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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Easter 3, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
April 14, 2013

John 21:1-19

Do you love me?

One of the interesting and unique features of John’s Gospel is the character called “the Beloved Disciple” – “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. He or she reclines close to Jesus at the supper table. He or she races ahead of Peter to verify Mary Magdalene’s account of the empty tomb. And, in today’s reading, with six other disciples aboard the fishing boat on Lake Tiberias, he or she cries out to Peter, “It’s the Teacher!” The Beloved Disciple is the one who discerns the presence of the risen Christ. At Thursday night’s Bible Study we learned that the Beloved Disciple was the leader of the early church community known as the Johannine community. He or she was the one to whom that late first-century community looked for encouragement and wisdom. Some scholars take at face value the claim in John 21:24 that the Beloved Disciple was the author or editor of the fourth gospel. I suggested that most faith communities have a Beloved Disciple, someone around whom the community is established. God be with you

I suggested that Trevor Davies might be our Beloved Disciple – that Trevor had introduced many of us to one another – that Trevor, in his own way, had discerned for us the presence of the risen Christ – in strong and hopeful currents in South Sydney – in stories, if not fish, worth catching and sharing. (The text tells us that the disciples caught 153 fish – the number presumably some kind of symbol for plenitude, for diversity. It’s roughly the number of stories gathered so far this year by News Editor Lyn Turnbull, who speaks of a commissioning in the wake of Trevor’s life and example. And still the net is not broken …)

Most faith communities have a Beloved Disciple. On Friday, Heather suggested to me that any one of us might be a Beloved Disciple for others. I think she’s right. Each of us is a Beloved Disciple, with some kind of responsibility, in some way, at some point, heightened at some point, to accompany another like Peter who struggles with failure and loss, guilt and shame, or confusion. The image of the charcoal fire is a poignant one – for it was by the fire that Peter denied three times his friendship with Jesus – the Teacher to whom he now swims – all arms and legs, heart and hopefulness. Each of us is called to bear a gospel of second chances, a gospel of compassion, a gospel of hope.

Peter is led into an encounter with Jesus that he might understand the deep implications of his love. That’s something we can trust to the One in whom love is flesh and life-giving Spirit. Three times Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me?” It’s not a test, but an opportunity for Peter to grow into the responses he gives. It can hurt, this kind of growing. And there is sadness in the text’s undertow – Peter’s love will provoke violence on the part of those offended by Christ-like compassion and hope. He too will be crucified.

“Do you love me?” The threefold question, Catherine Wood suggests, reminds us that true love entails the mind, the heart and the will – true love is thought, feeling and action. With each response to the question, Peter accepts this reality. Friendship with Christ – and with all the friends of Christ in need of physical and spiritual sustenance – means living and dying for the kindom of peace with justice. There’s no going back to mere fishing.

Psychotherapist and theologian, Tomas Halik, offers these words on the Easter texts – on what he calls “reading with the eyes of faith”.

“Faith,” he says, “means two things: on the one hand, the realisation that the [Easter] story is paradoxical (that the other aspect of the story, ‘the resurrection’, is a reinterpretation of the first, not its subsequent happy outcome); and on the other, the determination to link that story to the story of one’s own life. That means ‘to enter into the story’ and in the light of it to understand [with the mind] and live one’s life afresh [by virtue of the heart], to be capable of bearing [to act in behalf of] its paradoxical character, and not to fear the paradoxes that life presents.”

“The second interpretation of the Easter story does not involve ‘optimism’ (the opinion that everything will somehow turn out all right), but rather hope – the ability to ‘reinterpret’ even things that ‘don’t turn out all right’ … so that we may accept reality and its burden, persist in this situation … and where possible be useful to others also.”

When it comes to love, there’s no mere thought or feeling. There’s no will unrelated to what we call, in the Lord’s Prayer, a helping and caring that “renews the earth”. There’s no mere optimism. And there’s no going back to mere fishing. When it comes to love, there is hope for the whole world – creative, restorative hope. And there you too will be, there you are, all arms and legs, heart and hopefulness, swimming ashore. “Do you love me more than you love your own possessions and resources, the past to which you cling?” “You know everything, Rabbi. You know that I am your friend.” Amen.