A funny thing happened at the end of last Sunday’s
Gospel lesson from John.
It came to a crescendo of the revelation
of the divinity of Christ.
Then the book ended.
Theme music played; the credits rolled.
The End flashed across the screen.
It was like a play where they close the curtain.
Then in this week’s lesson,
an actor rushes back on stage
waving his arms shouting,
Wait, wait! There’s another scene.
Today’s lesson was written and added
to the book several years later.
The original Gospel According To John
expressed the faith as John’s congregation
saw it then.
But experience changed their outlook.
When the original book was written,
John’s congregation was decidedly woke.
These folks were hyper-spiritual
so their Jesus was hyper-spiritual.
In John, we don’t see much of Jesus’ human side.
His feet never quite touch the ground.
John is about believing your way into a mystical union.
Most of the book is silent on how we treat each other.
Only near the end, does love even come up.
And then, the love Jesus commands is “agape”
– an absolutely unconditional spiritual love
-- which I would be entirely for
– if only I were capable of it.
My capacity for love is more limited.
People have to be pretty lovable for me
to even put up with them.
It’s a lofty thing we got going all through John.
Then Jesus’ first resurrection appearances
were over the top.
He walked through walls.
He invoked the Holy Spirit on the disciples.
He was more supernatural than ever.
John’s community, reading their story that ended
with last week’s lesson,
practiced their mystical spirituality for some years.
But reality kept tripping up their spirituality.
While preaching unconditional love,
they fought like cats and dogs.
They were hemorrhaging from internal strife.
As John’s community struggled with their failures
in the art of spiritual love,
they remembered one of the old stories.
They remembered another resurrection appearance
they hadn’t written down before
because it didn’t fit their mystical faith.
But now, it became so important,
they added it to their Gospel.
In the previous resurrection appearances,
Jesus was supernaturally serene, ethereal.
But in this last appearance, he’s different.
He shows up unassumingly on the beach
looking 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.
It’s a disconcertingly normal appearance of Jesus cooking
over a charcoal fire as people still do in poor nations.
After breakfast, Jesus takes Peter aside.
Remember this community had some conflicts
and Jesus and Peter had a little issue.
Peter had denied Jesus
three times in Caiaphas’s courtyard.
So to patch things up, Jesus asks him,
Simon . . . do you love me more than these?
But the word he uses for love is agape.
It meant, Simon do you have the most unconditional,
highly spiritual love for me?”
But when Peter replies, Lord you know that I love you,
he uses the word phileo – an ordinary word, not so spiritual.
I love you as a friend.
Jesus says, Ok, feed my lambs.
Then Jesus gives Peter another shot at spiritual exaltation.
He asks again, Simon do you agape me?
But again Peter fails to rise to the spiritual challenge.
He says, Lord you know that I phileo you.
Jesus says, Alright, tend my sheep.
The third time, Jesus changes the question.
He meets Peter on his own human level.
Simon, do you phileo me?
All he asks now is a human love,
a human friendship, the kind of thing
an ordinary bloke like Peter might be capable of.
And Peter says, 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 says, 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 gets us mixed up with other ordinary people
who need us as sheep need shepherds.
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 gets us mixed up with all the wrong kinds
Worse yet, we may even wind up caring about them.
Like it or not, Christianity is a team sport.
We call that the team the Church,
but the Church suffers from a basic problem.
It has people in it.
In recent decades,
we have run out as many as we can,
but there are still some of you left.
So we still have troubles.
But it turns out the troubles are necessary.
They bring us back to earth.
The very messiness of relationships,
dealing with each other’s quirks and foibles,
keeps us from escaping
into the pretentious clouds of contemplation
and engages us in the challenging
life-changing process of relationships.
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.
Or as Robert Frost put it,
Earth’s the right place for love.
I can’t think where it’s likely to go better.