I have told the story before, of how I became a follower of Christ. I was studying world religions in college, I connected with all of them. The respect for life in Jainism, the compassion of Buddhism, and the connection to the earth in Native American Spirituality. I really wasn’t sure about this Christian thing.
However, I was pulled and pulled back to Christianity, if felt inauthentic to be anything else. I was a middle class, suburban white girl with an Irish/German heritage. Be Buddhist? yeah, I knew what I thought about those people. (judge me all you want for thinking this, but I did). Eastern Religious philosophy was at it’s height in making it’s way into American pop culture, and after spending some time with the sacred texts I got even more self-righteous about being authentic to my native religion. If only I could connect to it in some personal way. I found God in all the texts and none of the texts, so what made Christianity so special?
Then I found it.
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” … “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” -Matthew 26:36-46 (excerpts)
If Jesus, the Savior, the Messiah, the Son of God, whom we worship and adore could, in his most vulnerable moment, doubt. Ask God to stop this terrible, terrible thing from happening to him. Be strong enough in his faith and his trust in God to ask, beg, and plead to be saved from the terrible betrayal human do to one another, then that is a God I understand.
God says no, of course, and Jesus begins the journey we call “The Passion” narrative. First, he is betrayed by Judas with a kiss on the cheek, then by Peter where he denies knowing Jesus, three times.
We all know what happens next, Jesus is crucified although committed no crime. His last words are ones where he asks forgiveness for his betrayers and killers. Then God breaks the cycle of sin and shame and gives a big middle finger to the betrayers of the world through resurrection. I love every bit of the story and it’s symbolism. However, as I grow older the stories of Jesus, the stories of my spiritual journey change.
When I was a teenager I needed to be understood, more than anything in the world. I sought to understand, I learned everything I could, I became an active listener, I taught, but I desperately wanted someone to understand me. The story of Jesus in the Garden echoed that need.
Yet, here we are 20 years later and my needs have changed, and thus, the story that draws me in to my faith.
This summer I’ve been working through some of the hundreds of questions Jesus asked in his ministry, some are familiar and others more obscure. As I wrote the liturgy for the summer one stuck out to me, surprised me, and reminded me of the longing I had years ago for a God who “got me.”
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” -John 21:15-19
First, let me say, I feel like Jesus is Eliza Doolittle and Peter is Freddy Eynsford-Hill from My Fair Lady. Think about while you watch this…
Jesus teaches us forgiveness all throughout his ministry, but as much as the disciples are, at times, downright idiots and very frustrating companions, they don’t really do anything wrong. Person after person asks Jesus for “how to” and “WWJD” scenarios about forgiveness and he tells them to forgive an infinite number and tells the story of the Prodigal Son.
But again, I want to follow a God who isn’t just words, and I believe that God expects the same from me. This brings us to Peter. Jesus trusts Peter with everything, he is the rock on which the church will be built. Jesus hands Peter his baby and says, “raise it like your own”.
When he is resurrected he first seeks reconciliation with Peter. Peter, who made the ultimate betrayal. “Peter do you love me?” “Yes Lord, you know I do!!!” Peter is insistent and downright angry for being asked such a question. He knows he is in the wrong and is so frustrated with himself, how could he have messed up so badly? Stupid, stupid, stupid!
And, like Eliza, Jesus responds with, “then show me.”
Love as I have loved, nurture the poor in spirit, humble yourself. You have my grace, my mercy, and even forgiveness, now it’s your turn to show me I was not wrong about you. Have as much faith in yourself, as I have in you. Follow me.
Faith is a wonderful thing. I love God, I love Jesus, I love my neighbors, but if I neglect for one minute to feed and tend and nurture than I have betrayed Jesus all over again. I do not worry about his grace being extended, this is his promise, but faith demands action, Jesus demands action, not just words.