John 21: 4-19
Second Sunday after Easter, Year C
Coming in off the water, the smell of grilled fish, fresh bread, and a fire must be one of the best smells on earth! And you have to believe, that because it's Jesus, the fish is cooked perfectly, the bread is moist, and the fire is warm. You've just come in, after fishing all night, your mind on the things of the recent past; your denying him, his death, the claim that he's not dead after all, the appearance in your midst in the upper room, his coming again for Thomas' benefit, and now, he appears again, this time with breakfast?
You know, a person could get used to this! Peter, one of Jesus' closest followers, still has a bit of reserve about him. Something seems to have happened between them that Peter seems to feel sorry about. Could it be that Peter feels a little embarrassed about having denied Jesus the strongest of us all that night?
But here's Jesus, with cooked fish and bread on Peter's home fishing beach. Peter seems ready to show whatever is necessary to show Jesus he is sorry, not even waiting to get to land. It's proper to take your robes off to fish in, because they might get wet and weigh you down, but it is also proper to be dressed before your Lord, and Peter solved that quandary right quick, didn't he?
Right into the water he went, but only after putting his clothes back on. Better to be wet and dripping in the presence of the Lord than to be there naked, I guess.
So we had a great breakfast. The fish was great, the bread was good, and the company was, shall we say, heavenly!
Now, I remember that time, way back when, that Jesus first met Peter, and said "you are Simon, Son of John". Jesus remembered that moment, and called out to Peter using the same phrase. Jesus is trying to build the bridge here, and Peter must be so comforted that Jesus remembered that. Now they can really talk together. "Do you love me?"
Peter almost had relief in his voice when he was finally able to say, to Jesus himself, Yes Lord, you know that I love you".
Feed my Sheep.
Boy oh boy, their eyes were locked together when Jesus asked it again. Peter, with no trace of anything other than seriousness in his voice or on his face, answered it. Again.
But then Jesus did a strange thing. He asked it again. Peter didn't quite get the reason, because he had already answered it twice, and now, he was aware of his friends sitting around the fire. He was beginning to wonder if Jesus kept asking because he didn't believe him. So when he answered again, he was even more insistent and intense.
"Yes Lord, you know that I love you." And Jesus said, again, "then feed my sheep."
And then Jesus talked in another parable that must have been meant for Peter, and then he said the same thing he said when we all met him. "Follow Me!"
Somewhere along the way, Peter must have figured out that Jesus gave him three chances to claim his love for Jesus, one for each time that Peter denied him that night. And boy oh, boy, did Peter prove it later!
It is no fish story to say that we serve a God that comes to us. When we express doubt, he works to help us understand. When we feel ashamed because of our denials, the times when we fail, he comes to us with whatever our grilled fish and bread on the beach are. He looks us in the eyes and gives us every opportunity to claim our love for him again. And then he gives us our work. He reclaims us.
That's the kind of love he gives. He gives that kind of love to everyone. Everyone. That's no fish story either. He gave it to Peter, who did the worst thing you could do--deny you knew the man you knew somehow was the Lord.
God loves the ostracized as much as the accepted. God understands that it is a hard thing to claim God when your life doesn't seem to need him. You got a nice car, a nice job, your kids are decently fed, clothed, schooled. Your insurance is paid up, your money makes it to the next paycheck with even some opportunity for savings. You might even be able to invest some.
But ask the folks who follow Christ in the midst of all that-- it gets harder to follow Christ when everything is going well, doesn't it? Somehow, rather than it being all because of what God gave you the gifts to do with it, it becomes more about what you've done. That's the hardest thing to fight against, the idea that somehow you've done it.
It is easier to see, or hear, God when you are in need. It's easier to follow God when you have been in a place that you need his forgiveness.
Most of us have probably been there. When there is no other place in the world to go, and you want to change. Don't let the image of an angry or vindictive God get into your head. It's not true. What we know of God we know most clearly from the stories of Jesus, who was God on earth.
And when he was forsaken, when his friends left him to die, fell asleep waiting for him, denied, him, he came back to them though they did not deserve it. He showed up for Thomas. He showed up for Peter. He later even took Saul and made him into Paul. He'll show up for you. He showed up for me. He's shown up for lots of folks here.
When you have painted yourself into a corner with people who can't really stand what you have to say anymore, he'll show up. When you have alienated people with your anger, he'll show up. When you have traveled far from where you started, and you aren't sure who you are anymore, he'll show up.
It's no fish story to believe this. You have two thousand years of people who have felt this, despite what the culture might have said, despite what the churches themselves might have taught, you have people who know this. And they know that it is no fish story, either.
They may not be the accepted ones, the ones with the clean and styled clothes, they may not look like us. But again, they may look exactly like us. If theirs is a message of love, and their actions are loving actions, then they aren't telling any fish stories. They've heard Jesus say to them, "Follow me!"