21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon 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.
4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He 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. 7 That 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. 8 But 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.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So 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. 12 Jesus 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. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When 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.” 16 A 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.” 17 He 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. 18 Very 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.”
One Sunday when I was preaching at my last call I looked out in the congregation and saw the face of someone I knew, but had never seen in church before. I knew she had a spiritual life of her own, but I also knew that she wasn’t so sure about churches or about Christianity.
We had developed a growing friendship through some other friends in town, and she had been curious about what I did for work, and so I had invited her to come to church some Sunday. And, to my great surprise, she had taken me up on the offer.
A few days later I asked her what she thought about the church. And she told me, “I liked the people, I liked the music, and I even liked what you said. I would consider coming back, but for one thing. I don’t really mind the God-talk, but do you think you could talk about Jesus a little less?
I told her no, that Jesus was there to stay. And she said, “yeah, I thought so,” and we let it go at that.
The sad thing is, I sort of understood where she was coming from. In her life she had heard people talking about Jesus in ways that never felt meaningful or sincere to her. Jesus had always been this figure she had seen as judging her, or someone her parents or priests appealed to in order to get her to behave, or someone that friends told her she needed to accept as her personal savior or else she would never get to heaven.
And I get how that can make you a little wary. Growing up in the South, a lot of my friends would talk about having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ”. So much so that when someone asked me, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” I knew it was time to get away, because someone was about to try to convert me.
Now the truth is, I was already a Christian. I did have a spiritual life, and I did follow Jesus. But it wasn’t because I had ever had the sort of revelatory, sudden conversion experience that my more fundamentalist classmates told me I had to have, but because I’d always had this sort of quiet, questioning faith that had grown over time
And my only exposure to churches were in the kind that often get jokingly called the “frozen chosen”: Congregational, Presbyterian, Episcopalian. The ministers there emphasized God’s love for us, and mission, and trying to live a good life, just like we do here every week. But we rarely talked about what it means to have an actual relationship with Jesus. We knew who we are were and that God loved us, but we just didn’t talk what it meant. And, truth be told, some might say the same about those of us who are members of the UCC today.
And often, we are just fine with that. We have our faith, and it is a good faith, a well-reasoned and deep-thinking one, and it sustains us. But sometimes even we who are the frozen chosen need something more. Sometimes we need a relationship that goes deeper. And thats where Scripture passages like today’s come in.
Not long after the Resurrection, a little while after that first Easter, the disciples, Jesus’ friends and followers, were gathered. And Peter was among them. And you have to remember what’s been happening with Peter. On the night before Jesus died, Peter had done exactly what Jesus told him he would do, and the very thing Peter had said he would never do: he had denied that he was a follower of Jesus. Not just once, but three times.
After Jesus had died he had been crushed by the weight of his grief, and the weight of his own betrayal. And it was only now, in these first confusing days when it looked like Jesus might be back, that he was starting to understand what that meant. Because if Jesus had come back, how amazing would that be? But, if you are Peter, and Jesus is back, and you had denied him, how awkward would that be? Can you imagine what he must have been thinking? “What am I going to say to Jesus when I see him?”
Scripture tells us that Peter tells the others, “I’m going fishing”. I get that. He probably needed to do something to clear his head. And a few of them go out in their boat, throwing the fishing nets out again and again and each time they pull them up and find nothing.
And then a man calls to them from the shore, “try the other side of the boat”. And they do, and this time it is so filled with fish that they can’t even bring it up. And that’s when they realize who that man standing on the shore is.
Can you imagine being Peter in that moment? This is the moment you’ve both been waiting for and been scared to death of. He sees Jesus there, and he doesn’t even wait for the boat to head back. He jumps into the water, and goes to the shore to meet Jesus there.
And this is the part of the story that I’m always struck by. When Peter gets there, Jesus doesn’t yell at him. He doesn’t chastise him for his lack of faith, or call him a coward. He doesn’t tell him to get lost, that he had had his chance. Instead, he says this: “Come and have breakfast.”
I sometimes wonder if we have a hard time talking about our relationships with Jesus not because of what we will sound like to others, but because of how scary that kind of intimacy can be. It’s a little easier to talk about this creator God who made everything and who is so very different from us. Maybe even distant. But it’s harder to talk about someone who actually lived as one of us, and felt the same feelings as all of us, and who knows the truth about us, good and bad, and who still loves us anyway.
In Jesus, God becomes human. God becomes like us. And we are able to know God not as the CEO who gives us orders. Not God the lawyer with a bunch of statutes for us to follow, neatly bound together. Not even God the heavenly father. But God, standing there on the beach, cooking breakfast.
If Jesus ever showed up in my kitchen, I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t be asking what was for breakfast. I’d probably be so dumbfounded and scared I wouldn’t know what to say. And I think that’s normal. Because relationships can be scary when it’s just us everyday people. But really having a relationship with Jesus? God incarnate and you? That’s a whole other level.
And yet, Jesus shows us what it can be like. Because he invites Peter to breakfast.
Can you imagine that? You expect to be persona non grata, and instead you get breakfast. The very one you denied, the one who knows the worst about you, isn’t angry. He doesn’t reject you. Instead, he’s cooking you fish to eat, and telling you to pull us a seat to his table. And he loves you. All the stuff from the past, all the mistakes, they don’t matter. He loves you.
And that may be the scariest part of all. The fact that we are loved no matter what. The conviction that grace is real, and that we can’t somehow mess things up so badly that we lose it.
The first time I really understood that, the first time I realized that no matter what God still loved me, it was actually a little terrifying. Knowing that God’s grace was for me, and for everyone, was overwhelming. But then, it was profoundly freeing. Because God’s love went from something I had to earn to something that was there. All I had to do was let it in, and believe that I was loved.
That’s amazing. But it’s also not the end of the story. Because Jesus’s love does not depend on me. I can choose what to do because of it. I can choose to do nothing. I can just accept it and not really think about it much. But, when you are truly loved, and you know that you are truly loved, can you really just do nothing?
I think the answer is “no”. Because I think love always transforms us, and I think that when we know we are loved, we are never the same again. And I think that Peter knew that too.
When Peter sat down to eat breakfast with Jesus, Jesus asked him a question: Peter, do you love me?
Peter says, “yes, Lord, I love you.” And Jesus says to him “feed my sheep” or, as we might say it, take care of my people and guide them.
A clear cut mission. But then a second time Jesus asks him the same question. “Peter do you love me?” “Yes Lord,” Peter says, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs.”
And then a third time, “Peter, do you love me?” And this time Peter is hurt, and he wonders “why doesn’t he believe me?” And he says, “yes Lord…you know everything…you know that I love you!” And once again Jesus says, “feed my sheep”.
He asked him three times. I don’t think that’s because Jesus didn’t believe him. I think it was because Peter didn’t really believe himself. Peter had denied Jesus three times. And so Jesus asks him three times if he loves him. And in those questions, there’s a certain grace. An assurance that as many times as we want away, God will call us back just as many times. Whether it’s three or three hundred or three thousand. God will always ask us to return in love.
When we think of the great saints of the church, Peter is up there at the top. The guy who ran away from Jesus on the night he was betrayed was the same guy who jumped into the water and ran onto the shore when he saw him again. And he was the one that Jesus named Peter, or rock, saying “you’re the rock upon whom I will build my church”.
What sort of amazing love, and amazing grace, is that? One minute you can be the one who denied Jesus three times. And the next, you are the one he loves so much that he trusts you to do something amazing. And all of this takes place over something as mundane and everyday as breakfast.
This is a story about a saint, but it’s not just a story for saints. It’s a story for us all. Maybe we won’t be invited to breakfast on the beach, but there are little signs all around us that we are still invited to the feast. There’s a chair for us, and the table is overflowing with the grace and the love of God. And all we have to do is say “yes” to the host who wants to get to know us better. Amen?