April 21, 2013 - John 21.9-19

“Do You Love Me?”

John 21.9-19 (with reference to John 13.37-38 and 18.17-27)

April 21, 2013


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.”


His name is Simon.  But no one calls him that.  Everyone uses his nickname.  His nickname is literally “Rock.”  It’s kind of ironic that he tried to walk on water – and promptly sank – when everyone called him “Rock.”  Of course we use the Greek translation of his nickname, which is Peter.


Peter is such a great example of what Jesus can do when he gets hold of someone.  You see, there are really 2 very different Simon Peters.  The later Peter is the one we like to think of when we think of Peter.  He is the one who preaches at Pentecost, helps lead the early church, heals people, is a great testimony.  Then there is the early Peter.


Today in our scripture, we are really finding Peter in between the early and later Peter.  He is at a crossing point here.  What is going to become of him?  At this point he could become someone great in the hands of the Holy Spirit, or he could just go back to fishing…


I identify with Peter so often.  He is the voice of the disciples.  He fails a lot.  He is the one who is so full of energy to go get it, that when he fails he really blows it.  I mean, he leaves a Simon Peter-shaped hole in the wall. It’s refreshing, because I don’t know about you, but I fail a lot.  You remember his greatest failure, don’t you?


37Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times. – John 13.37-38


17The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself…25Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed. – John 18.17-27


Jesus has made breakfast over a charcoal fire.  Peter has seen a charcoal fire before. The last time in the book of John that Peter had been around a charcoal fire was the night he denied even knowing Jesus 3 times. “Aren’t you one of them?”  No, he said, even cursing – three times.   Now, some time later, Peter is on the beach, after resurrection, and Jesus asks him “Do you love me?” And he asks Peter this question 3 times.  That must have stung.  Truth hurts.  But it also heals.  By addressing it, Jesus gave Peter the ability to overcome his failures.  Wounds not treated do not heal.


Here on the beach, Jesus asks Peter three questions.  They sting.  Peter hangs his head and is low.


Peter had sinned.  Peter had failed.  Peter was ordinary.


We seem to have forgotten who we are, I think.  In our culture, in our little world, we seem to have forgotten that we are sinners.  We sin.  Gerhard Forde says “we apparently are no longer sinners, but rather victims, oppressed by sinister victimizers whom we relentlessly seek to track down and accuse; we no longer live in a guilty culture but have been thrown into meaninglessness so we are told. Then the language slips out of place. Guilt puts the blame on us as sinners, but who is responsible for meaninglessness?...Since we are victims and not really sinners, what we need is affirmation and support, and so on. The language slips and falls out of place.”[1]


I think that perhaps one of the groups we can learn from is Alcoholics Anonymous.  They start every meeting the same way: “Hi.  I’m Bob.  I’m an Alcoholic.  But by the grace of Higher Power, a recovering one.”  Sin is serious – all sin.  And all sin is ordinary.  Ordinary sin is still serious business.  Jesus tells us to cut off hands and pluck out eyes if it will keep us from sinning.  So, if we are going to be as honest as the folks in AA, then we need to start off each worship service: “Hi.  I’m Allen.  I’m a sinner.  But by the grace of God, a recovering one.”  Would it really surprise you if we preachers were to admit that I could very well stand before you a one armed and one-eyed preacher?  Would we dare be that honest in our church?


Jesus reminding Peter of his failure must have hurt.  3 times denied, three times asked.  Ouch.  Yes, the Truth hurts.  But it also heals.  By addressing it, Jesus gave Peter the ability to overcome his failures.  Wounds that are not treated do not heal.  The trick is to admit that you need treatment.


You might think, “yeah, but I’m no Peter.  I’m just a common guy. I’m ordinary.”  Why do we seem to think that ordinary is not important – or even significant?  The best place to hide something is in plain view.


You might not think “I’m no Peter.”  But you really are.  Remember there are two different Peters.  I am always thinking that I am just like the early Peter.  He is always messing up.  All of us can identify with that guy.  But the thing is, if we let Jesus get hold of us, we can become like the later Peter.  If we are more about Jesus than ourselves, then there is no limit to what God can do through us.  Write that down.


But then again, we are still very capable of denying Jesus just like Peter did.  Think of the most evil of sins.  Hitler.  Evilest?  Yet the Nazis were special because they were so ordinary.  Civilized, modern nation.  Ordinary.  6 million Jews.  Did Hitler kill them all by himself?  It took all of them to do it.  They all had to remain quiet in the face of injustice.  Who ran the trains?  Who rounded the Jews up?  Someone made the bullets.  Someone pumped the gas.  Someone made every little golden star sewed to their clothing.  No one asked questions – at least not enough people did.  It took a lot of ordinary sinners to just act normal to work such a vast evil.  That’s the real lesson to be learned.  It was not the uniqueness of the Nazi horror – it was how ordinary it was.  So many Christians, keeping silent, and denying they knew Jesus.


Silence can be denial.  Ever not speak up?  Hallway?  Locker room?  Lunch café?  Shop on the street?  Sometimes we should be silent, but other times we should stand up and be counted, even if the number just makes it to 1.  If we keep silent, we deny and betray Christ all over again.  Judas did it for the money.  What will your reason be?  What lame excuse will I come up with?  “Go along to get along?”  “Didn’t want to stir things up?”  “Might lose my job.”


Fred Craddock Story – At the Grilled Cheese all night café.

I was in graduate school at Vanderbilt. I had left the family and children in the little parish I served and moved into a little room to prepare for those terrible comprehensive exams. It’s make-it-or-break-it time; they can kill you. I would go every night about 11:30 or 12:00 to a little all-night diner—no tables, just little stools—and have a grilled cheese and a cup of coffee to take a break from my studies. It was the same every night; the fellow behind the counter at the grill knew when I walked in to prepare a grilled cheese and a cup of coffee. He’d give me a refill, sometimes come again and give me another refill. I joined the men of the night there hovering over our coffee, still thinking about my own possible questions on the New Testament oral exams.

Then I noticed a man who was there when I went in, but had not been waited on. I had been waited on, had a refill, and so had the others. Then finally the man behind the counter went to the man at the end of the counter and said, “What do you want?” He was an old, gray-haired black man. Whatever the man said, the fellow went to the grill, scooped up a little patty off the back of the grill and put it on a piece of bread without condiments and without a napkin. The cook handed it to the man, who gave him some money, and then went out the side door by the garbage can and out on the street. He sat on the curb with the eighteen-wheelers of the night with the salt and pepper from the street to season his sandwich.

I didn’t say anything. I did not reprimand, protest, or witness to the cook. I did not go out and sit beside the man on the curb, on the edge. I didn’t do anything. I was thinking about the questions coming up on the New Testament. And I left the little place, went up the hill back to my room to resume my studies, and off in the distance I heard a rooster crow.[2]


Ordinary Sin made the disciples cowards at Calvary.  But in the book of Acts they are heroes of the faith.  Grace does that to you.  Once you realize that you are an ordinary sinner, God can begin to do great things.  That’s what this week is about.  Our ordinary and very real sin, that would imprison us in mediocre lives, is shattered into dust by the extraordinary love of Jesus.  Jesus asks the question, “Peter, do you love me?”  He asks it of us.  “Oh, yes, Jesus.  We love you.”


The strange encounter on the beach ends with Jesus saying, "Follow me." Follow Jesus where?  We follow Jesus into a new world where everything has been overturned by the powerful work of God in the resurrection of Jesus.




[1] Gerhard Forde, "On Being a Theologian of the Cross," Christian Century, October 22, 1997, pp. 947-949.

[2] Craddock, Fred, Craddock Stories, Mike Graves, editor, Chalice Press, p. 48.

  December 2017  
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