Go Back to the Beginning
I am waiting for you, Vizzini! You told me to go back to the beginning - well, I have. This is where I am, and this is where I will stay. I will not be moved!
When the job went bad he went back to the beginning - well this is where we got the job, so this is the beginning, and I am staying till Vizzini come.
Of course, if you know this scene from Princess Bride, you know that Vizzini does not come. Vizzini, the project manager, the brains of the operation, has died. And yet, Inigo, the one who is waiting, does not wait in vain. His friend Fezzig finds him there, and tells him that the mission has changed, except for the fact that it is the same mission Inigo has been pursuing all along: to find the six-fingered man. Now, without Vizzini, with a lead on the six-fingered man, they will hatch a new plan. They will find the princess, get their revenge, and then set off on a new life after revenge.
Same old story, different cast.
John doesn’t tell us why it was that Peter and his friends decided to go back to Galilee. We aren’t told how long it has been since Jesus appeared to Thomas in the upper room, only that this happened “later”. But I wonder whether his reasoning was not much the same. If they hadn’t seen Jesus since that first week after his death, why not go back home? In John, Jesus breathes on them and says “Receive the Holy Spirit… as the Father has sent me, so I send you” right on that first Easter evening, but doesn’t seem to have given any further instructions. Send us where? To do what? This is not Luke, where they are instructed to wait in Jerusalem until Pentecost and then are caught up in the work of the gospel immediately after the tongues of flame landed. This is John, where we thought the book was done and then we’re told “oh, and then there was this story as well after those things.”
So perhaps it is not so strange that they have returned to the trappings of their old life in Galilee - to the very place from which other gospels tell us Peter and Andrew had been called in the first place. This is the place where everything changed. Maybe in this place, maybe in their old fishing boat, maybe Jesus will show up and change everything again.
It is not terribly different from the stories that have been told again and again in the lives of God’s saints, from Peter, to Ignatius of Loyola (who met Jesus after leaving life as a soldier to come home and recuperate and face life after war), to Rutilio Grande (the man who inspired Oscar Romero’s path, who himself kept trying to travel and kept finding himself needing to return to El Salvador every time to rediscover what it was God had for him to do), to one of the most recent of the assembly of saints, Rachel Held Evans, who died yesterday and for whom that place she returned and was sent out from on a very different course was Scripture itself, from which she re-emerged time and time again as a different person, who constantly pointed to the Jesus she encountered for herself in Scripture as the reason she moved from being a conservative evangelical Christian who voted and worked for conservative evangelical causes to learning to stand up and speak out for black lives, for immigrants, for LGBTQIA inclusion and more, and finding that this Jesus had led her to a very different kind of Christianity, life, and work. Each of these people and so many more have found Jesus in the desert moments by returning and waiting in the place where it all began, one way or another.
It happens, sometimes, that Jesus knocks us off our feet while we’re still going along our path, and puts us immediately onto a different one. But those Damascus road moments don’t come around very often. More often, we may have moments when we feel that we are missing Jesus’ presence with us, and we aren’t sure what to do next. Neither Inigo Montoya nor Vizzini would be likely candidates for sainthood, even fictional sainthood, but in those moments, their advice is sound: Go back to the beginning. (Maybe skip getting slobbering drunk, it really doesn’t actually help with discernment.)
The beginning is not always the same place for everyone. There is not just one beginning we all go back to every time. There is not even just one beginning for each of us. So only you can know what the beginning might be.
Nor is the beginning an easy button. Sometimes you sit outside the house for days, or in the old fishing boat all night with no catch. Sometimes you look at Scripture or sit in silence for what seems like way too long, until it is clear that Jesus is never coming back for you.
I do not know what each of your futures will hold, what kind of moments there will be either soon or years from now when you might need to go back to the beginning. And I hope that each of you will have many options in your lives for how you might go back to the beginning when you need to. But I want to say also, whether you leave here tonight or not for years, that
this place is always yours to call home. Whenever you need a beginning to return to, there is one waiting for you here.
That was/is one of the goals of both last year’s and next year’s discernment small group - not just to help find answers for the question of the moment, but to give people a lifelong set of discernment tools and mutual discernment companions to help call you back so you can recognize Jesus. I hope it has been true of this community in other ways and other settings as well.
But seek out other such places and people too.
You may or may not find a church ready made for you. You may, like Peter, find that the community you came from no longer fits the same way when you return.
Neither did Peter. Neither did Inigo. Neither did Ignatius and Rutilio and Rachel.
When they returned to the beginning, they returned to meet a new future. They did not go back and put on their old lives. They went back to the place where they had seen Jesus before, and waited until Jesus called out to them.
And when Jesus did call out to them, it was with something both recognizable and new. The disciple whom Jesus loved recognized Jesus in the sign of abundance, like the signs of abundance through which Jesus had always fed people in John’s gospel: the loaves and fishes, the living water. There was an abundance of fish, and then there was breakfast, and there in the middle of it all was Jesus.
And then once Peter was settled in the place where it all began for him, in the presence of Jesus, then Jesus gives him the next mission. Feed my lambs. Tend my lambs. Feed my sheep. I trust your love for me, even if you do not. Go do something with it.
You may find that the new places to which God sends you are actually not as equipped as you are to listen, to discern, to act for justice, to honor God in the stranger. Or perhaps you will find a place that challenges you to grow in ways that you did not sign up for. Or perhaps they will be annoyingly both unequipped and challenging you to grow. Perhaps you will have to make the new things yourself. One way or another, I think you will find that Jesus is saying to you “I trust your love for me, even if you do not trust it. Go do something with it.”
Go seek out people with whom you can make a place where Jesus can be encountered. Go make communities beyond this place that can serve as beginnings for you and for others. Go knowing that God and this community believe in your hearts and in your choices.
And go knowing that when you are stuck, when the plan fails, when everything else has fallen away, you are not bereft. Go back to the beginning, to the tables and streets and kitchens and all the other places where Jesus has met you and changed you before. Go back to the beginning, and find Jesus there again. Amen.