New Episcopal Communities

Sermon sketches for the ELCA Mission Developer Training, 2014A

April 29, 2014

Text: John 21:1-19

Who am I? I have been called the Episcopal Church’s expert on new ministries. “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field.” (Physicist Niels Bohr)

“I live to serve the Spirit in all of creation by being a loving, compassionate, courageous, playful, outrageous & provocative midwife to the Spirit’s life and joy that are longing to be birthed in this moment.”  (tlb 2000)

Chose this passage for an odd reason: it disturbs the coherence of our status quo way of being the institutional church.

There are three significant challenges posed by this story: the reversal; the rigging, and the riddle.

The reversal:
Peter was the finest Eeyore the world has known. He didn’t say, I’m going fishing – it was more like, “OK … I guess there’s nothing left for poor old me to do other than to go fishing.” Jesus chose to leave us so I am going  back to my old identity.

They thought they were living out the effects; Jesus lets them feel the power they have as causative forces in the world. Effect and Cause. Cause and Effect.

Break it down with me … What would Peter describe as the cause and effect link?

The cause? Jesus leaves the circle of his trusted disciples and he doesn’t come back. Jesus, you left us and you didn’t come back!

The effect? Peter reverts back to the old Peter – the fisherman who knows his business. As usual, he takes a few with him. He goes at this with his whole heart, you know?! He’s standing their naked on the deck – offering his whole naked unguarded self to this venture. (BTW, I find it curiously ironic that when the earliest popes chose to copy Peter, they decided not to imitate this part of Peter’s lifestyle choices!)

Jesus offers them (and us) an antidote: He says, You have the power – much more than you realize. No more Eeyore! You thought you were living out the effects when in reality, you are a powerful causative force in the world.

Break it down with me … The cause? Jesus leaves the circle. The effect? Peter reverts back to the old Peter – the fisherman who knows his business. He expected Jesus to be King – Lord – Conqueror – Mighty God. That’s not how the story shakes out, though.

This story is Jesus’ version of “inversion therapy.” His followers think that they are the living effects of Divine abandonment. The malady that Jesus addresses here is the malaise of despair and the loss of personal agency.

Peter Block explains that, “To reclaim our citizenship is to be accountable, and this comes from the inversion of what is cause and what is effect. When we are open to thinking along the lines that citizens create leaders, that children create parents, and that the audience creates the performance, we create the conditions for widespread accountability and the commitment that emerges from it.”

You, many of you, your great challenge will be that of changing your self-image. You think you have certain gifts that the world hopes to receive from you. In reality, your commitment to the life and teachings of Jesus are to be a causative and powerful force. You are not subject to societal forces – you are called to be a societal force.

The rigging: They thought they knew how to use their equipment – they were professionals. Jesus invites them to the disciplines of the chaordic path.

Boats rigged one way.

Jesus asks them to cast off the other side, not turn the boat around.

The reason they struggle is because Jesus’ directives bypass their professional skills.

They cast off in the midst of chaos and they are overwhelmed with abundance.

Consider the following:

We cannot demonstrate any correlation between seminary education and congregational vitality.

We cannot show that the recent proliferation of consultants and subject matter experts can stem the decline in our old line churches committed to their old ways.

We are now clear that we have fished all night in our favorite fishing holes and we have caught nothing.

What is our equivalent to casting off the other side?

The riddle: Which Jesus do you love?

OK let’s do a quick run of JEOPARDY! – America’s Favorite Quiz Show® I will not imitate Merv Griffin but let’s give it a try …

Here is the category: Early images of Jesus as Son of God for $600

Risen triumphant king who would exalt his followers to their rightful place in power. (Answer: What kind of Jesus did Peter expect to follow?)

Early images of Jesus as Son of God for $800

Vulnerable and passionate servant who chose love and affection over power and dominance. (Answer: What were the characteristics of the Jesus whom Peter struggled to identify from the boat at daybreak?)

No wonder Peter could not recognize the voice of the one he has followed for three and a half years! This casual man calling to them did not fit the images he had of the post-resurrection Jesus.

Humberto Maturana is a Chilean biologist and philosopher who has spent much of his life researching the biology of cognition. In other words, Dr Maturana would be keenly interested in the disorientation produced when we encounter the “other” in a new context. If he were here with us today, he would ask us to imagine interviewing Peter about the moment right before he recognizes Jesus and the moment right after.

He would also be interviewing you about your visceral responses to this moment when you encounter someone you think you know well but you simply cannot recognize.

Today is the day to divorce yourself from the mediocrity associated with half-believed truths and disoriented cause and effect thinking.

“Will you do all in your power to support these in their commitment to seek/serve Christ in all persons?” “We will!”