The Res. Community (Pt. 5): The Things We Carry

This is the final message I gave a few months back on the resurrection community from John 21.
This week we finish our series on the Resurrection Community by turning the last part of John 21 and the dialogue between Jesus and Peter:

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” So the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (John 21:15–23 NRSV)

Queries:

  • What strikes you about the dialogue between Peter and Jesus?
  • Do you see connections between this dialogue and the rest of the Gospel of John?
  • What do you think it means to be the resurrection community based on this text?

_intro

This is our last part in the series we’ve been doing since Easter on “The resurrection Community.” We’ve been looking at some of the last teachings of Jesus as a way to learn what kind of vision Jesus may have left with us for what it means to be a people together.

I like the way Norma S. has summed up our series: “We talked about how the first followers were a community of peace, non-anxiousness. They were both seekers & finders. They listened and waited. And finally, they fed one another. They were participants in what Jesus was doing.”

And then last week Norma led the group into a conversation around contemplation and action. How do we go from talking about being a res. community, to living as one?

So far, while this might not be a comprehensive list of what it means to be the church, it is a really good start for a strong and compelling vision. I think it gives us an outline for the kinds of things we might practice together too (which I think was part of Norma’s point).

But there is one really important piece that is wrapped up in the meaning of the resurrection that is still missing and that’s what I want us to turn our attention to for this morning. And our final piece of what it means to be a res. community is intricately tied to this dialogue between Jesus and Peter.

_Jesus and Peter: Waiting for Resurrection

You have probably noticed that in the post-res. accounts of John 20-21 Peter gets a decent amount of press time. He, the beloved disciple, Mary and Thomas, are the ones mentioned the most in these passages. Remember back on Easter Sunday when Peter and the other disciple showed up at the tomb, and they do that highly choreographed, if not slightly awkward, dance with the back and forth movements:

First, the beloved disciple outran Peter and got to the tomb and saw that it was empty. Then Peter showed up, saw that it was empty and dared to go in. Then the BD having seen but initially stayed out, entered the tomb with Peter. While Peter was first in the tomb, it was the BD who the text says believed (but what story?).  Then they left the tomb together. We wondered what they were looking for?  Why the mad-dash to the tomb? What they expected to find there?

And the other key portion where Peter is prominent is here in John 21. From one perspective, Peter is the star of the show in chap. 21. Everything begins when he suggests to his friends, “hey let’s go fishing.” It seems like Peter was saying let’s go and wait and see if we can catch a glimpse of Jesus. The lake where they returned to was a sacred place for them. It was a place where they had witnessed Jesus do some extraordinary miracles (feeding of the 5,000, Cana, walk on water) and so they sat out on a boat, for who knows how long, and they waited, and they listened, in hopes (I think) of not catching fish, or men, but God.

When Jesus finally speaks to the fishermen, it is the “beloved disciple” who first recognizes, but it was Peter who, with almost complete abandon (except for the fact that he first put on his clothes) jumps in the water and breast-strokes it over to the shore where Jesus stood.  It is striking that even though they are somewhat close to the shore (the author of John says, they were only about a 100 yards off) but patient Peter wasn’t, he could not wait for them to row over to the shore.

Why the urgent response? What was he waiting for exactly? This urgency of which Peter took this early dip in the sea of Galilee seems to suggest that he had unfinished business with Jesus and was waiting for his chance.

And so the story continues. Peter single-handedly drags in the fish, even though no one else could (is evidence of another kind of urgency, extra adrenline?), and after they stand around a charcoal fire and partake in the last breakfast with Jesus, or was it the first potluck? Jesus and Peter pull away and delve into a personal discussion about some.

I think Peter’s prominence here in the Gospel story is clear, that in a way everything has climaxed to this point. He is important because of one main thing that teaches us what the res. community is to be about. And this strange back and forth dialogue between he and Jesus reveals this. There is a broken situation between Peter and Jesus, and until restoration is undergone, the res. community will not be able to flourish. And so all the urgency, all the running, the fishing, the swimming, the hauling, seems to point out that Peter was waiting for his own resurrection of sorts.

_The Things We Carry

Now, something we did not cover in the Gospel of John, but is one of the more famous pieces of the Gospel accounts is a betrayal that comes just prior to Jesus’ crucifixion. It’s devastating when you think of the fact that Jesus was not only betrayed once, by Judas, someone who Jesus knew would betray him, but he was also betrayed by a friend named Peter.

Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ Now 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…. Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed. John 18

The betrayal of a friend is always a far deeper wound than the betrayal of an enemy.

Peter had betrayed his friend, and he did it three times, in a moment when his friend most deeply needed him. And this happened shortly after he promised he’d never do something like that. So this is a huge disappointment for the Jesus movement. I mean, this isn’t how you typically get a movement started off properly! So I can’t help but think that Peter must have been waiting for a chance to bring things to rights between him and Jesus. After all, it seems clear from the beginning of the crucifixion story, that the disciples did not really understand that somehow Jesus would miraculously defy the grave.

Peter deeply hurt his friend, and before he could make things right, his friend was killed. Have you ever known someone in a similar place as that? Peter had that sinking feeling, there’s no going back. What’s done is done. This kind of desperate feeling that betrayal can leave one with is more than likely the reason why upon hearing that Jesus’ body was missing Peter hoped against hope for a second chance.

Peter, I think, was waiting for restoration, he was waiting to find forgiveness and closure. He desperately needed a second chance to unload what he was carrying.

And I find this is a place where I can, and probably you too, connect easily with Peter. I imagine all the things I carry, some of those things are known to me, and some of them are unknown, but there are plenty of broken places. Places where I have knowingly or unknowingly hurt others, places where I have been hurt. When I think about all of the things we carry, and like Peter, some of us carry some really heavy stuff, I am amazed and blessed that we continue on often in spite of those things.

A few years back Emily and I watched a documentary about Jay Bakker called “One Punk Under God.” Jay is the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. I had been interested in finding out more about Jay because we had a friend who worked with Jay’s ministry, Revolution, for the past couple years. This reminded me of how the things we carry, emotionally and physically, shape us and tell something about who we are.

It’s easy to see, through the eyes of the documentary, that Jay carries a lot. Part of the premise of the show is to point out the difficulty he’s had in finding an identity as both, Jim and Tammy’s son and apart from them. In the first two episodes we learn that he rebelled (largely because of the scandal that surrounded his father and mother) and that this rebellion brought him back to ministry with new insights. He feels that in a way he was able to draw on all of those painful experiences later as he tried to work with other hurting people.

When I watched this it made me reflect on both the negative and positive aspects of the things we carry from our family, friends, churches, communities, schools, etc and how they often motivate the choices we make in life.

And consider the book about Vietnam called The Things They Carried by Vietnam Veteran Tim O’Brien:

The book is a bunch of short stories about a group of American soliders in Vietnam, and the “Things They Carried.” O’Brien uses the title of the book as a device for describing various aspects of his main characters, often times in very moving ways.  “What they carried varied by mission.”

“On ambush, or other night missions, they carried peculiar little odds and ends. Kiowa always took along his New Testament and a pair of moccasins for silence. Dave Jensen carried night-sight vitamins high in carotene. Lee Strunk carried his slingshot; ammo, he claimed, would never be a problem. Rat Kiley carried brandy and M&M’s candy. Until he was shot, Ted Lavender carried the star light scope, which weighed 6.3 pounds with its aluminum carrying case. Henry Dobbins carried his girlfriend’s panty hose wrapped around his neck as a comforter. They all carried ghosts (9-10).”

And in another passage O’Brien writes:

“They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing –these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight (21).”

We too are like this. We all carry the tangible and the emotional. We are often weighed down by the things we carry, just like Jay Bakker, just like estranged family.

There are plenty of other examples, smaller ones, where we have witnessed small things getting blown up into huge and out of control situations. We have experienced plenty of little bumps and bruises from each other. My one friend likes to talk about the many ways we “ding” each other and how over time these things if un-cared for and not handled well can fester and break down the relationships of a community, even relationships that have been together a long time.

What are the things we carry? The ghosts? The emotional baggage that has tangible weight?

I think this is why there was so much urgency behind Peter’s actions. Peter’s betrayal of Jesus was eating away at him. It was the baggage that he carried, probably that and a few other things as well, that would probably disrupt and taint everything he did from that point on. It was that painful experience that if not made right would simply fester, but if restored could actually be something to draw on. And so Peter, like all of us I think, waited, and hoped, for love and restoration.

_Drawing on Resurrection

We move back to the passage in John 21, and we see that Jesus digs into Peter and thumps him, questioning why he would ever deny him, how he could let him down, how could he ever be trusted again.

No. Jesus probes, but in a different way. There is no mention of the betrayal, there is only a thrice repeated question, and a thrice given commission.

Peter do you love me?

Peter feed the vulnerable sheep and lambs that surround you.

Peter’s waiting, and Jesus’ resurrection, affords Peter something deeply profound and moving. Peter is forgiven, and finds his relationship with his friend restored.

Have you ever dreamed of a day where a situation would be resolved, where restoration would be found? Or had the experience of what seemed almost impossible happening, an estranged friend or love one returns, and you both embrace. This is what Peter experiences after the resurrection of Jesus.

And the Jesus says to his friend, feed my sheep. Go out and draw on your experiences of transformation, and and give it to others. Those things Peter carried with him were not erased, what was done was done, but now he is asked, to turn around and feed the sheep and lambs. Given them what you have, now that you have experienced your own resurrection, draw on your experiences and bring others into that place of restoration.

And so resurrection in John 21 leads to Peter experiencing a new love and restoration he thought he’d never see again. But that resurrection also calls him out, into a world where the shepherd cares for his flock, feeds them, and will lay down his life for them. One is not able to live out the depth of this call of mission if one is not herself or himself restored to that motion of love of have often talked about. We have to be able to face our own shortcomings, see the ghosts and the scars we carry with us, and with a sense of urgency be restored to love.

At the very heart of the Gospel of John is the indispensable quality and practice of love. If you love you will go out and feed, you will make the sacrifices, you will help others find restoration.

And so finally, we have come full circle in the Gospel of John, and in our understanding of what it means to be the resurrection community.

  • The res. community is to be a community marked by its love and that love leads to restoration, it leads to forgiveness, it is marked by it’s ability not to hang on but to let go.
  • The res. community is a community that is willing to lay down its life, that is sacrifice its own desire to be right, defense-mechanisms, agendas and causes, because of this love. [It’s easier to die for our causes than it is to submit them and live w/ them.]
  • The res. community is to be a laboratory where restoration takes place. It is like a laboratory, because that is where things get tested, and work is done. Laboratories are not always easy places to be, easily if you are the specimen under the microscope, but we are to be a laboratory.
  • My friend Peggy Parsons recently wrote: A good Quaker meeting like a good AA meeting, is a laboratory of sanctification [and we’ll add restoration]. If it is too comfortable, it affords no opportunity for growth. If we really let everyone in, it is messy, but you have to bump up against each other in order for everyone’s rocks to get polished. If people aren’t changed by being here, then what’s the point. If we are doing it right, we are bound to get some pretty interesting challenges.” (Weed Lecture 2011)
  • And so the res. community is a laboratory of restoration. It does not shy away from conflict, or the difficult challenges that arises, because it see that work as an opportunity to be transformed and grow.
  • The res. community is a community of second chances, and thirds and fourths. Peter got his second chance and look what he did with it? He helped pioneer a lasting religious movement that is based on love and restoration.
  • The res. community looks for redemption in everyone, it looks for that of God in all people, and it genuinely cares for their well being. It recognizes that for the world, there are some people who are beyond hope, but the res. community that is marked by love and restoration never gives up on hope.
  • Therefore we as the res. community seek our own restoration in broken matters, and we are to turn around, like Peter turns, and be a laboratory of love and restoration for the world.

Open Worship

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.