning to warm the ground. 

The winding garden path leads him to an open space where he finds the tomb.  And he stops abruptly at the entrance.  His mind is racing with so many thoughts.
Is it true?   Is it true?  Is it true?

Peter is broken and tired.  Peter is tired of himself.  Peter is tired of being who he’s been.  Peter is ashamed of what he’s done.  And most of all, Peter is afraid.  Of what he might see.  What he may not see.  Is there really hope?  Or is it…finished?

Is it true?  Is it true?  Is it true?  A teacher once told me that “Is it true?” is really the only question we have to answer as Christians, and it is the question that never really goes away.  We drag that question with us into this place every time we gather to worship.  When we sit again in these well-worn pews, worn down with the week’s little disappointments and tiny tragedies.  Is it true?  Is it true? Is it true?

All Peter can hear is his own heart beating as he breathes in fresh, sweet morning air. Finally, he summons up the courage to look.  He sees the abandoned linen.  He smells the oils and spices that the women left behind. 

As I imagine Peter staring into the truth of that empty tomb, I see a group of broken, battered, cynical, tired people -- people like us - standing there with him.  And their response to that truth is not a song of triumph, but a cold and a broken hallelujah.  A whispered hallelujah.  Without trumpets.  Without the brass section.  Without the fist bump or an arm raised in triumph. 

No.  This “hallelujah” moment as depicted by Luke, can best be heard as a barely audible croak of gratitude and amazement.  Low in the throat, choked with tears, that unique and beautiful sound that every human being makes when we realize that are loved – we are LOVED -- beyond our capacity to understand.  By someone -- a Savior --  who knows who we are because he has suffered the very worst we can do to him, and suffered the very worse we do to one another. And he loves us anyway.

Our brokenness is not the final word.  Not for Peter.  Not for us.  The abyss of love is deeper than the abyss of death. Peter comes to the tomb and receives the forgiveness he needs to forgive himself. 

This week, I read about a kind of Japanese pottery called, “Kintsukuroi,” which means literally to repair with gold.  Artists use the technique to repair broken pottery with gold or silver lacquer with the understanding that the goal is not restoration of the original piece, but the creation of something entirely new.  The application of the lacquer exposes and outlines every broken place so that the obviously broken bowl becomes something much more beautiful that the original – simply for having been broken. 

That’s what God sees when God looks at you and me and the whole church.  The God of resurrection transforms and releases us into the world to shine like the sun, dappled with golden light, all the more beautiful thanks to our scars and bruises and even our doubts. 

If we are to affirm Easter in a Good Friday world, we are going to live what is the only truth in a world of illusions.  We must live every day as believers in the truth that there is no limit to what love can do.

Is it true?  Is it true?  Is it true?  Let us, in this moment, stand together and whisper so the world can hear.  Yes. Thanks be to God.  Amen.