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May 12, 2019



Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: May 2019

Category: Faith

Audio of scripture reading, John 21:1-14, followed by the sermon begins at 19:46.

John 21:1-14

1After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No." 6He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.


          If this passage sounds familiar to you it’s because it was the same one we read last week when Bethany preached.  It’s fitting it reappear here because this is the season of reappearances.  The last time I was with you was Easter, when we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus in all its glory and so now we are in the season when we explore the reappearances of Christ.  Notice the plural.  Do you know how many times the risen Christ appeared in Scripture?  Paul writes that he appeared to at least 500!  It seems the risen was showing up all over the place.  The notion that Christ continues to show up is an early one.  I think of the 5th century St. Patrick and his famous prayer that calls Christ’s presence all around:

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ on my right,

Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down,

Christ when I sit down,

Christ when I arise,

Perhaps it’s a prayer of recognition, but I gather it’s more or a prayer of longing. 

Do we carry that longing within us too?  Do we believe we can encounter reappearances of Christ?  Following the services on Easter, I drove to catch up with my family and friends for a picnic at Lake Lagunitas.  On the radio there was an interview with Dr. Dan Siegel, professor of psychiatry at UCLA, Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, and author of The Whole Brain Child, which some of you may have read.  Listening, I was instantly captivated.  Siegel was talking about the neuropathways in the brain that get formed as a result of trauma, specifically childhood trauma.  Interestingly, though ye was pushing back forcefully on what at least I understood to be conventional wisdom, that such trauma has to be damaging for a lifetime.  Without equivocation, he said that if people were willing to do the right therapeutic work, difficult work, those neuropathways could be reconfigured, and healing could be found.  In other words, there was, and is, and always will be hope.  People can come back from the proverbial grave.   

          I’m taking all this in, and making my way up a winding road, when I see pulled over on the side a white can with a man behind it.  It’s not an uncommon sight in Marin, as people pull over to access hiking trails all the time, but this man wasn’t putting on his hiking shoes.  He was taking his shoes off.  It wasn’t time for a hike.  It was time for prayer.   Before him was a prayer rug and he was getting ready to prostrate for one of the five periods of daily prayer prescribed for Muslims.  There’s something intentional about the repetitive motion of Muslim prayer.  Islam means “surrender,” and the motion of prayer embodies it.  In fact, it embodies laying down one’s life and then being raised up.  A Christian might call it a rehearsed death and resurrection—down to the ground and rising again.  In our tradition we speak of baptism as death and resurrection, though we practice that once in a lifetime.  They do it five times daily.  What if we learned to practice it in our bodies more regularly?  Well, some of you have been with our sun salutations in our weekly yoga class.  

          On Easter, churches tend to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and the framing is of a one-time supernatural event.  There’s power in that symbol, of course, but as the Franciscan Richard Rohr reminds us, Jesus may be a window into the rule as much as an image of the exception.  In his new The Universal Christ, Richard Rohr reminds us that resurrection is the natural order of things.  It’s not so much supernatural as the Western church likes to depict it.  It’s all around.  It’s in nature.  It’s in the return to life of a trauma victim.  It’s in the daily act of prayer.  It’s in, as Rohr would put it, dying to false self and being raised in true self all the time, again and again.  Christ isn’t just that guy who did it once.  Christ is that which does it again and again and invites us in.  In our celebration, we tried to accept that invitation by participating in a ritual of placing flowers on the cross.  In some Mayan cultures that have adopted Christianity, the cross is always shown flowered because the cross becomes the second tree of life.  We do this to remind ourselves to be on the lookout for resurrection all around us. 

As if to prove the point that Christ shows up again in and again, look how many times the risen one appears in today’s short passage.  Three times.  Three times!  And the disciples, like so many of us, don’t recognize it.  These are the ones who knew Jesus in life, and still they don’t recognize him.  Now, let us not get lost in the logistics of resurrection appearances.  Does your complexion change?  Do you get your peak physique in the next body?  I’d like my 24 year-old hairline, but my 27 year-old biceps.  Don’t do that.  The story shows what many of us know all too well, recognizing the risen Christ in our midst is difficult.  It takes practice, practice and tools. 

          Just before I left, I met with a woman who is a United Church of Christ Pastor, a licensed therapist, and a spiritual director.  Her name is Ruth Mordecai – now there’s a powerful biblical name for you.  I had asked to meet so we could talk about something called nonviolent communication, which Mordecai has been studying and teaching.  Nonviolent communication isn’t merely not calling people nasty names.  Rather it’s a way of transforming the entire way we listen and speak in order to break through the patterns that tend to make our interactions unproductive if not outright hurtful.  It’s a way of recognizing the felt needs beneath people’s expressions, and our own.  It’s about finding ways to really hear each other, really be heard, and thus come to a more meaningful place as a result of being in communication.

          Mordecai says that tools of nonviolent communication can help foster genuineness and compassion and can help in “avoiding repetitive arguments with loved ones or people with differing viewpoints (especially political).”[1] Now, how many of us could stand to benefit from this?  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve counseled, whose families or friendships or even casual encounters have suffered significant fissures as the result of repetitive arguments, disagreements, particularly in this moment around political issues.  It’s no wonder we interact in this way.  Every time we turn on a screen, we see people assaulting one another’s character, degrading one another’s fundamental dignity, and disregarding others’ basic humanity. 

          It’s not just politics.  Decades ago there were some interesting experiments with what was called “reality TV.”  It’s so manufactured now that the name is an oxymoron.  What began as cheap programing (you don’t have to pay writers) and kind of an interesting social experiment, had devolved into the poorest of modeling of adult behavior.  The formula has been to supply people with copious amounts of alcohol and watch the fireworks fly and the mudslinging begin.  I’m not the kind of person that likes to blame pop culture for our behavior, the “video games make you violent” line of reasoning, but I do think that the images we allow to surround us do seep into us and give permission to conduct ourselves in certain ways.  After all our skin is porous.  That with which we surround ourselves is bound to get in.

          Overcoming these overt patterns of behavior, however isn’t even the most appealing part of nonviolent communication to me.  It’s what happens beneath the surface.  Nonviolent communication, says Mordecai, can actually change the way we experience the other.  Imagine that, actually feeling love for the one who used to cause you to bite your tongue lest you bite off their head?  Is this what Jesus meant when he said to love your enemies, not simply to do the right thing or refrain from doing the harmful thing, but to truly feel a certain way?  Isn’t that why he didn’t simply say to treat your neighbors, your enemies even, well, but also to love them?  I’m working to bring Mordecai to Westminster for some workshops in nonviolent communication next year and I hope you’ll take advantage.

          Rohr’s reminds us that the Christian path is really about recognizing Christ all around and within all things.  It’s a change of disposition and perspective.  It’s not easy, and so he counsels us to start small.  Don’t start by trying to see Christ in your enemy.  You’re doomed to fail.  Start by trying to love a rock, something simple, something that won’t smack you in the face.  He opens The Universal Christ by stating, in all good orthodoxy, and without a hint of shallow sentimentality, that he absolutely saw Christ in the eyes of his dying black lab.  Later in the book he speaks about how his dog becomes his spiritual teacher as it approaches death, a death for which Rohr is not yet ready.

          In the end it’s about shifting from seeing the resurrection as admiration—isn’t it terrific what God did—to an aspiration:  Isn’t it amazing what happens when I embrace my own resurrection, look for resurrection in the world, and adjust my eyesight accordingly.

          In that light, St. Patrick’s old prayer makes new sense.  Here it is in fuller, if not complete, form:

 I arise today (This isn’t just a morning prayer; it’s a theological statement)

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through belief in the Threeness,

Through confession of the Oneness

of the Creator of creation…  (This is a confession, a declaration)

I arise today, through

The strength of heaven,

The light of the sun,

The radiance of the moon,

The splendor of fire,

The speed of lightning,

The swiftness of wind,

The depth of the sea,

The stability of the earth,

The firmness of rock…  (Where is God?  All around).

Christ with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ on my right,

Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down,

Christ when I sit down,

Christ when I arise,  (Now, here it comes…)

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.  (Deep trust in possibility of new life in communication).

 The extent to which we encounter a reappearance of the risen Christ isn’t wholly up to God.  It’s also up to you.  Amen.

[1] From Ruth Mordecai’s prepared materials.