Walking Together: Abide
15 January 2023
Last week I quoted Nadia Bolz Weber –
“Christianity is a lousy religion for the “I’ll do it myself” set. We are meant to be tangled up together. We are meant to live lives of profound interdependence, growing into, around, and out of each other.
We cause pain and loss when we hold ourselves apart, because the fate of each individual branch affects the vine as a whole. In this metaphor, dependence is not a matter of personal morality or preference; it’s a matter of life and death — branches that refuse to cling to the vine die.”
Jesus said in John 15 –
“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
But what fruit are we meant to bear? What are we meant to do?
Too often when we think about fruits we bear, as fruits of our labour. That we are the beneficiaries. But if we look around – the trees that bear fruit – well, fruits are usually the way trees reproduce, but the beneficiaries of the fruits are more often than not other creatures.
As we are joined with the vine, we bear fruit for others.
Walking with each other towards growth and wholeness in Christ isn’t just a journey for ourselves. It is a journey towards shalom – towards the restoration of right relationship of all things.
Pauline kicked off this year with the passage from Luke 24 about the disciples on the road to Emmaus. One striking thing point about that story is that the disciples didn’t recognise Jesus when he walked with them.
This is something that is a recurring thing – people not recognising Jesus. What other times when people didn’t recognise Jesus?
When Mary Magdalene was at the tomb. When Jesus appeared to the disciples when they were fishing by the sea of Tiberias.
I want to go deeper into this passage in John 21.
21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin,[a] Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.
3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach, but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.”
6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.
7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he had taken it off, and jumped into the sea.
8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them, and though there were so many, the net was not torn.
12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Jesus and Peter
15 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.”
16 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.”
17 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.
18 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.”
19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
This passage is a familiar one. It can be broken into 3 parts – The disciples meeting Jesus while they were fishing, Jesus’ conversation with Peter (and asking Peter “Do you love me” three times), and Peter asking Jesus about John, the beloved disciple.
I want to first invite you to hear Jesus instructions to Peter – “Feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” “Feed my sheep” also as instructions to you. We often see Peter as a leader, without remembering his humble beginnings as a fisherman.
“I think Jesus chose fisherman for a good reason. To be part of his uprising, we must be willing to fail a lot, and keep trying. We will face long, dark nights when nothing happens. But we can never give up hope. He caught us in his net of love, so now we go and spread the net for others.” – Brian McLaren.
This isn’t the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection. The passage starts off with “After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples.”
Peter tells the rest of the disciples “I am going fishing.” Does this strike you as odd? What do you think is going through Peter’s mind when he said “I am going fishing?
I mean, the disciples had witnessed previously Jesus’ appearing in their midst. For some of them, more than once! (John 20, the previous chapter, are the accounts of Jesus’ appearing the Mary Magdalene at the tomb, and Jesus’ appearance to the disciples without Thomas, and then appearing to the group with Thomas.)
At first I thought that Peter felt lost. And so he went back to doing what he was familiar with – fishing. Perhaps partly out of habit, and perhaps partly because that familiarity brought him comfort.
But after reading the chapter in its entirety – I realised this was connected to Jesus’ conversation with Peter.
I have heard many sermons connecting the three times that Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me” to the three times Peter denied Jesus.
Peter didn’t feel lost. Peter felt he wasn’t good enough. He felt he wasn’t worthy. Yes, Jesus appeared to all of them – what a miracle! But Peter felt that he betrayed Jesus when he denied Jesus.
He went fishing, not only because it was something he knew how to do, not only because it gave him comfort, but also because it is what he thinks he deserves.
Have you felt that way before? That you were unworthy, or not good enough? And you just wanted to withdraw and find comfort in what is familiar to you, even when that is not helpful or even outright harmful for you?
I have felt that way before. Many, many times. I feel I am not good enough, not worthy enough. The bilingual sermon I gave during Christmas didn’t land the way I wanted – I didn’t realise switching between two languages was not as simple as it sounds. And there was a lot internal self-blame. There was a lot of fear, and insecurity.
What did Peter’s friends, companions, fellow disciples say to him? “We will go with you.”
I read it this time with a different set of eyes. (no, not referring to blue black eye)
I think the fellow disciples knew what was going on in Peter’s mind when he said “I am going fishing.” And their response wasn’t trying to reason with Peter, but walk with Peter.
Just like “we will go with you,” these are ways you are walking with me. These are ways we walk with one another. Sometimes, the last thing we need is for someone to tell us what we are already telling ourselves in our head.
The negative voices in my head were blaming me and scolding me. After the afternoon Christmas service, quite a few of you spoke to me, or messaged me. They were words of encouragement and support, not words of blame. “It is a good effort.” “Thank you for stepping up.”
Thank you – this love is what keeps me doing what I do.
This is abiding in one another. As we abide in Christ, we are also abiding in one another – because we are all tangled, entwined, connected.
We can understand this “abiding” as an expression of deep commitment and intimate communion. The Greek word that is used here in the original text has a sense of toughness about it.
It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Hang in there with me, and I’ll hang in there with you,” or “Stick it out with me and I’ll stick it out with you.” The word is usually translated as “abide” or “remain,” but it has this edgy quality about it.
Walking with each other – means we abide with each other, hang in there with each other, stick it out with each other. It isn’t a one way relationship. It is a mutual relationship.
And it is through this abiding with one another that we will bear fruit.
I need you as you need me.
Ten years ago, in 2012, during Amplify Conference in Hong Kong, during communion, I was introduced to this song – because it is repetitive, it fits well for communion, and not so suitable for worship.
I need you to survive.
I need you, you need me
We’re all a part of God’s body
Stand with me, agree with me
We’re all a part of God’s body
It is God’s will that every need be supplied
You are important to me, I need you to survive
You are important to me, I need you to survive