"Someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go."
These words from John’s Gospel seemed to leap off the page for me this week. For the past two years, you have become my church family, the covenant people of which I am a part, and I certainly do not wish to go.
I want to take a moment and directly say thank you…. In the midst of allowing me to be your minister, you have also ministered to me.
Over the last week, especially after Nancy leaving, I have had time to reflect, recalling so many wonderful memories with you in this place:
- shooting the breeze with Sam and Brad over lunch at Only Burger after church, and the joy of welcoming new faces into the young adult group.
- gathering together in Bethany or Becca or Katie’s apartment for women’s bible study; sharing our struggles and our joys, and knowing that while big faith questions remain, we have a safe space to ask them.
- worshipping in this space with you, Sunday after Sunday, being reminded that we are a community, a covenant people, who listen together for God’s Word for our lives.
I suspect the disciples were doing much the same thing that day out there on the lake fishing: reflecting, remembering, in ways still grieving, processing all that had taken place; memories flooding their minds and hearts; most likely terrified of the question looming over their heads: What in the world do we do now? Jesus isn’t here anymore, at least not in the same way. We gave our lives to this project. And we thought Jesus was really beginning to take us somewhere…
A memory washes over James as he stares out over the water. His brother John can see it on his face because his mind is there, too. Back to that last supper they had all shared together. Earlier Jesus had been laughing and enjoying fellowship just like any other Passover feast. But there was sadness in his eyes, and when he began to wash their feet and tell them with so much tenderness how much he loved them-they had known deep in their bones that something was changing. Only days ago, they had known their purpose and felt so sure … but what did it mean now?
I find it humorous that in the wake of resurrection the disciples go back to their fishing boats-to precisely the place where Jesus originally found them. Is this not our natural impulse as well? In the midst of uncertainty and change… we go back to what we know; to places of security and stability; to old habits and ways of life that make us feel safe and comfortable.
The disciples are suffering from what I like to call: "Transition Syndrome." And if anyone knows anything about transitions, it is Young Adults. Ask anyone between the ages of 22 and 40 or anyone who has successfully made it to the other side, and my bet is that they will tell you that the years of young adulthood are nothing less than a crucible of transitions, one after another. The shifting gears of life stages and events seem to be in overdrive as young adults move multiple times, for jobs, for spouse’s jobs, to be near this loved one, to take that non-paying summer internship, to complete that medical fellowship, to start this degree and finish that degree. Not to mention the radically life-changing events that often occur in young adulthood: marriage, the birth of children, the beginnings of what you hope might be your life’s vocation. As a young adult myself, I can attest to how tempting it is, in the midst of so much change and uncertainty: to doubt God, to doubt the promises of God’s future, and to seek the safety and security of "having it all figured out."
Even after the disciples gave up everything to follow Jesus, the first chance they get they go back to their fishing boats. Change isn’t just coming, it is a resurrection reality!! … and still they try to resist it!
But the risen Jesus won’t let this happen. Not to them, and not to us.
I love how Jesus confronts Peter, in one of the many intense, one-on-one encounters that John’s Gospel narrates so well: It’s as if Jesus is saying: "Look Peter, snap out of it! Try to focus with me here. The movement isn’t over-Can’t you see? It’s only just begun! And there’s work to do." "Feed my sheep." Three times Jesus asks Peter: "Do you love me?" and three times Jesus follows Peter’s response with: "Feed my sheep, Tend my sheep." By the third time Peter starts to understandably feel hurt. And no doubt he is painfully reminded of his own failure, the 3x he failed to publicly proclaim his vow to follow his Lord.
But Jesus gives Peter no time to dwell in the past. Jesus is calling him in the present, directing his eyes towards the future. His words are direct and simple. And they aren’t a suggestion. "Feed my sheep."
Jesus doesn’t take "no" for an answer. The risen Lord confronts us, whether we are Peter-old faithful servants who have been around awhile, skeptical about change, pained by our failures or mistakes of the past, doubting our abilities or our resources, or tired of taking risks…
Or whether we are Paul on the road to Damascus, previously having nothing to do with the church, headed in the completely opposite direction and needing a good flash of blinding light or clunk on the head to get our vision pointed in the right direction…
In the Risen Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God reconciles all our past, and equips us with everything that we need to do the work of the kingdom, and to lead us into the future. Of course our lives are changing! The kingdom of God is at hand!! And I’m calling you, Jesus says. "Keep your eyes on me. Feed my sheep."
When I look back, I can already see how God has used this place, this incredible community of faith at Westminster Presbyterian Church, to lead me into the future, to the call and the claim God has on my life. And at the same time I still have no concrete idea of what that might look like! As I find myself in the midst of transition, I pray that God will direct my gaze away from every fearful anxiety, to the vision of the kingdom in the distance.
And what about you, Westminster? In this season of resurrection, where is God calling you?
Our church is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Last Sunday in the Inquirer’s class I heard Haywood telling the history of Westminster. And it struck me that this church was founded by a group of Presbyterians from First Pres downtown who decided that their church had gotten too big-you don’t hear that sort of thing being said much these days!-and that the Spirit was moving them to plant another church. Haywood explained how the first Wesminstrians worshipped across the courtyard there in what we now use as the Fellowship Hall with a small teetering balcony for the choir loft and organ that sounded more suited for carnival music than the beautiful hymns and anthems that Monica leads us in now. I know some of you here today were witnesses to what I’m talking about.
I can’t help but wonder what that first Eastertide was like. Maybe some of you were thinking: Boy, what have we gotten ourselves into? What if this whole thing turns out to be a flop? What on earth do we do now? Maybe part of you was wishing you had never left the splendor of the downtown sanctuary with the grand organ and the brass horns on Easter Sunday.
But what I really think, is that for the First Wesminstrians, Easter began to take on a whole new meaning; and as frightened and unsure and unsettled as you may have felt, the Resurrected Jesus took hold of your hearts, and 50 years later we stand as testimony that by the power of the Holy Spirit, your gaze is cast on the coming kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the call to feed his hungering sheep.
Westminster, you were born a people of Resurrection faith. Your times are a changing-but of course they are! The Kingdom of God is at hand!!
The resurrection calls us all, in the midst of flux and transition and change and uncertainty and self-doubt: to lift our eyes to Christ. And to stay focused on the goal.
How is the risen Jesus calling you into God’s new future?
I pray for us both, in this time of transition, and all that come after, that we know deeply the promise of our resurrection faith, and that our eyes remain cast on Christ’s coming kingdom. There is always work to do.