The Saving I Need

Acts 9:1-20

Psalm 30

Revelation 5:6-14

John 21:1-19

©John Rolley

+May my words be in the name of the Loving Creator, Compassionate Christ & Healing Spirit, Amen.

A poem by Davin Tensen[1] starts thus:

         I used to cry out to you

         For you

         With fervour and volume

Not ceasing to bid

For divine intervention

Asking you to come

Like a rider of clouds

Like Deus Ex Machina

Like a warrior king

I’d petition you

To deliver me

And save me

From my suffering

From my lack

From my angst

And you did

You did

Till you didn’t

These words, I’m sure resonate within each of us. The days, weeks, months or even years spent pleading and begging for God to change, heal or restore us. Sometimes there were signs of God’s interventions, yet other times, not.

So often we hear the repeated complaint, “If there is a God, why is there so much suffering?” Or, as I heard one atheist say, I’m sure being a tad provocative in the context of a television interview with an Anglican Archbishop, “I didn’t get the bike I wanted when I was ten, so I haven’t bothered with God ever since!”

Both of these questions miss the point in different ways. Both suffer from a lack of regard for the complexities of the human condition. A condition where the depths of our living and loving are too frequently marked by pain, by missed opportunity, by fractures in love, in eros, in relating. Yet each of these pains and fractures, these missing moments, equally bound up with the triumphs and exhilarations, exist – flowing with and against each other AND with and against those dynamics within the others with whom we share life and love.

The human person, driven by the ego’s urge to survive and equally deflect as much of the personal responsibility for the pain, fractures and missing moments as possible, clings to the simplistic vision of ‘me’ over and against ‘other’. “Why me?” “This always happens to me?” “Here I go again!”

David Tensen continues…

            It’s like you stopped

         Stopped allowing

         Me to see you that way

         Far away

         Worlds away

         So you delivered me

         You saved me

         You saved me from the lie

         That you were distant

         That you could leave me

         Forsake me

         Go against your word

         Your nature

         And be anywhere other

         Than with me

         Be anyone other

         Than Immanuel

So, each of the readings set for today, echo these themes. Acts, the Psalm and John: They tell of brokenness – broken relationships, shattered illusions, deep pain and confusion. They speak of helplessness and the uncertainty of desolation: The desolation of experiencing the hells of human creation; the desolation of being thrown down in the light of the presence of contradictory love; and the desolation of being found in the presence of forgiving and restoring love!

It is important to note, both within the poem by David Tensen that unfolds in this sermon, and the people within the readings, the loving touch of the Divine presence isn’t an event – it is a process. Love as an ever-present co-creating force for restoration.

For Saul the confrontation of his worldview of rightness and purity, the need to purge heresy from the house of Israel, his zeal for God, his love of God’s law – all led him down a certain road, so to speak, and right into the hands of the One who came to restore – the dying and Risen One. The Immanuel! I’m sure Saul prayed fervently and authentically – as we all do when we are facing the dissolution of our worldviews. Yet, the Beloved moved in through the cracks of his world’s constructing and stood with Saul as the walls imploded.

The Psalmist, capturing some of the most iconic and beautiful words of the human journey in the Psalms, gives a broad view of this very process (v. 6):

            As for me, I said in my prosperity:

                  ‘I shall never be moved.’

The next verse continues

            By your favour, O Lord

                  You had established me as a strong mountain;

         You hid your face;

                  I was dismayed.

The breaking of our expectations of who God is and how God works, our demands for and of ourselves, the ways we project those expectations and demands onto others – the shattering can be so thorough, at times, it sits us in our dust and ashes.

Yet, the Psalmist states resoundingly:

            You have turned my mourning into dancing;

                  You have taken off my sackcloth

                  And clothed me with joy.

In these moments, there is nothing to do or say, rather it calls us to be present to the essential blessed gift given by God and shared by all – our humanity! It is our humanity that God LOVES with a deep and abiding passion. It drove the God who creates to become the God who lives in and among God’s people!

David Tensen continues

            So, I quit working

         Quit striving

         Allowing myself to rest

         I took a break

         From the burnt offerings

         Burning myself

         Beating myself

         And started loving myself

         Like you do

         I started learning

         What it meant to be me

         With you by my side

         And it was great

         Really great

         Till it wasn’t

         And I needed saving again

So, we turn to Simon Peter! The rugged beautifully flawed human face of the apostles. This passage in John is an oddity in that many scholars believe it was added to the John’s Gospel. However, many also agree that it has served as an important gift to the Church. We see Simon, his pronouncement of ‘…going fishing!’ (I’m sure many a partner has heard the (often) man in their life saying the same thing!) Yet, we don’t have a motive – and it probably doesn’t matter. I can only imagine what would have been in the very human Peter’s mind. How do you cope with three years of intensive engagement with Jesus, only to see him violently and brutally taken, the grief and anguish, the frailty of fear giving way to denial, the guilt, the reports of Jesus having risen – even encounters with the Risen One. There is so much happening on a human level that fishing seems a reasonable suggestion!

Yet, the writer of John had a very specific reason for bringing, for one last time, two people, Jesus and Simon, back together.

The scene is filled with gentleness and love. “Children, you have no fish, have you?”  Peter and the six others would have been exhausted – Peter was naked.

Into this scene, Jesus injects an abundance that confronts their emptiness,  clothes them with his affirming presence and provides for their earthly needs. The Risen One is still the Immanuel!

Peter then encounters Jesus!

Isn’t it amazing sometimes, how forgiveness, love and restoration can break us open more than aggression, judgement and condemnation?  But there it was. “…do you love me?”

Some speculate that the writer of John had Jesus say this three times to counter the three denials of Peter. Rather, I suspect, it was one of those crucial human ‘teaching’ moments where, having lived through the dissolution of his world and the struggle to try to make sense of it all, Peter experiences Jesus gently journeying through his wreckage to bring him to a new understanding of what it meant to “Follow me”. Jesus was showing him a glimpse the Reign of God which is known in love – the agape of God. Peter couldn’t yet move past the simplicity of an earthly fondness one has for a friend. Jesus knew this! And in a moment where he affirms that Peter’s understanding is ‘enough’ for now, uses Peter’s word for love, ‘phileo’.  For Peter, as for us all in the ‘here and not yet’ of Reign of God’s love, the completion of that journey was not for that moment – but to be lived out in the process of the beautiful complex richness of our living and loving! The Immanuel isn’t an event but a constant presence!

David Tensen concludes:

            You see

         To know you are with me

         Is a truth

         And a joy

         But a by-my-side

         Best-friend-saviour

         Way of knowing you

         Still has me separate

         Separate from union

         Separate from oneness

         Separate from discovering

         My place in the divine dance

         Which is where

         You brought me

         Eternally

         Which is crazy

         Which changes everything

         But I’m learning

         That the truth of my being

         My very being

         Is you

         You

+In the name of God,

            Loving Creator,

                        Compassionate Christ, and

                                    Healing Spirit. Amen.


[1] The Saving I Need by David Tensen, 2021, So I Wrote You a Poem: Poems of empathy on life, loss and faith. Abbotsford, BC: St Macrina Press, 66-69.

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