Sunday, April 14, 2013

Look Ma Nekked!

Okay I admit that this is a funny title for a sermon but the opening of this passage is…well… funny!  The NIB commentary points out that for one this passage marks a very quick scene change we are instantaneously transported from Jerusalem to Galilee.  What is more peculiar is that the book actually ends before this passage.  The passage before this sounds like the first book ended.  Many believe that this is a different writer expressing another of many accepted traditions.
This relates the story of the apostles as if the seven in the boat were not in the upper room or they may not have understood the message in the upper room or were still too afraid to act it out.  That story last week is of the disciples commissioning “As the creator has sent me so I send you.”
So we have the apostles out in boat fishing and they are catching nothing.  It is a long hot night and the sun is just starting to rise...  Peter is lying back in the boat naked… Now it doesn't take much to get naked in those day s slip of a rope, slide of a robe, and allow the under wrapping to go loose and well there you are...Yet the writer finds it important to express that Peter, no mention of anyone else, is naked.
So here we are with several of the disciples, they have tried to do what they do best the best way they know how and yet they have caught nothing.  A stranger on the shore asks how goes anything biting?  The disciples reply; “nothing all night can you believe it not even a weed has floated into our nets.”
Now here is something for me…maybe this is just for me…I don’t know  but have you ever been so frustrated by something that  you keep doing it over and over again and it doesn't work.  Yet you just try it again the same way getting more frustrated. 
So here we are with the fisher men who have been fishing all night and this guy on the shore says try fishing from the other side of the boat… try fishing a different way.  Can you imagine the reaction: “a different way...?  You mean on this side of the boat here?  Well what the heck, if it’s not gonna work right here… then we are sure it will work over here …. Thump! The nets fill up and with that the disciple who Jesus loved says to Peter “it is the Lord “and with that Peter dresses himself Jumps into the water and swims to the shore.
As I was praying over this and wondering about this passage I could not help but think of the young man in marks gospel who is following Christ is caught by the guards and flees naked.  This is often thought of as a metaphor, that he shed his mortal coil, the young man was killed.
So as I look at this sequence I see Peter disrobed.  He has lost his mortal self... he is lost and doesn't know what to do after all for three years he has led an exciting, miracle filled, wine filled, travel filled, and lesson filled life and now he is back to the boat.  So he hears it is the lord and his heart jumps, he clothes himself makes himself anew,  in the way he longed for…he jumps into the water instead of rowing ashore,  The water is almost a self baptism cleansing himself , the water is a sign of life…rebirth...forgiveness through the most common…, life giving thing…water.
Once on the shore they find a fire burning with fish and bread and yet Jesus asks Peter to retrieve the fish from the net and they number 153.  People have tried to analyze the number of fish and their significance the common belief is the number reflects the expansion of the church.  Now it is said in the scripture that none dared to ask who he was for they knew it was Jesus…Just a thought, this sounds as if he was not recognizable to them but in his actions. 
Isn’t this the only way we see Christ today…in others.  Is this trying to tell us to look for Christ in the welcoming, in the attempt to help us see another way, in the sharing of abundance and in the sharing in the lack of abundance?  In the hospitality of a stranger?
Then Jesus asks them to breakfast sharing with them fish and bread  this may be an expression of early communal meals that would later evolve to be the Eucharist as we know it today.  Before the eucharis tic meal became symbolic and ritualized it was often a gathering together to offer prayer and thanks giving and share a meal as a community.  That meal would reflect the local culture and what was available so for a early Christian church near the shores of the sea of Tiberius fish would have been a common food.
After the meal is finished Jesus looks at Peter and asks him three questions and commissions him 3 times.  People often get caught up in the words used here.  You see in Greek there are three words for Love each having its own nuances Eros is generally known as physical love, Phileo is brotherly love, and Agape is generally known as divine love. 
Christ asks Peter to have a divine love for me and Peter says I have a Brotherly love for you to which Christ says feed my Lambs…He asks again do you have agape (divine love for me) and again Peter answers Lord I have a brotherly love for you (Phileo) Christ  then asks Peter tend my sheep.  Here the actual Greek word is poimaine which actual translates to herd or lead to pasture.  Finally Christ asks a third time and in the language it is written he asks Peter do you have brotherly love for me.
 It sounds like, to me, Christ is giving up a little here.  Peter is not hearing what Christ is asking or …more likely..he is too human to earthbound to assume to have a divine love or be capable of it so Christ asks him a third time in Peters own words do you have a brotherly love for me?  Now Peter gets a bit testy for this is what he has been saying all along “Lord you know everything you know that I love you.”  Christ says then tend my sheep.
There is a direct parallel here to Peter’s denial.  As Peter denied Christ three times, here, Christ allows him to undo what he has done.  Christ has now given Peter the tool in which he can forgive himself. All he has to do is answer a simple question.

Answer a Simple question, the most important question of his life, Peter do you Love me? Such a simple question, honestly! Yet, it resounds so deeply in Peter, after all, Peter has doubted Christ, he has tested his patience, in the hour of arrest he pulled a sword and attacked a roman guard to defend Christ, a defense mounted in fear and anger, and then a few hours later, denied ever knowing the man….Peter do you love me?
Pastor Christine Erb-Kanzleiter a pastor at peace Church UMC in Munich Poses these questions
What do you answer after a shared breakfast when somebody asks you: Do you love me? Is there any freedom left to say No? Does the person who is expected to answer have a choice? And what is even more difficult: how do you respond to the question “do you love me more than these?”, when “all these” are around you? … Listening curiously …?
Would we do what Jesus did: ask one of our weakest friends the same question three times in a row? Do you love me? On the other hand: don’t we sometimes tend to take love between two persons too much for granted? Thinking that once love is there, it will never change or disappear? Don’t we sometimes take love for granted, without realizing that it was lost long ago in the exhausting struggles of everyday?
Do you love me? After all we have gone through, After all the experiences of pain and disappointment? Do you love me? …even though the other day you let me down…even though your words have hurt me so much? Can I be certain of your love towards me?
Should I reassure myself every now and again? Should I ask you more often: do you love me?
Of all the questions to ask why this one, why now?  he could have asked anyone one this question but he choose to ask Peter.  Why?  Well have you ever done something that you regret so much that even after apologizing or making amends it still weighs on your heart, Weighs on your heart to a point of distraction.  No matter what you do,  no matter how busy you keep yourself it keeps coming back at you.”[1]
Jesus doesn't ask Peter what is on his mind, doesn't scold Peter.  He invites Peter into a divine love, agape.  Peter knowing and bearing his own guilt and shame cannot reply with divine love only brotherly love…Yet for Christ Love is Love and this is enough then snap out of this and look at the movement growing around you and feed my lambs.  Again Jesus offers a divine relationship in a the holiest of Love Peter do you love me…Peter searches his deepest being and his unworthiness that he holds will not allow him to go that far so again he replies I love you in a brotherly way an Earthly way. Jesus replies lovingly, then tend and care for my sheep.
We all know how shocked you can be to discover your true self: how cowardly, how mean, how unfaithful you can be… We all know the dark sides of human life. …how far away light seems to be sometimes. This is where Peter is and this invitation into loves seems to be almost a cruel taunt and yet Jesus asks one more time hearing Peter‘s pain and changes his language.  Jesus meets Peter in his pain and offers the love that Peter has been expressing all along; do you love me in a brotherly, earthly, human way.
The story says Peter felt hurt because Jesus had asked him a third time but I see it as Peter had a lot of hurt, pain and guilt that he had been holding down and was finally able to let the cork out of the bottle and just released all those emotions. His heart now open can say Yes you know all and you know I love you. 

This gentle invitation into love has broken Peters failings…has broken His self loathing and has set Peter free: not only to remember the coal fire in the night of his betrayal, his own walking on the water and sinking, his over-hasty confessions of faith and his broken promises, but also his strengths and abilities. Peter can now see not only the Peter who ran away to his shame, but also the friend of Jesus who rediscovers his love.
Peter learns to accept, appreciate and love himself with all the bright and the dark parts of his story! And loving himself again, he can look away from his own story of limitations and questions and become free for others: Tending and caring … is what he is able to do now!…
This is a new beginning in Christ.  This is a resurrected Peter if you will. And this is the invitation to us today Jesus is not looking for an action or a job, He is not asking you to be a preacher or a scholar he is asking for one simple thing.  Your love  if you can do that if you can just hold into to a simple human Love for Christ you get so much more in return.
See this call into love of love of Christ allowed Peter to find that love of self and confidence to take on what would be his life ministry. He was able to love with all the love that is humanly possible and more for now his love is empowered by his love for Christ with this he was able to feed people with the story of Christ, to care for communities that have chosen to mirror Christ’s compassion in the world. 
Do you Love me?
This question is being asked of us here today...actually every day. We are called to Love God with our whole heart, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we are called to not only care for each other but for the earth herself.  So how do you answer?
You know some traditions say all we have to do is invite Jesus into our hearts and we are saved.  But there is more to it than that for when we invite Jesus and over God our love we can’t just sit and bask in the glow of Jesus’ love.  The Love stirs us into action and care. You might say Jesus love comes with conditions.
It gives you the condition of caring, it gives you the condition to be the eyes and the ears of Christ.  As the poem by St. Teresa of Avila says;
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, Yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

So Jesus is saying if you love me…if you truly love me then you must love all I care about…the poor, the children, the hungry, the homeless, the cancer patient, the disabled, the marginalized, the homebound, the migrant farmer, the itinerant worker, the soldier, the enemy, any where there is injustice and suffering Jesus’ love calls us towards it.  As Christians we are called to face it the injustice, lift it up and reach out.
We are only human and one can only do what one can do or what one feels called to do I am not sure I want a church full of Mother Theresa’s but one or two may be nice.  We do what we can if it is dropping of clothes to take to the mission or just sending a note to a sick friend.  You do what you can that is all God is asking.
I know that in that doing we will come up short.  We will fail.  We will hold things in our hearts against ourselves in spit of knowing that we are free and forgiven and able to live through love.  It is okay for Jesus’ Love is Agape.  It is a divine love that conquers all, renews all and offers a million do overs.
A final quote from Pastor Christine Erb-Kanzleiter

It may seem strange to be called or commanded to love…
And sometimes we may feel that love is not something that happens on demand.
You can’t turn it on like a tap.
But it clearly is our calling: to love!
And in recognizing the call, and in seeking to respond to it, we may be careful to
find out what Christian love really is.
Is great love perhaps quieter than we sometimes imagine? Is love sometimes
neither in the storm nor in the earthquake, but in the still small voice?
Can we sometimes be caught in God’s outpouring love without even noticing or
reflecting it?
Jesus responds to Peter’s confession of love by giving him a task, a responsibility:
Feed my sheep. Love my people. Care for them.[2]

Christ has no body now on earth but yours go and be that body, the best way you know how. Amen

[1] Pastor Christine Erb-Kanzleiter, Do oyu love me, (accessed April 9, 2013).
[2] Ibid.

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