Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘peter’

Moving Day

John 1:35-42

Moving day box
The last couple of years I have been wrestling with a question that probably I should continue to wrestle with:

Where am I going?

It’s really a question akin to what is the meaning of life I suppose, but where am I going rings truer for me, because I like movement and I’m not always sure that everything has meaning. But I do think everyone and everything has a path. So we are all going somewhere…

Where am I going?

Sometimes that question is asked in a literal sense, because maybe you and I, we are going to a place. People move; humans are migratory just like other living creatures. At times we go to a physical place that is a different town, community, state, or country. We move. When we go to that new place things look different, feel different. Even the food tastes different. And we see things differently. I’ve moved a TON in my life. Each place where I have lived has been different.

desmoinesRecently, I returned to Iowa, the place where I was born and where I spent my adolescence. It had been 10 years since I last went to Iowa. It sure looked different. Honestly, I felt almost no connection the place anymore. The sights, sounds, smells, and tastes I experienced as an outsider, a visitor. It didn’t feel like home at all.

Though the place felt like that, I experienced something different with the people I encountered. I reconnected with family members I hadn’t seen in a long time. For the most part, it was great. They were able to see with new eyes [for I have changed] and I was able to see them with new eyes. We stayed together, ate together, shared laughter and shared stories. When I returned to Philadelphia, I felt that I had come and gone from a place that had no meaning, and that now I was returning to a place that had no meaning as well. The places felt like that to me, but not the connections to the people.

You can probably tell that I’m not very nostalgic about places, but I certainly appreciate and embrace human connections. In fact, I think that human connections are why places come to have any meaning at all. I work with a Christian congregation. Almost 2 years ago, this congregation decided to sell its original building. That building was and is just a physical space, but for some, that place holds great meaning—only because of the people they met and connected to there. There is a reason why people drive by their old school, church, or home and feel something. In those places they had strong connections with others. In my opinion, I think we often take such connections for granted. We assume that friendships or strong relationships will always be there. We stop caring for them and nurturing them; we can even forget to be grateful for them.

So when we move somewhere else, it becomes clear, doesn’t it? Wow. Those connections really mattered to me. And if we step back and reflect, we can experience gratefulness for those wonderful connections to others.

Movement and place are two critical aspects of the spiritual life and two repeating themes in the stories about Jesus of Nazareth. Take a look at this Gospel story. John, Jesus’ cousin, the son of Elizabeth, saw Jesus walk by. He saw him going somewhere. John was intrigued. “Look!” he shouted to anyone who would listen to a locust-eating, crazy looking prophet-dude. John’s voice must have been convincing or at least loud enough, because John’s own followers left him and walked towards where Jesus was walking. They changed their path. Jesus noticed, and asked them a simple but loaded question: “What are you looking for?” They didn’t answer him, but instead asked Jesus a question: “Teacher, where are you staying?” They were not only interested in where Jesus was going, but also where he would stay. Jesus replied simply: “Come and see.” They did go and they did see. One of the people who went and saw was called Andrew. His brother was called Simon. Andrew went and found Simon and told him about this whole following Jesus and seeing thing. He even brought Simon to Jesus. And then Jesus gave Simon a new name: Cephas, Peter.

You see, Jesus was always going somewhere, and he was always calling others to go somewhere.

Journey
They were always on a journey. Jesus left his place of origin. He left those who were most familiar to him. He was always going somewhere, and he always invited others to go with him. Along that journey, they all connected to each other, they saw the world [and themselves] differently. Those who gave into inertia [the stubbornness of staying put] became sad, angry, or just completely stuck. I resonate so much with this movement of Jesus, and how he continually called all kinds of people to move with him, towards love, towards compassion, towards health and peace and fullness.

So what if we all ask this question:

Where are we going?

And not just related to place, but where are we as people going. Are we going towards the things that give us life, bring us joy, and fill us? Are going towards acts of justice in our communities, walking with those on the margins, journeying with those who feel pushed down or forgotten? Are we going, expecting to see God’s Spirit at work in all these places and relationships and activities? Are we? By asking this, we place ourselves on a path of movement. We orient ourselves towards transformation.

Friends, we are made to move, to grow, to learn, to connect and re-connect, to change.

It’s moving day. Every day is moving day.

Room in the Tomb, Room in Us All

Luke 24: 1-12
Empty-tomb

I’ll admit it. During this particular Holy Week and then, on Resurrection or “Easter” Sunday, I didn’t feel so up to painting eggs, eating candy, or singing hallelujah, Christ is risen! My role here is not to be a Debbie Downer–it’s just to be honest. I’m not up to it. Because, doesn’t it just seem like yesterday that people were changing their Facebook profiles and creating Twitter hashtags like #jesuiparis [i.e. I am Paris], after terrorist attacks?

jesuisparis
And then the attacks in Brussels. And then another attack outside of Baghdad, Iraq at a soccer game; a bomb in Turkey; and then, on Good Friday, bombs in a Nigeria mosque that take the lives of worshipers. And on Easter Sunday, a bombing in a park in Pakistan where Muslims and Christians [many of them children] mingled and played and enjoyed the outdoor festivities.

pakistanLike the Paris attacks, Brussels was trending on Twitter and on the news–along with some guy named Ted Cruz, another guy with a squirrel on his head, a Spice Girls reunion, and peeps. Lots of peeps.

peepsBut Baghdad? Turkey? Nigeria? Pakistan? Not so much. Really, I’m not bringing this up to bring you down. I’m just being honest.

So before I seemingly ruin your holiday, let me explain. This is not about despair, or pointing fingers, or whatever else.

This is about being honest and being connected.

We live in a world with many people in it, who speak different languages and practice different religions [or no religion] and who eat different things and wear different clothes. It’s always been like that. This is humanity. When we get into this kind of violence and fear is when we forget our humanity.

When we think that “our” way is the best way, or even worse, the only way, we impose that way on anyone who gets in the way.

And let’s not go down this road of accusing Muslims or Arabs for being the group of people that is doing this the most. It’s not true. Anglos in America have done it [and do it], Europeans do it, too. You can blame whole religions if you wish [though it’s misguided], because people kill others because they choose to, or are moved to by charismatic, evil-crafty leaders with authority, power, and money do it. Individual people decide to commit violence, and yes, some are desperate and destitute and coerced into it. But we can make no blanket statements anymore. When we accuse a whole religion [or cultural group] of something as terrible as these violent acts, we show our ignorance and unwillingness to embrace a difficult truth: we are all connected. So if we propagate hateful and prejudice rhetoric about ANY group of people, we are contributing to this awful mess.

So don’t do it.

This is why I refuse to stand by and watch while many people [whether religious or not] give into fear. This is the last thing we should do. Fear only creates more fear, and then more misunderstanding, less connection and cooperation, and more violence. In wake of such violence and tragedy, fear should not be an option. Understanding, relationship-building, and cooperation are the options. For as much as we move from hashtag to hashtag and headline to headline, we are not governed by these things. We choose whether or not we will know our neighbors and even those outside our neighborhood and community. We choose whether or not we shrink back in fear or whether we respond with love and empathy.

In this very moment, there is a Muslim refugee family from Syria that just arrived in the Warminster, PA area. The United Church of Christ in Warminster and other congregations and non-religious folk too will be involved in helping them get settled here via co-sponsorship, housing provision, transportation, language courses, job assistance, etc. So they feel welcome.

This is a choice.

And on resurrection Sunday, there is a story that presents a choice as well. Most of you have heard or read this story in the four Gospels, so it may seem familiar. This time, we’re in Luke’s Gospel, pretty similar to the oldest Gospel, Mark, but with its own nuances. The story begins as all the resurrection accounts do–without fanfare and quite gloomy. Women go to the tomb where Jesus’ body was placed for burial [which is a cave] and they come with spices. They see, however, that the protective stone placed in front of the tomb has been rolled away. So they go in. To their surprise, the body of Jesus of Nazareth is missing. Luke offers no details here and leaves room for us to ask questions like: was the body stolen by fanatic followers of Jesus? Was the body removed by the Romans? Or the temple authorities? Was the body ever put in that cave in the first place?

As we are asking these questions, two men in shining clothes appear to the women and ask a different question: Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; he has been raised. REMEMBER what he spoke to you, in Galilee? It is necessary for the son of man to be delivered into the hands of sinful human beings, and to be crucified, and on the third day to rise.

And now, Luke’s author is making us do our homework. First, the two men in shining clothes are JUST like Moses and Elijah in the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain that Luke told in chapter 9. So it’s an identity moment for Jesus. He’s on the same level now as those great prophets.

And then, the questions. The women are asked to remember. In Luke, remembering is a constant theme. Jesus asks his friends the disciples to remember, time and time again. Now, the women are asked to remember. The son of man [i.e., the son of adam, or son of humanity] is delivered into the hands of sinful people, and crucified, and then will rise on the third day.

Consider that for the entire Gospel of Luke, the sinners were always the ones who hung out with Jesus–the marginalized, the oppressed, the left out. Now, the sinners are the authorities who led to Jesus’ death.

The women choose to remember.

So they don’t stay in the tomb, crying out of sadness. They don’t shrink away from the situation out of fear. Instead, they leave the empty tomb and tell the disciples about it. They are named: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary of James, etc. These courageous women are met with not only skepticism, but are considered crazy by some of Jesus’ closest followers. In fact, the only guy who considers their story is Peter. He goes to the tomb [running] and finds linen burial clothes [but no body]. And he leaves the empty tomb wondering what actually happened.

Here’s what I take from this story, and I don’t know if what I say matters, but I do think the story can matter, that is, if it moves you to do things in your life that matter. Ultimately, how we decide to act–how we treat people, matters the most. So here goes:

Why did Jesus die? A question we have to ask if we plan on talking about resurrection. Why did he die? I’m not one who thinks that he had to die. I know that many, many people will disagree, and that’s fine. But I don’t think his dying was the whole point. I think he died because he was a threat–not as a violent revolutionary, but because Jesus of Nazareth challenged the whole societal system of violence and death. Jesus preached a different way of life that he called the reign of God. It wasn’t based on fear, death, or violence. Rather, it was based on faith, hope, and nonviolent love.[1]

Ask yourself: what do violent religious fanatics, power-wielding authorities and fear mongers have in common? They attempt to channel our fears against certain groups of people, separating us and creating more chaos and less cooperation. Rather than raising our children to be peacemakers and to have friends from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds, we are told to be fearful and to shrink back, protect our own, and to shelter children and youth from the world. What killed Jesus was indeed fear.

But this story tells us that we are not supposed to give into that fear.

The resurrection story isn’t flashy at all. Maybe that’s why the bunnies and baskets and painted eggs and peeps need to be there. Because really–the tomb is empty and we’re left to ponder: what happened? The real symbol of Easter is the empty tomb. No pageants, no lights, no trumpets or angels. Nobody is exchanging gifts under a tree or singing old songs.

The tomb.

Is.

Empty.

We are left with emptiness.

The emptiness makes space for us in our distress and sadness about what’s happening all over the world. The emptiness leaves space for us to ponder like Peter: what happened? The emptiness leaves space for us to make decisions. How will we react? Will we respond out of fear? Or possibility, promise, new life? Will we react like Mary Magdalene, the one who kept on searching for the face of mercy and love, in spite of the uncertainty and despair all around?

Friends, there is room in the tomb for your doubts, your questions, and even your despair. But there is also room for your dreams, your joys, your whole selves. What will we choose? There is room. There is room. There is ALWAYS room for you. Love is that big, that wide, that accessible. So make room in yourselves for new life, for love, for mercy, for empathy, for light. Find yourself and embrace your uniqueness.

And always make room for others–all others. Make the choice to work for peace and cooperation, and empathy. Speak life to the death of prejudice and violence.

May every day be resurrection day.

[1] Ericksen, Adam, Jesus Was Killed For National Security Reasons: Good Friday, Fear, and Muslim Surveillance, March 25, 2016.

Self-Giving, Love-Bearing

Mark 10:17-31

When I was a kid [well, I still am a kid, but just an older one], like most kids, I understood reward and punishment pretty well. Do well in school–get rewarded with good grades and a pat on the back from teachers and parents. Goof off and cause trouble—end up in detention and get grounded for what seemed like life. Be nice to your sister—perhaps ice cream may follow. Annoy and terrorize her on purpose—get privileges taken away. It all seemed so simple.

rewardKid

Until it wasn’t.

As I grew older and passed through that wonderfully chaotic and confusing time of adolescence, I started to realize that the rhythm of reward and punishment didn’t always hold true. Sometimes, for example, I did something really nice for another student, like inviting him to sit with me at lunch when no one else would. I thought that I would be rewarded. I wasn’t, in fact. Instead, it backfired. Some of my friends weren’t happy about it. And the student I sat with soon proved to be annoying and also a bit of a troublemaker. Sure, perhaps my intention was good, but I certainly did not get rewarded for my “good” deed.

This shook me up, because at that point in my life my faith was often based on doing good deeds or believing something “right” to gain a reward. This philosophy worked when I was younger and actually felt quite good.

Until it stopped being true.
Until I started to feel empty inside.

Until I started questioning whether believing and doing all these things would really bring me any kind of reward.

I started questioning whether that was really the point at all.

There are many stories I could tell you—about times when I woke up to this reality. The more I lived, the more I realized that following rules or doing good deeds for the sake of some reward wasn’t really the healthiest and most honest way to live.

Really, I was learning about the difference between self-sacrifice and. self-giving.

Now, I don’t know how you were raised in your particular faith tradition [or lack thereof], but as for me, I was taught that helping others was a good thing by my parents. The reasoning was pretty straightforward:

Because that’s the right thing to do.

Of course, for any inquisitive kid or teen that answer isn’t enough.

kidquestion

So I found my own path, and that path led me to evangelical Christianity for a spell. And yes, I won’t deny that I had some pretty fantastic experiences, made great friends, and learned a lot. But one thing that always confused me was this whole self-sacrifice thing.

It usually goes like this:
Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice for our sins by suffering and then dying on the cross.

So…it shouldn’t be too much to ask for you to give up 2 hours of your week to go to church, should it?! That’s your self-sacrifice. Now sit and think about Jesus.

This line of thinking went further as I got more and more involved in the church.
Pretty soon, self-sacrifice meant giving up a lot of things, and not just time. I needed to sacrifice some friendships; some activities I liked to do; I was held to a different, albeit confusing moral standard as it pertained to sexuality; most importantly, I had to even sacrifice parts of myself.

I didn’t know it at the time, but for a few years of my life, I lost part of my own identity. I did things that I didn’t really feel comfortable or good. I gave up things that I was passionate about. I hung out with people who were like-minded and Christian like me in favor of hanging out with the kids I preferred to be with, who were different and even sometimes criticized by the Christians.

Does this story ring true for some of you?
Have religions or a church or certain people convinced you to sacrifice a part of yourself?

Allow me to quickly lay out a definition of self-sacrifice and compare it to self-giving.

Say you give and give and give some more [time, resources, energy] to someone. You think that you are doing a great act of service. You are relentless in your giving. Why? Because you think that eventually you receive something for your tireless acts of service. But eventually, you burn out. You’re human. You get tired, frustrated, and perhaps a little angry. You’ve sacrificed so much of your time and resources, and you just don’t see any return. And in that process, you’ve not only sacrificed yourself, you’ve sacrificed the very person you thought you were helping.

Why? Because now you’re bitter.
You throw up your hands in disgust and proclaim: Here I am, killing myself, giving so much, and what do I get in return? Nothing!

Resentment for that person follows.
You start to blame him/her.

I’ve seen this way too much in life!

So that’s self-sacrifice—a path to unhealthiness, burnout, and resentment.

Self-sacrifice comes from a place of fear and loss. We give and give [even more than we should or can] because we feel that we lack something. We are not whole inside and so we overcompensate by sacrificing too much until we burn out.

Now, how about self-giving?

giving-heartSelf-giving is not about your ego or fear or loss. Giving of self, I would argue, is a spiritual act, and comes from a place of wholeness and true humanity. If you feel whole inside, you are inspired to give. You give profoundly, creatively, and freely. Giving feels great while you’re doing it, because you’re not thinking about getting any reward! Self-giving emerges from you.

Think about that for a moment while we transition to a story in Mark’s Gospel.

Jesus of Nazareth is again on a journey with his disciples and on the way, he meets a man who falls to his knees before Jesus and says:
Good teacher, what do I have to do get eternal life?

A very legitimate question for someone who understood reward and self-sacrifice.
But Jesus, like usual, was snarky, and didn’t answer his question. He instead asked his own questions.

Why do you call me good?

In other words, don’t butter me up so I give you the answer you want to hear just so you’ll feel better about yourself.

And then this: You know the commandments.
Ah, yes! The man must have been thrilled. The list of sacrifices! Excellent, let’s see…adultery? Nope, didn’t do that, check. Stealing? Nope, I’m rich, so check. Bear false witness? Now way, check. Murder? Oh goodness, no, check. No defrauding? Got it, check. And Honor mom and dad? But of course, check.

At this point, the man probably was smiling ear to ear, ready to go home with heaven guaranteed.

wohoo

But Jesus didn’t let him off the hook.
Mark’s writer says that Jesus loved him when he said:

You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.

homer-doh-moment

Maybe Jesus loved this guy, but it was tough love.
For the man was rich, and he wasn’t ready to part with anything he had. So he grieved.
He grieved that this was the requirement.

Notice that Jesus didn’t tell him to give away all his possessions. The Greek wording for possessions doesn’t refer to an Xbox and a Iphone 6. It refers to land and property. Most likely this guy owned a lot of land and real estate. The last thing he wanted to do was to sell any of that in order to help the poor! What about all those other sacrifices he had already made!

It was a teaching moment for the disciples, and they were most certainly shocked. How could it be so hard for a wealthy, respected member of an elite social class to enter the reign of God? Easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle? That’s really hard to do! Unless it’s a really, really small camel…like a mini camel or something.

brick-bible-500wi

The disciples’ world was upset, because they saw hierarchies and social levels and God favoring the rich. Jesus saw a world in which women, children, lepers, and poor people were the first.
So Peter jumped up to try to reassure his ego, to remind Jesus that he and other disciples are still good, because:

Look, Jesus, we’ve left everything and followed you. Right?

Jesus seems to ignore Peter’s attempt to get the gold star.
Instead, he closes with a profound statement.

Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

Land and property and family were the important attachments in the world. Probably this is still true in many ways.
The rich always have plenty of possessions—passing them on to future generations.
The poor always have little to none—losing land, property, and even family.
But in God’s reign, there is and will be balance.
Land and property, family and community, will be returned to the least of these.

And according to Jesus, this “reign” or “kingdom” of God is not something to aspire to, or to perform deeds to possess, but it is a reign that is present now.
All the rules and commandments that pious people spend their lives trying to follow do not get them any reward, as they think.

Self-sacrifice only leads to more people being sacrificed.

It’s actually about giving of self—what we have within ourselves. It’s returning balance to the world so that everyone has food and shelter and community and abundant life.

You see, the man who fell to his knees and then grieved; the disciples; all of us—we get distracted by the whole self-sacrifice thing and following commands to get a reward.

All religions struggle with self-sacrifice and it can go bad in many ways. Sometimes, it leads to people hating themselves. I’ve seen that. People are so hard on themselves and they sometimes even wish misery on themselves in a masochistic way. Other times, sacrifice can lead to people letting others walk all over them, even abuse them.

And as I mentioned before, sacrifice only leads to more sacrifice. These days many claim that those involved in “acts of terrorism,” whether religiously-motivated or not—do so out of mental illness. But so often, these acts of violence—whether in a school, temple, place of worship, or in public places—are committed by individuals who think they are self-sacrificing.

So all people of faith and those who do not claim any faith, let’s move away from self-sacrifice towards self-giving.

Let’s cultivate compassion within ourselves, because that will enable us to show true compassion to others. Caring for others requires caring for oneself.

Let’s give of ourselves, because giving is not sacrifice.
Giving is sharing.

And yes, giving is absolutely receiving at the same time!
Both parties benefit when someone gives.
And the reason for this is that when we truly give of ourselves to another, we stop separating our feelings from that person’s feelings. We experience real empathy, for both of us have a shared experience.

Friends, give of yourselves.

Life As Vocation

Matthew 4:12-23

womenFishing

Women fishing in Bangladesh

Here’s how this story goes: Jesus just got tested in the wilderness. He then returns to Galilee after his cousin John is arrested for eating too many locusts; or something like that. Then Jesus finds two willing fishermen and begins an adventurous journey with them.

This story originates in Mark’s Gospel. Matthew mostly copies Mark, but also adds the Isaiah reference and changes what Jesus is quoted as saying, eliminating The time is fulfilled and changing the kingdom of God to the kingdom of heaven. Also, Matthew leaves out the bit about Simon [Peter] and Andrew leaving their hired hands behind along with their dad in the fishing boat.

The story takes place in Capernaum–a major port city. It was a great trading and meeting center. It would have been a great locale in which to spread news or to communicate with a wide variety of people. Capernaum is on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee [actually a lake, as you can see].

capernaum1

But the story also references Naphtali and Zebulon. This is less geographical and more cultural. Naphtali and Zebulon were the names of two tribes of people who lived in the northern region of Israel [also west of the lake of Galilee].

naphtali So consider that while Matthew includes the reference from the prophet Isaiah, it is not about predicting that Jesus would walk from Nazareth to Capernaum. If this were an actual literal prophetic prediction, Matthew would actually look stupid. Why? Because Naphtali and Zebulun were two separate regions. Capernaum was only in Naphtali and not Zebulun. You can see this on this map. Also, look at the actual Isaiah text from which Matthew borrows:

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.[1]

Isaiah says by way of the sea [meaning the Mediterranean Sea there on the left] while Jesus in Matthew’s story traveled by the Sea [or Lake] of Galilee. Keep in mind that while some love to jump to prophetic conclusions and put two and two together by using OT passages to predict NT Jesus events—this alters the spirit and meaning of the story. Matthew uses the Isaiah reference [and geography and culture] to show that Jesus didn’t just care about the Jewish people, but also about those who were called Gentiles. We are supposed to notice the Zebulun and Naphtali reference and also the phrase repent for the kingdom of heaven is near because John said that earlier in the story in the wilderness of Judah [Jewish land] and now Jesus was saying the same thing in the Northern territories where there were more Gentiles. You see the movement of the story? I hope this helps.

Let’s continue on the journey. Nazareth to Capernaum was about 26 miles, depending on the route one decided to take.

Put it in context. If you traveled from the address of the United Church of Christ in Warminster, PA to where the University of Pennsylvania is in University City, you have just gone from Nazareth to Capernaum. Yes, keep in mind that most of the stories about Jesus take place in a very small geographical area.

So we have journeyed to Capernaum and we’re on the shore of the Lake of Galilee, there is fresh water and lots of fish. The lake is controlled by the wealthy Greeks and Romans and Jewish folk who were in with King Herod. Fishermen worked for them. Yes, that’s right—local fishermen had to buy fishing licenses just so they could fish. It was all regulated and of course, everything, including the fish, was taxed. Much like today, those who worked tirelessly raising crops on land or those who fished the sea–sadly they saw most of their food exported to other lands and they gained very little for their own families. It is to this group of people that Jesus appeals. Keep in mind that in Matthew’s Gospel and the other three, the issue of debt and money comes up a lot. We need to notice this in the story.

But most of the time we’re obsessed with the “fishers of people” idea and kind of end up thinking like Peter in this cartoon:

peter.stupid.fishIt’s true. Recently, a smart little girl inquisitively asked:

Why would they fish for people? And why did the other people go in the water in the first place?

Uh, yeah. This is a weird thing to say: go fish for people.

That’s why I really believe that details in a story are important. You see, we often see this Biblical story of calling disciples as some up-in-the-clouds, impossible tale. And so we are disconnected from it. But like most of the stories about Jesus, this one is quite ordinary and human, and therefore it is a story with which we can identify.

I still have a question, though: why did Peter and Andrew listen to this Jesus of Nazareth, leave behind their fishing equipment, and then follow him on a crazy adventure? Why?

I think most people assume that these two guys just picked up and left their previous lives to make some sort of incredible religious commitment. Many look at any story and assume that anyone who follows Jesus has to drop everything and make an overwhelming pledge to change their lives completely. Perhaps that’s why there are so many people who relate Christianity to fanaticism.

And they would be right, in many cases.

But I’m certainly not criticizing people who really do need to drop everything because they may live destructively and need this type of major change. Certainly, I have known people for whom practicing the Christian faith helped them to overcome addictions or destructive behaviors that kept them from living full lives. I don’t underestimate the joy and healing they discovered. But I think everyone’s experience is different. And I also think that religion itself is so very limited and also created by us, so being “called” or “following” Jesus will look different for every person.

That’s the point.

Your life is a calling.

You don’t have to be a fisherperson, a pastor, overtly religious, or someone who experiences an enlightening moment or a conversion. Your life, from its very beginning, has been and is a calling.

But yes—we are called to live with more imagination. And with more love. And with less hate. And we are called to live with more mercy, forgiveness, and more honesty. And we are called out of comfort and into conflict, recognizing that the conflict leads us to meet new and amazing people who will journey with us. Along the way, we start to realize that comfort is overrated. We can even find strength to leave it behind, as well as all the attachments to material things and prejudices that limit us so much and keep us from living a full life. And yes–we’re called out of fear to love—a very difficult calling, for sure, because we are called to face our fears and to stop ignoring them or  running away from them. And all of this looks so different for each and every person, doesn’t it?

Recently, the Lilly Foundation, an endowment organization that funds religious research, interviewed pastors, seminarians, church and ministry leaders, etc. about their careers. The study found that most of these people felt called to their vocation. Okay, but the problem is that most people don’t feel the same way. They don’t feel called like most pastors do. They hear sermons and read religious stuff but often they don’t think that what they do outside of the church has much to do with some calling worthy of God’s attention. Most people see Peter and Andrew or any of the other 1st or 2nd century disciples as super Jesus followers and faith heroes who they could never measure up to and with whom they cannot identify.

Well, that’s a big problem.

We are missing the whole point, then. I mean, it’s all well and good to interview pastors and seminarians and other professionals, but being a pastor myself, I see great limitations here. Look, personally I do find joy and fulfillment in my work as an ordained minister—both with UCCW and also with the Interfaith Center. But my “calling” [vocation] is not any higher or more worthy of God’s attention than anyone else’s. I don’t think of what I do as more Christian or more faithful to following Jesus.

And no, I did not put down my nets and follow Jesus like Andrew and Peter. I just didn’t.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried my best to be myself and to treat people well, and to love fearlessly and to speak and act creatively and compassionately. But that has zero to do with me being a pastor. That’s just my life. And for me, following Jesus’ life and teachings has helped to make me a better person. It has helped me forgive and help and empathize and heal.

Your life and calling is just as special as mine. Look, this Lily Foundation study discovered something much more important than what religious professionals think. They found that all these people had the greatest sense of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose—not because of their religious jobs–but because of their relationships.

Relationships. With people.

In Matthew’s story, Jesus doesn’t call the two fishermen [or any others for that matter] to change jobs. Jesus instead calls them into relationship. They are to be fishers of people. And while this sounds weird to most of us because we are not casting nets, you get the idea. We are called into relationships and we always have been.

And this is creative and not limited. Just like fishing. Check out the creativity of these guys:

creativefishingYour relationship with God, with this, Jesus—should be a good thing. It should add joy, healing, wisdom, wholeness. It should not limit you or take away your playful imagination or your creativity or make you think that you need to change who you are. No way. Likewise with your relationships in this life here on this planet. You should be challenged, uplifted, inspired, strengthened, and fulfilled by your relationships with people. Others should feel the same when they are in relationship with you. And no, you don’t have to have some really religious conversion story or some so-called “higher” calling to do that.

No way. Just be you.

And so, ask yourself:

How will I step out of my comfort zone and be in relationship with others?
How will I be a compassionate friend?
How will I be a loving partner?
How will I be creative, free, and joyful at work and at school and with others?
How will my relationship with God inspire and heal me?
How will this relationship with God move me to healthy relationships with others?

Live the story.


[1] Isaiah 9:1-2, NRSV.

Loved, Loved, Loved; Sent, Sent, Sent!

John 21:1-19

SIMPSONS CLIP:

Sometimes there are things that bear repeating. Other times, repeating again and again can be quite annoying!

But repetition is what we do. It is how we learn. Everyone here has had to memorize something. Perhaps in school you memorized multiplication tables. Maybe you had to memorize certain dates in history for a test. Or maybe you have memorized lines for a play, or dance steps and routines, or song lyrics, or directions to a certain place, or someone’s name. We commit things to memory every single day. That does not mean that it is easy, though. Memorization—this type of learning—takes time and effort. Sometimes we cannot do it on our own. We need someone to help us remember and learn and then apply.

Maybe that’s why things often come in threes. Phone numbers are broken down, at least in the U.S., into three sets of numbers. For many, this is easier to memorize.

You have heard the phrase: third time’s the charm.

Good things come in threes.

Three strikes and you’re out.

3…2…1…

The past, present, and the future.

Now on the count of three, everybody pull!

1…2…3! Say cheese!

Three cheers: hip, hip, hooray!

Three is company, four is a crowd.

Lights, camera, action!

1 for the money, 2 for the show; 3 to get ready…

Yadda, yadda, yadda…

What other sayings do you know that contain the number three?

 Gautama Siddharta, the Buddha, once said:

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.

And many of us know this phrase from Paul’s letter to Corinth:

And these three remain: faith, hope, and love.

So what is this all about? This is the rule of 3.

3The rule of three is a writing principle that suggests that things in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. The reader or audience of this form, according to many, are more likely to consume information if it is written in groups of threes. From slogans like go, fight, win! to film and literary titles, to philosophy and religion. You might remember The Three Stooges, the Three Little Pigs, the Three Billy Goats Gruff, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or the Three Musketeers. The list goes on.

And I need to mention, as an actor and lover of theatre–plays on stage are usually in 3 acts.

Not to overdo it, but there is something to this. A series of three often creates a progression in which tension is created, built up, and finally released. Similarly, in writing, adjectives are often grouped in threes to emphasize an idea.[1]

Martin Luther, King famously utilized the rule of 3 in his speeches for emphasis; for example, in his speech  Non-violence and Racial Justice, he used the words  “insult, injustice and exploitation,” followed a few lines later by “justice, good will and brotherhood.”[2]

Those of you from a Catholic background probably know [or memorized!] the Latin phrase omne trium perfectum (everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete).

But I’m more apt to go with the rule of 3 in comedy and jokes.

A rabbi, a priest, and an imam walk into a bar…

 It’s an actual unwritten rule of comedy—something we use all the time in the theater company I perform with. It is often called a comic triple. A joke usually is set up by two phrases that coax the audience into expecting a hilarious punch line in the third phrase. A simple example for a voicemail message:

Hello, you’ve reached Josh. I’m either solving world hunger, climbing Mt. Everest, or picking my nose. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you when I touch my brain.

So, using this formula to introduce our story…

Peter:

[1] he was a beloved disciple of Jesus;

[2] he was the rock on which the church was built;

[3] he was a bumbling idiot.

Poor Peter. But his character is portrayed this way in the Gospels for a reason.

Peter is us.

Just like the so-called “doubting” Thomas is us. But unlike Thomas, for Peter the problem wasn’t skepticism, it was his past. We know what he was feeling, don’t we? We are more likely to remember something bad that happened than something good. If someone criticizes us or hurts us with his/her words, then we usually remember. But how many compliments, good wishes, and encouraging words do we remember? We are sure to remember when we failed at something. How much do we remember and celebrate our successes?

Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?

Are we there yet?

ACT I: The charcoal fire was just like the charcoal fire during Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. As if Peter’s wounds from his denial weren’t fresh enough!

ACT II: Regardless, all the disbelieving, cowardly disciples are invited to eat. Fish. Come and eat. They are fed. Can you say…foreshadowing!? And guess what? This just happened to be the THIRD time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after his death.

ACT III: the climax: the rule of 3 scene:

Jesus: Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?

Peter: Yes, you know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my lambs. Simon son of John do you love me?

Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus: Tend my sheep. Simon son of John, do you love me?

Peter: Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my sheep. Follow me.

Here is my take on Peter’s story in threes:

  1. It is about learning from the past. Redeeming the past. Moving forward.
  2. Peter needs to remember something important.
  3. Peter needs to accept the forgiveness and commit to sharing it with others.

In the three questions do you love me, Jesus is reminding and forgiving, at the same time. My take is that Peter had not forgiven himself for being a coward and for denying that he knew Jesus, when Jesus needed him most. He was not facing his past; thus, he was letting his past control his present thoughts and actions, leaving his future vulnerable to be infected by depression, fear, and apathy. So he needed to remember what happened and he needed to face it. Basically, he needed to forgive himself. He is reminded three times about it. But by the third time, there is a movement from Peter’s superficial answer to a real answer of honesty. Lord, you know everything. You know that I denied you and ran away and tried to cover it up. You know it. I know it. And yet…

Jesus still loves Peter, has never blamed him for anything, and forgave him from the get-go. Instead of rebuke, Jesus calls Peter—gives him something useful and good to do. Jesus entrusts Peter with relationships. 1] Feed my lambs. As I fed them with stories of God’s mercy and forgiveness and love, as I filled their minds and hearts with light—feed them.

2] Tend my sheep. Care for them, like I cared for you. Help them out, support and encourage them.

And lastly, the third statement: 3] feed my sheep. Don’t forget this. This is your calling. Don’t neglect it. You’re capable of doing such good in the world. Feed them. The world is hungry for love, for mercy, for community.

Feed them.

And by doing this, you truly follow me.

We are forgiven when we make mistakes or fall short of our goals in life. Perfection is an illusion. Holiness is a façade. We must accept forgiveness because we are never perfect or holy. Jesus forgives and calls us at the same time. We are given useful and good things to do. We are meant to share what we have [our whole selves] with others, feeding them with healthy relationships, acceptance, and love. But we need to be told this, reminded of this at LEAST three times. Because like Peter…we get stuck in the past. We think we are not worthy. We don’t forgive ourselves. But we’re still loved and already forgiven. And we’re still called.

Big disclaimer: having faith in and following this Jesus does not make us perfect or less apt to fail or make mistakes. We’re still completely like Peter and anyone else—we’re completely human. But recognizing that we will fail and are already forgiven and are still loved and called can be a huge encouragement and a movement—to an attitude will help us to stop judging others when they fail.

Instead, we will love and forgive them, feed and care for them. And they will feel loved and called, too.

We are loved. We are cared for. We are called to do good in the world.

We love; we care for others; we invite others to do good, too.

Amen; amen; amen!


[1] Booker, Christopher (2005). “The Rule of Three”. The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. Continuum International Publishing Group.

[2] “Non-Violence and Racial Justice,” Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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