What’s It To You?Posted: April 22, 2012
What’s It to You?
One of the charming and very human aspects of the Gospels is the followers of Jesus never seemed to grow up. Remember the story when the disciples were walking on the road and Jesus overheard them arguing about who was the greatest among them. When they got to their destination, just to make his point, Jesus asked them all to sit down, and then he asked them, “what were you discussing on the road?” But according to the text they all hung their heads in shame and were silent. So Jesus summoned a child to stand in the middle of the circle, and he said, “whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the Commonwealth of God.”
Wow, what a lesson. But did the disciples seem to learn anything? The night of the Last Supper, while Jesus was trying to tell them he was going to be arrested and executed, what were the disciples discussing? They were arguing about who was going to be the Prime Minister, and the Secretary of State, and Treasury Secretary, when Jesus was crowned King. Such childish behavior. And these were people who had Jesus right there to show them the way.
In our scripture from John this morning after the resurrection the disciples still didn’t get it. The setting was Galilee. The disciples were at loose ends about what they should do. O.K. the tomb was empty, but what were the followers of Jesus supposed to do?
Sometimes when we have suffered a trauma, we just want to do something from our ordinary routine, something mundane. Peter says to some of the other followers of Jesus, “I’m going fishing. Who’s going with me?” Thomas, Nathanial, James, John, somebody else, and that mysterious figure, the one called the beloved disciple all pile into the boat, and they set out on the lake at night.
When Beth and I first traveled to Israel, we stayed in a hotel in Tiberias right on the Sea of Galilee. At night we could see fishermen out on the lake in their boats with lights and torches to attract the fish. I felt like I had stepped back in time.
Peter and the gang were out on the Lake all night, and didn’t catch a thing – not even an old tire. About first light they noticed a figure on shore who was calling to them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. When they did, they encompassed a shoal of fish so large it almost broke the nets. When they dragged the net to shore they had 153 large fish.
When the disciples had netted the fish, Peter said, “that’s Jesus,” and he jumped into the water and waded to shore. When the others arrived, they found a fire with fish roasting and bread baking. They all had breakfast with Jesus.
After eating Jesus beckoned to Peter to walk with him along the shore. Jesus asked Peter, “do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied.
They walked a little further, and Jesus turned and looked squarely at Peter and asked, “Peter do you love me?”
“Of course, I love you, Lord.”
“Then tend my lambs.”
They walked down the shoreline a little further, where the little hot spring empties into the lake. In the cold dawn the water was wonderfully warm on their feet with just the faint smell of sulpher in the air. Just as Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times on that awful night before his crucifixion, so for the third time Jesus looked Peter right in the eyes and asked again, “Peter do you love me?”
Exasperated, Peter almost pleaded, “Lord you know everything, you know that I love you.”
“Then you know what to do, feed my sheep.”
And Jesus is waiting for a response. Do we love Jesus? And Jesus’ answer to Peter is also his answer to all of us, “you know what to do, feed my sheep.”
The Risen Christ had taken Peter, given him special attention, forgiven him, loved him, and given him a mission. And just then Peter turned around and saw that mysterious figure only known to us as the “beloved disciple.” And all of Peter’s childish jealousy and resentment bubbled up from the depths of his being and cried, “Lord what about him. Why do you like him best?”
I recite this story again, because so often in the church we are as childish as Peter and the other disciples. We want appreciation. We want recognition. We want attention. We want our own way. We argue about what songs to sing, and what hymnal to sing from, and who is going to be in charge. We get our feelings hurt, when we are criticized, and we often fight, rather than working out our differences. Jesus invites us to the sharing table and we are argue about who is going to be in control. Jesus says, “feed my sheep,” and we let our egos get in the way. We assume because we’re the smartest people in the room that surely God intends for us to do something more important than serve other people. But sometimes what God needs from us is to love others in very mundane ways – take someone to a doctor’s appointment, help someone with their groceries, share a pot of soup or a casserole, or just sitting and really listening.
Sometimes we even become angry with God and resentful of our fellow followers of Jesus. God why don’t you bless me like you bless those other people? Why can’t I be charming and pretty, or healthy and strong, or even rich? Why don’t you let me have my way? God why do you like them better than you like me?
We’re not much different than those first followers of Jesus. We want the love, peace and understanding that comes from following Jesus, but we are still wounded children at heart. None of us get out of childhood unscathed. We all carry with us some of the anxiety of our families of origin. We all have little unredeemed corners of our souls we are as yet unwilling to offer up to the healing redeeming touch of Christ. We could be better for having been worse, but that would mean we would have to be willing to change. And change is so hard, so difficult. We just want to remain the way we are. And God assures us that we are loved just as we are. But Jesus loves us so much, he doesn’t want to leave us just the way we are. Jesus wants to help us to be transformed by God’s love, so we can become the loving, caring, liberated people God created us to be.
Allow me to borrow some thoughts from a Methodist church consultant by the name of Dan Dick about working with childish behavior in ourselves and in the church.
Nothing is less charming than an over-tired child. The surly, cranky, selfish, off-putting behavior of exhausted children can try the patience of even the most saintly adult. I save this for last because in over twenty years of mediation and conflict work I believe that exhaustion and burn out are the leading causes of unpleasant, childish behavior in congregations. People bicker, and snipe, and snark, and argue, and insult each other because they don’t have anything more interesting or exciting to do. Any change will require effort, and many in the church are “too tired” to face any significant challenge.
In those cases, what is needed is a time out. But rather than make everyone go sit in a corner or lay their heads down on a desk, people in church leadership most often need retreat, silence, time to pray, to talk about their faith (not the demands of the institutional church), to discuss scripture, to vision, to listen, and to go outside and play for awhile. I regularly recommend a moratorium on meetings — suggesting that congregations that feel stuck take a few months off, replacing business meetings with Bible study, problem-solving with prayer, and planning with play. Shifting the focus from the task to rebuilding relationships helps people to remember why they come to church in the first place. Putting God and each other back in the center offers an opportunity to recover some childlike grace — building trust, loyalty, imagination, a sense of adventure and play — and to escape some of the drudgery that leads to childish acting out — bullying, fighting, protecting turf, and just plain old crankiness.
So friends, as we head into the rigors of a Capital Campaign, let’s be sure we take enough time to breathe. Deep breathing prayer helps to control the anxiety that is the enemy of faith. Taking time for retreat, silence, time to pray, opportunities to discuss the scripture, to walk with Jesus, to listen, to go outside and play. Maybe we need a summer moratorium on meetings, a little time off to renew relationships, to rediscover why Jesus calls us into the life of the community of faith. Let’s make a commitment to one another to set aside our anxiety about how the bills are going to get paid, and whether or not the church is going to survive, and how the numbers are doing, and instead let’s offer up all that anxiety in prayer. Let’s ask God to walk with us, and one by one offer up to Jesus’ healing touch those little unredeemed corners of our souls. So that God might transform all of us into the loving, caring, liberated people God created us to be.