[Jesus] said this to hint at the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. And then he commanded [Peter], “Follow me.” Turning his head, Peter noticed the disciple Jesus loved following right behind. When Peter noticed him, he asked Jesus, “Master, what’s going to happen to him?” Jesus said, “If I want him to live until I come again, what’s that to you? You – follow me.” John 21:19-22, The Message
My sister went on three (count them THREE!!) cruises in the past three months. I watched as she posted warm, happy pictures from each one of her cruises on Facebook. She got back from her last one just
before Carl and I were to go on a cruise we had been trying to take for two years. Covid canceled it in 2020, delayed it past 2021, and then we had to re-schedule it AGAIN when Carl tested positive for Covid last week. While I am writing this newsletter article, “our” ship is sailing towards the western Caribbean, without us on board. Instead of looking out over the warm, sparkling beach and crashing surf, I get to look out over frozen white ground, with more blowing snow in the air. Bummer.
And then I saw a meme on Facebook that made me laugh. It was a picture of the Egyptian Pharoah who Moses had confronted in the story of the Exodus. His face sort of looked like, “Seriously?” The caption read: “Ramesses watching you complain about just one plague.”
Suddenly things came back into perspective.
Sometimes our world gets very small, especially when experiencing the isolation of a plague, like Covid. We like it small – it is the only way we can say that we are in charge of things – until we aren’t. When things don’t go our way, we try to expand our world by drawing others into it and pointing our finger. When things don’t go the way we expect, we tend to compare ourselves with others, and then ask God “Why me?” Or, in Peter’s case, “Why not him?” I think Peter was really asking Jesus, “Do you not love me like you do that guy?”
Jesus did not take on Peter’s attempt at deflecting His attention to someone or something else, and neither will Jesus take on our attempts to do so. Further, Jesus didn’t attempt to explain “why” to Peter (ditto for us, too). It’s not that Jesus does not know the answer to the question; it is just not a relevant question. His instruction to Peter was very clear: “YOU – follow me!”
I do not believe that God orchestrates things that cause suffering of any kind – even first-world “suffering” like having to reschedule a cruise. But I do believe God offers opportunities for us to turn bad situations into something good, for God’s glory. And, I believe God gives us “20/20 hindsight” so that we can see the benefits of following, even when we did not understand it at the time.
I have watched the leadership of all three churches re-think their ministry during this pandemic. I firmly believe that the Kingdom will prosper in this parish over the long haul, because of their courage.
Instead of hiding away in their isolated Iowa mind sets, all three churches set sail for warmer waters, and are learning to surf the new waves of opportunity that the pandemic has forced us to consider. Yes, it’s causing all three churches to re-examine flexibility, vulnerability, finances, and mission alignment. That’s been a lot of work! Many other churches aren’t doing things like we are – and that’s OK. But if we do what we do in order to follow Jesus more nearly, dearly, and clearly, we will find ourselves truly glorifying God!
Isn’t that the point? The journey will be worth it all – if we have the courage to stop pointing fingers and simply follow Jesus!