Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

This week's sermon was based on the text in John where the Jews ask Jesus to just 'fess up and say he's the Messiah (probably to catch him in a "confession" of his "crimes") and Jesus answers him in a roundabout way, talking about how they are not "His sheep" and that His sheep not only know Him, but He knows His sheep.

Two things stuck out in my mind as Wallace delivered the sermon. One is “How long will you keep us in suspense?” How many times do we ask God that in our own trials and tribulations? I thought about how God tends to answer us in His own time frame, not ours. I know I have caught myself doing that...say I have some pressing issue that I’m trying to find clarity about through my prayer life and have literally just pounded on God about it...”God, why don’t you just TELL ME about xyz because I still don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing about this...” “God, I know this is going to have a bad outcome, so why don’t you just let it happen so I can get it over with...” “God, I’ve been asking you to help me figure out abc for x number of weeks now and You ain’t told me squat...just tell me SOMETHING...” The suspense really kills you at those moments. You want resolution. God ain’t really delivering it (by YOUR standards)...then again, in the long run, in retrospect, you find out maybe he is.

The other thing is one that may not be picked up on so easily, because, really, it may well be as we move to a more non-agrarian society, this one is going to simply get a little lost. It’s about the sheep hearing the shepherd’s voice. It’s something I am not sure a person would really grasp unless you owned livestock.

Since I own livestock myself, I can understand this in a different way. Not only do they know my voice, they know my pickup truck! They hear or see my truck coming down the road after work and they head to the feed lot way before I get in the driveway. If I’m a little late, they are waiting on me already at the feedlot hearing about my tardiness in no uncertain terms! They not only know the sound of my voice, and what my truck looks like, they know WHAT TIME IT IS TO EAT! Now, never mind in the summer they have a whole pasture full of grass, they know what time they get grain and they are not going to miss out. They are always mad at me when the time changes b/c I am not feeding them “on time.”

I love to stand there and watch them eat. I enjoy their contentment as they eat. I'm sure non-livestock owners may wonder why in the world someone would want to "bond" with a cow or a sheep, but let me assure you, that even the "dumbest" of the pasture animals have a bond with the person who feeds them, as well as a level of trust that can cut through instinctual behavior at times.

Sure, there are times I am going to be late feeding, but I try not to be late as best I can, b/c they are expecting to be fed. It becomes a mutual bonding thing. We are all “one” at dinner time. I like the fact they come running at supper time b/c it means I mean something very important to them. I am the one they can trust to give them their “good” meal—their grain. Sure, they can get by on grass but they still love their grain.

Now, sometimes they “game” me. On Sundays, when I get back early, they run up to be fed and holler and carry on and I yell, “It’s not time to eat! You’re not getting fed till later! You know it’s not suppertime! Go on back out in the pasture!”

That is sort of what Jesus is trying to tell His questioners in a converse sort of way. He’s saying, “You can’t understand b/c I’m not the guy who feeds you.” Notice he doesn’t just say his sheep know him, he says also that HE KNOWS HIS SHEEP. Anyone who feeds livestock knows “their” livestock. My neighbor Garry brings some of his sheep over to my place every summer. Once in a while, he’ll bring another one after he’s brought the first bunch. After they have been at my place for a while, and he brings another one, I come home and look at them and without counting them, can say, “Wait a minute...where did that ewe come from? She wasn’t there yesterday.” I didn’t count them, I didn’t name them or anything, but I know that’s one that wasn’t there before. Jesus is saying, “Look guys, I know my sheep when I see ‘em and y’all ain’t my sheep.”

Now, put the two things I noticed together. When I am asking God, “Why are you keeping me waiting on xyz,” and not getting a clear’s simply because IT’S NOT TIME FOR ME TO EAT. It’s God’s way of saying, “’re one of my sheep. You KNOW I’m going to feed you your grain. But it is NOT supper time yet. Go back out in the pasture and eat some grass. When it’s supper time, you’ll hear me coming. You’ll get some grain and everything will be good.” At times, I believe, God is not ready to feed us because we need to ruminate on what we are getting in the pasture in order to understand the goodness of the grain.

I have to confess...since I enjoy fishing, I really like all the "fish stories" in the Bible. So when the third Sunday in Easter's Gospel was the "Fish Story after the Resurrection" in John, well...I always listen to fish stories.

Now, if I’m remembering right, this is one of those stories that is only in John and not in the other three Gospels. So I’m always wondering “what is it that the author of John was trying to get across?” This is a set of verses I've heard preached upon many, many times, but it seems that I always find something different in it.

Over the years, I know the “classic” stuff in that text (mainly Jesus asking Peter to affirm his love for Him, one for each time Peter denied him, so Peter’s “even” now, in a manner of sorts) but I still always wonder what the significance of 153 fish is ...I kind of doubt that John in his dotage would remember 153 fish for any special reason so I secretly imagine the number 153 is some kind of number that becomes some aspect of the “numerology games” writers of the day like to play...but oh well... (John is a tough gospel for me b/c I keep seeing too many “distractors” in the stories....)

But the part that resonated with me was towards the end of the text, the part about a belt being put around Peter to take him where he did not wish to go. It was part of that same text that was used in the litany that was recited at the UCC congregation's service following the brutal Va. Tech murders...there was a part about “Take us, O God, to places we are reluctant to go, to the wounded places, the shattered places, the terrified places. There may we feed your lambs with compassion, tend your sheep with healing, feed your flock with hope. There, with Peter, may we move from denial to discipleship, and thus find strength in the midst of this week's sorrow and rage, to sing again the Easter song, ‘Alleluia, Christ is risen!’"

That, to me is kind of the backstory in the text: Jesus is telling Peter that he is going to be going to a place where our hearts know exists, but we don’t like to visit, and like to pretend it’s not there. That sometimes in those places we go reluctantly is where great joy exists, but only if you can go to that place and accept that what happens, happens--to allow yourself to be changed by it.

At the moment in the Gospel story, all Peter wants to do is go home and sort this all out. There must have been tremendous disillusionment in his soul with all the things that had happened in the past few days. He didn't know what to do so he went home to do what he knew he was able to do. But there is no satisfaction in it (no fish). They didn’t know it was Jesus on the beach telling them where to cast their net. You know Peter is thinking, “Who IS that bozo, yelling ‘cast your net over on the right'...oh, what the hell,” and does it anyway. He is surprised to be the recipient of 153 fish, shocked, in fact...and then he sees it’s Jesus (I think the “naked” thing where Peter jumps into the water because he's naked is allegorical to the shame of Adam and Eve when they were seen naked). Now he’s REALLY confused.

Then Jesus asks him “do you love me?” three times and you know Peter is thinking, “DUH! I done told you twice!” Maybe he has already caught on to this “three times” thing and he’s thinking, “Do you HAVE to rub it in about me denying you?” But then what Jesus tells him is also a surprise...but the wealth in that surprise is yet to be seen.

This is always a "reader's aspect" to this story that attracts me for the same reason that I enjoy Hitchcock movies. You know what is in store for Peter, good and bad, but HE doesn't know yet. (It's very reminiscent of that scene in "The Birds" where you see the birds perching on the jungle gym but Tippi Hedren doesn't see them behind her while she's smoking a cigarette. You know what the birds are up to but Tippi doesn't know they're there.) There's no resolution in the story, only a forboding sense of what will happen...but only to the reader, not the subject of the story. There is no resolution in this story, only a sense of what is yet to come.

This "non-ending" is a beginning, as are the "non-endings" we get in our own life story. Maybe THAT is the true meaning of this story!

Ok, with Lent/Easter over, maybe I can find a little more time to blog. This week, the sermon was one of the Easter season classics--"Doubting Thomas".

Actually, I have decided Thomas wasn't so much of a doubter after all. He was just a guy who needed a little empirical evidence with his belief.

I always think of that story in terms of what I know about Jewish law and custom. It would have been TOTALLY uncool to touch a dead body, b/c then you’d be unclean for seven days. So for Thomas to even give it a go, he had to have at least SOME belief. So he gets a bad rap about being a doubter. No self respecting orthodox Jew would go poking on a dead body for kicks. And, I think we lose part of the power of the story by not thinking about it in terms of the whole “uncleanliness” thing. To even TOUCH the resurrected Christ took real faith, because who wants to be unclean for 7 days? Then tack on the fact that you are not supposed to disturb the internal organs of dead bodies in the Orthodox tradition. That is a lot of uncleanliness to risk.

Based on that, I'm convinced Thomas thought he was looking at a living person. Perhaps his doubt was that it was Jesus on the cross, or that Jesus had ever died to begin with. But I don't think he, for one minute, thought he was looking at anything other than a living person.

I have to laugh, though, b/c one of the things I have wanted to know for a long time (and is on my list of “thing’s I just HAVE to ask when I get to the place where light perpetual shines on me) was just WHAT Thomas felt when he stuck his hand in there that made him go, “My Lord and my God!” Of course, I suppose most people in that story imagine him just kind of poking his finger in there and I imagine him stuffing it in up to the elbow! But just WHAT did he feel? Nothing? Jesus’ spleen? Something grabbing his hand in there? Someday, I just gotta find out!



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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