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Agape Me, Peter

 2B Easter

7 Apr 2024

Based on John 21:1-19

 




Lent is over; we can breathe and shout our alleluias!  Where will we take Easter and where will Easter take us? I hope the journey through Lent with Peter helps us set the course. We have been with Peter as he dropped his net, walked on water (or not), professed his faith as he acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, was rebuked for challenging Jesus’ mission, overcame his hesitancy and received a footwashing, denied Jesus by saying “I am NOT”, and then ran to the tomb. Today we become witnesses to the final encounter Jesus has with Peter, strangely occurring after the appearances in the upper room and Thomas’ profession of faith.  We are on the shores of Galilee, with Peter, Nathaniel, Thomas, James, John, and “two other followers.”  (I wonder if Mary Magdelene was one of those other two.)  Let’s be those “other followers” and try to understand what happened that day.

Don’t you wonder at least a little bit why Peter took off to go fishing?  Sometimes grief is made more bearable by doing the things we always do, those daily activities we can almost do in our sleep.  It grounds us and reminds us life continues. Maybe Peter needed the money, or at least the fish. The group was out in a boat at night, with the moon and the stars providing the light they needed.  But it proved a fruitless venture; no fish were caught.  They look and see a man on the shore who told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, where he assured them that they will find plenty of fish.  Indeed, they caught so many that they couldn’t bring the net into the boat. Then John, the Beloved Disciple, realizes who gave them directions and the always overly exuberant Peter jumps into the water and swims to the shore to meet Jesus.  When the others arrive, they find Jesus has built a fire and bread is warming and fish cooking. He feeds them the bread and the fish and they all warm themselves by the fire.  Jesus takes Peter aside and calls him by his birth name, Simon. Then he asks him three times, “Do you love me?”

This is where the English language fails us. We only have one word to express "love." For Jesus asks the first two times if Peter loves him with an unconditional, sacrificial love (agape).  Peter responds that he loves him as a close friend, one for which he would do anything (philios). The third time Jesus asks Simon if he loves him as a friend and Peter responds he loves him as only a friend could.  Feed my lambs, watch over my sheep, and feed my sheep. This is what Jesus, the beloved friend of Peter, asks of him and ultimately asks of all of us.

He asks us to turn outward. We do so in a slow process of spiritual maturation. It is easy to get stuck and never reach full spiritual maturation.

Philosopher Ken Wilber[1] uses a framework of four stages of spiritual and moral maturation, which in his own way Jesus taught his disciples, and through the ages down to people living today, and which Peter, without calling it moral maturity, followed. 

First you clean up your act.  We all learn to function in the real world and most people learn that they are not the center of that world. We delineate boundaries; we develop a sense of right and wrong and accept that the world does not revolve around us. Alas religion often sets a moral code one must follow and then calls it good.  Religion that does that is no more than idolatry; substituting blind submission for spiritual growth. You obey the rules, never go beyond blind submission, and never undergo that inner transformation Jesus shows us.

Growing up is the process of inner maturity.  We all mature, but we do so as a function of the time and place in which we live. As a 20th and 21st century white, female citizen of the United States who lives in the Midwest, I have a completely different worldview and mindset than someone from the 17th century in China.  My spiritual growth will be markedly different than that person.

Waking up is what Peter did a lot! When you experience something on a deep spiritual level, it will lead you to God, where you find love and union and where you surrender your own ego.  Think how many times that happened to Peter and then look at your own life.  When is the last time you had a “waking up” experience.  This is what God most wants for you and this is the true meaning of salvation.  We are saved when we draw closer to God, not when we give intellectual assent to a series of beliefs.  Reciting the Nicene Creed will not save you; loving God and one another will. It is why prayer, Bible study, worship, and the sacraments are crucial for our growth as Christians.  Peter learned this at the foot washing.

Finally we show up.  We are there when and where others need us.  We see the suffering in the world and we put everything we have into being there for others.  Unless I am an active participant in alleviating the ills of the world, I have not followed Jesus’ command to Peter to “agape” Jesus, to feed the lambs and the sheep and watch over them.

Traveling with Peter this Lent and Easter has helped me to understand that I will never be perfect and striving for some sort of moral perfection is an act of insanity.  What I know now is that I need to show up, to engage my faith in a deeply spiritual way, and to be there when and wherever I am needed.

I invite you this Eastertide to pick up a Bible and engage in study particularly with others.  And then look outside your door and see where the world needs you and leads you.

 

Alleluia.


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