The Gift of One Another

It seems strange to feel like I must announce this, but I don’t have Covid! I know I sound like it. I kind of feel like I do, but I’ve tested negative three times over the last six days. A doctor’s appointment yesterday confirmed what I suspected this past week: I have a rip-roaring sinus infection! Though, with some medication, I’ll be good as new in no time.

I mention this not just to alleviate your concern I’m spreading a virus through our church. I mention this because of the importance our community of faith plays in supporting each of us as we go through life’s inevitable ups and downs. Through these early months of 2022, Messiah, all of you, has certainly supported me through my ups and downs, and I tell you I’m very appreciative and grateful for you all.

Being able to tell one another, “Hey this going great in my life. Would you offer a prayer of thanksgiving for me?” or “Hey, I’m really struggling with this reality. Would you pray for God’s presence to walk with me through it?” are when faith communities operate at their best. Being able to share what’s going on, and be there for one another, is what friends in the community of Christ do as life brings us joys or sorrows. I know it brings some degree of vulnerability as we do so, and I’m convinced in Jesus we have both a friend and an example of how to faithfully stand together through all life brings.

You see this at the beginning of our gospel reading. It was early. Dawn had just broken. Jesus was standing there on the beach, and he called out to his friends in the boat, “Children, you have no fish, have you?”

Their reply was short. It was a sad note sounding across the expanse of water between the boat and the beach. “No.” They answered him. Sad, not just because their net was empty, along with their bellies, but because back now in Galilee they were facing a very real and troubling question: after all that we have been through, after all the joys and sorrows, ups and downs, has anything really changed? Or will we just go on being stuck here in our boat, trying to catch fish, and giving most of it away in taxes to the Empire’s Occupation Force, so Caesar can rest in leisure, on his recliner, in Rome?

“Hey, try casting the net off the right side of the boat,” Jesus called. Probably both sad and tired after a long night, they responded positively to his invitation, and there were so many fish in the net, where before, there had been none. The world is changed, transformation is afoot, and Jesus keeps showing up to point out how to be a part of it.

I was talking with Pr. Bridget this past week. I was telling her that I’ve really responded to her emphasis, both in conversation and in preaching, that in Jesus’ death and resurrection the world is different. I was saying that an old curmudgeon like me, who thinks the world stinks, and nothing can be done about it, needs to be reminded of God’s radically different perspective on things in our universe. We need to be reminded of what God is doing!

Because, the forces of violence and death have gotten a hold of me, as they can get a hold of any of us. These forces would like us to think we live in the same world we have always lived in – and that nothing can be done about it – Pr. Bridget has been reminding us, “They are wrong.”

In the Easter season, the presence of Jesus in our lives, both wounded and risen, is God’s great “No” to any voice, force, or power preaching the cruelty of war is the only way to victory, and the threat of violence is the only way to ensure peace. Jesus standing by the fire, cooking breakfast on any of our lives’ beaches, is God’s testimony that we live in a changed world, that our futures can and will be different, and that love for the sake of friend and neighbor, even though it can be costly, does finally bring peace and brings it abundantly.

It seems we have not been abandoned, left orphaned by the wounded and risen Lord. As the fish were drawn together, and into the net by Jesus, so too are we, Jesus’ friends, and followers, drawn together and into the gracious power of his continuing presence.

Now, this being drawn together can often seem a random and unintentional experience. In my own life, I’ve spent past 37 years in a community of friends that seemed to happen totally by accident. One of us is from Lacey, another from Spanaway, a third from Shoreline, the fourth from Camano Island, and I, the farthest away, from Astoria. We all arrived at PLU in the fall of 1983. It seems only by chance we were all assigned to live in Rainier, but through the course of time something inexplicable, almost mystical happened: we became a community of friends.

We are each totally different in his own way. What binds us together? We’ve seen each other through weddings and divorces, gaining and losing jobs, the arrival of children, their growth, and graduations. We each have our unique careers and interests. Although we text frequently, we’re often not all together except for yearly gatherings at Christmas and Guy Time for a week in the summer. We each have totally distinctive ways of playing golf, and I swear if we were not friends, we’d hate each other. We argue, cuss, and swear at one another, and are extremely vicious when playing cards.

Yet, I’d also argue, something bigger than us has drawn us together, created an almost mystical community, and we are fed and nourished through our “creative” differences more so than if we were simply bland and boring, carbon copies of one another. That, however, is what I think makes a true community of friends form and flourish. We are different from one another, and when we’re not trying to kill each other off, the differences create cracks through which an enlivening spirit is free to move and shape and transform us.

In the middle of our gospel reading, Jesus says to the disciples, “Come and have breakfast.” I love this scene in the story, with the charcoal fire, and the fish, and the bread. It must have smelled like heaven, after a long night on a cramped fishing boat, where everyone had stripped down, yet still sweat all over one another from the excursion of pulling and pushing the net, in and out, of the boat.

It almost seems as if there, by the fire, their sadness had been replaced by little giggles of joy, almost glee. “None of us are going to ask you who you are, hee-hee-hee, because we know it’s you, Jesus, hee-hee-hee.”

It’s not just that Jesus keeps showing up to point how much the world is changed, that death no longer has the final word, but that he is going to keep feeding us, nourishing us, body, mind, and spirit. Much like my group of college buddies, Jesus is going to keep gathering us as one into this weird and wonderful, mystical union we know as the Body of Christ.

Communities of faith of miss this important reality. When so much of the world is divided up, lock in behind gated communities of sameness, where everything is prescribed, and each home is painted in shades of the same bland brown, faith communities, with all the differences, the fights, the uniqueness we bring to one another, have the cracks and fissures which in and through the Spirit blows, which in and through Jesus is able to feed, nourish and transform us. When we’re not trying to kill one another, we Jesus followers can be one of the most creative, dynamic, and life-giving forces there is in the universe. Jesus knows this, and it is why he’s showing up here today, to continue the work he began on that beach, beside the sea of Galilee, so many years ago.

Finally, at the end of our gospel reading, there is this beautiful, yet heart-breaking exchange between Jesus and Peter. Much has been written and spoken about what it means, and the complexity of the interchange, but I’m convinced there’s really something quite simple going on as our story closes today.

The exchange begins with Jesus asking, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” To which Peter replies, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Then comes Jesus’ command, “Feed my lambs.”

A second time, Jesus asks: “Simon, Son of John, do you love me?” “Yes,” he says, “Lord, I love you!” “Tend my sheep,” is Jesus’ reply.

Finally, a third time, Jesus addresses Peter. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” We are told this third time Peter felt hurt because, it seems, Jesus won’t take Peter at his word. Peter gets exacerbated and blurts out, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!” “Feed my sheep,” Jesus replies. Feed. Tend. Feed: Those are Jesus’ clear instructions about how to be a community of friends together in him.

What is quite simple about this whole conversation is that it is not addressed to Peter at all. It is addressed to us. This is Jesus having a conversation with us. As you love me, Jesus says, feed and tend one another. It’s how I keep showing up amid your up and down lives, your joys and sorrows, your celebrations, and times of mourning.

Have dinner parties together! Pray for one another! Serve your neighbor in love! Grow in faith as you grow old together! I show up and care for you as you do these things. And guess what: as you experience your differences, especially around the most difficult of issues and actions, they become an opportunity to feed and tend one another. When people in the world beat each other up, act to demonize one another, and create polarizations, Jesus invites us to gather and rejoice in our differences and become a truly unique and transformative community.

Nothing gets my college friend group in a more riotous mood than arguing about rules on the golf course. A ball is hit. A rule is invoked. Clubs get thrown. Language gets salty. Then something unique happens. We take a deep breath. Remember we’re actually friends, and then we start listening to one another, maybe more deeply than we are able to listen in any other group in which we belong. A ruling is made. The ball is placed. The fun of golf goes on.

Then it mysteriously happens. We actually realize what a gift we are to one another! How we have been given to one another, just like this morning. Through the seemingly random events in our lives, we are all here today, by the work of the Spirit, the gift of Jesus. My fried group and I, through the seemingly random work of PLU’s Residential Life Office, have been a gift to one another for 37 years. Think about that. I know though, there is nothing random about how we are gifts to each other here at Messiah.

So I end where I began: raising up what a gift it is to be in community together. At the end of the month, I’ll be going on sabbatical. I’ll be spending 14 weeks studying, recovering, and getting ready to move forward. In my absence, I will miss you. Remember this: no matter how long we’re together or our times apart, Jesus never leaves us orphaned. He gives us one another, and through one another we receive him, just like on that beach so long ago.

Together we say amen.

About Pastor Chuck Harris