Tuesday, November 01, 2016

October 30, 2016 Your Life Has A Future

This morning, we come to the third message in our four-part series titled Your Life.  This morning is Your Life Has A Future; next week, for the final message, we will consider Your Life Is A Gift.  Imagine for a moment that you live in one of the war-torn countries of the Middle East.  Syria, perhaps.  Imagine what it would be like to be forced violently from your home, either from the relentless bombing by your own government or at the hands of the soldiers who should have protected you and your family.  Imagine embarking on a life and death journey across the Mediterranean Sea, in a rickety life boat, clinging to a small bag that contained the few possessions you managed to salvage from your home and that you could carry with you.  Imagine clinging to your family as you crossed the sea and upon arriving, stepping into a land where you knew no one and did not know the language.  That would be a moment to wonder, what kind of future do I have, if any?

When you move to a new community it is natural to wonder, what kind of future do I have?  When you enter a new school it is natural to wonder, what kind of future do I have?  When you have a change in employment, such as termination, being laid off or downsized, seeing years of hard work disappear before your eyes, it is natural to wonder, what kind of future do I have?  When you face a serious illness or injury it is natural to wonder what will happen and to ask, what kind of future do I have?  When you suffer the loss of a loved one, and understanding that life will never again be the same, it is natural to ask, what kind of future do I have?  Everyone, at some point in life, during change or in the midst of a crisis, asks that question – do I have a future?  It is one of the most existential questions that we face in life.

In our Scripture text for this morning we come to a story where Peter is at such a point, to a junction in his life when he was surely wondering about the future, and his future.  Called by Jesus, Peter followed him for about three years, given so many hopes and dreams about the future, and it all seemed so promising; and then it all came crashing down.  Jesus is arrested, and though Peter followed closely, when he is questioned about being a follower of Jesus he denies three times that he even knows him, and making it even worse, his denials are heard by Jesus (54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”  57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.  58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”  “Man, I am not!” Peter replied.  59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”  60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.)

How do you come back from such an experience?  Peter’s future seemed to disappear before his eyes, and surely caused him to lose the sense of meaning and purpose that had infused his life for three years, leaving him to wonder what comes next?  What did it all mean?  Did it mean anything?  What kind of future is there for me?  And at such a low point, there Jesus is standing in front of him, causing the guilt and shame to rise up within Peter, especially when Jesus asked him a question, not just once, but three times.  Peter, Jesus asked, do you love me?  That would be tough, wouldn’t it?
Follow along as I read that text, and also a familiar verse from Jeremiah –

John 21:15-19

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!”

Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

1.  There is a way back to a future.
Actually, it’s not that we are ever without a future, but we can become so discouraged and so disillusioned that we lose our sense of and belief in a future, so it’s not really a discovering of the future as much as it is a recovering.

The way back to our future is different depending upon our circumstances.  It is different when there has been a betrayal, as in Peter’s case, than when it is the loss of someone we love.  But whatever the circumstances, the danger is that we lose our innocence and our idealism as we go through life.  We become jaded and cynical because of our struggles.  Life is littered with people who are either crippled by a sense of failure or are worn down by life and have given up.  We don’t have to remain there, however, because we have a future, and a way back to a future!

Though it probably did not seem evident to Peter at the time, Jesus was not asking the question Peter, do you love me in order to shame Peter, but as a way of restoring him, letting him know all is not lost.  It is an opportunity for Peter to reaffirm his love for Jesus and to take the new beginning that is offered to him. 

We are offered a new beginning as well, but we have to take that step to receiving the future.  We must go through the steps of grief, denial, anger, acceptance, and healing.  Those are very real emotions and are always a part of the process of moving into the future. Don’t hide from or deny your emotions.  Peter was someone who, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, let his emotions run free.  We can’t lock them inside, because they will find a way out, and when we don’t allow our emotions to escape in a healthy way they will find an unhealthy way to escape.

2.  The way back to the future is waiting, but it isn’t always easy.
I admire Peter.  I don’t really admire his impetuousness, as his quick, not-always-thinking responses caused him a great deal of difficulty.  But I admire Peter for, among other reasons, the fact that his denials could have been a fatal wound to his spirit, his confidence, and his relationship to Jesus, but they weren’t.

I imagine it wasn’t easy for Peter to be restored.  It’s hard to come back from such a public failure.  Everyone, I imagine, was aware of Peter’s three denials of Jesus.  It’s tough to come back from a failure, and there were probably always people who were happy to remind Peter of his failure, but Peter was able to overcome what he had done.  It’s not easy to overcome failure.  It’s not easy to overcome challenges.  It’s not easy to overcome hopelessness.  It’s not easy to overcome fear.  There are any number of challenges that are very difficult to overcome.

The writer F. Scott Fitzgerald coined the phrase there are no second acts in American lives, implying that any failure one suffers dooms that person to a perpetual state of failure and disappointment for the remainder of their lives.  I’m not sure if Fitzgerald believed that line, or if it only served as a literary device, but I would certainly take issue with it.

One of the great encouragements of faith is that we can, and often do, experience new beginnings in life.  Many people have experienced terrible tragedies, difficult odds, and debilitating failures and yet overcome them and rebuilt their lives.  One of the theological terms we would use to describe this experience is resurrection.  As Jesus was resurrected to new life on Easter morning so we are resurrected to new life on countless occasions.  Suffering from a failure?  You can resurrect to the hope and reality of success.  Suffering from the loss of a dear friend or loved one?  You can resurrect to the hope and confidence that the separation isn’t permanent, as we are promised the reality of eternity.  Suffering from a broken relationship and the accompanying hurt?  You can resurrect to the hope that the relationship can be restored, and if not, you can resurrect to the hope of healing the wounds that come out of the fractured relationship. 

You can be resurrected from any challenge and any struggle!  I would not be so naïve as to say it is either simple or easy to rebuild our lives, because it is not.  But I would certainly remind you that rebuilding your life, starting again, getting a fresh start, is always possible through the power of God.

3.  Love gives us a future.
You have most likely heard that the Greek language has four different words for love, whereas the English language only provides us with one.  The four words are storge, which is the type of love that exists within a family; eros, which is a romantic love; philos, which is the love between friends; and agape, which is the deepest, most significant love, a love best defined by the love of God.  This reflects one of the beauties of the Greek language, as it provided the possibility of greatly defining the type of love to which one referred.

What is fascinating in the text from John’s gospel is the way the words for love are used.  When Jesus asked Peter the first time, Simon, son of John, do you love me, the word agape is used.  When Peter responds, yes, Lord, you know that I love you, the word philos is used, indicating that Peter was expressing his love for Jesus as a friend.  The second time Jesus asks Peter, Simon, son of John, do you truly love me, the word agape is once again used.  In Peter’s second response, yes, Lord, you know that I love you, the word philos – love for a friend – is once again used.  The third time that Jesus asks Peter, Simon son of John, do you love me, the word changes to philosPeter do you love me like a friend?  In Peter’s response John records, once again, the word philos. 

Most people assume that Jesus asked Peter do you love me three times because Peter denied Jesus three times.  I don’t agree.  I believe that Jesus sought to draw a deeper level of love from Peter.  This is why Peter was upset when Jesus quizzed him the third time, because Peter knew Jesus was looking for a love that was deeper than Peter was willing, or able, to offer at that moment.  Peter was not, at that time, at the point of offering an agape love to Jesus. 

But Peter did get there.  We know from history that Peter was eventually crucified in Rome.  When crucified, Peter requested to be executed upside down because he did not feel worthy to die in the same manner of Jesus.  Who makes such a request?  Isn’t crucifixion horrific enough without having to ask to be crucified upside down?  Peter was able to go to the cross, and able to ask to be crucified upside down because he had arrived at the point of loving Jesus with an agape love.  No longer was his love limited to a love that could be described by the word philos, a friendly kind of love, but his love came to reflect the agape love of God.

I don’t always love like I ought to love.  Sometimes my love for God is much more of a philos kind of love, and I struggle to reach an agape kind of love.  I suspect I’m not alone.  But God always offers agape love!  And his agape love will pull us to him and to the future that he has in store for us.  Thankfully, God is always in the business of resurrection and new life.

Do we have a future?  Indeed we do!

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