No More Secrets
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, September 27, 2020
In every Gospel there are multitudes of meanings obvious and hidden. You couldn’t possible uncover them all in a sermon or series of sermons. There is something infinite and ineffable about Holy Scripture. The more we look and the more we allow them to speak to us in the quiet temple of our hearts, not projecting our own meanings on them, the more they open up and reveal the depths of their wisdom. As St. John Climacus said, “Prayer is the laying aside of thoughts,” I believe scripture is best approached in the same way, prayerfully with the openness of an unencumbered mind and heart.
There is something about this encounter between Jesus and Peter that might be easily overlooked due to our preconceived bronze-age ideas about God. So many are stuck in a lower stage of faith where God is viewed as the angry judge administering divine justice from his lofty throne. God as separate from us, disconnected from his creation, and ultimately offended by our mischief-making down here on earth and looking for retribution disregarding the Gospel that says “give expecting nothing in return.” So offended that hell becomes, in this barbaric theology, necessary. Clearly, Jesus reveals his Father as a different sort of god. His teaching upends everything humanity thought it knew about him. This moment with Peter was an epiphany, a doorway to metanoia through an evolution in human consciousness.
That “something" is this. God is revealed as Love.
Peter is astounded by the catch of fish that happens when he follows the Lord's instructions. In fact, he is so dumb-founded by this epiphany (just as he will be later on Mt. Tabor) that he is moved to respond with defensive self-deprecation, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus replies not as an angry god, but as the lover of humanity, “Do not be afraid.”
This was not the expected outcome. Although in the Hebrew Scriptures God is often presented as “gracious, nourishing, and encompassing” (Borg) the idea of the angry God persisted and persists to this day. But the God of the Gospel does not need to be appeased. We do not need to protect ourselves from him or try and hide from him. This was a theological shot-across-the-bow that invited a sea-change in how God should be seen. And there is also a deeply personal aspect to this as Christ becomes the divine therapist for poor frightened Peter.
You see, Peter's response was an act of self-defense. The first time we see this in scripture is in Genesis when Adam and Eve attempt to hide from God in the Garden. Peter tried to hide by asking Jesus to depart. He, too, recognized his nakedness before God and tried to take control of the situation. Think also of the incident with the Gadarene demonic. Seeing the Lord’s power the people begged Jesus to leave. It is similar to the fight or flight response in the face of danger. Perhaps this is the reason why so many of the Christian mystics were persecuted and why Confession is so frequently avoided, not to mention contemplative prayer itself. Are we frightened of God? Strange that we so often try to push God away when he persistently calls us to draw near. Jesus cuts to the chase with Peter saying, “Do not be afraid.”
I was listening to a new album by one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Trevor Hall. One line of lyric captured my attention. It was this, “No more secrets. Come as you are.” This is the Gospel in brief. We are all sinful women and men, weary and heavy-laden with shame and guilt. And Jesus says come. Don’t let anything stop you. There is no longer any need for secrets, no need for hiding. God is not angry, nor offended. He is love. There is no shadow of turning in him like the moody pagan gods of old. He is always ready to receive even the worst among us.
God as love is described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. “Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” It is the kind of love to which we aspire for it is the love of God himself. “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God,” as John writes in his first letter chapter 4, verse 1. How in the world could God call us to love like that if he doesn’t embody it himself? As Jesus says in Luke 6:36, “Be compassionate as God is compassionate.” God surely is infinitely more compassionate than some theologians make him out to be.
A evangelical author and friend of my twin brother came to him to discuss his latest book. It was something about justifying God's condemnation and eternal punishment of those who offend him. My brother asked him, “Why is it that Jesus calls us to forgive our enemies, but God doesn’t have to?” Good question.
What matters is not what we have done in the past. God is ready to meet us Now just as we are. If we listen closely to his still, small voice and dare to cast our nets on the other side of the boat, with a new perspective, a new openness, a courageous longing for truth, an aggressive form of honesty that leads to metanoia, we will catch an untold number of fish. He came to free us from the terrible bonds of fear, shame, and guilt that we ourselves and the world, have imposed on us. The new life he offers begins at every moment we awaken to his Presence, in the eternal Now. To everyone he says, “Cast your net on my side of the boat" and “Do not be afraid.”