Sunday, April 10, 2016


A lot of folks these days are too spiritual to be religious.
Some of them do exercises and meditations
         to get themselves into the zone.
Others just think about how everything is as it should be
         and exude positivity.
They are often contemptuous
         of the merely religious people in churches.
We are too ordinary, small minded, and boring.

If the spiritual people wanted to read a Gospel,
         John would be the one for them.
In John, we don’t see much of the human side of Jesus.
Someone said, in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ feet never quite
         touch the ground.
John is about believing your way into a mystical union
--believing in something too mysterious to express.
Only near the end, does love come up.

 And even then, the love Jesus commands is “agape” – a spiritual love
         that is absolutely unconditional 
-- which I would be entirely for
– if only I were capable of it.
My capacity for love is more humanly flawed.
People have to be pretty lovable for me to even put up with them.
It’s a lofty thing we got going here.

Jesus had been lofty all along in John,
Then his first three resurrection appearances
were over the top.
He walked through walls.
He invoked the Holy Spirit on the disciples.
He was loftier than ever.

Then things take a very odd turn in today’s lesson.
This is a very different Jesus.
John has the appearance to Mary Magdalene,
         then to all the disciples,
         then to doubting Thomas.
And there the book stops with Thomas’ conversion from doubt to belief.
That’s the thrilling conclusion.
John explains the purpose of the book and says “the end.”
The curtain comes down. It’s over.

Then John runs back on stage and says
         “Wait! Wait! There’s something else!”
And we have today’s lesson added on like an afterthought.

Here’s what happened:
John’s community, reading their story that ended
with last week’s lesson,
practiced their mystical spirituality for several decades.
But reality kept tripping up their spirituality.
They were hemmoraging from internal strife.
They fought like cats and dogs while preaching agape,
         unconditional love, all the way.

 As John’s community struggled with their failures
in the art of spiritual love,
         they remembered one of the old stories.
They remembered another appearance of the Risen Lord
         that hadn’t seemed important before – because it didn’t fit.
But now, it became so important,
         they added a chapter to their gospel.
They added this story.

Remember in the previous Resurrection Appearances,
         Jesus was even more elevated and spiritual
         than he had been before.
But in this last appearance, Jesus is different.
He shows up unassumingly on the beach.
He seems like a grizzled old fisherman.
They don’t even recognize him.
He offers, not spiritual wisdom, but fishing advice
-- as old fisherman do.

The disciples finally recognize him and rush to worship their Lord.
But instead of doing something spiritual,
         Jesus has built a campfire.
Instead of saying something profound like
 “I live in the Father so if you live in me and I in you,
then you will live in the Father and the Father will live in you
and you will all be one as the Father
                  and I are one” or some such thing – instead, he says,
         “Let’s cook up some of those fish and have breakfast.”

This is a very human Jesus – a Christ of the ordinary.
This disconcertingly normal appearance of Jesus cooking breakfast
         over a charcoal fire as poor people do all over this earth
         is where we get our Anglican sense of “the sacred ordinary.”

In his classic essay, The Anglican Way, Dean James Fenhagen
         described our pedestrian spirituality as “holy worldliness”
         and “worldly holiness.”
 The father of Humanistic Psychology, Abraham Maslow, said:
         “The sacred is in the ordinary . . . . It is to be found
         in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, one’s friends and family,
         in one’s own backyard.”
Much of what goes by the name “spirituality” is not like that at all.
It is pretentious.
The “spiritual” people are better than the ordinary clods,
         way better than the religious clods in churches.

Much of what goes by the name of “spirituality” is escapist.
Do a special technique taught by an exotic person with an accent
         and imagine you are in some pristine place of peace and solace.
It will take your mind off the messiness of reality.
You can forget about unpleasant things
         like hunger in Haiti, gang violence in America,
                  or the loneliness of elderly people in Nevada.

But Anglican spirituality is the spirituality of today’s lesson.
It is pedestrian. It cooks breakfast.
It even washes the dishes.
Brother Lawrence was a Carmelite monk
whose monastery job was cook, waiter, and bus boy.
He wrote his classic book, The Practice of the Presence of God,
about finding God while keeping house.
The most brilliant theologian I’ve ever met, Sarah Coakley,
         said in a sermon at Harvard,
         “I am not good enough to be spiritual. I’m religious.”

This pedestrian spirituality does not make us better
         than anyone else.
It is too ordinary.
It calls for an ordinary way of life – nothing to brag about.

But back to our Gospel lesson.
After breakfast, Jesus took Peter aside.
They needed a little reconciling after Peter had denied Jesus
         three times in Caiaphas’s courtyard.

Jesus asked him,
         “Simon . . . do you love me more than these?”
But the word he used for love was agape.
It meant, “Simon do you have the most unconditional,
highly spiritual love for me of any of the disciples?”
But when Peter replied, “Lord you know that I love you”
Peter used the word phileo – an ordinary word, not so spiritual.
“I love you as a friend.”
Jesus said, “Ok, feed my lambs.”

Then Jesus gave Peter another chance.
He asked again, “Simon do you agape me?”
But again Peter failed to rise to the spiritual challenge.
He said, “Lord you know that I phileo you.”
So Jesus said, “Alright, tend my sheep.”

The third time, Jesus changed the question.
He met Peter on his own human level.
         “Simon, do you phileo me?”

All he asked now was a human love,
         a human friendship, the kind of thing
         an ordinary bloke like Peter might be capable of.
And Peter said, “Yes, Lord, you know I phileo you.
I love you as a common man loves his friend.
I am not an enlightened saint but I can do that.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

The good news is that an ordinary, fallible human love
         is all we have to do.
The bad news is the sheep and lambs part.
Ordinary human love doesn’t elevate us to a higher plane
than ordinary people.
Quite the opposite:
it will get us mixed up with those ordinary people
         who need us as sheep need shepherds.

Someone said,
“The problem with inviting Jesus into your life
         is that he brings his friends.”
And so it is.
Loving Jesus in our little human way
         doesn’t make us the least bit special
but it will entangle our lives with an odd lot of other folks.
Jesus will get us mixed up with all the wrong kinds
         of people.

Worse yet, we may even wind up caring about them.