Sermon Prep Reflections for May 3, 2020 - John 21, 1-14
You don’t have to go looking for God. God is everywhere you are. Even when you’re not looking, or maybe especially then, God shows up.
When the world changes rapidly, when the rug gets ripped out from under you, you may not know where to turn or what to do. Even if the change is a good one, it can be disorienting and strange and set us off our game.
We often revert back to our old, comfortable habits of place and practice when the world presents us with new information and opportunities that overwhelm us. That’s not necessarily a good or bad thing. It’s just a thing. All depends on what those behaviors and spaces are and how healthy and helpful they are for us going forward. Just because it used to work for us in the past does not mean it will work for us in the future.
In John’s gospel, chapter 21, we again encounter several of the Apostles – the inner circle of Jesus’ friends and followers. These are his most trusted and loyal allies, the ones he called and mentored for months on end. They saw him teach and minister and heal. They were blessed and renewed by his grace. They shared his story as their own. They watched him be arrested, crucified, and buried. Then three days later they encountered him risen from the dead, just as he promised. The world would never be the same.
To be clear, their worlds had already been turned upside down by meeting and choosing to follow Jesus. They’d chosen the Gospel over their old lives, which if necessary meant choosing Jesus over family, friends, work, and even the ways they’d been taught to believe and practice their faith. Now everything had changed again. It just felt like too much.
I’m struck by the way John tells the story of these weeks following the Resurrection. I would have expected Jesus to spend every waking hour with his core followers, preparing them for his return to the Father and the sending of the Holy Spirit and the Birth of the Church. There should have been strategic planning meetings, power point presentations, webinars and zoom meetings and conferences and workbooks with Certifications and Continuing Education Credits in Church Development and Missions. God was about the birth the church in, among and through them. All they seem to get is a brief weekly check in. “Hey. How are yall? Still doing ok? Alrighty then. Good. See you soon.” And he’s gone again.
It truly is a New World for the disciples. And they are dependent on their Old Routines to get them through. Easter night Jesus appears to them. Then, a week later, the same stunt showing up in a locked room. Then, John tells us, “…After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples… and it happened this way…” So according to John’s gospel, this story represents their third encounter with the resurrected LORD. Not surprisingly, they’re a bit at a loss for what to do in the between times. How should they be planning for what is next? What are they supposed to DO? They’ve got no clue. So they do what is familiar, comfortable, useful. They go fishing.
Remember, at least some of these guys are professional fishermen. They return to the Sea of Galilee (here called the Sea of Tiberias), some 75 miles north of Jerusalem. When they walked back home to the north country of Capernaum and surrounding communities we don’t know. But here they are back at the familiar port town, back at their boats and among their friends, their ropes and sails and nets. Here they know what to do without thinking. The muscle memory is so deep that they can function on autopilot.
That’s what often happens to me when I’m feeling overwhelmed. If I can function at all, it’s on autopilot. I do what I know so well that my brain can check out and I can just go. My body can be absorbed in the tasks of cooking and cleaning or organizing or playing music or walking or writing. These things I know. They are comfortable and familiar and in some way useful or productive. Widows will often come home from the hospital after losing their life partners and set to work in the kitchen feeding everyone in sight, because that is something their body can do without their brain fully engaged.
Notice several weeks have passed. It’s likely, since this story is framed this way, that the disciples sat around eating and drinking and staring at one another day after day for a fortnight. They couldn’t do much of anything. Nothing made sense anymore. They didn’t know their place in the world. The new reality had been described to them. They had the information, the facts, but still they were frozen. Finally, maybe because of the miles of walking north day after day, they get unstuck enough to at least do this. Peter is able to frame an idea, and everyone else simply ascents to it. “Yep, let’s go fishing…”
What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? Once you are able to do something of course. What are the people, places and practices that bring you that familiarity in which you find comfort? After a loss people often reach back into their past to reconnect with old relationships, even old flames. I think one reason is that people are seeking solid footing, and we imagine that the past might hold it. This rarely proves true, but there’s no harm in spending some time there.
It’s good and right to rely on the familiar in our time of uncertainty. Many people I know have reconnected with old friends, renewed old hobbies, returned to favorite authors. These are source of comfort that offer a mooring in these unsettled waters.
The story shows us that Jesus meets us there, but does not leave us there. He invites us to commune with him. He acknowledges and responds to our concrete human needs in the moment. And then he calls us toward the future. Once we’ve found rest and solace, once we’ve taken our fill and be satiated, Jesus shakes us from our stupor and calls us away from out past that can be an anchor dragging us down to the depths. He calls us forward into new life in Him. He refuses to let us get distracted by the paths that others are walking. “Keep your eyes on your own path. Mind your own business. Don’t worry about how I’m calling or leading someone else. Walk the road that I’ve put before you, and let that be enough.”
This is both a comfort and a challenge. It is comforting to know that we can return for a time to what soothes us. It is a comfort to know that Jesus meets us there. It is a comfort to know that he sees and addresses our needs in times like this. And it is a challenge because eventually he will call us to wake up to the new realities and begin to live the hope and promise of a bright tomorrow that is different and blessed.
So for now, take comfort. But be ready. It is a New World, and those Old Routines that may comfort us now will not serve us well for long.
Jesus shows up in unexpected places. This is one of the messages of the post resurrection stories in the gospels. He wasn't where they thought he was, i.e. the tomb. He showed up where they didn't expect - a locked room (twice), along a road trip (to Emmaus), at the beach while they were fishing (cause they didn't know what else to do in that post-crucifixion time), etc.
Tim and I are working to plan worship that is both comforting - traditional hymn favorites - and surprising - new places and spaces. You may have heard or seen recently "Jesus has left the building" in response to remote worship services and churches no longer gathering in our buildings. Truth is, we are discovering that he's always been more "out there" than "in here". Jesus is in all the places we don't think to look.
We invite you to imagine and suggest places where we might encounter Jesus. We will work to bring elements of our worship service that include those places.
At the same time, we are wanting to bring some sense of the comfortable and familiar- thus we are asking folks to share their favorite hymns and worship songs. We've done this in the past and thus have a list from which to work, AND we are asking again so this is definitely something you can ask everyone you talk with in the next few weeks: "Hey, what hymns or songs are bringing your comfort and hope during this time? What words float through your mind and what tunes you catch yourself humming or singing?" Then send those responses on to us, please.
And we are wanting to bring the scriptures (and other spiritual wisdom) that may be most familiar and comforting during this time: cf Psalm 23, John 3:16, Psalm 150, Romans 8, etc... Let's gather and share also what scriptures comfort and inspire us in this time.
The Gospel is both familiar and foreign, stabilizing and surprising. We know it, and yet it is always new, if we are really paying attention. Like a true love of friendship in life - we know them so well, and yet we are also always learning and discovering new and delightful things that challenge and inspire us (and perhaps bewilder us!).
My prayer is that we are each open to discovering Jesus in a new way. Resurrection may not mean what we thought. Or put another way, We may learn that Resurrection means far more than we imagined or believed. The people around us are there in part to help us learn things about God we cannot learn without them. Even the ones who don't believe in God in the same way that we do - for they are made in God's image and are God's beloved. "For God so loved the world..."
God be praised by our words and in our living in this most extraordinary time.
Please let me know how I can be serving and supporting you and yours.
Dear Church Family,
This is a strange and difficult time for all of us for various reasons, and I regret not being more available to you during these weeks. My family and I thank you for your prayers and understanding of the need for some time away to grieve the death of my Dad, Jim Crawford. I look forward to returning to active service in the congregation and community soon. Until then, please know that you are in my prayers as well.
I'm grateful for the way Tim Caffee and others have led our music and worship. Thanks to Rev. Dr. Irie Session for preaching last week, and to Rev. Shirley Johannsen for preaching our Easter Service – see more at CCCDT.org/remote. You'll want to join together Thursday evening for a joint Maundy Thursday service cohosted with East Dallas Christian Church and Northway Christian Church AND the Womanist Good Friday Seven Sayings. Both will be viewable at 7pm on Facebook.com/CentralChristian.Dallas.
Your elders and staff are offering strong leadership during this time and are available to support you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to them directly, email the church office at Central.Christian.Dallas@gmail.com, or call the pastoral care line: 469- four eight zero -9077.
As we journey through this Holy Week and into the Easter season, may we be reminded that the disciples were likewise sorrowful, disoriented, confused and even frightened by the events of that week. Jesus could not wipe away their concerns or remove them from the path they would walk. Jesus did serve them, feed them, teach them, pray with and for them, and offer them hope. Not until the resurrection came did they understand the message or the events of their lives. The resurrection did come, for them and for us. We are invited to make the journey again with Jesus - to the cross, through the death, and into the tomb. There is no resurrection without death. We cannot be born anew, personally, as a church, or as a human family, unless we die to our old ways and allow the Holy Spirit to bring new life.
I look forward to the day when we will gather together again to declare: "Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!" Until then, may we have the courage and faith to stay on the path, enter the Upper Room, pray in the Garden, and stand at the foot of the Cross.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Ken Crawford