Climax/Grue/Sand Hill Lutheran Churches (Climax)
April 10, 2016
Sometimes there are loose ends that just have to be tied up.
That’s one way of talking about what appears to be happening here in this gospel reading from John 21.
The previous chapter of John’s Gospel (the story of the risen Jesus’ appearing to his disciples and Thomas who doubted) …this chapter drew to a close in a way that sounded like a compelling conclusion to an entire book: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.(John 20:30-31)
Ta dah! Amen! The End!
But then John’s gospel didn’t end, after all. After Chapter 20 seemed to polish off the whole book—another chapter appeared, the one we have before us this morning.
And what gives with that?
Well, sometimes even at the end of a story well told—there are still a few loose ends dangling that simply need to be tied up.
And in the case of this 21st chapter of St John, the loose end has a name: Simon Peter.
John just couldn’t end his gospel with Peter, the leader of the disciples, stuck back in the courtyard of the high priest (John 18:15-18, 25-27), warming himself by a charcoal fire while Jesus was on trial for his life. John couldn’t leave Peter there, denying he even knew Jesus…not just once, not twice, but three times.
You can’t abandon the prince of the apostles in such a dire straits!
So another chapter to this gospel had to be written….to tie up this critical loose end.
And truly--Peter looms large here in John 21.
- He stands in his usual position, at the head of the list of the seven disciples by the Sea of Tiberias.
- It is Peter’s bright idea to go fishing with the boys.
- When a mysterious stranger on the seashore shouts out some angling advice that ends up filling the boat with fish—it is to Peter that one of the disciples whispers: “It is the Lord.”
- When the seven disciples try to make their way toward shore with all those fish, it is Peter who just can’t wait, Peter who pulls on his clothes and plunges into the water to swim for shore, ahead of the boat.
- It is Peter who—apparently singlehandedly—drags the bulging net filled with 153 fish to the feet of the stranger, so he can rustle up a “shore-lunch” breakfast for the weary fishermen.
Impetuous as always, Peter “makes a scene” here, trying to gain Jesus’ attention…
So, when breakfast is over, it is to Peter and Peter alone that the risen Jesus turns, as if this whole scene had been orchestrated purely for the purpose of getting Jesus and Peter in the same private space, facing each other for the first time since “the night in which [Jesus] was betrayed.”
Why? What’s this whole over-eager, grand-standing effort of Peter about? Why did he need some facetime with Jesus?
Two reasons, I think.
First, Peter had to have been filled with the deepest, darkest remorse—for how he had abandoned Jesus, in effect spitting in Jesus’ face with all the other haters and accusers.
That had to have weighed heavily on Peter. It must have been the one thing he couldn’t stop thinking about.
And haven’t we all been there? Haven’t we all royally messed up? Let someone down? Abandoned a friend in a time of deep need? Denied being associated with someone we have known and even loved?
Peter and Jesus needed to encounter each other, first, because Peter was being crushed by a load of guilt that he could not absolve himself of.
No—only someone else, only Jesus, could remove that crushing load from Peter’s back.
Only Jesus, crucified and risen, could tie up this loose end and allow Peter to lift up his head again. Indeed only Jesus risen from the grace could liberate Peter to live again.
But how would this reunion go? What would they say to one another?
If I’d been in Jesus’ shoes I know exactly how I would have handled it.
I probably would have shook my head, wagged my finger, and blurted out something like: “Peter, you good for nothing jerk! How could you do that? How dare you lie three times about your relationship with me? How could you stand there—with a straight face—and declare you had never known me? What do you have to say for yourself, Peter? Why should I even be talking with you now? What future can I possibly have with a miserable turncoat like you?”
If I had been Jesus I would have asked Peter if he was sorry, I mean “really and truly sorry”…sorry from the tips of his toes to the top of his head. I would have demanded that Peter ‘fess up, admit his guilt and ask for forgiveness.
But that is not what Jesus does here, it is not what Jesus says to Peter.
Instead of all that wallowing and groveling in the past that might have been our first inclination, Jesus insists on living in the present, with an eye toward the future.
Jesus has—really—just one question for Peter: “Peter, do you love me?”
I doubt Peter could ever have made a confession good enough, wide enough, deep enough, sincere enough to cover his grievous sin….but to this question from Jesus, Peter had a ready answer, an answer he didn’t even have to think about: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you….”
A question, asked and answered, not once, not twice, but three times.
Peter was momentarily dismayed when Jesus kept repeating the question—wondering why Jesus had to ask more than once. But of course, Jesus had to do that. The question and the answer had to be heard just as many times as the denials had been uttered on that dark night when Peter had denied Jesus.
Why did Jesus and Peter need to have this conversation? Remember, I said there were two reasons….and dealing with Peter’s crushing guilt, redeeming Peter’s past, was only one of those reasons.
Jesus had more “fish to fry” here, though. Jesus didn’t need to tie up some loose ends in Peter’s past. He needed to bestow upon Peter a fresh future….a future that was wrapped up not just in knowing Peter still loved him, but a future that was granted each time Jesus invited Peter back into his mission with the gracious command:
“Feed my lambs, feed my sheep”….
….a command issued, not once, not twice but three times…
….because the main thing Jesus was after here was to restore Peter to useful service and witness, to be offered in the blazing light of the Resurrection.
My friends, sometimes the absolution sounds like this: “I now therefore declare unto you the entire forgiveness of your sins.” What a glorious word of promise and freedom!
But sometimes the forgiveness of sins comes with other words, like: “Do you love me? Feed my sheep, feed my lambs.”
Surely Jesus was restoring Peter in this conversation, not just undoing Peter’s sorry past, but imparting to Peter a fresh future.
And isn’t that what we all, always need to hear for ourselves, too?
- If there are some loose ends in your life…
- If you have really done someone wrong….
- If you have ever known from the tips of your toes to the top of your head that you, yes you, are “captive to sin”….
- If you are plagued by pangs of guilt over some unbearable evil you have done or may simply have allowed to happen…
- If you ever imagine that you can’t possibly be of any further use to God…
...There is Someone who stands before you this morning, having passed through death into the Life that never ends. This One does not demand that you make a good enough confession so as to deserve his forgiveness.
This One does not live in the past. He belongs to the future, and he bids you and me step forward, with the likes of Peter the denier….this One woos us forward not with words of shame but with a simple question: “Do you love me?”
How can we answer in any other way than to reply: “Yes Lord, you know that I love you?”
And having heard us say that, if only in the silence of our souls, how can Jesus respond in any other way than to say: “Feed my sheep…lavish on them my word of pardon, fill them with the story of my death-defying love, embolden them to serve all graciously, feed them with the Best News Ever--intended for all ears to hear.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.