4.10.16 sermon– How long does a book sit at your house unopened? Or maybe I should ask how many new books do you have on your electronic devices that haven’t been read yet? I have 10 unread books on my Kindle. I must have 50 unread paperback books on the shelves. I hope to read them when I retire because all of these books look like really good.
I’ve learned that I have to set aside time if I’m going to remember what I read. I can’t read a few pages and put a book down, so I use reading time as a reward for getting work done. I get very involved in the story and if it’s a fiction book, I can picture the action as it’s happening. Do you do that? Some writers describe so well, I see the story unfolding in my imagination.
Now I’m telling you this so we can enter this gospel story together. Today, we’ve got a long lesson from John’s gospel, chapter 21, which was written later by a different author.
John 21 is called an epilogue and it was written to tie up loose ends that were left dangling in this gospel story. Last week, the lesson ended with the words that Jesus did many signs that are not written in the book…..but these were written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah…..and that through believing, you may have life in his name. While it is a beautiful ending, it’s abrupt. Chapter 21 renews the relationship Jesus had with the rest of his disciples and it shows the same overabundant and extravagant God we met in the beginning of John’s gospel. It closely links chapter 21 with chapter 1, reconnecting, recovering the relationship that seemed to be lost when Jesus was taken away from his disciples for crucifixion.
No one writes the good news of God in Christ the way that John writes. John writes his gospel as a member of a sect of Christians who closely follow Jesus. He knows God as holy and powerful, loving and over extravagant. John knows God as a God of abundant grace and mercy, whose plan for the world will only be detoured for a short time. And John trusts that God will keep his community safe and defend them from the enemies that all Christians are facing as John writes his gospel 50 years after Jesus’ ministry.
Using words that we can almost picture from the Genesis creation story, John tells us that Jesus was with God in the beginning. He was a part of everything that was created and life came into being through him. The life was the light for all people and even the darkness of the world can’t extinguish a light that God has created.
Using words of testimony, grace and mercy, John describes God’s action in the world. John the Baptist came to testify to Jesus’ identity. Jesus testified to the people by being baptized as one of them and then telling them about God. John the Baptist points his disciples to Jesus, as the Lamb of God-and isn’t that an interesting name for a new prophet-Lamb of God, the only one who would take away the sin of the world. John told his disciples that they should no longer follow him, they should follow Jesus.
Throughout John’s gospel lesson, Jesus uses words of invitation, Come and see, follow me. At the Cana wedding, Jesus supplies an overabundance of the best wine-a wine the bridegroom can’t afford. Jesus answers the questions of Nicodemus who comes to him under cover of darkness, asking what it means to be born from above. And Jesus explains that he was sent into the world to save the world; God doesn’t want to see people destroyed, but saved by him. God has an unconditional love for all of God’s people. God doesn’t want anyone to be lost. But some will wander away and may never come back again. God keeps calling.
Jesus answers all questions, no matter who is asking. With Jesus, there are no stupid questions, no boundaries, no fences-only welcome. He gives the unholy Samaritan woman at the well living water, he healed a Roman officials son and a lame man at Bethsaida and he feeds five thousand. He healed and he taught and he confronted the men who would have stoned a woman caught in adultery. When Jesus said, Let the one with no sin cast the first stone, they all turned and walked away.
Jesus taught and explained that he was the living water, but more than water; faith in Jesus would never leave anyone thirsting for truth. He taught that he was the bread of life, but much more than the flat bread that kept them alive; Jesus would never leave anyone hungering for righteousness. Jesus taught that he was the light of life that no one could extinguish as he talked with the prophets and with God on Transfiguration Mountain. His suffering and death might have extinguished the light that the evil people could see, but you can’t see much light when you insist on living in darkness. That’s a choice that people make, but God continues to call them back again. No one is lost until God says they’re lost. It’s a good lesson to remember.
As Jesus came closer to crucifixion, his disciples and friends gathered closer to him. The gatherings became closer, quieter, more intimate. There were times of prayer, of anointing, of foot washing, of sharing meals-all regular parts of their life together. Although they scattered, running for their lives at the crucifixion, the women once again came to anoint, to pray, to wash the body of Jesus but they found he wasn’t there. It was a confusion of hopeful wonder and absolute terror, not knowing who had taken Jesus’ body away. But then he appeared to them in the locked room, not once, but twice and opened their minds, helping them remember what he had promised. Their lives together came full circle last week in that room as Jesus breathed on those gathered disciples the Holy Spirit.
Did you notice that Jesus never reprimands his disciples for a lack of faith in these last days? Jesus comes from the God of abundance and gives them abundant courage through the Holy Spirit. When he exits the tomb, he only leaves behind grave clothes. When Jesus exits the upper room, he leaves with them his witness and the Holy Spirit. And when he encounters Peter and the other disciples who have fished all night and didn’t catch a thing, he says, put the net down on the other side. What a ridiculous thing to say! If the lake has no fish, it has no fish. But Peter plays along and tosses out the net and can’t pull it in because of the overabundance of fish they catch. There’s only person who has ever shown what mercy and abundant love are and that is Jesus. He shares a breakfast of fresh fish with them over the open fire and Jesus once again begins an intimate conversation with Peter. Peter, do you love me, Jesus asks. Yes, Lord, Peter responds, you know I love you. Then feed my lambs. Peter, do you love me, Jesus asks. Yes, Lord, you know that I love you, Peter says. Tend my sheep. Peter, do you love me? Lord, you know everything! You know that I love you. Feed my sheep. With these words, Peter the fisherman becomes Peter the apostle, the follower of Christ. Although he denied his discipleship out of fear for his life, he would one day give his life for the Lord who died to redeem him.
Jesus gives to us grace upon grace; free gifts of love, family, relationship, life, breath, the freedom to open our arms wide to embrace the God who will make us the whole person we were created to be. These are gifts from our Lord, who was with God the Creator, from the beginning of time. We have come full circle as we finish this last chapter from John’s gospel. But we await the day when Jesus returns to live with us and we live in the second glorious coming and experience our resurrection from the dead. Amen.
Rev. Dawn Richie