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Sermon April 14 – John 21:1-13    Moving Forward                         Rev. Betsy Hogan

Have you ever missed a meeting? By mistake, I mean. Like, the meeting happened and you just weren’t there even though you were supposed to be?

I missed a meeting this week. I knew what the date of it was – I just didn’t realize that date was in the process of happening.

Which I could blame on age, or busyness, or something equally excellent, but the truth is that there’s a reality for clergy which many of you may not be aware of – but I share it with you in case you’d like to borrow it and claim it’s an issue for ALL churchgoers.

And it’s this: for a great portion of the late winter months, for ministers, there’s two kinds of time. There’s Lent and Easter – and then there’s ya ya ya After Easter.

But if that merely sounds to you like I’m stating the obvious, it’s because although it may have taken you approximately twenty four hours to get from one to the other, occasionally it takes the clergy slightly longer to adapt.

Like, for example, until there’s a phone call saying, “Didn’t we have a meeting?”. And it’s impossible, we know it’s impossible, that meeting cannot be today because that meeting is not until after Easter.

Oh dear. If lots of people have that time post-Christmas when no one seems to know what day it is? The clergy sort of have that time post-Easter. Even though everything else goes back to normal right away, it’s strangely hard for us to get right back down to business. Back to the usual routine.

But of course, that’s what we all have to do. Easter’s over, back to work. And so whether it takes us twenty-four hours to go back to normal or it takes us a week or two, that’s what we do.

And that was EVEN the case, it appears, for the disciples. Because in the passage from the gospel of John that Sandi just read for us, that’s basically what they’re doing.

Easter’s over – Jesus rose, they saw him, they rejoiced – and now it’s back to the old routine. “I guess I’ll go fishing,” Peter says. And the rest of them shrug. “I guess we’ll go with you.”

And so out they go, back to the Sea of Galilee, they haul out their boat, they haul out their nets, and they’re right back to where they were before any of it happened. Before Jesus had risen, before he was crucified, before they followed him, before they even MET him.

Back out in their boats to do what they’d always done for an entire lifetime – not just BEFORE any of it happened, but as though it never had. They’d always been fishermen, there’d been this sort of blip on the screen, so now they’re back to being fishermen.

It’s kind of like they sort of… pick up where’d they’d left off. Not that it’s easy for them to put aside what they’ve experienced in the last few years, in the following of Jesus on the road, in their time of discipleship, in his having risen – but what else are they supposed to do? It happened, it was meaningful, it’s done. Time to go back to fishing. Right?

Not so fast, Jesus says. Okay, he doesn’t actually say that. What he DOES say, from the shore of the Sea of Galilee – even though the disciples don’t realize it’s him when he’s saying it – is actually (if they’d happened to be thinking about it) quite familiar.

Because it’s the same thing he said way back when he first called them to be disciples. When they were also out fishing. “You’re not catching anything, are you,” he calls out to them from the shore. “Try the other side of the boat!”

So they do. And just like the first time, there’s an enormous catch, and just like the first time they realize it’s him. And they can’t get to the shore fast enough. Although Peter at least stops to put his clothes back on. And once they’ve all arrived?

“Come and have breakfast,” Jesus tells them. And they sit down around the campfire he’s built, and they cook the fish, and he passes around a loaf of bread, and then he makes it absolutely clear.

You can’t just go back, like it never happened. “Do you love me?” he asks Peter. “Then feed my sheep.”

You can’t just go back, like it never happened. Back to fishing, back to the same old same old, like it never happened. It happened – the disciples have been changed by what they experienced. Now they have to move forward to live, changed. “Do you love me?” Jesus asks Peter. “Then take care of my lambs.” You can’t go back to just fishing.

I have spent this entire week angry. Incoherently, indiscriminately angry, and I would imagine I’m not the only here.

Disgusted, disheartened, appalled, but mostly angry. And trying to usefully process all those emotions, because quite frankly, IF in the face of such stunning evidence that somehow as a society we’ve failed to transmit even the most basic moral values of decency and humane behaviour to our children, the church makes no response? Then truly, what on earth are we here for.

So – useful processing. In the hopes of a sermon. Because this happened. And I’m not even talking about the crime itself – that happened to Rehtaeh Parsons, as did the subsequent crimes.

When I say this happened, I’m talking about the rest of us, by the tragedy of her suicide, being forced to acknowledge something that we may well have had moments when we feared, but we didn’t know.

That somehow, as a society, we have not articulated and transmitted to a great many of our children clear enough moral standards for them to recognize behaviours that are – never mind illegal, never mind prosecutable – behaviours that are just simply wrong. Because they’re cruel, because they’re destructive, because they’re dehumanizing.

Somehow this hasn’t gotten through. Somehow we’ve failed to communicate this. And this past week, like a fully loaded train barrelling toward us in the wake of the suicide of a young woman who just couldn’t face living anymore, we found that out. Did we ever.

It happened. We can’t go back, like it never happened. Like we never learned what we as a society have wrought. We can only go forward, changed.

Which in this case, it seems to me, means being not just aware, not just vigilant, but vocal. If what we’ve learned is that as a community we’ve not adequately articulated and modelled for our children a moral standard that isn’t just clear about positives – like respect and helping – but also clear about negatives, then our response needs to be vocal. It can’t just be awareness. It can’t just be vigilance.

There’s a point in the stories of Jesus in the gospels in which he and the disciples come upon a woman who’s about to be stoned to death for adultery. And make no mistake – it could have been adultery, in the sense in which we use the word now, in the sense that she chose to break her marriage vows – but if contemporary cultures around the world in which women are STILL stoned to death for “adultery” are any indication, it could just as easily have been rape. It could just as easily have been violent and forced. The laws then, and those that still exist now, quite frankly, are not over-interested in any niceties beyond that it’s always ultimately something the woman is punished for.

But when Jesus sees that woman, about to be stoned to death, slut-shaming taken to the highest extreme, he reacts. Immediately and angrily and loudly. “Whichever of you is without sin,” he rushes in to fling out at that crowd, “let HIM cast the first stone.”

Or in effect, if Jesus will pardon the paraphrase: Hey. There will be no slut-shaming. Not because it’s illegal – it wasn’t! But because it’s dehumanizing, it’s vicious, it’s simply wrong. Jesus was vocal and he was clear. And not a single person in that crowd that day went away unaware of exactly the point he was making. Your violence is unacceptable. Cruelty is unacceptable.

And IF it’s a little ironic, considering how outraged he was, that amongst the moral standards the church has so often claimed, or at least those with which ‘the church’ as an institution is most often associated in the public mind, somehow that one – no slut-shaming -- doesn’t seem to have made the list – well, the time has clearly come to put it there. Would we had done so from the beginning, from when he first said it.

Because nothing Rehtaeh Parsons experienced is new – not the boys’ perception she was ‘fair game’, not the violation they unleashed on her, not even the slut-shaming – which is now as it’s always been how boys rationalize what they’ve done and how girls deflect their own terror at their own vulnerability, by telling themselves and each other that the victim ‘asked for it’… None of it is new. All of it has always happened.

What IS new is that to an increasingly significant extent, our children are growing up within a social bubble that’s almost totally populated only by their peers. Parents, teachers, the rest of us, adults – we’re all sort of floating around outside it, gamely trying to poke a bit of positive moral messaging through its surface, hoping for the best.

And it’s not enough. Real respect and love for children and teenagers does not mean retreating powerless from the surface of that bubble, afraid to alienate them, afraid to tread on their autonomy, as though they’re adults. They may WANT it to mean that, but that’s not what it means. Because they’re not adults. They’re physically and emotionally and morally still growing – and real respect and love for them means that we don’t make them have to do that in a solely peer-populated environment of anarchy.

Poking hopeful bits of positive moral messaging through the surface of the bubble is not enough. Assuming that abstract concepts like ‘respect for others’ will translate within that bubble to them setting appropriate limits for themselves is not enough.

And how do we know that? Because this week we found out, and did we ever. Whatever it is that we’ve been communicating to our children as a society, if they still don’t understand not only what constitutes rape and who precisely is responsible for it, but even that a basic standard of human decency precludes sending around photos of that crime in process? We have not done enough.

And that has to change. We can’t just go back to the same old same old. This happened. There’s no going back. We have to go forward, changed. Which means that if there are children or teenagers in our lives, we HAVE to -- as responsible adults -- have very clear and regular conversations with them about our moral standards of decent and humane behaviour – and what is NOT acceptable, because it’s wrong. Because it’s destructive and it’s dehumanizing. It’s wrong.

It’s funny – in a not so funny way – but I found myself thinking this week about how people used to think, and maybe they still do, that churches are all about the moralizing. Because for the first time in my life as a person of faith, all I wanted this week was for all of us to embrace the stereotype. Unleash the ultimate Christian rant about moral standards.

Because the embodiment of God whose life and actions we try to make shape our own – when he needed to, Jesus did speak clearly and forcefully to a moral standard for  basic human decency. Not only to what we should be able to expect from one another, but also to what’s unacceptable. Where the limits are. Because he knew that sometimes a clear and firm limit can do as much or more to shape the attitudes we develop than all the abstract positives put together.

If you start with thou shalt not kill, you can then talk about why. You can then talk about the value of human life, the moral standard of respect for each other’s right not just to live, but not to suffer violence and not to suffer hatred. If you start with the clear limit, you can work backward through it to shape the attitude, to address the why. It’s far less effective to start by talking about respect, just hoping that eventually we’ll figure out ‘thou shalt not kill’.

So Jesus did speak clearly and forcefully, when he needed to, to a moral standard for basic human decency. And now we need to. We’ve not done enough. And we’re responsible for one another.

Do you love me, Jesus asks. Then feed my sheep. We can’t go back to the same old like this never happened. Do you love me, he asks us. Then take care of my lambs.