John 21 19b – end
I don’t know about you but I always find these days between Christmas and the New Year a bit disconcerting. When Christmas Day falls on a Friday it feels as though church comes round again very quickly two days later – not that that is a bad thing at all and indeed in some churches there will have been a service yesterday marking St Stephen’s Day and they will continue to offer worship for the next six days as they celebrate what is know as the Christmas octet – the eight days that commence on Christmas day, each of which are marked by a specific service.
Of course the in between days we find ourselves in the midst of this year are perhaps even more disconcerting as unlike other years there is no rushing around visiting relatives and friends and there is also no rushing off to the sales, other than online of course!
And actually I’m not sure that is necessarily a bad thing because maybe it will give us all a bit more time to ponder the wonder of Christmas rather than shoe horning it it into the usual cycle of Christmas Eve/Christmas Day and then sighing with relief that it’s all over for another year!
This year perhaps like no other we need these in between days not only to reflect on the previous months in all their messiness and chaos but also to give thanks for the glimmers of light that have continued to shine in what for many people has been a dark time.
Our readings today take us away from the Christmas narrative as we celebrate the life of the apostle and evangelist John.
John is unusual among his counterparts in that he is the only one who didn’t meet a sticky end, instead being exiled to Patmos, one of the Greek Islands, where he died in old age of natural causes
John’s gospel is very different from the those written by Matthew, Mark and Luke in many ways. There is a mystical quality to it, beginning as it does not with the narrative of Jesus’s birth but instead with a clear statement of the reason for his incarnation (read) five powerful verses that leave us with no doubt of who Jesus is and what God’s purpose in sending him to earth was.
This morning’s reading is from the very end of his Gospel as Jesus prepares to return to His Heavenly Father having spent time with his followers after his resurrection.
Earlier in the same chapter we read of how Peter receives his commission from Jesus to “feed his sheep” after the former is reconciled to Jesus following his denial of him following Jesus’s arrest. In a striking parallel of the three instances when Peter vehemently denies knowing Jesus, he proclaims his love for him three times in response to Jesus’s questioning of him.
As this morning’s passage commences we hear of Jesus’s prophetic words to Peter that he would die a martyr to his faith and then suddenly Peter notices John – the disciple who Jesus loved – following them.
I always think that the description of John, as beloved is a bit ambiguous – after all surely Jesus love all his disciples and I can’t imagine he had any favourites.
Yet it was to John that Jesus committed the care of his mother Mary ,as he hung dying on the cross in those beautiful, poignant words we read earlier in the Gospel – chapter 19 verses 26 – 27
“When Jesus saw his mother there and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to his mother, dear woman here is your son and to the disciple here is your mother”
I’m sure that if any of us needed to entrust the care of a much loved parent to someone, we would only do soon the knowledge that that person would look after them in the same way as if they were their own parent so clearly there was a particular bond between Jesus and John. This is again drawn out in the description of John being the one depicted leaning back against Jesus at the last Supper and asking him who His betrayer would be. That question in itself feels like one of those massive elephants in the room that no one has the courage to ask – except the person who has complete trust in Jesus which John clearly had.
Of course Peter being Peter is somewhat disconcerted by the sight of John and says with his usual bluntness – what about him! Despite Jesus entrusting the growth of his church to Peter, the latter still exhibits a slight petulance and envy that maybe Jesus has even greater plans for John.
But Jesus gently rebukes Peter, reminding him that he needs to focus on what Jesus has asked of him not concern himself with the undertakings of others.
Jesus’s words to Peter apply to us all – you must follow me – the inference being that God’s plan for Peter was not the same as that for John and that Peter needed to accept that if he were to fulfil the unique call God had made on his life.
I love Jesus’s firm rebuttal of Peter’s question – if I want him to remain alive until I return what is it to you – its almost as if Jesus is telling Peter to mind his own business!
I know that I also need to be similarly rebuked when I start worrying unnecessarily about what others are doing to serve the Lord instead of focussing on what is being asked of me!
Jesus’s words indicate that there will be a second coming – he doesn’t say when but he does clearly state it will happen – until I return – three barely noticeable words in the middle of a sentence but nonetheless prophetic words full of hope.
John’s Gospel ends as baldly as it began. There is no account of Jesus’s ascension to heaven, just a note to assure the reader that John’s account is a true witness to just a fraction of Jesus’s earthly ministry which was so fulsome that it would be impossible to write about every aspect for it.
The simplicity of John’s Gospel is replicated in his letters the first chapter of his first letter we have also heard today. The opening verses are very similar to this of the 1st chapter of the gospel and focus on who Jesus is – the Word, the light , an integral part of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
John was writing in reaction to those in the early church who doubted Jesus’s humanity and divinity as being central to his very being. At the point at which John was writing he was in the latter stages of his life and had done much to take the Good News of Jesus out to the world, hence being commemorated as apostle and evangelist. Yet despite his advanced age John’s fervour and commitment to serve God were undiminished and is a witness to the way in which God uses us throughout our lives, regardless of age or location. John was writing from a distance yet his words were still needed by those to whom he was addressing them. His age was not considered a disadvantage but a blessing, a sign of his wisdom and faith.
These past few months have perhaps made some of us feel we are not of sufficient use to God, our vulnerability may have fuelled our insecurity, caused us to compare our efforts to serve with those of others who are more visible and obvious in what they do.
I think when we are troubled by those feelings, John’s example of discipleship is an encouragement. His life is one of quiet, thoughtful service. He’s not a larger than life figure like Peter, nor a global traveller like Paul. Yet through his written witness of Jesus’s ministry, his thoughtful letters of encouragement to the early Church, his prophetic vision of the second coming so vividly described in Revelation and no doubt many things that we don’t even know, God uses him, just like he used Peter, Paul, Andrew, James, and all the other apostles.
Just like he has used so many godly people, both known and unknown, throughout history.
Just like he uses each of us in the ways that he knows we are best suited to and that we should not question but accept and trust because God knows us better than any of us can know ourselves.
I don’t know if any of you have read The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey. It is a truly beautiful book both in terms of the words within it and the accompanying illustrations. I was gifted a copy by a dear friend this Christmas and I’s like to share with you just one quote which I think sums up the message of accepting ourselves as God our creator does
“Always remember you matter, you’re important and you’re loved and you bring to this world things no one else can”
John is known as the beloved disciple and indeed he was. And we are beloved as well – because God has the capacity to love each of us for who we are, for who he has made us to be and for all time