Monday, October 19, 2015

John Series #14 - Breakfast on the Beach – Do You Love Me/Feed My Sheep - John 21

We have come to the final story and the final sign that Jesus performs in the Gospel of John. This then is also the final installment in our sermon series on John.  And in this final chapter 21 John brings everything together for us and focuses us on the two most important and central themes in the Gospel.  And these are…
        First – God loves the world! God loves the world and all that God has created more than we can even find words to describe; accordingly God loves you.  We see this love of God’s in the incarnation – the en-fleshing of God in Jesus - and in Jesus’ giving up himself in love at the end in the crucifixion.  And the subsequent resurrection proclaims and celebrates that it is love that will always win in the end.  Nothing is stronger than the power of God’s love. And as long as we remain attached to the Vine we are always connected to the source of God’s abundant love.
         2nd – This unconditional gift of love, this gift of grace upon grace, this love that is showered upon us so freely calls for a response.  What kind of response? It calls for us to love – to bear fruit; to wash the feet of others; to feed and touch and heal and love just as Jesus did for us.
When the chapter begins it is night – now it should not be a surprise that this final story begins in the dark.  We should remember that Nicodemus first came to Jesus at night, he was in the dark; and when Mary Magdalene first goes to the tomb it is also dark.  Neither of them understood, neither of them could see and the disciples here still don’t quite see or understand either. 
“I’m going fishing,” Peter announces and all the others decide to go with him.  They all return to their ordinary lives – their pre-incarnation lives.  But of course you can never go back and their efforts are unsuccessful until they hear a voice calling to them from shore and encouraging them to try throwing the nets over the other side of the boat.  And when they do, they catch some fish – lots of fish – 153 fish to be exact!  They have caught an abundance of fish.  This final sign at the very end of the Gospel should remind us of an earlier sign from the very beginning of the Gospel: “We have no wine” Jesus’ mother says, and Jesus then transforms the water in 6 very large jugs into the lots of very best wine – gallons and gallons of it – an abundance of wine; more than you would ever need or know what to do with.  This is what God does, this is one of the characteristics of God’s love – it is super-abundant – it is mind-bogglingly super-abundant.
“It is the Lord!”  Of course!  The abundance of the catch is a give away.  Only God through Christ is so generous and so obvious.  And Peter is so excited he jumps into the sea and swims to shore.  And, we are told, he is naked – he has stripped himself of all of his pretensions, of all that stands between him and God. 
And when the disciples return to shore they find Jesus cooking breakfast for them.  Jesus is the host and Jesus will serve them one more time; Jesus will feed them once more – just like Jesus fed the 5000 with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and in the end had left overs in abundance; And just like Jesus hosted them and fed them and washed their feet at the last supper.
And so they join their host, they accept the gift of bread and fish from Jesus one last time as they sit around that charcoal fire.  This should remind us of the last time that we encountered a group of people sitting around a charcoal fire.  It was the night of the arrest of Jesus, and Peter was warming himself by the charcoal fire when he is recognized and confronted – “Are you not one of that man’s disciples?”  “I am not!” Note in John, Peter denies his discipleship and this happens three times.  And here we are again sitting by a charcoal fire and Jesus asks Peter a simple question – “Do you love me?”  Peter is taken aback by the question, “Yes, of course I love you!” He says.  “Well then,” Jesus says, “feed my sheep!”  This happens three times.  Peter had denied his discipleship 3 times and now he is called upon to affirm his discipleship 3 times.
This final exchange is so important, because it defines discipleship for us.  God loves us, God gives us Jesus who demonstrates God’s abundant and overwhelming love for us and then calls on us to “come and see,” to follow and to serve – “to wash the feet of those whom we encounter” and to feed the sheep of the Good Shepherd, whose love for the sheep is beyond our comprehension.
Do you love me?  Feed my sheep!  These words are words that are spoken to each and every one of us here!  Do you love Jesus?  If so, then you are called to respond – to serve those whom God loves and whom God places in our paths during our lives.  That now that the incarnation, the en-fleshing, of God has come to an end and Jesus has ascended to the father it is now up to Jesus’ followers – Jesus’ disciples of every time and every place – it is now up to you and me to be the incarnation of God’s love for the world in the way that we reach out and love and care and serve.
The Gospel leaves us with this calling and with the question of whether or not we are willing to embrace our own discipleship.  Do you love me, Jesus is asking you – if so, then feed my sheep.
One last comment – the very last verse of the Gospel leaves us with an important and necessary reminder of the gift of God’s abundant love.  And so I would like to conclude this sermon series by first reading this very last verse and then reading Karoline Lewis’ comment on this verse:
John 21:25 - But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

"As this narrative comes to a close, we discover that this abundant grace cannot be contained, neither by the end of the Gospel, nor by the end of the incarnation.  By definition, abundant grace cannot be drawn to a close or wrapped up in a tidy, literary, narrative conclusion.  God's grace extends beyond the confines of this story and even then there are really no restraints or restrictions, no boundaries or borders that can in any way curb or control the extent of God's love... for God so loved the world."

Sunday, October 4, 2015

John Series #13 – The Resurrection, “It is Finished / I Have Seen the Lord” – John 20:1-18

“It is finished!” These were Jesus’ last words on the cross before he died.  But what is finished?  This is the question that John leaves with us as we conclude the story of Jesus’ crucifixion.  It is finished – as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus lovingly care for Jesus’ body, anointing it with spices and wrapping it in a linen shroud.  It is finished - as they then place Jesus’ body in the tomb and the stone is rolled into place.  It is finished!  It is over!  The end!  Now what?
And it is not only those of us who are reading this story who are struggling with this question.  Obviously the disciples, the Judean authorities and even the Romans are pretty convinced that it is all over, it is finished, done!  Well, we took care of that “Jesus” problem!  But, not so fast…
“And the Word became made flesh and dwelt among us…” – and tented among us, and moved into the neighborhood!  God became en-fleshed, incarnate in Jesus; God became fully and completely human in Jesus and lived a human life with real human relationships, reaching out and caring for others, healing, loving, getting angry, being tired, experiencing sadness and loneliness, even despondency, feeling compassion and grief.  It is all there in John – every single one of these human experiences and emotions are displayed in John’s telling the story of God’s en-fleshing.  In fact, in order to take the Incarnation seriously, we must take seriously the complete humanity of Jesus.  Jesus was not half human or sort-of human or pretending to be human.  John wants us to understand that Jesus was fully and completely human, and in this way God enters into the human experience.  And only by taking this Incarnation seriously does the gift that God gives us makes any difference.  So, then what is finished?  It is this human, incarnation experience that has come to a close.  The Incarnation is finished!  The en-fleshing of God has come to a conclusion!  But this is not the end of the story.
Chapter 20 begins with Mary Magdalene coming early in the morning while it is still dark to the tomb.  According to John she comes alone and we don’t know why she is coming – perhaps simply to grieve.  But she is in the dark – just like Nicodemus who came to Jesus in the dark earlier in the Gospel.  Perhaps she believes now that darkness has taken over, and that the light of Christ will never again shine forth.  But she is wrong, for when she arrives she is able at least to see that the stone is rolled away from the tomb and that the tomb is now sitting open.  She reacts to this by running to tell the disciples, and then Peter and the Beloved Disciple themselves run to the tomb to investigate.  The men race each other and it is Peter, who arrives first, boldly entering into the tomb where he is followed shortly afterwards by the Beloved Disciple.  They both find the tomb empty and John tells us – that the Beloved Disciple believes.  But what exactly does he believe?  And who is the Beloved Disciple?  The tradition is to equate the Beloved Disciple with the author of the Gospel, John the son of Zebedee, or at least with the community that can be traced back to him and which produced this Gospel and the three letters of John.  And that may be, but the Beloved Disciple is more than just this character.  We also need to recognize that the Beloved Disciple is representative of believers and followers of Jesus of all times and all places.  He is you and me.  You are the beloved disciple and so am I.  We are the disciples whom Jesus loves.  And what is it that is believed by the Beloved Disciple?  The Gospel is quick to clarify that the disciples did not completely understand about the resurrection, yet.  So then what exactly does the Beloved Disciple believe?  Simply, that the story is not over.  That crucifixion is not the end or the last word.  And there is still more to come.  That the powers of death and hate and violence and oppression and poverty will NOT win in the end.  That the love and grace of God, shown forth in the Incarnation of God in Jesus will have the last word!  And with that the disciples leave and return to their homes.
But Mary is not ready to leave.  She is overcome in weeping.  And there standing besides her is a man, whom she does not recognize.  “Where have you taken him?  Show me and I will take the body and return it to the tomb,” she cries.  And then the stranger speaks – “Mary.”  And she recognizes that this is Jesus.  She had probably not even noticed that the light of the day had begun to overcome the darkness of the night, but when she hears Jesus’ speak, she sees. 
In chapter 10, Jesus had told his disciples that God’s children that are the Sheep of God’s flock would always know and recognize the voice of the Shepherd. And that he, the Shepherd, will always call them by name.  Mary hears the voice of the Shepherd calling her by name – just like the man born blind first heard the voice of Jesus before he regained his sight in chapter 9 – and just like Lazarus who Jesus called by name to come out of the tomb in chapter 11.
Mary’s response?  “Rabboni”  - Teacher!  Not savior, not Jesus, not friend – but teacher.  Who uses that title, teacher?  Only disciples.  So in case there is any question – Mary Magdalene is a disciple of Jesus. And then she reaches for him, but he tells her that he must now ascend to the Father.  And this is the last step in John – the ascension.  And in the ascension we find the gift of Hope.  The resurrection proclaims the victory over human self-centeredness and cruelty, the defeat of death and the victory of light over darkness.  Because of the resurrection we know and can proclaim that no matter what loss, or grief or despair or oppression we experience they will not have the last word.  For the Ascension finalizes this by assuring us not only of Jesus’ abiding relationship with the Father, but of our continuing abiding relationship with God through Jesus as well. It is Jesus’ Ascension to the Father that makes that possible!
And so, the incarnation is finished!  But the story of God’s involvement and overwhelming love for the world, and for all of God’s children and for you and me is not over, it is continuing and continues to this very moment.  God continues to shower us with grace upon grace; God continues to be present with us, especially in our darkest moments in order to remind and assure us that in the end the light will overcome the darkness; that love is stronger than hate; and that life will defeat death.  And as we abide in this love, we know that we, the branches, are constantly nurtured by the Vine of God’s love.  And this then helps us to maintain our relationship with God and helps us to abide.  And not only that, but it gives us the ability to love others and be in abiding relationships with others as well.
        This is what prompts us to be able to confess, with Mary Magdalene, that we too have seen the Lord!  The light of God’s love and grace has overcome the darkness.  The Incarnation is finished – but the story is not over!