Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
May 5, 2019
The credits roll. The music plays. Lights come up in the theater. Yet people linger in their seats. They stay for the outtakes—scenes not included in the movie. Sometimes stories include an epilogue that reveals what ultimately happens to the principle characters. We learn Oskar Schindler died bankrupt and penniless in Germany. Bilbo and Frodo Baggins leave their beloved Hobbitsville and travel with the Elves.
Likewise, when we catch up with the disciples on Sunday, we already know how the story ends. “The strife is o’er, the battle is done” (ELW #366). The twenty-first chapter of John is an epilogue. The disciples are on holiday back home. One story is at an end and another is just beginning.
But Peter isn’t sure he has a role in the new chapter Jesus is writing. That’s because he screwed up. He is painfully aware how he squandered all the hope and confidence Jesus’ had placed upon him. Peter can’t imagine Jesus would have any more use for him now.
He was supposed to be the Rock. Peter the “fisher of men.” It was Peter who was the first disciple to proclaim Jesus was the Son of God. It was Peter’s mother-in-law whom Jesus had healed. It was Peter who walked beside him on the sea. Peter who saw Jesus transfigured on the mountain. Peter who promised to stay at Jesus’s side even if he be killed. Yet is was this Peter whose courage failed so catastrophically around a charcoal fire when Jesus was arrested. Peter’s betrayal marked him as unworthy. ‘No. No, I am not the man! I swear, I don’t even know him.’ (John 18:17-27)
Do you know what that kind of failure feels like? Failure is where our dreams go to die. We withdraw. We don’t return eye-contact. We are weighed down with heaviness and dread. We tend to find comfort in familiar patterns and old routines. Peter went fishing.
“Peace be with you,” Jesus had said in Jerusalem (John 20:26) He offered Peter and the disciples the gift of his continuing and abiding spirit. Now Jesus continues his healing, reconciling work beside the seashore. This time his strategy is simple. He said to them “come and have breakfast.” (John 21:12) He prepared a meal for them beside the Sea.
Notice “In the days following the resurrection, Jesus doesn’t waste a moment on revenge or retribution. He doesn’t storm Pilate’s house, or avenge himself on Rome, or punish the soldiers whose hands drove nails into his. Instead, he spends his remaining time on earth feeding, restoring, and strengthening his friends. He calls Mary Magdalene by name as she cries. He offers his wounds to the skeptical Thomas. He grills bread and fish for his hungry disciples. He heals what’s wounded and festering between his heart and Peter’s.” (Debie Thomas, Journey with Jesus, 4/28/19)
Jesus asks Peter three times. Once for each time Peter had denied him. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (21:15) These questions open Peter to the future. Despite his failure, Jesus again entrusts Peter with the ongoing work of the Church. “He surrounds the self-loathing disciple with tenderness and safety, inviting him to revisit his shame for the sake of healing, restoration, and commissioning: “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” (Debie Thomas)
The early church drew inspiration from the memory of Peter’s biggest failure as an example of the power of God to forgive our failures, redeem our past and renew our calling as followers of Jesus Christ. If God could do that for Peter, God can do it for all of us!” In the intimacy of loving words, Jesus calls Peter beyond his personal relationship with Jesus to lovingly embrace all of Jesus’ followers.
St. Maximos the Confessor, who lived in the seventh century, wrote that Peter and Paul became “successful failures.” They experienced the liberating truth that “the person who has come to know the weakness of human nature has gained experience of divine power. Such a person never belittles anyone, for they know that God is like a good and loving physician who heals with individual treatment each of us who is trying to make progress.”
Through simple acts of care in Jesus’ name, the disciples would spark a revolution that spread around the world and persists from that moment till today. They started down a path that would lead to the flourishing of millions and to their premature death. This is because Jesus’ potluck breakfast was for them and for all, for everyone who has failed in life, for those cast out by their families, those without a name, for the immigrant, the widow, the imprisoned, and the poor.
In this radical hospitality and love we find oneness with God and one-another. It’s a simple plan we inevitably make too complicated. Will you, can you feed Jesus’ sheep? Will you lay aside your own fear of awkwardness and failure to say hello to someone you don’t know? Even perhaps, to invite them for coffee? Will you take from what you have to share with others? Will you take a stand with the afflicted? Can you invite and shepherd others into fellowship with God and all people here in this congregation? Feed my sheep. In so doing, we will feed ourselves.
Today we learn Jesus remains involved in the work and life of the church. Like Obi Wan Kenobi, he is still a force to be reckoned with. Jesus is not dead but alive. Jesus has ascended but remains eternally present in Spirit. We may continue to see Jesus in our midst through the eyes of faith.
Kathleen Norris has written a beautiful little book that she calls, The Quotidian Mysteries, in which she describes the ways she often encounters God while doing simple everyday tasks like laundry or cleaning the dishes. We encounter Christ while gathered around the table for a simple meal. There, we are surprised to see him in each other. We encounter the Living God at the bath. There, we are overjoyed to find God alive and working deep within ourselves.