by | Apr 25, 2022

That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.

John 21:7

I was looking at the lectionary for this column, and I was struck how each Gospel reading for the first three Sundays of Easter is a story about the risen Christ appearing to his people, and in each story, they did not recognize Jesus:

  • John 20:1-18: Mary thinks the risen Jesus is the gardener
  • John 20:19-31: Thomas will only believe it is Jesus after Jesus invites him to touch his wounds
  • John 21:1-19: several disciples go fishing, and don’t recognize Jesus when he first appears; when the disciple whom Jesus loved recognizes him, Peter puts on some clothes and jumps into the

I was taught that the risen Christ, still bearing the wounds from the cross, was changed enough to make him unrecognizable. So even Jesus goes through some kind of transformation, as is suggested for all of us. Now this transformation strikes me as a particularly painful one, but I’ve come to appreciate how any major transformation requires some kind of break or loss, and at some level it feels like a death. For something to come new, we often have to let go of something that was part of us. I remember driving with my best friend when I was a new pastor, and I took a wrong turn but was not bothered by it. She exclaimed, “You’ve become so easy-going lately. It’s [bleep]ing annoying!”

As we continue to grapple with COVID (dare I say post-COVID?), our churches are trying to figure out what they will look like into the future. We are not “going back to normal,” because every church is noticing that some members are not coming back into the sanctuary. And many of our churches have picked up participants through their online worship, so they are continuing their online presence. Our Presbytery committees and commissions are continuing to meet by Zoom, and tomorrow evening’s Presbytery meeting is on Zoom. We have found that not only do we get high attendance on Zoom, but there are certain benefits with Zoom, like the chat function, for chatting (duh) but also for giving links to other resources. I’ve enjoyed seeing folks congratulate people as they advance to candidacy, or welcome folks to our presbytery—and we will have that opportunity tomorrow night, as we hear from Daniel Lee, who is Academic Dean for the Center for Asian American Theology and Ministry and Assistant Professor of Theology and Asian American Studies at Fuller. Wow what a title—I just think of him as a great guy, a bright light, and a kindred spirit for San Gabriel Presbytery. One of our great joys—and a personal goal of mine—is to bring more diverse people to our table and learn from each other. I am thrilled with the gifts and insight that Daniel will bring to our ministry.

Our new moderator, Dave Tomlinson, will have us look at some of the more innovative approaches to ministry that San Gabriel Presbytery has taken, and that’s great, because we have done some good work in our churches and communities, and sometimes we forget about them. We can be inspired to continue looking at new ways to be church as we consider bold steps that have already been taken. These steps, and the diversity of our membership and leadership, add to the unique identity of San Gabriel Presbytery.

The ways we identify ourselves as individuals in the world continue to grow and evolve. You may notice that some folks name their preferred pronouns, which provides the opportunity for each of us to be recognized for our gender identity. I confess that the newly broadened ways we can share our identities can be daunting sometimes—like if an individual uses the pronoun “they,” do we use singular or plural verbs? (Wikipedia says plural verb, but the reflexive pronoun is “themself.”)

And there are evolving ways to identify our neurological or physical differences. For instance, some of us were taught “person-first” language, so “person with a disability” was preferred over “disabled person.” However, in an article on, Emily Ladau writes about her issues with person- first language, especially when it is used without bothering to ask the person what they prefer, or when using person-first language leaves the impression that “disability” is a negative limitation rather than an identity. I understand this with Deaf persons who do not ask to be called “persons with deafness” but who do not consider deafness as a disability. They see being Deaf as a cultural identity. And we are beginning to appreciate the concept of neurodiversity, because we all have different levels of various neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, OCD, etc.

If you’re like me, this can all be very confusing. The only response that I can think of is to get to know individuals for how they describe themselves, not by what category we put on others for our convenience. In the National Black Presbyterian Caucus’ recent Good Friday service, Rev. Catherine Hughes said, “‘Sinner’ is a category, not the person. Jesus does not see categories. Jesus sees persons.”

In a time when social media can make us global pundits overnight, and an increasingly complicated world makes us want to simplify, not complexify, our language, do we have the patience and desire to dedicate time to get to know individuals and learn how they see themselves?

Another option is to find a more accurate, respectful way to describe others. So we can all claim that we are children of God, or people for whom Jesus died. But so are countless others—and maybe that’s the point. Every human was created by God, with gifts and spirit that God has blessed. And who are we to ignore the love and care God has for these other individuals, as God has loved and cared for me?

May we find the time and energy to get to know each other more fully, and celebrate who God has made in each person. In our presbytery meetings, we are looking for more ways to make connections among the wonderful people of our presbytery. May we follow up with more connections, and come to appreciate the joy of seeing more of God’s kin-dom as we do.

See you tomorrow,