Rev. Caroline Lawson Dean
April 8th 2018
Christ Church, Summit
A reading from John 21:11-19:
Peter dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”
Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter:
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Peter said, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said: “Feed my lambs” Again Jesus said, “Simon Peter, Son of John, do you love me”
“Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said: “Take care of my sheep” (PAUSE) “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked this the third time.
“Lord you know all things, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said: “Feed my sheep. Truly I say to you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands and someone will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then Jesus said to Peter: “Follow me”
Let Us Pray: “God of new life, when we are caught in self-loathing, fear, grief or hopelessness, we pray for a new dawn, and a nourishing meal to help us reorient around your love. Grant us your hope, healing and resurrection life this day. We pray in Jesus’ name – Amen.
“The blame forgotten,
Peter leapt into the sea.
Where tears once drowned hope
and denials became despair and self loathing,
now eyes had seen that figure on the shore,
that body once strung across the stained wood of execution.
A revived fishing business,
the dull depression of remembered cowardice,
of failed courage,
bad dreams of abandonment,
a deep sea of pain,
now splashed with new hope.
Peter would make it to the shore.
He is risen.
Peter is risen from the dead.
Three times denied.
Three times invited to love again
by him who three times prayed his own despair
and, three times mocked ‘mid three crosses,
in three days rose to resurrect Peter.
Peter made it to the shore. (PAUSE)
Others made it to the shore.
They ate together,
a fellowship of grace and rehabilitation,
of forgiveness and hope,
a symbol of the persistence of divine love,
also for you and me.
A Reflection on John 21:1-19 by William Loader
~ written by William Loader, and posted on Bill Loader’s Home Page. http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/OnShore.htm
Peter had a rough night. The expert fishermen have lost their touch. Peter and the disciples can’t seem to catch a single fish. And this rough night happens to fall during a very rough week. Peter’s best friend, teacher & Lord has been publicly executed. To top it off, there is the remorse, the failure that haunts Peter. Peter did not show up for Jesus, in the garden, during the trial. He certainly couldn’t face the unbearable pain of the cross. Peter’s fear & cumulative shame caused him to deny his greatest love. He bought into the lie that this path would protect his life, even free him from suffering. But it didn’t take long for Peter’s denials to hold him captive in fear & self-loathing. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter couldn’t shake the pain of his betrayals. Something had died within Peter.
And so Jesus came to him. Jesus stood on the shore and showed Peter another miraculous sign of God’s abundant love. Fish spilling over the side of the boat. Nets strong enough to hold an impossible amount of fish. Jesus waited for Peter as he scrambled to the shore. Jesus had breakfast ready on a warm fire, a sign of forgiveness & reconciliation.
Jesus’ love is on display. He does not abandon Peter or the disciples even when their denials cut deep. Jesus’ love isn’t in question. He shows up, without asking request for penance in utter abundant grace.
Last week we asked the kids in Sunday school, “Why did Jesus come back from death to life on Easter?” One student said with clarity, “So that we don’t have to be sad about death.” Another paused to gather her thoughts, “So that we know – when we miss someone we love – they are always with us.” In this season we remember the beautiful reality that God’s love is bigger than our greatest suffering. Life in God is greater than death. But what if the story of Jesus eating breakfast on the beach with the disciples is just as much about Peter’s resurrection as it is about Jesus returning to life? What if Jesus also comes back to show us how to practice our own resurrection hear and now?
Jesus asks Peter, “Son of John, do you love me?” Three times. Jesus asks, “Do you love me Peter? As if to say, come back to love, come back to life. And Peter for the first time in a long time, says yes. He is done saying “no.” He says “Yes, actually, Yes! I love you more than these!”
Jesus calls Peter to rediscover his purpose beckoning him “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep.” Jesus says “Peter, take care of my beloved, foster this beautiful, fragile community” the beginnings of what would be the Christian movement. On that day on the beach, Peter comes back to life. He was lost in shame & fear. Somehow in this ordinary miracle, Peter finds himself again.
So if Jesus’ resurrection embodies the truth that God’s love is bigger than death. Yes Jesus’ resurrection reminds us of the great mystery, that there is a unconditional love beyond what we can see… But what if Jesus’ resurrection is also about our own resurrections here and now? And if this is true, how can we be like Peter? How can we practice resurrection moving from failure, burnout, and grief into new life?
Henri Nouwen, writer, contemplative & Catholic priest writes about a time when a kind of spiritual death was creeping into his soul. He was at the peak of his illustrious career having taught at Notre Dame, Harvard and Yale. He writes that, at the age of fifty “I was living in a very dark place and (realized) that the term ‘burnout’ was a convenient psychological translation for spiritual death.” Unlike Peter, Nouwen’s moment of spiritual failure came alongside what looked outwardly like success. He had gained popularity, relevance, & power, yet spiritually he was limping along. Nouwen prayed, “God show me where you want me to go and I will follow you!” He stumbled upon the work of Jean Vanier founder of L’Arche communities for adults with developmental & mental disability in Canada, and it was as if God said, “Go, live among the poor in spirit – they will heal you.”
Nouwen “moved from Harvard – the best and the brightest, wanting to rule the world, to men and women who had few or no words.” He writes, that this “experience forced me to rediscover my true identity. These broken, wounded, completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self- the self that can do things, show & prove things, and forced me to reclaim the unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of accomplishment.” Nouwen goes on to write about the power of spiritual leaders who can practice what he calls the vulnerable path of “downward mobility.”
During Divinity School at Duke, I worked as a Chaplain at the Murdoch center for Adults with developmental disability and I sparked up a friendship with Vicki. Vicki was bound to a wheelchair, her disability located in her body. Mentally she was sharp. Physically, her body would not allow her to express herself easily. She communicated with body language and short shaky whispers. Vicki was gracious in our ritual, she would whisper now and again and I would attempt to repeat back what she was saying.
One day one of the staff mentioned that Vicki loved having someone read the Bible aloud to her. A few weeks later the staff chaplain gave me a Bible with pictures and large print. During my next visit I delivered this gift from the staff chaplain. Vicki was thrilled; she communicated clearly with hugs and a bright smile. I showed her the Bible, and then she motioned for me to get something out of her bag on the back of her wheelchair. I pulled out a few things and she shook her head, no, and then finally I pulled out a red plastic rose and she shook her head yes.
After a moment of confusion, I remembered that a staff person mentioned that Vicki was the homecoming queen at the spring dance. I asked her if she won this rose at the dance for being “the queen.” And she nodded enthusiastically. The dance is a big deal around Murdoch. I congratulated Vicki on being the queen of the dance, but she kept interrupting me, trying to tell me something. I was confused, embarrassed, but she kept repeating herself despite the difficulty. I said, “Vicki I am sorry but it is hard for me to understand you.” Finally I leaned in close and she tried one more time. And for the first time, I heard Vicki clearly say, “You take it.” I was humbled and taken off guard; she wanted me to take her prize rose. She was reciprocating my gift with her own. I thanked her and gave her a hug.
There we were, vulnerable together, our truest selves on display, no pretense, no power, utterly inefficient and unproductive. God’s grace drew us both into a sort of resurrection, a new life. A life that was utterly different – somehow more sacred, more real than everyday life.
In Divinity School it’s easy to define oneself with outward displays of productivity, power and accomplishment – particularly at a place like Duke. It’s easy to get caught up in academic trappings vying for the attention of professors. All of these metrics melt away when you sit with someone like Vicki. She holds your value and worth simply for who you are – and for me this is a reminder of how God is present to us: no pretense, no power, nothing to accomplish.
Jesus asks Peter to “Feed his lambs” and the flock that drew Jesus’ attention time and time again were the “least of these” those on the margins. Nouwen beckons us to let the “poor in spirit” lead us and heal us from our need to be popular, powerful, or productive. Let those who are most vulnerable teach you to live out of your own vulnerability. Nouwen says, if you want to practice resurrection, come alongside the least of these, let them lead you, let them heal you. Don’t climb up, climb down.
Here’s the reality check. Most of us spend our days balancing precious time with family & the time we need to carve out to make a living. And not unlike students we can measure life with false metrics – like productivity, wealth, or prestige. We desperately need spiritual antidotes to heal us from a culture that whispers lies over us, “You are what you do” “You are what you make” “Your security, your worth come from wealth.” Nouwen beckons us to carve out sacred spaces alongside the “least of these.” He warns do this or we may be facing a kind of spiritual death associated with the rat race of a life oriented around productivity, performance, and power.
And so beloved hear the voice of God beckoning you today, “Do you love me? Come back to life. Come back to love. You are mine, I am yours no matter what. No matter the betrayal. No matter who dies. No matter the darkness of the night, you belong to me. Root yourself in that love.
And when you are ready to do the work. Don’t climb up. Climb down. Work for justice & peace next to those in poverty, those with mental & developmental disability, those in prison, the refugee, the ill or grieving, the child. Sit together in your vulnerability. Let go of power, productivity, & relevance. Sink into your true, unadorned self. Practice resurrection.