Monday, 29 June 2015

On the Occasion of the Ordination of Deacons and Priests- John 21



I have some memories that make me cringe. I’m sure you have these too. You are driving, or in the shower, or on a walk and suddenly this memory flashes into your mind. And you can’t help but cringe. We can have very physical responses to these memories. When I was in Junior High I had a brutal fear of girls. Not all girls, just the ones that found me attractive. I live with some awkwardness at the best of times, but that fear would turn into flat out strangeness and avoidance.   I remember going to a Much Music Dance party with my first girlfriend Lindsay. I was rocking my MC Hammer pants, and at one point, Lindsay in desperation threw herself to the ground in the hopes that I would offer her my hand to help her get up, which would result in us holding hands. I didn’t clue in and I didn’t offer her my hand to help her up. …. I think back on that moment and I cringe.
Later (Lindsay and I were no longer dating at this point if you can imagine that) there was a girl named Jodi. Her friend came up to me and told me that Jodi really liked me and that Mike was trying to get her to go out with him, but she really liked me and would rather go out with me. Her friend said, “do you want to be Jodi’s boyfriend?” Now I liked girls, and I especially liked girls who liked me. I was just terrified of them. So I said “Yes” I would love to be Jodi’s boyfriend. Her friend ran away and a few moments later I heard an excited scream echo down the hall. A few minutes later I packed up my book bag getting ready to go home. On the way out of the school I saw Jodi in the hall near the lockers talking to a friend, probably sharing the news that we are now dating. I locked eyes with her and… I walked right past her and out the school without saying a word. No doubt making her look like a liar and sending her into all kinds of confusion. When I think about that I still cringe.   
There are more serious cringe moments I could share, but I’m not going to. We know one of St. Paul’s cringe moments. In his hatred for the followers of Jesus he looked on approvingly as St. Stephen was stoned to death. No doubt that memory caused a wince- at the very least. 
We know one of St. Peter’s cringe moments too (I’m sure he had many), but the greatest sting (I think) must have been when he was standing around a charcoal fire in the high priest’s courtyard and when someone asked if he was one of the disciples of Jesus, he denied it three times. Matthew records Peter’s denial in strong language calling down curses and making an oath saying, “I don’t know the man!” (Matt 26:69-74). And after he hears the rooster crow he remembers Jesus’ prophesy about his denial and Matthew tells us he “went outside and wept bitterly” (Matt 26:75).  
I’m sure that moment coloured his life, even after the resurrection. Yes, Jesus is back, but does he really want anything to do with a traitor? Does Jesus really want disciples who fall asleep while he is praying and sweating blood in preparation for his arrest and torture? Does he really want disciples who abandon him when the authorities show up and arrest him? One of their own number even sold him out for 30 pieces of silver! … No doubt they felt joy that Jesus is alive, but I wonder if they felt like they missed the boat. Sure Jesus is alive, but would he have anything to do with them? Didn’t he say, “If you deny me I will deny you” (Matt 10:33). Peter blew it, and now he has to figure out what to do with his life. Maybe he should just go back to what he knows. Maybe he can start up a little fishing business. Maybe he can get Matthew to do the books. They fished all night, but they didn’t catch anything. Salt on the wound, no doubt.

Suddenly they hear a voice from the shore, “friends, haven’t you any fish?”. “No”, they answered. So he says, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some”. When they did, they couldn’t pull the nets in because they were so full (Jn 21:5-6). The Gospel of Luke (5:4-6) tells us that when Jesus first called Peter and his first disciples in was in the context of another miracle just like this one. This memory helps John clue in, “It’s the Lord!” (Jn 21:7). Then Peter (in typical Peter style) jumps into the water and swims to shore. When he gets there he finds Jesus cooking breakfast on a charcoal fire. …  I wonder if Peter had a little cringe as he sat with Jesus around that charcoal fire, maybe thinking about the fire in the high priest’s courtyard. Jesus, probably sensing Peter’s shame, turns to him and asks him, ”Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” He doesn’t call him Peter, he calls him by his original name, “Simon”, which can mean something like “shifting sands”. And Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you”. And Jesus asks him again, and again Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you”. And he asks again a third time and we read that Peter felt hurt. Maybe this reminded him of his three-fold betrayal. Peter responds the third time “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (Jn 21:15-17). The three “I love you’s” undo the three denials and welcome him back into the fold. 
I think there might be more going on here than meets the eye. If you look into the Greek there is something strange happening, some don’t make a big deal out of it, but I think it’s strange enough to point out. No doubt many of you have heard teachings on the different words for love in Greek. Two of those words are used in this exchange between Peter and Jesus. One of those words is “Philos” (φιλῶ). Philos is the love you have for very close family and friends. It is a deep love. It’s is not necessarily an unbreakable love. We all know stories of families or friends who have had a falling out. It is a powerful love, but it is breakable. “Agape” (ἀγαπᾷς) is the other word for love used in this exchange between Peter and Jesus. Agape was used by Christians to mean a self-giving, sacrificial, and unconditional love. It is an unbreakable love. The highest of the loves. Philos and agape are both very high loves, but agape seems to have been understood as a higher love. 
When Jesus turns to Peter he asks him “do you agape me?” Do you love me with the highest love? And Peter responds, “Lord, you know that I philos you”. And Jesus asks him a second time, “Do you agape me?” And again Peter responds, “Lord, you know that I philos you”. And Jesus asks him a third time, and this is the time it makes Peter sad, Jesus asks, “Peter do you philos me?” Jesus switches from asking Peter for agape and instead asks him for philos, which was what Peter was offering all along.

What does this mean? Maybe it’s nothing, but I wonder if this shows a new humility in Peter? This is the same Peter who said even if everyone else betrays you I will die with you… but then denies him three times. Could it be that Peter realized that maybe he doesn’t have agape to give. In humility and honesty maybe he realizes that all he has to offer is philos. And in Jesus’ last question Jesus drops the bar from agape to philos so Peter can reach it. He meets Peter where he is at. … When Peter first met Jesus in his boat, when he had the first miraculous catch of fish, Peter looks to Jesus saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk 5:8). Jesus called him knowing he wasn’t perfect.  

Those of us who are living as ordained people, those of us who are living as baptized people, we have made vows to be more than we are. The life we promise to live is bigger than we are. We can’t do it on our own. We need Christ and his body to draw us into that new life. … Our Lord, knows he did not call perfect people. You will mess up in ministry as you try to follow Jesus and minister to his flock, his “least of these”, and his “little ones”. I have the names and faces of people I have disappointed in my mind. That memory causes me to wince in pain. And once in a while I will pass by a charcoal fire and I will cringe and pound my fist into my chest saying “Have mercy on me Lord- how can you stand to have me as one of your disciples?” ... And I will hear his voice, as I hope you hear it, “do you love me?” And with everything we can muster (whether that be philos or agape) we respond, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you”. And he will say again, “follow me”. It is a calling we have to answer every day with the rising sun. And as we follow him he will lead us into agape. The ministry Jesus calls you into is as much for Jesus to save you as it is to minister to others. It is through following his lead that we will become who we were created to be.
And he will draw us into a deeper and deeper love. He will draw us into agape. Our love will deepen as we care for his sheep (Jn 21:15, 16, 17), for his “little ones” and for his “least of these”.  In following his call to his flock we come into the fullness of who we were always created to be.   

Peter learned to give it all as he tended to the flock of Christ. He learned self-sacrificial agape love. Holding nothing back Peter would later ‘stretch out his hands, and another would dress him and carry him where he didn’t want to go’ (Jn 21:18-19). Tradition tells us that Peter was crucified under the persecutions of Emperor Nero in about 64 AD, but not feeling worthy to die in the same manner of the Lord he loved so much, he asked to be crucified upside-down.  Peter learned a love that held nothing back. In answering Jesus’ call on your life may you been drawn deeply into his self-sacrificial love. AMEN   

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