FOLLOW ME

Easter 3-C
May 5, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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When I was younger, when my older brother Ted was in high school, he had somehow come into possession of my grandfather’s old 1956 Chevy truck. It had been sitting in a relative’s yard and needed a lot of work to get it up and running.  I remember for a good amount of time, my dad and my brother spent every bit of their spare time, especially on Sundays after church, over at my uncle’s house working on that old truck. They had stripped the engine down to the blocks and completely rebuilt it by hand. Then one day, they were finally able to crank over the engine and start her up.  I’ll never forget the smiles on their faces as they pulled out of the driveway to take a test drive around the block. My brother loved that truck.

You know, that’s not a bad analogy for what we see happening in our Gospel lesson today. This passage is one of the most dramatic lessons of the post-Resurrection narratives. It captures the powerful restoration of the disciples that were present that morning. At the heart of the story is St. Peter, the bold and brash fisherman, who learned the hard way what it really means to love Jesus. Peter made wild and wonderful promises, only to fall short when the moment of truth came. On the night our Lord was betrayed, Peter claimed that he would “lay down [his] life for [Jesus].”  A short time later, when the chips were down, Peter’s self-confessed love failed and he would deny that he even knew Jesus. And we get to see Jesus, restoring his disciples by showering them with love, and care, and attention — restoring them to their former glory, and loving them throughout the process.

This was the third time that Jesus had revealed Himself to his disciples since the resurrection. The first time was in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, in the upper room, when Thomas wasn’t there. (This was the same room where they celebrated Passover with Jesus on the night one of the disciples betrayed Him and He was arrested.) The second time Jesus appeared to them was in the same room, eight days later, when Thomas was there and Jesus invited him to touch his wounds and place his hand in his side. And here, Jesus again reveals himself to the disciples, this time by the Sea of Tiberius, which is also known as the Sea of Galilee.

When Jesus appeared to his disciples, He was appearing to broken and vulnerable men who had possibly lost hope for the future. Disciples who, like us, were desperately in need of a fresh start with God, who were desperately in need of finding value, and worth, and a sense of identity, and they needed to know that they were still loved.

Our lesson begins with the scene of weary fishermen after an unsuccessful night of fishing. Suddenly, a stranger appears on the shore and He called out to them: “Children, do you have any fish?” 

Jesus called them “Children.” He didn’t call them ‘Men.’ or ‘Friends,’ or ‘Brothers,’ He called them ‘children’. What a beautiful and personal way to address His disciples.  He knows how weak and vulnerable they were feeling. He knows how confused they were. He knows how much they were hurting. And so He called them His children – an indication of the depth of love and sense of protection He has over them.

Jesus was restoring them.

Jesus told them to throw their nets off the right side of the boat. What he says does not make sense to them.  They sill don’t realize it’s Jesus. But for some reason they did it anyway.  And suddenly, their nets are full of fish; so full in fact that they couldn’t pull the net in.  And with this very act, Jesus showed them how much he loves them and wants to abundantly provide for them everything they would ever need. 

This story may remind you of another encounter, three years earlier, when Jesus is standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and He told a fisherman Simon, and his brother Andrew, to push out further into deeper water and let down the nets. Simon told Jesus that they had fished all night and had caught nothing. But they put down the nets anyway. And when they did, they caught so many fish their nets where beginning to break. They called for James and John to come help them. When all was said and done they had filled both boats so full of fish, they were on the brink of sinking. Simon was in such awe he bowed at Jesus’ feet. Simon said, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid. Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” And the Bible tells us they left their boats and everything they had and they followed Jesus. (Luke 5:1-10; Matthew 4:18-22)

Here is Jesus coming to the disciples, after all their failures since they celebrated Passover together, after they had run away, after they had denied knowing Him, after they had given up hope and went back to their old lives…

Here is Jesus greeting them the same way he greeted them on that first day, doing the same thing that introduced them to Him as their Lord in the beginning. And it’s as if Jesus was saying, “Do you remember how it was before all this mess happened? It will be like that again. Let’s start anew. I love you, I forgive you, and I am still calling you. You will always be my children.” This is such a beautiful act of grace and mercy.

Jesus was restoring them.

And it is at this point in time that John recognizes Jesus and proclaims, “It is the Lord!” 

Peter, ever the impetuous disciple, grabs his clothes and swims to shore, leaving the other disciples with the hard work of getting the boat and the net full of fish back to shore.

When they get back to land, they find Jesus and Peter sitting together near a charcoal fire. And yet again, another beautiful detail that shows the depth of Jesus’ love. The last time that Jesus and Peter had been together near a charcoal fire was in the courtyard of the High Priest, Caiaphas on the night that Jesus was being tried. 

That night, Peter sat by a fire in the courtyard while Jesus is being interrogated and when he was asked if he was with Jesus, Peter denied even knowing Jesus and immediately the rooster crowed, and at that very moment Jesus turned and locked eyes with Peter. The Bible tells us Peter remembered Jesus telling him that he would deny him, and Peter responded, “Not me Lord! I could never do that!” It must have been the worst feeling in the world for Peter because he ran away and he wept bitterly.

But here they are now, sitting together by a fire and Jesus, again, is looking straight at Peter. There is no judgment in His eyes; Jesus looks at Peter with nothing but mercy, compassion and loving kindness.

Jesus was restoring him. 

And as they sit down to eat breakfast together ‘Jesus gave them bread and fish’. How reminiscent that would have been for the disciples of the last time that Jesus gave them bread at the Last Supper, before the betrayals, before the cowardice, and before the denials all began. But here is Jesus sitting with them and sharing bread with them. Jesus was still offering them hospitality, Jesus was still serving them, and Jesus still loved them.

Jesus was restoring them.

But the critical moment is not the disciples’ breakfast on the beach with Jesus, but rather the dialogue between Jesus and Peter that followed.

Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” OK, Jesus just called Peter by his true, by his full name and title – Simon, son of John. In my experience, full names are used in one of two circumstances. The most common is when we are in trouble. Growing up, our sons knew when they were in trouble when either my wife or I would call out, ‘Corey Michael (or Adam Christopher) come here!” Usually our full names are used when we are in trouble. Maybe Peter thought he was in trouble when Jesus looked at him and called him, ‘Simon, son of John…’ 

But the other circumstance where we are called by our full name is when we are about to make a covenant type contract or vow… when an important relational commitment is about to be formed. When you sign a contract you sign with your full name. When you were baptized and when you were confirmed your full name was used.

But in this passage, by using his full name, ‘Simon, son of John’, Peter was not in trouble but Jesus was about to commission him for something special. 

Peter had nothing to fear, Jesus was restoring him.

It’s important to look at the details of these questions when Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” To understand what’s really happening here, we need to know that in English, we only have the one word for “love” but in Greek, there are different words for the different kinds of love. And, in this passage, in the original Greek, there are two different words used. One is “agape,” which is an unconditional love, like the love God has for us; it’s the deepest and most profound type of love there is. The second word used is “phileo,” which indicates a brotherly type of love found in a deep friendship.

The first question Jesus asked Peter was, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” And the word Jesus uses is “agape”: “Do you love me unconditionally, with a total and utter commitment? Do you love me more than these men? Do you love me more than these things? More than your boat and your nets?  Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” But the word Peter replied with was “phileo.”  Kind of like he was saying, “Jesus, I love you. But to be honest, the way I betrayed you, the way I ran away shows that I only love you like a brother – and not as I should.”  Jesus looked at Peter and said, “[That’s OK.] Feed my lambs.”

Jesus was restoring him.

Then again, Jesus asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Again, He asked using “agape” type of love. — “Aren’t you the one who promised you’d never leave me? Aren’t you the one who promised to live and die for me? Are you saying that you don’t have “agape” love for me?” Peter is again confronted by his own weaknesses and failures, and again, he answers Jesus, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” – again, “phileo” type love – brotherly type love. “I’m sorry, Lord. I tried and I failed. I do love you, I really do. But I can’t live up to those words. I know I bragged about my loyalty. I know I thought I was the greatest of the disciples, but at the end of the day, I can’t live up to that.”  Jesus said, “[That’s OK, do the best you can.] Tend my sheep.”

Jesus was restoring him.

The third time, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” But this time, Jesus used the word “phileo.” “Simon, you say you have brotherly love for me. But what kind of a man betrays his brother? What kind of a brother denies even knowing him? And what kind of a brother runs away to save his own skin? Peter, do you even have “phileo” brotherly love for me?” And it says that Peter was sad because he knew deep in his heart that he could not even claim to have brotherly love for Jesus, as such was the depth of his sin and his betrayal. Peter replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And it is “phileo” love, which Peter used here. And again, Jesus said, “[That’s OK.] Feed my sheep.”

Three times Peter had denied Jesus; three times Jesus forgave Peter; three times Jesus restored Peter.

Each and every one of us, when we search our own hearts, we can empathize with Peter; we can put ourselves in his place. We can look at Jesus, and we can sense him looking at us, and we say, “Lord, I love you. I want to serve you. I really want to do what is right. My intentions are good… but I am weak and I am frail and I get it wrong so often. Lord, I let you down, I betray you, at times I run away from you. Sometimes I feel my best just isn’t good enough. But Lord, you know everything; you know that despite my behavior, I really do love you to the best of my ability. The love I have for you is not what you deserve, but sometimes it’s the best that I can offer.”

And Jesus looks back at us; He looks you in the eye and He looks me in the eye and He says to us: “That’s OK. Do your best, I can work with that. I love you. I forgive you. You are my children and you will always be my children.”

Jesus restores us.

And, as Jesus restores us, he asks only one thing of us: ‘Take care of my sheep’.

  • Take care of one another.
  • Forgive one another.
  • Have compassion on one another.
  • Show kindness and tolerance and patience towards one another.
  • More importantly, love one another.

That is all that Jesus asks of us.

After all our sin and betrayal. After all our denying him in our thoughts and with our words and with our actions, after all the apathy we have shown in our faith, after all our cowardice we have shown in our discipleship — after all that — Jesus continues to restore us and says, “It’s OK. I still love you. You will always be my children, just love one another as I have loved you.”

And so we come to the end of this incredible encounter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee; an encounter through which Jesus restored the disciples, an encounter through which Jesus restored Peter, an encounter that give us the assurance that Jesus restores us. And the closing words are this: Then Jesus said to him, “Follow me!” 

Now, after all that has happened – the ups and downs, the highs, the lows, the crowds, the healings, the raising of people from the dead, the adventures of faith and missions, — the torture, the betrayal, the death, and the resurrection — after all this, Jesus was back on the same shore. He was looking at the same fisherman named Simon, now called Peter, and Jesus re-commissioned him with the same words, “Follow me.”

Jesus has restored him. All has been made right in this moment of reconciliation and restoration.

The same is true for us today. Jesus has reconciled Himself to us He has restored us. Jesus is with us every day. He continues to reconcile and restore us, every day.  All our failings and all our sins have been forgiven and forgotten. This is a new moment, a new beginning.

Jesus has restored us. Such is the grace, and mercy, the “agape” love and compassion of our God.

Everyday Jesus calls to each and every one of us, “Follow me.”

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