A couple of weeks ago, right before Easter, we shared the stories of Holy Week. And one that we read was the story of Peter, one of Jesus’s disciples. We read about how on the night of the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples that they were all going to leave him before the night was over. And Peter said, “I’ll never do that Lord”.
But Jesus tells him that by the end of the night he will not only abandon him, but Peter is going to deny that he even knew Jesus. Not just once. Not twice. But three times. And that’s exactly what happens. After Jesus is arrested, Peter is asked three different times whether or not he knew Jesus and each time he denies it. “I don’t know him,” he says.
Judas betrayed Jesus. The other ten just ran away. But Peter was the only one to stand there and say, “I don’t know the man.” He was just too afraid.
Peter saw Jesus after the Resurrection, so today’s Scripture isn’t the first time he realizes he’s back. But it is the first real conversation we see between the two after Easter. In today’s Scripture the disciples are all out on the sea fishing, and they’re not catching anything. And a man calls out from the shore, “Cast your nets to the right.” And they do, and they haul in more fish than ever. And then they finally realize who is on the shore. And John says to Peter, “It’s Jesus.”
Everyone else stays on the boat and they start going towards the shore, but Peter jumps into the water, and starts swimming towards Jesus. And after breakfast, Jesus turns to him and starts to ask him questions.
He asks, “Peter, do you love me?”
Peter says, “Yes Lord you know I love you.” And Jesus tells him, “feed my lambs.”
And then again he asks him. “Peter do you love me?”
Peter again says, “Yes Lord you know I love you.” And Jesus says, “tend my sheep.”
And the, a third time, Jesus asks again, “Peter, do you love me?”
And by this time Peter is hurt, because he thinks Jesus doesn’t believe him, and he says, “Jesus you know everything…you know I love you.” And Jesus says again, “Feed my sheep.”
Three times Jesus asks, and three times Peter says he loves him, and three times Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep.
It’s sort of like how three times Peter was asked if he knew Jesus, and each time he said no.
I’ve always believed that God is a God of second chances. I’ve always believed that no matter what we do we can’t separate ourselves from God’s love. Peter knew Jesus himself and he turned his back on him not just once, but three times. And even still, Jesus comes back to him, and gives him another chance to answer the question. Not just once but three times. He gets a second chance.
And, truth be told, we all have needed a second chance. I know I have. We’ve all messed up, and we’ve all dropped the ball at the worst possible time, and we’ve all torn ourselves apart because of it.
And for many of us, there have been times where we have messed up so badly, or so consistently, that we have come to believe that God could never forgive us. That we are somehow beyond grace.
I’ll bet Peter knew what that felt like. I’ll bet he knew the guilt and the shame and the horrible realization that he had turned his back on someone who loved him like no other had. And I’ll bet he thought he’d never get a second chance to make it right again.
So it’s little surprise that when he sees Jesus standing on the shore, while everyone else just stays in the boat and rows back, he jumps out and heads for Jesus.
I often found that those who know they need the second chance the most are the ones who most refuse to pass it up when they get it. We all need a second chance from time to time, but it’s the ones who have really hit rock bottom, who have really come face to face with their need for grace, who come running when they see God’s love standing on the shore. And the ones who know they needed it usually ending up being the ones who are the most grateful for it too.
Ask anyone who has ever had a second chance, a real second chance, how they feel about it now. If they know that they had it, they will tell you that they are grateful. And gratitude is great way to live your life. Gratitude alone, more than fear and more than anger, allows you to do extraordinary things.
Jesus asked Peter to do some extraordinary things. With every answer that he gives to Jesus, Jesus replies, “feed my sheep”. Jesus takes the one who needed grace the most, and he decides he is not just going to forgive him, but he is going to use him to build his church.
And Jesus tells him it won’t be easy. He tells him that in the end, he is going to lose everything, even his life. He never hides this from him. But Peter is so filled by gratitude for what has happened, so overwhelmed by forgiveness, that he doesn’t want any other life than the one that is being offered to him.
You and I are not being called to lose our lives. Not in the same way Peter was, anyway. But we are often being called to choose a new life, a life that centers not on our fears, but on Christ. And a life that is rooted not in our mistakes, but in our redemption.
Scripture tells us that Jesus gave Peter his name because it means “rock”. He’s the rock upon which Jesus is going to build his church. He’s the foundation. Which means that you and I belong to a church that is literally built on second chances. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it, and it’s good news for you and I.
Last week I went over to a house in East Dorset, Vermont. It’s an old inn next to a Congregational Church that looks a lot like ours. And one day in 1895 a baby was born there, behind the bar. And, ironically, he grew into a man who frequented bars and who sank deeper and deeper into his addiction that he blew every chance that was ever given to him. A man who let down everyone who loved him. And a man who thought himself that he was better off dead.
Until one day in 1934, long after everyone had given up on him, he got a second chance. And along with a others, he founded a program that today has helped millions of people to recover from addiction. His name was Bill Wilson, or as he’s sometimes called, Bill W., and he founded AA. He got a second chance, and he used it not just to save himself, but to save others.
It’s tempting to look at Bill W’s story and think, “Well he really was down and out…he needed that second chance.” But to look at Bill W. with pity is to miss the point. Because the only difference between him and many of us is that he realized he needed that second chance. And he swam for the shore. Don’t pity the ones who jump at a second chance. Pity the ones who don’t.
And that’s what is truly remarkable about Peter. Because he could have been one we pitied. His life could have been defined by his greatest mistake. He could have never come back to the other disciples, and instead have gone off on his own, so filled with shame that he never gave himself another chance. He could have been a cautionary tale.
But he wasn’t. He was the guy who jumped into the waters first, and opened himself up to God’s grace. He can’t wait, because more than anyone else in that boat he needed that second chance.
Maybe you have been there. Or maybe you are there now. Maybe you feel like you have done something that has shut you off from God’s love so completely that there is no chance of ever getting it back.
I used to feel like God’s grace was true for everyone but me. I could believe in it for anyone else, but not for myself. Later on I found out that a lot of people actually feel that way. A lot of us feel we are somehow so horribly special that we are beyond God’s love.
But we are never beyond God’s love. And we are never beyond God’s redemption. And if Peter is any indication, we who get the second chances might even be the ones who get asked to do things that we have never imagined. And if God never gives up on us, who are we to give up on ourselves? Amen.