Monday, April 11, 2016

Need to Know

John 21:1-19

"You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”  Woodrow Wilson

In a well-known political scandal and investigation, we are becoming more and more familiar with “classified” information even though there seems to be no real understanding in the media of what “classified” actually means.  In the case of government and/or military communication, there are various levels of classification that boil down to a “need to know” basis.  “Top Secret”, the highest classification, means very few have a “need to know” … and many more must never know.

Although there are no “secrets” in Christ, there are “mysteries”; and yet disciples have a “need to know”.  What we must come to know, however, is not imparted to us instantaneously at baptism.  What we “need to know” comes only through active engagement and spiritual discipline.  Spiritual growth in discipleship will not come from a void nor can there be real growth based only on what we choose to believe. 

For instance, Jesus is specifically quoted in Matthew’s gospel: “Do not think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets” (Matthew 5:17a).  Yet a general conversation among many Christians may turn about in this way: “Jesus did away with the requirements of the Law”.  It would seem those Christians with such a narrow understanding of Jesus’ life and purpose beyond merely dying “need to know” quite a bit more than they claim to know.

By the same token, it may seem even The Lord has a “need to know” from time to time.  Abraham was called to sacrifice his beloved Isaac in the wilderness.  We know how the story turned out, and we may question whether The Lord had His doubts about Abraham’s fidelity.  A closer look, however, may suggest it was not so much The Lord who needed to know more but perhaps Abraham, in this experience, would come to know more than he had previously known. 

More about The Lord?  Perhaps.  But almost certainly Abraham came to know more about himself … and even more to the point, Abraham came to know more about himself in relation to his God.  And this, I think, is the basis for every thought, every action, every prayer, every tithe, every other offering, and every spoken word of every disciple.  Who are we IN our GOD?

If we are children of the Living God, if we are truly disciples of the Risen Christ, our entire being is informed not strictly on what we think we know about The Lord nor exclusively what we think we know about ourselves.  Our “need to know” is entirely about what we know about ourselves in The Lord.  And all this in accordance with the Written Word.

Peter loved Jesus; of this there can be no doubt.  We have no reason to question this even though we are also aware that in Jesus’ weakest moments Peter failed Him.  What we do not often consider, however, is how deeply Peter failed himself because of what he did not know.  Peter had no doubt about Jesus as the Son of God (Mark 8:29), and Peter even tried to defend Jesus at His arrest (John 18:10).  Peter knew enough about Jesus at the point of risking his life to protect Him as He was arrested.

Yet when the cock crowed, as Jesus predicted would happen (Matthew 26:34), Peter also discovered that as much as he thought he knew about Jesus, he knew very little about himself IN CHRIST.  And this, I think, is what we are finding on the beach when Jesus questioned Peter repeatedly.  Over and over our Lord asked Peter, “Do you love Me?”; and over and over, Peter insisted his love was genuine and true.

After Peter first answered, “Yes, Lord, I love you”, we might have responded in this way: Well, then, why did you bail on Me when I needed you most??  But this was not Jesus’ response.  Jesus’ answer goes deeper, much deeper than a mere one-on-one “personal relationship”.  This passage is generally understood as the “restoration of Peter”, when he was forgiven for denying even knowing Jesus – and this may be so at least on some level – but there has to be more to this exchange if it is going to have any meaning for us … right here … right now … and well beyond this hour of worship.

We and The Lord know we have bailed on Jesus plenty of times, and we’ve often done so as an impulse, as a part of who we really are - as a part of our being that was engaged in a particular moment and answered the best way we knew how.  This was certainly Peter’s response in the face of imminent danger!  Yet even in those moments we did not knowingly deny The Lord or our belief in Him.  Betray Him?  Well, that may be another consideration even though we still certainly did not mean to. 

We did not set out to turn our backs on our Savior, our Lord, our Master.  I think, however, we often act so carelessly and thoughtlessly because even though we think we know ourselves well and we may think we know all we need to know about The Lord – YET we probably do not know much about ourselves IN CHRIST.

In point of fact, it may be considered that when we receive the Eucharist of our Lord, we are not completely engaged in the act itself because we are almost completely unfamiliar with who we are IN CHRIST.  We know – or should know – that the act of receiving the bread and drinking of the Cup is of no effect if we are not fully connected and unwilling to be so intimately connected, but that connection must transcend mere “belief”.

We are, in a manner of speaking, consuming Christ by partaking of His flesh and His blood.  We are internalizing our Lord for spiritual nourishment just as a meal strengthens our own flesh and bones.  This nourishment, however, does not do much for us if we purge the meal as soon as we return to our seats by spiritual neglect.  That is, in failing to even try to understand the fullest meaning of the Sacrament itself.

This is all connected to our own efforts and our most intimate desires.  Just as we teach our children there is always something new to learn, so we must also understand that spiritual growth is not only a matter of learning or memorizing the Bible; it is much more about what we come to know about the Bible, The Lord, and ourselves as all connected.  It is necessary for us to know more and more about ourselves IN CHRIST, how we relate to The Word, and how The Lord feeds and informs our very being in all we say and in all we do.

So when Jesus repeatedly asked Peter about his love for Him, He was not only talking about how much Peter loves Jesus; Peter was being shown how an earnest love for The Lord is to be conveyed in “feeding” and “tending” The Lord’s own flock.  That is, telling the world how much we love Jesus is not going to go very far with them OR with The Lord if we do not also “tend” and “feed” the other of those who also belong to The Lord – whether we think they do or not.

What we “need to know” about The Lord and The Law in the Holy Scriptures is not nearly as important as knowing who we are in The Lord and The Law; for if we are not The Gospel, if we are not striving to become the Good News in all this, there is much more we “need to know”.  And our Lord will show us what we “need to know” … if we let Him.  Amen.

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