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Sermons

”Love, Love, Love”

May 1, 2022. Third Sunday of Easter The text is John 21:1-19.

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1 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.”

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May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

We were observers last Sunday as the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples twice, both times when they were behind locked doors.  We read that they rejoiced and that Thomas, the one who was prone to doubt, declared Jesus as Lord and God.  And all that happened after Peter ran to see for himself the empty tomb where Jesus was laid.  And, in both instances of Jesus appearing to the disciples, we can assume Peter was there as their de facto leader, and that he saw the risen Lord with his own eyes.  Jesus granted his disciples his peace and bestowed upon them the Holy Spirit.  With all this confirmation that Jesus had, in fact risen on the third day, just as he had told them he would, it would appear that the disciples’ initial fear has now been overcome.  Apparently, some of them have found the courage and confidence to once again engage with the outside world. 

So, did they venture out from behind the locked doors of the house to spread the Good News, the Gospel of the risen Christ?  Or, perhaps, they felt it was time to move forward with the continuation of Jesus’ ministry.  After all, he has bestowed upon them the ability to forgive the sins of others.  Or, maybe they realized that they should be about the business of preaching the love, mercy, and grace of God, just as Jesus commanded them to?  Nope; they went fishing!

Now, maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on these six men; there are any number of reasons that this was what they decided should be their first action after emerging form all that had transpired.  Jesus, their leader, teacher, friend, and as Thomas and Peter before him had declared as the Son of God had died a cruel humiliating death.  And then he appeared to them on more than one occasion, in fully human form, yet able to pass through solid walls.  So, since they were fishermen before Jesus called them to follow him, maybe it was the familiarity of casting the nets that drew them.  That, and maybe they thought to spend the night in the boats revisiting all that had happened earlier.  Or, maybe they were seeking a distraction from the trauma of the past weeks.

And, perhaps they were simply trying to avoid doing what Jesus had commanded them to do, and were planning to return to their simpler lives, fishing the Galilee.  But it’s likely that they just didn’t know what to do, considering everything that had happened; all they had been party to and all they had witnessed.  So why not just take some time to engage in their former occupation, let down the nets, and spend a quiet night out fishing in the middle of the lake? 

What they didn’t count on, and quite frankly they should have, was the fact that Jesus wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of the spread of the Gospel; not the opposing religious authorities, not the Romans, not even the cross.  To make sure these disciples knew that their mission still lay before them, Jesus again shows up, this time standing on the beach, and once again giving advice on how to fish.  And as Peter and the others come ashore, they find Jesus making breakfast for them; such an utterly human thing to do, to satisfy the bodily needs of his now, somewhat reluctant followers.  Yet, the fully divine Son of God, presumably with his crucifixion wounds still visible, has lit a fire and is preparing the morning meal for his closest followers.    

And this being the third time he has appeared to them since he rose, and wanting to be sure he gets his message across, Jesus proceeds to “recommission” Peter, and by extension, all of them.  This is their reminder that Jesus first called them to “fish for people”, and the miraculous catch they hauled into the boat, after their fruitless night on the lake, was another, not-too-subtle demonstration of this initial commissioning.  And the 153 fish hauled into the net?  Again, a reminder for them that their mission was to bring Christ’s message to the entire known world; that many fish caught and the net remaining intact signified that their ministry would be successful.  All the world was to be included in the hearing of Jesus’ words of truth and salvation.

And, just in case Peter was still going to be Peter; that is, he was going to maintain his propensity for being a bit dense when Jesus attempted to get him to understand some deeper purpose, he conducted a short one-on-one with him.

Jesus departs from the “fishing for people” metaphor and now shifts to the image of Peter assuming the role of shepherd to Christ’s people.  Previously referring to himself as the “Good Shepherd”, Jesus now informs Peter that he is being entrusted with the responsibility to care for Jesus’ sheep, his lambs.  And, during this “recommissioning” process, Jesus asks three times if Peter loves him.  It certainly isn’t lost on us, and it surely isn’t lost on Peter that there is a connection between these three affirmations of Peter’s love for Jesus and his three previous denials of him.  You will recall that Peter was standing near a charcoal fire when he three times denied Jesus, in the courtyard of the high priest.  This morning Jesus has built a similar fire on which to prepare his disciples’ breakfast; it’s a good bet Peter was definitely “feeling the heat”.

There are some subtle differences in the Greek words for “love” that St. John recounts Jesus and Peter using during this triple “Q and A”.  The first two times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, the word is “agape”; this is the kind of love that is used to describe the love God has for creation and that Jesus has for the world.  Peter’s answer to the first two times Jesus asks him if he loves him, he uses “philos”; this is the Greek for brotherly love.  The third time, Jesus resorts to “philos”, and Peter responds in kind.  Now, there are a number of biblical scholars who maintain that since Jesus and Peter would have been speaking in Aramaic, it would have been John’s writing in Greek that would be the reason for this variance of terms.  But, right or wrong, I’m going to go with the kind of love God has for the world versus the kind of love humans are capable of.

And, I’m sticking with my opinion that Jesus was making a point with Peter; “are you capable of loving me (and my people) the way God (and I) love you?”  And when Peter twice responds that he loves Jesus the only way he can, that with only the love that humans are capable of, Jesus asks him to confirm this with his third question.  “Do you love me as humans are able to?”  Note that even after his reply, Jesus asks Peter to take care of his lambs, his sheep, his flock, his people as best as he is able.

I submit that Jesus knows that Peter (and the rest of us) aren’t able to love, tend to, or care for others the way Jesus is.  I also contend that what Jesus commanded Peter to do (and that he expects also from us) is to ensure that all of God’s children are looked after, and that in spite of our inability to love like Jesus, we are tasked with loving others like the forgiven mortals that we are. 

For, we are blessed with knowing everything that Jesus taught and we are also witnesses to his resurrection; and he also “recommissions” us as his disciples, here in this place and in this time.  And, like the disciples who went fishing, we must choose what we do with the knowledge that we are called to follow the risen Christ.  We can retreat to the familiarity of what we’ve always done.  Or, we might seek out distraction from the trauma that exists in our world.  Or, perhaps we also might try to avoid doing what Jesus commands us to do, and live our simple lives, distancing ourselves from those we are commanded to love.  But unlike Peter and the others we do know what to do, considering everything we have witnessed.  We acknowledge that we too have been questioned by Jesus; “do you love, me?” he asks us.  And, in thanksgiving for what Jesus has done for us we too reply, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

And with this response we too are tasked with the same mission, the same assignment, the same duty.  It is our job now, and we know what to do when we hear Jesus give his command to us.  Out of our love for Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we are to go forth to tend his lambs and to feed his sheep.  It couldn’t be any simpler than that.  Even Peter finally got the point.

Will you pray with me?  Good, and gracious, and Holy God, we know that we are not called to hide our faith behind closed, locked doors.  Those in need are to be found everywhere; in our community and beyond.  Guide us as we rise to accomplish the mission that Christ has set before us.  And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who calls us to provide for the lambs, the sheep he has left in our care.  Amen.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  (Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!).                    

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