Our lessons have two great examples of how God, how the Holy Spirit, the love of Jesus works in people.
But today, I think we’ll focus on Peter. Today, I want to talk about Peter.
Peter was a fisherman. He loved to be on the water, he was good at his trade. He’d learned to fish from his dad and there was a family business that he was perpetuating.
Then one day, as Jesus was walking beside the sea, the Sea of Galilee. He saw two brothers, Simon, called Peter, and his brother Andrew. They were casting their nets into the sea to get fish for their business, to sell them and make money. Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And for some strange reason, they did.
Peter and Andrew were with Jesus for all of his earthly ministry. They knew all the stories. Peter was someone who asked questions, who challenged Jesus, and at one point, Jesus said to Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16: 18) So the line of the Catholic Church that is known as the Papal line is from Peter. The Pope is said to be of the line of Peter, inspired as Peter was to serve God above all things.
But Peter, being the most vocal and the most curious of the disciples, made mistakes we can relate to as sinful human beings. According to Matthew, “Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear” when the guards came to take Jesus away in the garden of Gethsemane. And Peter denied Jesus three times during the night of Jesus’ whipping and trial and sentencing to death. Peter loved Jesus deeply, with out much reservation, but his sinful nature kept him from allowing himself to be thought of as Jesus’ follower when it became apparent that he could die for being Jesus’ follower.
In today’s story, Jesus has appeared to the disciples twice, once without Thomas present and once with Thomas present. The faithful disciples don’t know where Jesus is or what exactly he is doing. So Peter, with nothing better to do and no where to turn for advice, says, “I am going fishing.” We all turn to our comfort zones when we get anxious, when we don’t have anything better to do, when we don’t know what to do. Peter had known fishing his whole life. It was a place where he had been successful and, not knowing what to do now, he went home.
His friends came with him. Even some of the disciples who hadn’t been fishermen came along. Peter and his brother taught them, I suppose, to fish in those few days. But the fish weren’t to be caught.
A man appeared on the shore and asked them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” inquiring to see if they had some to sell.
“No” came the reply.
“Cast out to the right side of your boat!…there you’ll find some.” The right side, the right hand of God, the spiritual side of reality, that side filled with trust and hope and faith in things unseen…
So they cast the net on the right side and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish!
Simon Peter was naked as he fished…we don’t know if that means totally stripped or not wearing clothing fit for strangers and company. But we know that when his friend, the disciple whom Jesus loved, perhaps John, sensed a miracle happening, said to Peter, ”It is the Lord!”
Peter, who had just denied Jesus, Peter, who had wanted to see the empty tomb for himself and was the only disciple to run there after everyone had dismissed the women’s story…amazed that the tomb was empty and unnamed in the story about Jesus appearing to the disciples in the locked room and again, a week later, Peter now is definitely going to meet his Lord, the one he cannot avoid because he loves God, and he loves Jesus and he is filled with the Holy Spirit because he is a baptized believer…now he will be so close that he cannot avoid Jesus.
He put on some clothes and he jumped into the sea…Now, I have always thought he wanted to get to Jesus first. But what if he was swimming away? After all, he cut off the slave’s ear in the garden, he denied Jesus, and he turned back to his life (pre-Jesus life) before Jesus in this hour of uncertainty. Maybe he was going to head away from Jesus, to not risk looking in to the eyes of his Lord…maybe he was scared that in close proximity, Jesus would ask for an apology or even worse, condemn him, taking back the promise of building the church on the Rock that is Peter. What would that mean to the man who so deeply loved his lord!?
They all ended up on the shore. Maybe the wake of the boat forced Peter into the shore, but we know that no matter where he headed, he ended up with the rest of the disciples on the shore and ready to face Jesus…Miraculously, the net, filled with 153 fish did not tear as Peter, named as the solo worker, hauled it to the shore…and the disciples were invited to “come and have breakfast.” Take and eat… you might hear, and the disciples did just that; Jesus must have looked different to them. WE read that “they dared not ask him, “who are you? Because they knew it was the Lord…but they wanted to ask or it would not have been written…
This is the risen Lord. This is the messiah, resurrected. This is the lamb, sacrificed on a cross for them!; Their sins, their failures to love, their failures to follow Jesus to the cross, their abandonment, their unbelief.
And when they had finished breakfast, Jesus turned to Simon Peter and asked, Simon, son of John, do you love more than these?”
We can assume that Jesus is asking if Peter loves Jesus more than his friends, the breakfast fellowship, the camaraderie of fishing together…do you? Love Jesus more than the friendship of your closest friends? More than your family whom you love to be with? Do you want to do what God asks before you decide to spend time with your boyfriend or your children? Peter, do you love me more than these?
Peter replies, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Even through all the failures, Peter loves Jesus. Peter is a disciple of his Lord, and Peter, not rising to anger or frustration, three times repeats, “I love you; you know I love you; You who know everything know that I love you.” And in accepting that Jesus knows everything, Peter is aware that God knows his failures, the times when he could not admit his love for Jesus, the times when he was angry that events were unfolding as they did…Peter is naming his sins without stating each one…God, you know EVERYTHING; (and)(little, whispered, barely audible) you know I love you.
When we fail a loved one, there is an awareness, a fear, an apprehension, that they will discover our failure. And in the moment that we know that they know, we come to an awareness of how vulnerable our love is, how capable we are of being hurt, how distinctly we can be shut down…and we humbly state, “I love you.” Hoping for a sign of forgiveness, a sign of acceptance, a sign that we are loved even so…
Jesus replies, “Feed my lambs.” It’s almost cryptic. “Feed my lambs; feed my sheep, tend my sheep.”
Peter understands; this is Jesus’ way of saying, I trust you to carry on my work; to be the shepherd to the flock, to carry out my message. Many of us will never have a come-to-Jesus moment like this one Peter had on the beach…naked and ashamed, many of us, like Ananias in the first lesson, believe and think that is the final matter, the last thing to know about God’s will for us, God’s ways for us to follow. Raised in the faith, following, mostly, the commandments, we believe that we have “got’ faith; that once we “know” the right words, we are “in” and all is well… It is not.
Peter hears Jesus’ command to “feed my sheep” and he knows he can look Jesus in the eye…forgiven and loved. Amen!
But Jesus goes on, “When you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished…”young folks blow about like the breeze, they do their own thing in their own way…the commands, the obedience, the discipleship doesn’t matter; but now,” when we grow old, we stretch out our hands and someone else will fasten a belt around us and take us where we do not wish to go…” Peter has been immature, he has been young and done things his own way. Raised in the faith, we believe that we are safe, tucked in to faithfulness and receiving forgiveness regularly. What more does God want? WE came to worship today…!?!
Now it is time, according to Jesus, to let God gird Peter, the disciples, each one of us, with the belt of truth around our waist and lead us where we may not wish to go…
We are called to go where God leads, not where we want to go…we don’t get to sit in the same place each week and believe that we are good Christians. There is work to be done; people to tell, folks who need our money, folks who need our presence and love. There is no turning back to the empty life before we knew we were forgiven. There is no peace in attempting to be who we were before we came to know that we are unconditionally loved and are never left alone.
We are given the command, we are given the invitation by the lamb himself, the one who will not abandon us, even to death, even through death, to life everlasting.
This Lamb is fierce, like a lion, wily like a fox, wise like a dove, cunning like a snake…Worthy is the lamb, THIS LAMB, seated at the right hand of God until he comes again, opening eyes, healing fear, lifting up each of us.
And Jesus says, “follow me.”