Third Sunday of Easter, Year C
May 1, 2022
Christ the King Lutheran Church, Nashua, NH
1After [he appeared to his followers in Jerusalem,] Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3Simon 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.
4Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6He 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. 7That 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. 8But 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.
9When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11So 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. 12Jesus 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. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15When 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.” 16A 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.” 17He 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. 18Very 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.” – John 21:1-19
This sermon is inspired by the sermon of the Rev. Dr. Frederick Niedner at the 2022 Institute of Liturgical Studies. My first formal professor of preaching and a beloved mentor, he taught us that once something is preached it goes out into the world, giving permission not to plagiarize but to borrow and build anew for your context, for that is what carries the message generation to generation. So the arc of the sermon and a few of the the phrases are his, while the sermon is my own writing.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Oh, Peter. The disciple we love because of not in spite of his imperfections.
In John’s gospel, the only one to capture this resurrection breakfast on the beach with Jesus, the disciple Peter is not the star. When Jesus calls the disciples it does not start with Peter, but rather Andrew who in turn comes to tell Peter, “We have found the messiah, come and see.”
Jesus has a different favorite in the gospel of John – the beloved disciple, he’s called. Never identified except that he’s not Peter, because he appears alongside Peter. Peter who has bold statements of faith and brash words. When Jesus talks of eating – chewing even – his body, crowds begin to fall away, Jesus asks if the disciples also want to leave. It is Peter who says, “To whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”
Peter who is too embarrassed to allow Jesus wash his feet, but then at Jesus’ insistence demands a whole bath. Peter who when Judas appears in the garden to arrest Jesus with an army of at least 200 soldiers, he boldly steps forward with a little sword ready to defend Jesus despite the absurd odds. He manages to cut off an ear before Jesus reminds him that’s not how we do this and he sheepishly sheaths his sword.
Peter who in all four gospels denies Jesus three times in the courtyard after Jesus’ arrest. Peter who on Easter morning at the testimony of the women come from the tomb takes off running with the beloved disciple, only to be outrun – Peter doesn’t come in first. And yet he’s the one to duck into the empty tomb.
Peter, who after all that has nothing left to do but to go out fishing. And when Jesus appears on the shore it’s the beloved disciple who recognizes Jesus, not Peter. Yet Peter is the one who can’t wait for the boat to row the short distance back to shore, so he puts his garment back on, leaps into the water, and splashes with abandon to the shore.
“Peter,” Jesus asks, “Do you love me?”
And maybe today you hear yourself in Peter’s journey with Jesus. Maybe you, like me, hear Jesus ask you today, “Do you love me?”
We like Peter know the response, we practice the response. Yes, Lord. We love you.
We practice it in words. I believe in God the Father almighty…in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. In Jesus’ name we pray. For thine is the kingdom.
We practice it in song. I love you Jesus, deep down in my heart… Beautiful savior… Lord, thee I love with all my heart…Worthy is Christ…
We practice it with our bodies. Making the sign of the cross, splashing in the waters of baptism, consuming the bread and wine of communion.
We practice it in deeds. Showing up to pray in support of Ukraine. Participating with community partners to feed those who are hungry. Speaking up for policies that serve the whole of God’s people. I know you do those things here at CTK.
And yet, whether it’s a global pandemic, or the challenges of the church as a human institution, life changes, illness and death. Whether it’s our own errors, failures, doubts. Maybe we stop short, not sure if our words really ring true. Because we are much like Peter – not always first, not always right, not always quite getting it even when we move ahead with boldness.
When Jesus asks Peter, something about the text makes we wonder if Peter hesitates just a moment. If you’ve been around preachers long enough to hear this text preached a few times, you might know that in this text Jesus uses one Greek word for love and Peter responds with a lesser or at least different word for love. Is Peter wondering whether in this moment his journey alongside Jesus has really been enough? After all, he is not the beloved disciple. He’s the brash one, the one who sticks his foot in his mouth, the one, after all, who denied Jesus in his most difficult hour. The thing is, standing here on this beach, he knows that Jesus knows. Jesus knows the answer. Jesus knows not just Peter’s words but his wild walk, his boldness and brashness, his successes and failures. Jesus does not need to ask. Jesus knows Peter’s love and Peter’s imperfect discipleship. And yet here Peter stands, an answer expected.
What can Peter do, but place himself again before the one he knows so well. The one who walked alongside him. The one who has returned to him even from the grave. Perhaps he remembers his own earlier words “To whom shall we go? You, Jesus, have the words of eternal life.” And despite knowing better than to think he will be a perfect disciple, he has speaks again, “Yes, Lord, I love you. Yes, Lord, I am with you.”
To me that’s resurrection. Not just Jesus’ body standing present to the fearful and lost disciples, but the capacity of Jesus to know our every challenge and welcome us anyway. To call us again and again…and again. To come back around after our worst moments, our worst failures and say, “I need you.” Jesus is here to say to Peter, “I have given everything for our cause. I have given my very body for the sake of my love for the world. That’s it. That’s all I had left to give. Well, except you. You and the other disciples who deep down I know believe in the power of God’s love to transform the world. And now I’m calling you. Not because you’re perfect. Not because you’re the best. Not because the sacrifices I’m warning you about now will save the world. But because you’re what I have left to give for this cause, for the love of the world. Do you love me? Are you with me?”
I don’t know about you, friends, but I’m tired. We have experienced a collective disruption to the world as we know it. It’s not just two years of viruses and distancing and learning the gifts and challenges of online everything and the uncertainty of planning anything these days and the economy roller-coastering and wars erupting. I mean – any of those things is really enough. It’s that the whole story we tell ourselves about who we are as a people, as a church, as a nation, as a world – it has fractured. We are trying to piece together a new story. It is exhausting. I don’t know, church, I don’t know what will come of it. I don’t know how we will piece together a new story. I suspect whatever your piece of the larger narrative is, you’re doing the same. Trying to piece together a new story of what things will be like going forward. And we’re tired. It may be Easter, but we, like the disciples are lost and afraid. We, like the disciples, are toiling and seemingly coming up empty-handed. We, like the disciples come with all our own baggage and failure. And yet, here we are. Jesus is alive. The table is set. And the invitation is made. “Do you love me? Are you with me?”
You can say the words you know are expected. Or you can pause and ponder if you need to. You can even tell Jesus to hang on, that you haven’t had time to make sense of your reality again. Because, like Peter, I do know this. Jesus will keep coming back, offering nourishment and love. Jesus is resurrected and one day, in God’s way and time, the whole world will be resurrected, too. In the meantime, Jesus is here. Jesus knows you inside and out and calls you, not because of your greatness, but because that’s how God has decided to work in the world – with tired, broken, imperfect people. And that’s enough. Because that’s all God has now that God has given everything. Us. Broken and shared for the sake of God’s love for all the world. So come now, to the feast which Jesus has set for us. Recognize him here in our midst. And hear anew God’s call for you.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
-Pastor Steven Wilco