3rd Sunday of Easter
14 April 2013
Elizabeth M. Deibert
Let’s talk about the life of Peter, the main character of this Resurrection narrative. Peter and his brother Andrew first met Jesus while fishing along with the other brothers James and John. Remember Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And they left their nets and did just that. Remember that Peter was first called Simon, but he is renamed Peter because “on this Rock,” Petra, Jesus plans to build his church. Peter gets that recognition for being the one who affirmed the Messianic truth: “You are the Christ.” But right after that Peter gets rebuked for trying to talk Jesus out of his need to suffer and die. Peter is the one who in the transfiguration of Christ, wanted to build shrines, instead of just being in awe. It was Peter who when he saw Jesus walking on the water, tried to walk out to him, but then became frightened and began to sink. Peter is the one who did not want Jesus to wash his feet, but when Jesus said, “If I don’t wash your feet, you have no part of me.” Peter replied, “Well then, wash my hands and my head too!” Peter is the one who with John prepared the Passover meal and when Jesus predicts the disciples will fall away and desert him, Peter insists that though all fall away, he will always be loyal. This prompts Jesus to say, “I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows in the morning, you will have denied even knowing me three times.” Many believe this story is the reconciliation for that one. He denied three times. He re-affirms his love three times. Before we hear the Gospel, let us pray: Open our eyes, our minds, our ears, our hearts. Transform our souls by your gracious Words of life, O Savior. Amen.
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
5 Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No." 6 He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 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. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.
12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."
16 A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me." (NRSV)
A net-full of 153 fish after a night of nothing. The Beloved Disciple is quick to recognize Jesus and Peter is quick to put his clothes on before jumping in the water. That seems a little strange to me, but perhaps it was a way of showing respect. The breakfast of fish and bread not only nourished them but confirmed for all the disciples who He was.
But of course the heart of the message is this conversation between the Risen Christ and Peter. Peter, do you love me more than these? I sometimes wonder if that language is ambiguous on purpose. Do you love me more than these disciples love me? Do you love me more than you love these disciples? Do you love me more than you love these delicious fish? The Greek leans toward “Do you love me more than the other disciples love me?” Peter was a zealous follower, always trying to have the right answer, to be the most devoted, to be quick to do the right thing, to be the best, number-one disciple? And he blew it on the night Jesus was arrested, right after making the big promise – though all would desert you, not me, I’m ready to die with you. But he was scared. So Christ gives him a chance to re-affirm his devotion.
Sometimes I’m scared too. Not scared that someone will kill me for my faith, but scared that if Peace is as generous with resources, as welcoming of marginalized people, as challenging to authorities as Jesus was, that we ourselves will scare off scores of people and not thrive as I want. Never mind what Jesus wants. But then I hear Christ’s voice, echoing, “Do you really love me?” And I say, “I want to love you.” Just how far is loving you, Jesus, going to push me out of my comfort zone?
Christ uses the word “agape” the first two questions. Do you love me in that deep, sacrificial sort of way? Peter responds by using the word “phileo” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you in the brotherly love.” In the end, Christ changes over to “phileo” himself. So his word for love matches Peter’s. Christ meets Peter where he is. It seems that Peter cannot say he loves Christ in a sacrificial “agape” way and so finally Christ settles for “phileo.”
But every time Peter responds affirmatively, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you.” Christ gives an imperative. First it is “Feed my lambs.” Then, “Tend my sheep.” And finally, “Feed my sheep.” I’m sorry we cannot opt out of the challenge to love others. Loving like Jesus is not easy. It is messy. It requires sacrifice.
And now’s the time for me to turn the question over to you: Do you really love Jesus? Maybe agape is out of your reach. Maybe phileo is as far as you can go. And how are we nurturing the young lambs around here – are we feeding them bread of life? Are you really devoted to Christ in a way that speaks with authenticity to people around you? Teens can spot hypocrisy from a mile away.
If you say you love Jesus, how are you tending the flock of God? Followers of Christ, are you concerned for the lost sheep or are you waiting for them to find their way back to church? Are you helping to keep the wolves of the world from attacking the most vulnerable ones in the flock? The poor, the sick, the immigrants, the children, the aging, those facing scorn from segments of society. Are you caring for those who are weak or tired or wandering?
I know people in this congregation who on holidays when they are exhausted still invite people into their homes for table fellowship. I know people in this congregation who might consider having a Presbyterian missionary and her daughter live for a month in their house while they are away or perhaps even while they are home. I know people in this congregation who have stood up for those who have no voice, no rights, no justice. There are people in this congregation who have packed food for hungry people not just once but every single week for seven years. There are people who every week care for folks in this congregation and beyond who need a supportive friend. There are people in this congregation trying to understand how Peace can be a refuge for wandering sheep who think the church has forsaken them. I know people in this church who prepare a lesson weekly to spiritually feed the children or youth in this congregation. Some of you spend hours upon hours tending the practical needs of the flock.
But even the most diligent disciples have moments of failure, and need this story’s reassurance. After we have promised to be loyal and then failed, Christ is still present, providing generously for us and giving us the chance to say again, “Yes, Lord, I love you.”
He asks for our whole-hearted sacrificial devotion agape -- and accepts what is less than that – phileo, our affection and sometimes fickle friendship. Faith development is boosted by pivot moments when we let the question of Christ penetrate and demand an answer us: Do you love me? I wonder if you are allowing that question to penetrate your psyche today?
In the last couple of months several people at Peace have expressed a desire to renew their baptism. A renewal of baptism is not a re-Baptism as if the first one has expired or wasn't valid. No, a renewal of baptism is a time to give thanks again for the love of God which is unfailing and to answer again the question of the depth of our devotion to Christ. If the Spirit is nudging you to reaffirm your Christian faith in a demonstrative way today, then you may join those who gather at the font for our Call to Discipleship. Jesus calls us at various stages of life and in many different ways, but at the heart of the call is this: “Do you really love me? Will you care for my flock?” I trust that at some level the answer is yes for everyone of us here. The challenge is to keep going deeper – as we do in any relationship that really matters.