2018-4-29 “When Regrets Distract”

“When Regrets Distract”

A meditation based on John 21:15-19

April 29, 2018

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

* * * * *

                   Ancient wisdom says, “the road to enlightenment is long and difficult…”  There’s a clever, modern spin that’s been put on the same truth, and it goes like this: “the road to enlightenment is long and difficult…so bring snacks and a magazine…!”

                   The same could be said about this season of interim work.  We began—over two years ago—with eager smiles and long lists of what needed to be accomplished during this interim season.  Things that would help you prepare to gratefully receive your next permanent minister.  Of necessity, that work included some tidying up—tidying of dusty corners, cleaning up of storage rooms and closets, and the more complicated work of tidying relationships and paying special attention to how you live together in this community of faith. 

                   The doorway into that more spiritual cleaning was through a deep look at your history—shared together as one congregation over these past 16 years, and also looking before that time to notice what wounds still needed healing.  Interim work is thus often longer than initially expected.  And I want to congratulate you for staying with it.  It is my delight, as your temporary interim pastor, to notice as you do this work…what you’ve been about these past two plus years is the ongoing, never completed work of building Christ’s community…there is good work being done all around.  And so much food for bodies and souls all along this way.  My goodness, you people know how to be nourished and how to nourish others!  You seem to know, intuitively, that to travel this journey of the long interim season, means to travel with snacks and a magazine or two! 

                   So what is there to say about the scripture story today that would be helpful to you,

encouraging and also challenging, as you continue on this interim journey?  That is the question I asked Spirit as we sat together earlier in the week to prepare this message for today.  And what came from that conversation was to focus on the biblical story through the lens of regrets.  We all have them.  Peter had many.  And the story we’ve heard today, of the conversation between Peter and Jesus about those regrets, can offer us some new ways of healing past hurts, of dismissing those longstanding and no-longer-needed regrets.  Let’s look at the story again. 

[slide 1: vss. 15-16]

                   Peter was only a few days past the night when he denied Jesus three times.  Can’t you imagine, that when Jesus asked the first time, Peter might have gulped as he recalled that regretful night?  Then a second time…must’ve been like being called into the principal’s office…Peter knew where Jesus was leading…or so he thought.  Regret permeates this verse.  Peter’s regret, certainly, is front and center.  But also, Jesus’ reframing that regret with love.  And in particular, love in action.  Note that it is “after breakfast” when Jesus initiates the conversation with Peter.  Jesus first feeds Peter and the others.  Jesus first tends them.  Jesus, the consummate and creative teacher, himself first teaches the lesson by acting it out.  He cooks them breakfast.  And as they finish being themselves nourished, Jesus uses that precise moment after breakfast to talk with them about how to heal regret—regret that looms large and is a roadblock—and get on with life.  Love is that way forward.

[slide 2: vs. 17]

                   This next verse continues with Peter’s regrets and Jesus’ healing of them through the vehicle of love.  Again, Jesus offers Peter a way forward from the roadblock of his own regrets.  And that way forward is love.  Love in action.  Love that feeds the young ones and tends the elders and provides nourishment for all ages in between.  That is the way forward from regret that Jesus offers to Peter.  Here also, in this verse, we see some of the effect of Peter’s regrets in that he is upset.  Other translations of the same verse describe Peter’s reaction as “hurt,” “grieved,” “sad,” “sorry,” “distressed,” “felt bad,” “felt heavy,” “deeply hurt.”  All of these suggest remorse, regret—nothing we haven’t ourselves also felt.  Yes? 

                   We may wonder why Jesus repeated the same question three times.  Let’s remember the details of the “back story.”  A few chapters prior, Peter is the one with foot in mouth, denying he even knows Jesus.  The other disciples are the ones with fear written all over them, as they flee in the face of the Roman soldiers.  None of the characters, save Jesus, are present at the time in Jesus’ life when he most needs their consolation and compassion.  Yet, in the consummate example of putting regrets where they belong: in the past and not in the present—there is Jesus, cooking breakfast for the same disciples who had fled…tending and feeding them just because they are hungry and thirsty.  There is Jesus, engaging with Peter in conversational forgiveness, as once, twice, three times, they replace denial and regret with love in action.  “Yes, I love you…then feed my lambs…”  “Yes, I love you…then tend my sheep…”  “Yes, I love you…then feed my sheep…” 

                   Notice the presence of food as a way of serving others…notice how Jesus connects food with love in action.  “Do you love me?  Then feed, then tend, then feed…”  Following Jesus, as this story suggests, is about sharing food and drink.  Metaphorically, the story is about letting the past live where it belongs: in the past.  To do so, you reframe the regrets of that past with a frame of love in action now in the present.  That, my friends, leads you to a bright future. 

                   We can see in this story that Peter and the others faced emptiness.  They faced hunger and thirst.  They, like you, were on a type of interim journey—clear about the past and their past regrets, becoming clearer about the present with the living breathing resurrected Jesus, not yet clear about the future.  Sounds like this interim season, right??!!  They, like you, found nourishment in the most surprising of ways.

                   The Christ we seek to follow says it over and over again: all who are created in the image of God are loved by God and called by God to love and serve others.  Even good old Peter—with those rather large and looming regrets.  Peter was called by God to be the best Peter he could be; and Jesus saw that, and addressed Peter’s regrets that stood in the way of the call—one for one, one by one—framing each regret with love.  “Do you love me?”  Three penetrating repetitions of the same question—one for each of Peter’s earlier denials.  “Do you love me?”

                   Friends in Christ, that is what the living breathing resurrected Jesus does with any old regret you present to him.  He helps you reframe it with love.  And that reframing process is what we call healing.  The regret never completely disappears, but its thorniness, its ability to hurt you further, diminishes in the healing process.  I am learning that, in and through and by love, that healing process is itself nourished.  As I love and show love toward the very one or ones about whom I feel regret, then my own healing from that wound occurs.  Does that make sense?                         

                   Because, of all the healing stories of Jesus in the gospels, this one today may be one of the most difficult to comprehend.  Here, Jesus is showing a way to heal from spiritual wounds.  From those sometimes-lifelong regrets that we seem to think we must carry.  We are wrong.  God does not require us to carry regret.  In fact, regret gets in our way of moving forward.  Regret holds us, ties us to a past that is best placed where it belongs: in the past.  Regret binds us to that past, long beyond effectiveness.  Love reframes regret.  Love in action heals regret.  This is the medicine that the living breathing resurrected Jesus offers Peter in this miracle story today.  And friends, the same miracle is served up to you and you and you and all

of us by a God who loves you like a daughter, like a son. 

                   You see, my sisters and brothers in Christ, your job as Christians is not complicated, though it is sometimes fraught with challenges.  Your job is to tend and feed each of the lambs and sheep that enter this sheepfold known as Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista.  Your first job is not to just sit here and sing hymns and pray prayers and listen to sermons.  You know this, intuitively.  Your job, and mine, is to love Christ by loving our neighbor—all our neighbors—the babies, the toddlers, the children, the youth, the young adults, the parents and grandparents and elders—our job is to love them as we love ourselves.  For in Christ’s book, stated over and over again, true and honest and real love is love in action.  Feed the lambs…feed the young ones…  Tend the sheep…tend the elders…  Feed the sheep…nourish all the ages…

                   Christ calls all of us and each of us away from regrets and remorse, for they serve only to hold us back.  Christ provides the pathway that leads us forward, beyond regrets and remorse.  And that pathway is love.  Love in action.  Love that serves.  Love that is present in the moment of now.  “Do you love me?  Then feed, tend, feed.”


Amen and Blessed Be!