Year C, Easter 3
How can you not love Peter? If you have ever said something you have regretted, doubted yourself, boasted, embarrassed yourself after boasting, loved too quickly or too fiercely, if you have ever said one thing and then done the complete opposite, acted just a little impulsively, or fallen and gotten back up…then you cannot help but love Peter, or at least appreciate him and his flawed beauty.
When my brother got married, my oldest brother made a video that included pictures and commentary of almost every embarrassing incident in my brother’s life. It was quite thorough as my brother was 38 at the time and had a very full and adventurous life. When I think of Peter, I imagine that kind of video. It would start with Jesus calling Peter and his brother Andrew while they were fishing. Jesus asked them to be fishers of people. Peter did not hesitate. He simply dropped his net and followed him. We see that impulsive nature again when Peter is out in another boat. He saw Jesus walking on water and told Jesus that if it was really him, he should call him and then Peter would walk on the water. Jesus complied and immediately Peter was out of the boat, walking on the water, only to sink moments later. Or there was that time that he argued with Jesus and was rebuked. Or the time he was trying to helpful and he offered to build tents for Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration. Or the time Jesus wanted to wash his feet and he refused, only to then ask Jesus to wash his whole body. There are more moments on this memory reel than I have time to share. Some of them are funny, some awkward, and some heart breaking.
Today’s story in the Gospel of John would definitely be on that reel. It contains humor, joy and a little pain. Peter was once again on a boat. This was obviously a place where Peter was comfortable. It was the place where he once found his identity and purpose. He was after all a fisherman. At this point in our Gospel story, he had already seen Jesus in the flesh a few times, but still seemed to be surprised to see him here on the Sea of Tiberius. He didn’t even recognize him at first. But as soon as he knew it was Jesus, he did what Peter does, he jumped into the water. He put his clothes on first as that was what you did when you met your Lord and Savior, but he jumped because he had to be the first to meet Jesus. He could not possibly wait for the boat to cover the short distance to the shore. I have a lot of theories about why he didn’t wait, but I am fairly certain it would be foolish to put a lot of thought into those theories, because that wasn’t who Peter was. He didn’t put a lot of thought into it things, he just dove right in.
One of the first things Jesus asked was that Peter go and get the fish so they could cook them and eat them. Jesus was always very good at directing people and making sure they were playing a part in what was happening. He wasn’t just good at directing people. He was good at providing direction for people’s lives. He still is.
You all remember the one moment on Peter’s memory reel which is what he is most known for. After Jesus’ arrest, Peter was asked if he knew him and he said no. He denied knowledge of Jesus not once, but three times, just as Jesus had predicted. Today’s Gospel isn’t the first time Peter had seen the resurrected Jesus, but it is the first time we know of that they had a ny real heart to heart.
After they had eaten the fish, Jesus pulled Peter aside and asked him one of the most vulnerable questions you can ask someone. He asked Peter if he loved him. Peter replied that he did. Peter even added, “You know I love you.” —because this was Jesus asking the question and he knew all things. Jesus replied, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus asked this same question again. This time Jesus responded by saying, “Tend my sheep.” Then he asked a 3rd time. The Gospel writer tells us that Peter was a little hurt that Jesus had to ask three times. Did he doubt Peter? Why ask three times? Because Peter had denied Jesus three time and Jesus knew it was important that he was able to affirm his love for Jesus three times. It was a step for Peter towards healing and growth.
We also know Peter was impulsive and prone to answer things quickly without thinking. Perhaps Jesus wanted to make sure it would sink in. Also, he wasn’t just asking if he loved him, he was giving him a job. Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Remember, Jesus was the Good Shepherd. He took care of his people. He was passing this job on to Peter.
It was an appropriate job for Peter. He didn’t tell Peter (at least not here) that he needed to go and learn how to preach, or teach or perform miracles. Peter probably ended up doing all those things, but on that day, Jesus spoke to Peter’s strengths. Jesus basically said, take care of my people. While certainly all of Jesus’ disciples were capable of caring for others, Jesus knew that Peter was especially prepared. Peter knew what it was to sin in a monumental and public way, and then be forgiven. He knew what it was to be loved in spite of himself. Jesus knew that Peter would be able to share that love and embody that love because Peter needed it so much in his life.
We all have a purpose in this life. Some of you might consider your job to be your purpose or your role as a parent or spouse. That might be it. But I think that Jesus has a deeper purpose for each of us and that purpose is developed, not from our gifts, but from our failures, our fears, even our sins. You know, I have never known a pastor who said, “I wanted to be a pastor because I’m was so good at being a Christian, I thought, I should do this professionally.” I am sure those pastors are out there, but I don’t know them. Part of why I became a pastor was because I knew how badly and desperately I needed God’s love. Some of the best therapists out there are those who have struggled with mental health. Some of the best physical therapist are those who know what it is to overcome physical injuries or limitations.
Your purpose might not be your occupation. I can’t tell you what it is. But you have a purpose designed by God. It will challenge you and it will help you be a better Christian. Jesus needs our help. He didn’t ascend to his father in heaven until he told his disciples what their purpose was. He needs our help. You might be thinking—well great, but how am I supposed to know the purpose? Praying helps. I would encourage you to look at the memory reel of your life and identify the times when you have needed God. There are all kinds of spiritual gift inventories out there that are supposed to provide direction. They are helpful. However, if you look at the stories in the Bible, God doesn’t call people who are gifted in one way and then encourage them to find a purpose that matches that gift. No, he encourages to people to wade into their fears and insecurities and find a purpose there. That is scary, but that is why we have this faith community. We are to be your companions on this journey, this journey to find purpose and belonging. Come to me, or Mark, or our pastoral care associate, Jane. You have a God given purpose. God needs you to discover that purpose because there are a lot of sheep that need caring for in this world. We are the sheep, but we are also the shepherds. God needs our help to transform this tear drenched world we live in. We can no longer live merely for ourselves. Discovering our purpose isn’t about self-fulfillment. Discovering our purpose enables us to transform the world into the world God created it to be.