Sermon – May 5, 2019 – Third Week in Eastertide
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: John 21:1-19
I have a theory: I think each of us falls on a spectrum of discipleship according to the Gospel of John. At one end of the spectrum is this unnamed disciple who is only described as the one who Jesus loved. At the other end is Simon Peter.
The beloved disciple is described in John—twice—as “the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper.” So basically he’s known for chilling. He is also the one who purportedly wrote this gospel down. From what I can gather, the beloved disciple was the contemplative. He moves more slowly (except when he’s running to the tomb). He’s reflective. And when he does choose to talk, it matters. “Who will betray you?” he asks Jesus at the last supper. And here in today’s gospel, he is the one who recognized Jesus when no one else did, saying, “It is the Lord!” He seems like much more of a thinker than a doer.
At the other end of this spectrum is our dear Simon Peter. Peter is a man of exuberance, and he often acts before he has a chance to think. Throughout John, you kind of hear Jesus constantly saying, “whoa, buddy, slow your roll.” Peter cuts off someone’s ear when the authorities take Jesus away. He’s the one who gets the fishing trip together in our Gospel today. And then he’s the one who, when they recognize Jesus, is so excited that he dives into the water to get to him as quickly as possible. He’s also naked, and I don’t really know what that means.
But I’m not judging him. After all, he is the one whose name Jesus changed from Simon to Peter—petra, Greek for rock. He is solid, dependable. He’ll get the job done.
One, the quiet contemplative, is the disciple Jesus loved. The other, the man of action, is the one on whom Jesus builds his community.
I’m guessing a lot of you are familiar with the Myers Briggs or the Enneagram. They’re tools designed to make you more aware of your own particular ways of being. Your motivations, your challenges. If you train to go into ministry, you spend a lot of time with these kind of tools.
I’m an INFJ on the Meyers Briggs. I like structure and organization, I catch on to patterns in my world, and I need a lot of time to recharge after being in social situations. And I’m a One on the Enneagram, the reformer, the perfectionist. I’m driven by a sense of integrity and justice, and I tend to have a very critical mind, for better and for worse. Just ask Rachel.
When I first started working with these tools, I did what most people probably do: I dug deep into my own type. I read everything there was about who they said I am and why I do the things I do. And the vast majority of it resonated. They helped me to understand myself better.
But the more time I’ve spent studying these different tools, the more I’ve come to realize that they’re not meant merely to provide explanations for my own behavior or to categorize others. Ultimately, I think these tools can point us to something bigger. They can take us to a place where we both embrace our particular ways of being and then grow beyond them.
Grow beyond. This is exactly what I think Jesus is asking us to do. Every single day. Grow beyond your limited idea of love. Grow beyond your limited idea of forgiveness. Grow beyond your limited idea of grace.
Three times Jesus asks Simon Peter if he loves him, and it unsettles Peter. Does he not believe me? But I don’t think Jesus is questioning Peter’s love and loyalty, I think he’s saying, Grow beyond.
Like I said, I think we all fall on the spectrum of spirituality somewhere between the beloved disciple and Peter. We are each drawn to different experiences and practices of our faith. It’s easier for each of us to feed certain sheep, sometimes to the neglect of others.
If Jesus asked each of us, “Do you love me?,” some of us might respond like the beloved disciple: “Of course I do. I read your scriptures every day and journal about what comes into my heart when I do.” Or “I have a 20-minute prayer practice that I do every morning.” Or “I regularly take walks through the woods and contemplate the wonders of this world you gave to us.”
We lean into our personal relationship with Jesus, with our faith. It is quiet, private.
And yet Jesus’ response is, “Feed all my lambs.”
Some of us fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. When Jesus asks “Do you love me?”, we might say “Of course I do. I come to church every Sunday. I play music here. I do readings. I help set up the altar. I preach. I come to the railing and find deep comfort in communion. I see my friends, I welcome visitors, and I greet everyone with the peace of Christ.”
And yet Jesus’ response is, “Tend all my sheep.”
And for some of us—the Peters of the world—when Jesus asks, “Do you love me?”, we might say, “You see the work that I do in this world. I go to protests calling for justice for the oppressed. I volunteer tons of my time serving the poor, fighting white supremacy, demanding equality for our transgender siblings, pleading for better stewardship of our environment.”
And yet Jesus’ response is, “Feed all my sheep.”
Each of these answers reflects ways of believing, ways of practicing faith that are beautiful and filling and important. Our Church needs all these different approaches. But in Jesus’ response, I hear him asking us to grow beyond.
Some of us contemplatives might feel overwhelmed by the prospect of showing up and using our voices and gifts to advocate for the justice and love our faith calls us to. Feeding ourselves but not the other sheep of the world.
Some of us who make Sunday worship our main source of spirituality can sometimes struggle to incorporate it into the other days of the week—to have a regular private prayer practice or to make our beliefs known in the larger world. Not seeing beyond this flock right here.
Those of us who like to take action sometimes forget to rest, to pause and see how this world is already good and beautiful. We burn ourselves out seeking justice and care for the rest of the flock while forgetting that we, too, are sheep who need tending.
We each have ways that we’re comfortable living out our faith. And I hear Jesus saying in this gospel, “I see you, I see your faith, I see your love, and I need you to grow beyond.”
I don’t know what that means for you, how God is nudging you out of your comfort zone. I don’t know—yet—what that means for us, for St. Luke’s. Because I think this community also has its comfort zone that Jesus is calling us to grow beyond.
But here’s the good news: Jesus never asks us to do it all by ourselves. Remember the rest of our gospel today? The disciples had been fishing all night and didn’t catch a thing. It wasn’t until Jesus showed up that they caught more fish than they needed. All they had to do was trust him and drop the net in the water to see what would happen.
It’s not our effort, but God’s. God gives us more than enough energy and love and patience enough to grow beyond, to tend all the sheep.