The disciples have finally left the locked room where they’ve been hiding. It’s been several weeks since Easter and they aren’t exactly getting out there and preaching the word of God. They are afraid of persecution and you can’t blame them, can you? They are feeling discouraged and tired so they just go back to what they know, fishing.... But they’re not catching anything. It is night time and maybe they are just relieved to be outside and feeling safe.
Please close your eyes for a minute and try to imagine this with me:
We’re standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in the dark just before dawn.
It’s quiet. Calm. We hear the sound of water, water slapping a small boat. A few gulls cawing overhead. Small waves lapping on the shore. Cool sand on your bare feet. Splash. Quiet talk of men in boat. Open your eyes to see a hint of morning light rising by the eastern shore of the sea.
The fishermen hear a shout from the beach--some man asking, “Children, not catching anything?” The men see someone standing on the shore who tells them to cast their net again, this time on the right side of the boat and when they do their net is filled! Full as it is, the net is not breaking. One of the men announces; “It is the Lord!” Simon see his best friend there and is so overjoyed he leaps into the water and splashes wildly to shore as fast as he can. Jesus is standing next to a small fire where he is cooking fish and bread. Smells delicious!
He calmly asks the fishermen to bring some of the fish they have caught so that he can cook them too. And now, our Savior, the Son of God, Lord of All has one important thing to say to his followers: “Come have some breakfast.” Oh, I like this guy! He asks a lot of us but first he feeds us.
They eat. They are happy and full and so pleased to be back in the presence of their friend. Remember that not too long ago, Simon Peter denied Christ three times. He must feel sad and embarrassed about that. Well, Jesus takes him aside and gives him three opportunities to redeem himself:
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon answers quickly, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus answers, “Then feed my lambs.”
Again he asks; “Simon, do you love me? Simon answers, “YES” “Then act on it! Tend my sheep.”
And yet, AGAIN he asks Simon, “Do you love me?” Now this time Simon is a bit annoyed. “How many times do I have to tell you? You know everything so you must know that I love you!” Jesus answers, “Feed my sheep.”
This is a familiar formula in our house. “Kevin, do you love me?” “Yes.” “Well, then, could you please get me a martini?” See? When you love someone, you need to back it up with actions! Put your money where your mouth is.
How would we respond if Jesus asked us to our faces if we loved him? Imagine Jesus standing right here today and asking you; “Kevin, son of Marvin, do you love me?” or “Bonnie, daughter of Paul, do you love me?” What would you say? Jesus asks; “Jim, do you love me?” “Mary, do you love me?”
He gave Simon three opportunities to redeem himself. He gives us those same opportunities. We proclaim our love and He forgives our sins. But there’s a catch. That’s not enough. The answer Jesus gives us is: “Good. You love me. Great. Now get to work. Feed my lambs, tend my sheep. Reach out and take care of the needy. You love me? Then you need to love your neighbor. Take care of others. It is not enough to just love me. Take action.”
Let’s get back to Simon Peter and Jesus. They’ve cleared things up. Simon loves Jesus. Jesus forgives him his sins. Simon understands that he needs to take care of the flock. Now Jesus gives him the bad news. He tells Simon that from here on in, someone else will be leading him around and taking him where he does not wish to go. He’s letting Simon know that it’s not going to be an easy path, following him. But he asks anyway: “Will you come and follow me?” These words are familiar to Simon as they are also the very first words he ever heard from Jesus. Remember Jesus approaching the fishermen at the beginning of his ministry and asking them to follow him?
We try to follow Jesus. We trust that the path he sets is the best one. But you have to be careful who you follow. Here’s a story about following that doesn’t work out so well:
A lady was lost in her car in a bad snow storm. She remembered what her dad had once told her. If you ever get stuck in a snow storm, wait for a snow plow and follow it.
Pretty soon a snow plow came by and she started to follow it. She followed the plow for about 45 minutes. Finally the driver of the snow plow got out, stomped over to her and asked what she was doing.
She explained that her dad had told her that if she ever got stuck in the snow, to follow a plow. The driver nodded, and said, 'Well I'm through with the Wal-mart lot, now you can follow me over to the K-mart.'
Don’t we all sometimes follow the wrong leader? Stick with Jesus. His is a path we can trust!
Let’s go back to Jesus having breakfast on the beach with his friends. One of my favorite things about this story is the unexpectedness of it. God shows up when you least expect him. The disciples are not at the temple, praying on their knees, a place where one might expect to find God. No, they are out fishing at night, minding their own business. What a shocking, fabulous surprise it must be for these simple men to meet their Lord in this unexpected place.
We were recently at the beach in Oregon, during a week of terrible storms. The rain was so heavy, the sea so wild, the gale force winds so over whelming that it was quite hard to see much at all as we peered through our binoculars looking for migrating whales. I kept joking that a whale could be flying above the ocean, waving at us and we wouldn’t be able to see it. We finally got a break in the weather one morning as we stood high above the sea. It was gloriously beautiful. Then that thing happened where the light came streaming down from the sky in broad bands and I told Kevin and Jeff; “Quick! Pray! God is here!” It’s nice when God is so obvious.
It’s relatively easy to find God in the beauty of his creation around us. It’s easy to see God in the face of a new baby or a loved one. My challenge is to see God at those other times: like when I see screaming pundits on TV who are encouraging hate in our political discourse. Now there is a challenge. Try it - when you find yourself feeling annoyed or angry at someone, try to consciously look for God in that person.
Today we will be singing a hymn I love called “Will you come and follow me.” It is written by John Bell of the Iona Community in Scotland. It illustrates how we are changed by this call of Christ to follow him, even as we are called to go out and change the world. The first four verses are about the Savior calling us and in the last verse, we answer the call. We can hear Jesus talking to Peter in this hymn:
“Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around?
Then we answer Jesus, along with Peter: “Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.”
Jesus asks Simon Peter to follow him in today’s Gospel. Jesus asks us to follow him everyday. He asks: “Do you love me?” Love is as love does. He asks us, not just to love him but to go out into the world with that love.
Please join me in prayer: Gracious God, we confess that often we are tempted as Simon Peter was to retreat from what we know we must do. Give us the courage to answer again your call to be your people in this time and in this place. Amen.