Readings: Amos 5:21-24, John 14: 8-20, 25-27, True Christianity 138 (see below)
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We continue in John’s version of the Last Supper, as we have for the last couple of weeks. Again, the scene is intimate. Jesus is talking with his disciples during their last meal together. They are grappling with the knowledge that Jesus will be leaving them and so Jesus tries to comfort them. He tells them: “you know the way to the place where I am going.”(14:4) They have been through a lot together, and Jesus believes in them, even as he knows the road will be challenging.
As with anyone who we love who is leaving us, in small and larger ways, we want to know something about how we will stay in contact. When my daughter leaves for a sleepover with a friend, I tell to her bring her phone in case she needs to text me. When I leave my brother in Australia, we promise that we will Skype. When we can’t be there for a friend at an event, we tell them that we will be there in spirit. Likewise, the disciples want to know how Jesus will remain present to them after he is gone.
So Jesus starts to speak to them about it. He invokes something called the paraclete, from the word in greek: parakletos (par-rah-clay-tus). This word is variously translated as advocate, helper, counselor, comforter, consoler, intercessor. It was a word used in those days to mean someone who represented you in court, one who pleads another’s cause, and more broadly it meant anyone who helps or assists. It literally means “one who comes alongside,” from the greek para, meaning beside or near, and kletos, meaning one who is invited or appointed.
This is what Jesus will leave the disciples with: the knowledge that there will still be something or someone walking alongside the them in their continuing journey. What exactly will that be? The gospel here calls it The Spirit of Truth, and later The Holy Spirit. It is the third part of what is known theologically as the Trinity.
Christian Theologians have argued throughout the ages about the three-fold nature of the divine: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some make a very clear separation between the different divine figures and treat them essentially as different people, in action if not in thought. Swedenborgianism, or the New Church, however, teaches a strict monotheism; that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit represent three different aspects of God’s nature: Divine Love, Divine Truth and Divine Outreach or Action, as we heard in our reading today.
Now it is easy to see why some trinitarian theologies lean towards distinct persons. Jesus does often speak to “The Father” as if separate, and does speak of the Holy Spirit in these terms: “I will send another comforter to help you…” This certainly sounds separate. But there are two kinds of words in greek that mean “another”: allos, meaning another of the same sort and hetero, meaning another of a different quality or kind. This verse, verse 16, uses allos, meaning another of the same kind. There is a clear continuity implied. Now, with our own temporal human minds, we mark our lives through beginnings and endings. To the disciples, Jesus was leaving and something would need to replace him. To human beings, that’s the way it works, that is our experience. In God’s time however…this replacement, this holy spirit, was and could only be, that which has always been. We recall that the greek word for spirit is pneuma, meaning breath, reminding us of the way that God breathed spirit into the first human being in the book of Genesis.
Of course Jesus would not leave us with nothing, no connection to him. The purpose of our creation is so that we might have an intimate, seen and sensed relationship with God. And so, the spirit is not new. The spirit is naturalized in creation, in our creation. In the John text, Jesus is lifting up what has always been true, that the spirit comes alongside, that the spirit is breath and life. That the spirit is an advocate, counselor, comforter, and helper. That the spirit is a part of the sacred reinforcing circle that is the trinity.
But, we also remember that the disciples were moving forward into a new story. They were not going to return to their previous lives as fishermen, they were going to lead a new movement, and this would be challenging and dangerous work. Which means that the Holy Spirit was going to be an active force alongside them.
From verse 25: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Even as an important function of the spirit was and is presence and comfort, so too a function of the spirit was and is to move us forward in the living of our life, reminding us what is important, reminding us of our grounding in God, urging us onward into new truths, new perspectives, new insights and new action. The Holy Spirit as it is with us now becomes the re-interpreter of Jesus’ words, the great contextualizer of divine truth (1), the maker of usefulness and meaning, application and growth, so that Jesus’ life can be ongoing in the here and now. So that we can realize love in the everyday.
And so in this active way, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is present with us to teach and to remind. We heard in our Swedenborg reading that “the divine actions and powerful effects [of the Holy Spirit] also include the acts of renewing us, bringing us to life, sanctifying us, and making us just.” The Advocate sent to defend and support each of us individually, will naturally, necessarily, call us to defend and support others. To be the one who comes alongside others.
And this is needed so desperately. My favorite cartoonist posted something recently that used the term “life ache.” How real that is. The recent shootings in the last two weeks, first in Buffalo and then at an elementary school in Texas, shred our hearts apart because of the innocent lives that were lost. There were and continue to be, on the ground, many who have come alongside, to tend to the wounds and to the grief. Such an important ministry. But being at a distance does not absolve us from coming alongside as well, in different ways. What might these ways be? The Holy Spirit also serves to remind us of what God has said. Like this famous passage in Amos we heard earlier:
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:21-24)
Listen now to this adaption of the same verses from the minister Emily Elizabeth Ewing(2):
"I hate, I despise your vigils,
and I take no delight in your school shooter drills.
Even though you offer me your thoughts and prayers,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your collection plates
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your lament;
I will not listen to the melody of your tears.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."
- an adaptation of Amos 5:21-24
This is the Holy Spirit, heard in this moment as the great contextualizer of truth, the force that takes these ancient words and uses them to reveal to us a truth about our current circumstances. Such truth is not easy to hear. Sometimes the coming alongside for the Holy Spirit will be comfort, but if it is also to teach and remind then sometimes it will need to be a rebuke, sometimes it will need to be a call to action. And this will likely make us feel very uncomfortable, overwhelmed, afraid, and uncertain. This is to be expected. We heard in our Swedenborg reading that another function of the holy spirit is to purify us, to help us to act when we are afraid and to keep going when we are despairing.
We need this, we need this holy balance. The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, both the one who consoles us and defends us, and the one who pleads another’s case to us. In John, we hear Jesus saying “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.” As we recognize the inherent responsibility in accepting and engaging with the Holy Spirit, we can hear this not only as Jesus speaking to us, but to the people who we can serve and defend. I will come to you. I will send another comforter; this allos, this another of the same sort, it can be us as well…we too can strive to live forward God’s love, and Jesus’ courage.
I Love Jesus final words in this text; Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. I don’t know about you but to me these words seem comforting but also tricky. There is a caveat sandwiched in there. I do not give to you as the world gives. Of course, not, Jesus gave as Jesus was and is. We might want an external peace, we might want only the comforter part, but that is not the whole of who God is; God speaks truth when it needs to be spoken. And so the Holy Spirit too draws us toward holy action that needs to occur in the service of others.
21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
John 14:8-20, 25-27
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
True Christianity 138
Chapter 3: The Holy Spirit and the Divine Action
UPON entering the spiritual world, which generally happens on the third day after death, all…who have developed a just idea of the Lord our Savior are first taught about the divine Trinity. They are specifically taught that the Holy Spirit is not a separate God; the Word uses the phrase to mean the divine action that radiates from the one omnipresent God.
1. The Holy Spirit is the divine truth and also the divine action and effect that radiate from the one God, in whom the divine Trinity exists: the Lord God the Savior.
2. Generally speaking, the divine actions and powerful effects meant by the Holy Spirit are the acts of reforming and regenerating us. Depending on the outcome of this reformation and regeneration, the divine actions and powerful effects also include the acts of renewing us, bringing us to life, sanctifying us, and making us just; and depending on the outcome of these in turn, the divine actions and powerful effects also include the acts of purifying us from evils, forgiving our sins, and ultimately saving us….The Lord has these powerful effects on those who believe in him.
Readings: John 17:20-26, True Christianity 43 (see below)
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Today we are continuing in the gospel of John hearing Jesus’ prayer for oneness and unity in the church and the world.
This word, unity, might cause you, as it does me, to sigh and feel a bit cynical. Is unity even possible? Politically, this country is extremely divided right now. That’s not news. But let’s just say it: it’s exhausting. Disagreements are a normal thing in the life of a country, but I don’t think it’s the fact that we disagree that is so discouraging. People have aways had different visions for this country. What feels discouraging is that it seems we can no longer agree on basic versions of reality, and so we are retreating, we are digging in, we are treating each other with suspicion and distrust.
Unity seems impossible when a person or group of people refuses to concede to common ideals like human dignity, or to even try to look for common ground. It is easy to call for unity, but much harder to decide what to do when overtures are rebuffed out of hand, when compromise itself is seen as a sign of weakness or capitulation, when power is sought in order to “win” instead of seeking the common good. At that point, it seems there is nowhere to go but further into our own silos. And from inside our own bubbles, either out of disappointment, disillusionment, or pure preoccupation with power and being right, retaliation starts to seem justified. So, I will forgive you, and you can forgive me, if we hear Jesus’ prayer for unity and oneness and think: “Yeah, right. Good luck with that.”
Except. [Sigh.] Except…there is the tiny problem that our whole tradition is based on the actions of Jesus, who endured torture and humiliation and returned those actions with love, not retaliation. A person’s whose last prayer for us was for oneness, for forgiveness. We don’t get to take a pass on this, not if we truly want to follow Jesus, not if we want to say that the Easter story that we just heard a month ago, means something to us. So, I guess that means we need to buckle up.
Part of the problem with this text, is that we hear Jesus praying for unity but he doesn’t tell us how to make it happen. Unfortunately, the bible is not an instruction manual. Sometimes we desperately want it to be, but it is not. It is stories about people trying to figure out how to live in relationship to God, their triumphs and their failures both. In this text from John, we are essentially overhearing Jesus own prayer for us, which is different to receiving a teaching(1). We are eavesdropping. We are hearing the intimate and heartfelt desire of Jesus, praying for his disciples, praying for us, not telling us what to do. What we do see, though, is Jesus grounding that unity he prays for in love, as we hear in verse 23: “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them, even as you have loved me.”
When we turn to Swedenborg, we receive advice about the three essentials of love: “The essence of love is loving others who are outside oneself, wanting to be one with them, and blessing them from oneself.” This description certainly sounds a lot like love, and it might seem easy to contemplate how these characteristics of love manifest in our personal relationships. But how might these ideas be used in particular towards unity, in a situation where unity is not the first impulse? This is much harder.
First, the essence of love is loving others who are outside of oneself. This might seem obvious, but we can’t love others if we are filled with our own ego concerns. And neither can a group of people act as a team, or work together towards common goals when everyone looking out for themselves. The easiest example is a sports team. A player who is grandstanding will probably miss the right play, and get in the way of the whole team succeeding. Loving means caring more about people outside of ourselves, or the common good, or a higher ideal, more than we want to serve our personal ego, and our personal goals, reputation, or righteousness. It is simple; love requires sacrifice. And many times, this involves listening deeply, putting aside our preconceived notions.
Second, the essence of love is wanting to be one with others. Of course it is easy to want to be one with the people we already love, that feels very natural. It feels much less natural with people that challenge us, feel different to us. It often feels easier to put physical or emotional distance between us and them, so we choose that option. We choose to “other” people, make assumptions about them that justify the distance, put them in boxes so that we don’t have to respect their inner life, and recognize their humanity. The demonization of immigrants or transgender people is a clear example of this tendency, one way cruel policies are being justified. Yet, we will find there can be no unity without respect, curiosity and openness. Love is inherently connective; it helps us to recognize what we share.
Third, the essence of loving another is blessing them from oneself. Love is nothing unless it is put into action, used to serve others, in greater and lesser ways. And again, it is easy to serve the people we already love. We do that almost automatically. It is much harder, in the service of unity, to serve and bless those who hurt us or disagree with us, those whom we think don’t “deserve” our help. Yet, love is courageous, love is faithful. There is an amazing example from a few years ago(2). A well-known comedian named Sarah Silverman received a tweet from a man calling her a filthy name. Instead of retaliating, she looked at his profile, and found a story of frustration and depression, as he suffered from debilitating back pain and a traumatic past. Ms. Silverman reached out to him over twitter in empathy and understanding, even rallying local fans to help the man find treatment for his back pain. The man was amazed and grateful, and apologized for his behavior. Ms. Silverman could have been defensive, made her main concern her pride, and yet she looked closely and found something to connect with and a way to help.
And this is the hard part. It is easy to want to be one with and bless others whom we already love and agree with. This kind of unity feels effortless, because we want to do it, it makes us feel good, included, safe. The subversiveness of the crucifixion is that Jesus extended love and forgiveness even to those who persecuted him. He resisted the natural human temptation to lash out in retaliation, and showed that the sacrificial nature of love is what brings life, resurrection, freedom. Now we must be clear: the cross is not calling for martyrdom. It is not to be used by the powerful to tell the less powerful what they must sacrifice. We see a lot of that in this world, and it is not okay. We definitely need to prevent harm from happening to ourselves and others, both physically and emotionally, wherever we can. But we cannot forget that the symbolic import of the crucifixion is that our self-centered ego, our need to “win,” our need for retaliation and to demonize others - this needs to die. Then we, and others, and the whole world, can really live, can rise from the tomb of mutually assured destruction.
Gandhi is said to have stated: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Lest we think that an eye for an eye is some ancient code that we have now moved beyond, take a look at social media. Vengeance and retaliation, or at least a habitually defensive and aggressive stance towards all who disagree, is still considered to be noble, macho, desirable, practical. Culture tells us that we are allowed to give up on the humanity of others, if they have wronged us, even in a small way. But Jesus tells us differently.
So we return to the essentials of love. They don’t make sense in the landscape of disunity. Our pragmatic selves tell us they are stupid, naive, insane. But they are also our only hope, our only way to life, the only way to stay truly sane.
I was recently watching an adaptation of the classic book, Les Miserable by Victor Hugo(3). The story is about the reformation of a prisoner named Jean Valjean, and a policeman, Javert, who dedicates his life to bringing Valjean to justice, even as Valjean attempts to create a new and respectable life. After escaping from prison, Valjean takes on new identity and adopts an orphan girl, Cosette, who was being abused by her foster family. The years go by and they become as close as father and daughter. Javert, meanwhile, is tormented by the idea that a criminal like Valjean could be living a free life, and he searches for him everywhere. Eventually, Cosette falls in love with a boy named Marius and wishes to marry. Valjean is stricken at the thought of losing her, knowing that he would never be able to join her in society, due to his secret. Nevertheless, Valjean saves the life of Marius on the battlefield of the revolution, and drags him through the sewers of Paris to safety. As they emerge, Javert finally catches up with Valjean. He did not expect to find him in the midst of a selfless act. As he tries to puzzle out this contradiction on the way to the police station he asks:
“That young man…is he a particular friend of yours? Would you say that he is dear to you?”
Valjean replies: “Quite the contrary. If he lives, he intends to rob me of all my happiness.”
Javert is confused: “And yet, you….” he trails off. “Are you insane?”
Valjean replies: “No, I don’t think so. Are you?”
And we see it suddenly dawning for Javert that it is *his* life that is the insane one, a life preoccupied with vengeance and reputation, a life boxed in by obsession with being righteous, a life that couldn’t contemplate mercy or forgiveness or transformation.
And so we ask ourselves: What is the true insanity? In a world that feels less and less unified, ultimately, believing that people are unchangeable, and the world is irredeemable feels like the true insanity. Abandoning love feels like the true insanity.
But that doesn’t make the sane choice easy. The problem with the idea of unity, the reason that the word might ring hollow to our ears is that we all intuitively know that unity doesn’t just happen. You can’t just flip a switch. You have to love your way into it. And that is awful news because it is just so hard. So hard to love people that consistently act in bad faith, consistently take advantage, consistently act defensively and make decisions with which we cannot agree and cannot fathom. But what is our choice; would we really prefer the tomb? For all of us?
Loving our way to unity is messy. Sometimes we will have to make the call to protect ourselves and others. As we heard in our reading “It is love that wants those three things, however, and wisdom that brings them about.” We act in wisdom to protect and strategize and organize, but we do it while still practicing the three essentials of love. They are not a check list that we get to abandon because we think that someone or some group no longer deserves love and respect. God is always working in people, in every moment, in a myriad of unseen ways. God is always planting seeds.
And Jesus prayed: “Righteous Father…I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them…” (v25-26) Let us kneel beside Jesus in this prayer, may we always work to make God known.
(1) The New Interpreters Bible, p682.
(3) see pbs.org
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. 25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
True Christianity 43
The essence of love is loving others who are outside oneself, wanting to be one with them, and blessing them from oneself. Two things - love and wisdom - constitute the essence of God; but three things constitute the essence of God's love: his loving others who are outside of himself, his wanting to be one with them, and his blessing them from himself. The same three constitute the essence of his wisdom because in God love and wisdom are united…It is love that wants those three things, however, and wisdom that brings them about.
 The first essential, God's loving others outside himself, is recognizable in God's love for the entire human race. And as those who love the purpose also love the means, God also loves all the other things he created, because they are the means.
…God’s love goes out and extends not only to good people and good things but also to evil people and evil things. It goes not only to the people and things that are in heaven but also to those that are in hell…
Despite this, evil people and things are still evil. This is a result of what is in the people and the objects themselves. Evil people and things do not receive the love of God as it truly and most profoundly is; they receive the love of God according to their own nature, much the way thorns and nettles receive the heat from the sun and the rain from the sky.
 The second essential of God's love, his wanting to be one with others, is recognizable in his partnership with the angelic heaven, with the church on earth, with everyone in the church, and with everything good and true that forms and constitutes an individual and a church. In fact, seen in its own right, love is nothing but an effort to forge a partnership…
 The third essential of God's love, his blessing others from himself, is recognizable in eternal life, which is the unending blessedness, good fortune, and happiness that God gives to those who let his love in. As God is love itself, he is also blessedness itself; and as every love exudes pleasure, so divine love eternally exudes blessedness itself, good fortune itself, and happiness itself. God gives these blessings to angels and people after death through his partnership with them.
Readings: John 21:1-19, True Christianity 364:1,3 (see below)
I know that I say this all the time, but this is one of my favorite bible stories. There is something so simple and beautiful about Jesus inviting his disciples to sit down to a simple meal on the beach. Jesus says a lot of inspiring things in the gospels, but the invitation “Come and eat breakfast” just lets my heart and soul exhale. In the aftermath of something as momentous as the resurrection, Jesus bids us find nourishment in the realities of the everyday.
After the post-resurrection appearances in Jerusalem, we suddenly find the disciples back in Galilee. We don’t actually know what brought them back there, the text doesn’t tell us. Perhaps they were uncertain and afraid, so they returned to what they knew. Perhaps they were confused as to what their mission was to be. Perhaps they were simply preparing themselves for what they imagined was to come. Either way, returning to something familiar is a common response to uncertainty and change. There was so much for them to process; not only had they witnessed Jesus’ death and return, one of their own group had been the one to betray Jesus in the first place, and Peter himself had denied him. There was plenty of cause for both lament and hope, so they were probably experiencing some pretty complicated emotions. In the end, I think they were mostly just waiting to see what was going to happen.
What happens is that Jesus appears to them again, and invites them into the experience of a miraculous catch and then a meal of fish and bread. The simple meal recalls earlier in the gospel of John, when Jesus fed the multitude with the same food, at the same location. John does not have a communion episode as the other gospels do, where Jesus shares a meal with the disciples and says the familiar words, “this is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” What Jesus does say after the miracles of the loaves and fishes is, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (6:35) This final miracle also recalls the first of Jesus’ signs in this gospel: the miracle of the water turning into wine at the wedding at Cana. In John’s gospel, in the beginning, middle and end, in celebration, in a crowd, with an intimate few, the point is clear: God is the source of life-giving nourishment.
God is constantly being that source for us and we don’t always notice. When we do notice, it is often because something has turned out differently or better than we expected. And so we see in this gospel, how the notion of God as source of life-giving nourishment is communicated and recognized through abundance. Wine where there was none, fish and bread for everyone when there was only a little, full to bursting nets when the fish weren’t biting. The epiphany is that God’s presence is revealed to us when we recognize the abundance available to us. All of God, all the time. We read in our Swedenborg reading (True Christianity 364):
The Lord is omnipresent; and everywhere he is present, he is present with his entire essence. It is impossible for him to take out some of his essence and give part of it to one person and another part to another. He gives it all. He also gives us the ability to adopt as much as we wish of it, whether a little or a lot…In a word, all things are full of God. We each take our own portion from that fullness.
The gospel of John writes: “For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (6:33) Our life comes from God, and we are full of God in every moment. And further, we get to the be ones who decide how much we recognize and engage that gift.
And so God shows up on a beach and invites us to breakfast. Oh, how I love Jesus’ super-casual question: “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” The whole serious and poignant episode is leavened with Peter’s bumbling enthusiasm, as he frantically pulls on his clothes and jumps into the water. Peter has always been all in, even if he couldn’t always follow through. We all need to grapple with how we deny or avoid the fullness of God’s presence with us. We will soon get to Peter and his conversation with Jesus that reads as a redemptive replay of his three-fold denial. But, first, even here on the beach, his failure is already subtly referenced by the fire of burning coals. It had been around such a fire that Peter had repeatedly denied knowing Jesus. Here, the fire reappears, a reminder to Peter, and to us, of how we need to improve, where we need to open up our hearts, how we need to re-evaluate our habits and our ways of thinking.
But it is important to note that this fire is not meant to hurt us. The bible often uses fire language in the sense of purification, but that is not the purpose here. This is a gentle fire, used to cook a meal that will nourish. So, it is with our process. We should face our failures unflinchingly not because we deserve punishment, or that it is good that we should suffer for our wrongs, bur rather, so that we might learn how to act differently. The power from those red-hot coals, the power of self-reflection, is converted into making something useful, a meal, that will nourish our further journey.
And Jesus says: “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” In the Swedenborgian worldview, fish represent facts that we derive through our senses (1). God asks us to bring what we ourselves have caught, to bring the things we have noticed happening in our lives due to our specific circumstances, and what those facts suggest to us. To this meal with God, to our life with God, we are asked to bring the fruits of our own experience, our wonderings, our questions, our realizations. We and God both bring something. We bring what we have gleaned from God’s great abundance and we offer it back up to God. And God brings the gentle fire of love to helps us to transform our offerings into a regenerated life. We eat, we notice, we learn, we are changed.
So, in this story, we see a different kind of eucharist, something grounded in our daily life, something grounded in the ordinary. It recalls for me a moment at one of the first services at my ministry internship site. At that church, at the early service, we would do communion every week. Like in our bible story, it was an intimate scene, conducted in a small chapel as opposed to the larger sanctuary. Our musician would play the piano and people would approach to receive the bread and the wine, one by one. Then towards the end, the minister would offer communion to the musician, right in her seat at the piano. She would pause her music for just a moment, take communion, and hear the words “This is the presence of Jesus, given in love for you…” ….and then return to playing the music. And it would always strike me as so poignant a moment, that suspension of breath, that sacred pause, that pregnant silence, as one person took in the presence of God, and we all were witness to it.
All things are full of God…means that every meal is communion, every breath is sacred space, every pause is pregnant with the fullness of God’s presence. We gather at the Holy Supper together because sometimes we need to remember just how holy the world really is.
Then, after they had eaten, Jesus has a conversation with Peter, and from this we come to understand that our journey is not just individualistic, that our nourishment at the meal calls us into mission, that taking our portion from God’s fullness must open our eyes to what being in God’s fullness means. When Peter denied Jesus around that fire in Jerusalem, it was not that Peter had denied who Jesus was, it was that Peter had denied his relationship with Jesus (2). “Aren’t you one of his disciples? Peter was asked, to which he replied “I am not.” Another asked “Didn’t I see you with him?” and Peter denies it again. He didn’t say Jesus wasn’t Lord, he said he wasn’t one of his followers. In that moment, in talking with Jesus, Peter is getting to reclaim that relationship, to recognize that loving Jesus is not only about recognizing him, but also about transforming that love into useful action, about following him. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?…Take care of my sheep.” The most famous of this gospel’s passages tells us that “God so loved the world…” (3:16) In the words of theologian Karoline Lewis, this is one of the ways that God was going to love the world now, by encouraging Jesus’ followers to be good shepherds, to take care of each other, and to take care of the vulnerable (3).
Ultimately, this story is about what discipleship would look like post-resurrection. Jesus was not always going to be with them. In the absence of clear direction, the disciples returned to fishing. Jesus gently reminded them that they had more to do. He reiterated his call to them: “Follow me.” But before that he said “Come and have breakfast.” Discipleship is sometimes difficult. Peter would lead a whole movement, and his commitment to it would would eventually cost him his life. But discipleship is also in the small things. It looks like sitting down at a meal together. It looks like forgiveness. It looks like being reminded who we are and what we value. It looks like communion in the middle of everything. It looks like being a good shepherd to others. It looks like fish and bread on a fire.
1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus ), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”“No,” they answered. 6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
True Christianity 364
 The Lord flows into everyone with all his divine love, all his divine wisdom, and all his divine life….God could not and still cannot divide his own essence - it is an indivisible oneness. Therefore since God alone is life, it follows without a doubt that God uses his life to bring us all to life….Divinity is indivisible.
 The Lord is omnipresent; and everywhere he is present, he is present with his entire essence. It is impossible for him to take out some of his essence and give part of it to one person and another part to another. He gives it all. He also gives us the ability to adopt as much as we wish of it, whether a little or a lot. The Lord says that he has a home with those who do his commandments, and that the faithful are in him and he is in them. In a word, all things are full of God. We each take our own portion from that fullness.