For those of you who are highly routine oriented, I apologize for cutting out the New Testament, the Acts reading scheduled for today. I wanted to be able to work through the whole text of today’s Gospel but found, when I sat down to work, that the best part is left off. The only way we ever read John 21:15-17 is if it’s the feast of St. Peter which is 99.9 % of the time on a week day, And also, the Acts reading is such a wonderful story that it deserves a whole morning of its own, so I hope Matt will pick it up another time.
Easter Sunday I had a couple of lovely young ladies in Sunday School and we looked together at Mark’s account of the Empty Tomb. You see I have it right here. We read a section about the women coming to the tomb and finding it empty. And the young man who is there instead of Jesus says to them, “go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
We wondered about these words.
“I wonder why the man said to tell Peter especially that Jesus had risen.”
My young ladies were honest.
“I don’t know”, they said.
“Really?” “You don’t know what happened to Peter?”
“No,” they said, “who’s Peter?”
So let me ask you. First of all. Do you know who Peter is?
Right, one of the twelve disciples, or the 12 closest friends of Jesus.
So, let me ask you also,
“I wonder why the man said to tell Peter especially that Jesus is risen from the dead?”
Turn back a few chapters to John 18, beginning verse 15. I’m going to skim through it, so keep up
“Simon Peter followed Jesus and stood outside at the door. And a servant girl went out and brought Peter in. And the servant girl said to Peter, ‘are you not also one of this man’s disciples?’ and what did Peter say? “I am not” he said. And then a little later, verse 25, Peter is standing warming himself, and someone else said to him, ‘you are one of his disciples’ and Peter denied it again, ‘I am not’ and then one of the servants of the high priest, related to the person who had had their ear cut off by Peter earlier in the evening in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Peter was clearly with Jesus, defending him, said, ‘I saw you in the garden with him,’ and Peter said no a third time. And then a rooster crowed as Jesus had promised and in another gospel it says that Jesus turned and looked Peter square in the eyes.
“I wonder why Peter denied Jesus” I asked my ladies.
Because he was afraid.
That’s true, it’s a very scary time. What’s going on with Jesus while Peter is warming himself? Right, he’s on trial to be executed. It’s pretty clear that Jesus is not going to make it out alive at this point, and it would be a scary moment to be associated with him.
Someone else thought maybe Peter didn’t like Jesus that much, a good time to ditch an unwanted friend.
But we know that’s not the case.
Peter loved Jesus. Peter had left everything behind for Jesus. Peter had allowed himself to be rebuked by Jesus. Jesus had taken Peter up on the mount of the Transfiguration with James and John to show the three of them who he really was. Peter hadn’t want Jesus to wash his feet, and then wanted a whole bath when he found out what Jesus was doing. Peter loved Jesus.
And so, you can imagine how completely and utterly devastated he would have felt when Jesus was condemned to die and then executed and Peter was left with his denial of his friend and no way to apologize or fix it or do anything. From what we can tell, Peter had gone into hiding with the other disciples and was no where to be found the hours that Jesus hung on the cross. We only know that John and the Marys were with Jesus in his last moments.
I can imagine how he felt, I would have gone to hide as well. I would never have wanted to see the light of day again.
But there is a difference between the devastation of betrayal in love, and the despair of betrayal born out of anger and hatred. You may have wondered, as you read through the accounts of Jesus’ life why Peter, after betraying Jesus, didn’t kill himself, the way Judas did. Judas betrayed Jesus, sold his life off for a cheep 30 pieces of silver and then, when the magnitude of what he had done set in, threw himself off a cliff.
But Peter didn’t, he hid out, he stayed close, he remained with the other disciples.
What was the difference?
The difference was love.
The despair of indifference and hatred leads ultimately to death. If you dislike, or hate, or don’t really care, death already lives in you. If you don’t care about God, and live in your sins and dislike the people around you and harbor malice, you carry death in your body and in your heart.
But if, for just a moment, that indifference and malice and hate is pushed aside and you choose to love, to see God, to love Jesus, no amount of sin will keep you from clinging to him ultimately.
And the sin of betrayal, of denial. That’s a big one. Of looking at your Lord while he is going unto death and saying, ‘I don’t know him’. There are a thousand ways we do this in every day life. When, in the world, you let the demands and necessities and pressures of life draw you away from complete devotion to Jesus. When given the opportunity to stand up and say, ‘I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, I love him very much and try to do what he says’ but don’t say this because you know the person you’re talking to will lower their eyes and look at you in disdain.
When given the opportunity to shed the light of Christ on your children, to tell them how much God loves them and that he cares and that their behavior is out of line with his will and purpose and you don’t say anything because its embarrassing and you don’t want them to think you’re a spiritual freak.
Or when God has done something amazing in your life—lifted a great unbearable burden from you and given you power and freedom and joy and you don’t tell anyone because you know they’ll think you’re odd. These are small denials, small turnings away that we easily push aside and forget about.
But Peter, Peter said aloud with his lips the fear he had in his heart. Because ultimately its fear, isn’t it, that keeps us from announcing from the roof tops the work that God has done for us, the love he has poured out for us, the work he is doing here in this church.
Peter was afraid. And so he hung out in Jerusalem for days in hiding. When Jesus appeared to the disciples and let Thomas touch his side and his hands, Peter hung around in the back ground.
He couldn’t be anywhere else because he loved Jesus, more than anything, more than his sin, more than his shame, more than himself. But then, not seeing Jesus again, Peter becomes antsy. You can’t sit holed up in a dark room hiding all day. He goes fishing. The least he can do is work with his hands and maybe put to rest the anxiety and sorrow of a broken life and relationship.
Peter spends the night in a boat with his friends. They work hard and don’t catch anything. As the dawn is making the sky pink and glorious, a man appears, in the near distance, on the shore, and calls out to them. ‘So, not catching any fish huh?’
Well, clearly, they’re exhausting themselves to no purpose.
‘Try the other side of the boat’
And so they catch 153 fish—the kind of number that sticks in your mind for its oddity. Not 150, 153.
But before then John realizes it is Jesus. Who else would stand on the shore and laugh at them? John tells Peter, “It is the Lord.”
But Peter probably already knows.
And then Peter does what you do when you love someone so much you don’t care about becoming ridiculous. He jumps in the water and swims to shore. This is his chance. This is his moment. So far from death, from despair, Peter’s whole being clings to hope. We don’t know what Jesus says to him when he gets there, soaking wet, out of breath. But the other disciples pull up and get out of the boat. And they all eat breakfast together and then Jesus takes Peter aside.
Peter, he says, do you love me?
Well, yes, that’s the basis, that’s the rock, that’s the only thing that has held Peter together over the horror of the last few days.
Yes, says Peter, you know that I love you.
Then feed my lambs, says Jesus.
And then Jesus asks him again. Peter, do you love me.
Yes, says Peter, you know that I love you.
Then tend my sheep, says Jesus. And Jesus says again, Peter, do you love me.
And Peter is hurt. What can he do? What more can he say?
‘Yes, Jesus, you know that I love you’
Then feed my sheep, says Jesus.
Three times denied. Three times forgiven.
The hope that Peter had lived and breathed is made sure, is accomplished. And the same for you. If you love, if you hope, if you believe in Jesus, that he has the power to forgive you of all your sins, of every last lonely shameful thing you have ever done or said or thought, and you ask him to forgive you, than he will. The love that you have for Jesus is a tiny drop of the love he has for you, the forgiveness he has for you. Do not despair. Do not live in the death of indifference and sin and malice and hatred. Because that is not really living. The only way to live is to be with Jesus. The only way to live forever is to love Jesus. The only way to live now in freedom and courage and joy is to throw everything aside, and jump into the great sea of his love for you. Get out of the boat, this morning. Cling to him.
Because he is risen. Alleluia! Amen.