Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Church

"Freed To Follow"

by Yvonne Delk

John 21:9-17 reminds us of that moment in our biblical history when the disciples were driven back to the ground and source of their being. They were experiencing anxiety about their future, their identity, and their mission in life. In a time of anxiety and uncertainty, the disciples turned to the trade that they knew and practiced before they met Jesus.

The setting of the 21st Chapter of John is the Sea of Galilee. Peter, the sons of Zebedee, and others are at their nets fishing. The gospel suggests that following the crucifixion there was a temptation for the disciples to head home, back to Emmaus, back to the comforting ritual of business as usual. They returned to their old ways. They went back to fishing. However, fishing without a perspective, without an identity, without a future hope can yield very little. The journey back to their old way of life was not very productive until Jesus, the source of their authority, enters the picture.

Jesus calls to them, helps them to get a fix on their situation so that they can fill their nets and, then, waits for them to join Him on the shore. It is at this moment that Peter remembers his first encounter with Jesus. All the trappings are present: the smell of the sea, his own boat, the overloaded nets of a miraculous catch, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). The echoes are strong and they are haunting.

In that original call there is a stark simplicity. Jesus simply says, "Follow me." They drop everything and they go. There is no record that they previously heard Him preach, mulled over His message, and are therefore ripe for an invitation.

In the original call, Jesus does not lay out the details of what they might expect: "You'll join a vagabond community and live by begging. Eventually we'll go up to Jerusalem to confront the authorities. You will betray me and deny me and scatter. I'll be arrested, tried and executed. Come follow me." That, certainly, was not the original call. It was much simpler in that first go around. He offers neither program nor predictions simply himself. Jesus calls them, and they follow. In Bonhoeffer's phrase it was an act of "single-minded obedience."

Now, however, there is a little more water under the bridge. When Peter is called to follow in the resurrection, he knows a good deal more about what it means, where it leads and even who he, himself, is. There is no room for naivete or bravado, even though a touch of fear might reasonably slip in. After all, Peter has just been confronted by the risen Lord with the very prospect of his own martyrdom! "You will stretch out your hands and another will carry you where you do not wish to go."

To meet Jesus crucified and risen is, at least, to face your own death. It is to understand, as well, your relation to the powers of this world. What is new about the resurrection call to follow is that before the Risen Lord, Peter becomes utterly vulnerable and transparent. Before the resurrection, Peter talked tough in the face of risk. He made macho claims. He pledges never to fall away; he vows he's ready for prison and even death; he offers to lay down his very life for Jesus. But in the hour of darkness, he's running on ego. He comes up empty. He caves in. He lies and he denies.

The resurrection means that Peter cannot deny the truth about himself. Perhaps he could turn away and refuse to see, but to look in the eyes of the crucified and Risen Christ is to face himself. Looking there, Peter must surely die.

In the post-resurrection call, Jesus kindles a fire, prepares a meal and communes with Peter. After a time of remembering the past, He turns to him and poses a question, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"

Jesus presses the question three times, with three replies, and each more anguished than the last: "Lord, you know everything, you know my weakness, you know my love." Jesus sees through him and Peter knows it.

Peter, in fact, is loved in this encounter. Love surrounds the moment of the confrontation and makes it possible. Nothing, even death, can separate Peter from that love. By it, he is forgiven and freed and called again. By the love of Christ, Peter is healed for discipleship. The encounter of this disciple with the crucified and Risen Sovereign revealed at least three things:

He had to face the truth about himself;
He had to be forgiven and healed for discipleship;
He had to be freed for the next steps of the journey.

Thousands of years have passed since Jesus appeared to his disciples, but we gather today to claim again the reality of that resurrection and to make it incarnate in our lives. However, if the biblical record is to speak to us, we, too, must ask ourselves the same questions:

What is the truth that we must face about ourselves?
What is the healing and forgiveness that we need if we are to be faithful in the call to discipleship?
What is it that we need to be freed from if we are to take the next step of the journey?

Obviously, each of us will have to answer these questions as we stand before God. However, as the preacher, permit me to take the prerogative to offer an answer to the questions which I have posed.

The truth is that in 1994, we are still the wilderness generation. The goal of justice, equality and freedom has continued to elude our reach. A few things have changed for the better for a few of us, but for the many and the masses, things have gotten worse. As I reflect on cities in this nation, it is clear that children, youth, men and women are still at risk. We are losing the war on poverty and we have lost our way on the road towards a racially inclusive society.

If we are ready to face that truth, then there is a terrifying factor about the wilderness generation in the Old Testament which we must take to heart. The wilderness generation which emerges from Egypt's slavery never does reach the promised land. What will be ours is the odd glimpse from Nebo, but not possession of the land. Because, you see, we are those who have to keep the faith in the wilderness. We are those who come into the wilderness from the Egypt of our recent historical past, and it is in this wilderness we must loose our gods so that we may come to our Sinai and find our God! And that is not easy.

Following in the wilderness demands that we abandon our gods of arrogance, of pride, of nationality, of class, of culture, of race, of Protestant rule in order to be carriers of God's grace and vision into the world. To follow in the wilderness is to abandon the nationally-defined god of imperial triumphalism and to affirm the covenanting God who freely chooses to enter a relationship with a people who possess no standing, no power, no influence in the world. This God is defined by freely offered compassion to those who by the world's definition are the helpless, the oppressed and the dispossessed. This God exists in the margins where the suffering is most severe and offers us memory, hope and compassion. This God calls us away from privatized religion that leaves behind any memory of the cost of discipleship and offers us an opportunity to be signs of hope and newness in the midst of the wilderness.

If we are a wilderness generation, it is equally true that many of us are a wounded generation in desperate need of forgiveness and healing. Like Peter, we make promises that we cannot keep. It is our deepest intention to stand up and be counted, to take risks for a right cause. But you and I know that when the moment of challenge comes, some of us have failed to back up our words with action, some of us have been too busy to respond, too concerned about protecting what we have to respond, too afraid to risk even our positions to respond.

It is not easy to leave the tombs of apathy or fear. It is not easy to live as people of hope in a world of fear. So we continue with business as usual. We engage in ritualistic dancing of denial.

Ironically, it is Peter, the disciple, who talked tough but in the moment of crisis caved in, that Jesus singles out and presses with the question, "Simon, Son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?" I believe Jesus pressed the question three times because Simon had denied him three times. Jesus, therefore, in gracious forgiveness gave Simon the chance to wipe out the memory of a threefold denial by giving him the chance to make a threefold declaration of love.

Love surrounds the moment of confrontation and makes renewal possible. When hate is the driving force behind confrontation, the intent is to destroy, to wound, to inflict the kind of pain that will immobilize and defeat. However, when the moment of confrontation is surrounded by love and grace and forgiveness, healing occurs and we are given the chance to begin again.

That moment came for me on a Sunday morning many years ago. I had stood in line to get into the Glide Memorial Church located in San Francisco to hear the Reverend Cecil Williams preach. Cecil had taken a downtown church that was dying and turned it around. He had created a genuine community that was open to all. The diversity of race, class, gay and straight, young and old was evident. It was a people's church and the people from the street attended. I moved into a crowded pew which I thought could not seat another person. I was wrong. I looked up and another person was crowding into my pew. The person moved past a number of persons to sit next to me. I could not decide if this was a male or female. The person was dressed in women's clothing and seemed to have all possessions in two shopping bags. It was clear that this person had been living on the streets. I wondered why the person had come. The stockings that were worn were rolled to the knee revealing hairy legs. The wide hat hid a face that displayed no emotion. I tried my best not to look. I pretended to be busy meditating. I retreated into my tomb of "holiness."

The service progressed and suddenly Cecil Williams invited the congregation to stand and greet one another with the kiss of peace. The person on the other side of this strange-looking person quickly turned away to greet the person on the other side. I turned to the person on the other side, who had already reached out to somebody else. Reluctantly, I turned to face the figure that was standing next to me. I closed my eyes and I reached out for the embrace. Slowly I felt the arms reach back to embrace me. They held on to me so tight that I could feel the heart beat and hear the sobs. The tears began to flow. How long had it been since this person had been held, how long since this person had been touched?

It wasn't about this person. It was about me. I was in the presence of a huge mystery. A door swung open. I was in Christ's presence. I was being held. I was being loved in spite of myself. My "holier than thou" posture had been pierced. I opened my eyes, looked into this face and saw the living Christ. I was broken open. My guard was down. The person saw me for what I really was, forgave me and loved me. I knew I would never be the same again.

The question that we have to face is can we look into the face of the Risen Christ as it is revealed in our sisters and brothers who are black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, white, lesbian, handi-capable, poor, abused—all those who are struggling in all places of the world— and can we gain strength for the journey?

Finally, sisters and brothers, we are not only a wilderness generation and a wounded generation, but we are also the post-resurrection generation. We are those who have encountered the crucified, Risen Christ, and we can no longer deny the truth about ourselves. We are those who have looked into the eyes of the crucified, Risen Christ. We have seen love, forgiveness and grace.

We are those who have been called to this place in the midst of crucifixions, betrayals, and denials. We have come to declare our intentions to follow the crucified and Risen Christ into the places of brokenness and pain in our world.

We are no longer naive. We must, therefore, refuse obedience to the gods of the wilderness. We are not authored by the law or imperial definitions of reality. Our credentials do not come from our achievements. Rather, we are authored by a network of meanings, covenants and relationships. We do not belong to the gods of nationalism, racism, classism, sexism, or homophobia. We do not belong to the gods of enslavement, subjugation, manipulation and control. We don't even belong to the pages of our bibliographies or even to the great plans that we produce; rather we belong body and soul, in life and death to the resurrected God of history.

We know what we are up against and God knows what we face. The final word in the resurrection is not from the powers and principalities, it is from God. This final word proclaims the sovereign freedom of God in history. The powers and principalities may lay out their claims; they may set schemes in motion; they may threaten us and execute plans. They set themselves even against God. But, it is God who sets the limits and, in the resurrection, undoes their plans and executes the final freedom in history.

This is the time to face life, betrayals, death and new life. This is the time for us to face the truth about ourselves, our communities and our nation. This is a time to face the wounded places in our own lives and in our world. This is a time to look into the face of the crucified, Risen Christ, and find the love, forgiveness and grace that will free us to follow.

We know the cost. We hear the call and yet, we yearn for the courage to follow. And so from the suffering, wounded places of the wilderness we respond:

Lead on, O God of freedom,
We follow, yet with fears.
But we shall come rejoicing,
Though joy be born of tears;
We are not lost, God, though we're wandering,
For by your light we come;
And we are still your people.
And it is your journey that is our home."

See Also:

Lovest Thou Me?
by Rev. C. H. Spurgeon

Do You Love Me? Feed My Lambs
by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin

Forgiveness for Peter Moments
by Teresa Fry Brown

Picking Up The Pieces When Dreams Have Died

Restoring Simon Peter
by Rev. Fr. George T

Do You Have A Genuine Love For Christ?
by Rev. Fr. Gheevarghese John

Do You Love Me More Than These?
by Rev. Fr. Mathew Chacko

Devotional Thoughts on Second Sunday after the New Sunday
by Rev. Fr. George T

Devotional Thoughts for Second Sunday after New Sunday
by Rev. Fr. Mathew Chacko

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