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.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved 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. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Life is full of surprises. It is human nature to hope and think ahead, but it is also human nature to be wrong and unaware of the bigger picture, which leads to surprises. Some surprises are good, others not so good. As I read through the paper this week I was struck by the violence and uncertainty of life in so many areas of the world. We have the privilege of even hoping for nice and good surprises when so many people are just hoping to eat and be alive for one more day. One surprising thing is that in every place, the good the bad, God shows up. One report from a mission in Bulgaria who host camps in the summer talk of the opportunity to impact a family of four – seeing them move from distrust to interest and laughter over a period of two summers. Another couple at the camps hold off on birthday plans for the husband so they can attend a Bible Study. He has been sober for 6 years through AA, and was just discovering that the Higher Power who helped him quit his drinking had a name, and that name was Jesus.
In our Scripture reading today we find a group of men out fishing (their original vocation), whose lives had just been turned upside down by the death of their rabbi, only to have Him appear alive. Surprising times indeed. So they have breakfast and then Jesus speaks to one in particular, to Peter. It was Peter who denied Jesus three times. It was Peter who understood that Jesus was the Messiah, asking the rhetorical question, “Who else has the words of life?” It was Peter who seemed to live life with the throttle stuck at 110%. Peter is caught off guard by Jesus showing up, surprised. The disciples had expected Jesus to show up as the King who would create a new civil order, who would kick the Romans out of the Jewish land. That didn’t happen. Instead, when God showed up, He wasn’t who they thought He would be – He was a man of peace and true spirituality. And the message Jesus brought wasn’t what was expected either. It was filled with grace and love. It was personal and insistent.
Jesus said your past does not limit God’s calling for you today. Peter denied Jesus three times, and three times Jesus reaffirmed His call His vocation, His plan for Peter. And who was Peter? He was a fisherman, doing menial and manual labour for a lot of his young life. There was no glory in what he did. He was a “nobody”, in a backward and small country, yet God showed up and pointed at him and said, “I have a job for you.” I grabbed hold of you for a purpose, and now it is time for you to go after that purpose. Don’t let it slip you by just so you can fish. Other people are called to fish, but I have created you for something else, something just you can do. Jesus was instilling confidence in Peter – not confidence in Peter for Peter’s sake or because of Peter’s talents, but the confidence of God, that God would see him through even when he blew it. Here the Creator of the ends of the earth, the resurrected Jesus was restoring him after a three-time denial. We like to say, “Three strikes and you’re out!” but Jesus likes to say, “I will never leave you nor forsake you”.
If you have an unreconciled past, stuff that you have never turned over to God, today is the day to do it. You need to take those burdens to Jesus, because He asked you to bring them to Him. When you take your burdens to Jesus and leave them at the foot of the cross, you are restored to the place in the Kingdom that He has reserved for you. As far as the east is from the west, and eternity of distance, that is how far Jesus takes your sins away. Your past does not limit God’s calling for your life. It just doesn’t matter when His grace is so vast. Cast yourself into that grace and come out a new creation, a man or woman who has Jesus at the center of life; washed whiter than snow. Consider David, killer of giants, yet adulterer and murderer. He found grace greater than his sin. Paul, a persecutor of the church, a murderer, was grabbed by God. There is nothing too big or too small, nothing you have committed or omitted, that is bigger than what God has for you. It is time to let go of the past, go for what God has for you.
Secondly, Jesus calls us to our own path – don’t compare yourself to someone else. Jesus prophesied about Peter’s death, and then later Peter has a question about someone else’s death. Jesus said don’t worry about him, I have given you your task. Jesus is a personal God. He came to save you and I. He equipped us for a part in the body of Christ, and it is all good. When everyone does his or her part, the whole thing grows and functions. Sometimes our place in the body is clear and makes sense, but sometimes it doesn’t – at least to us. To God, though, who sees the big picture, it is always right. Right now we see the back of the tapestry. We see all the loose threads and the dangly ends. But God sees the good side, the side He is working on, the side that reveals the Gospel hidden in the kingdom of God. This Gospel is hidden because it has been rejected, so God has us on the paths that lead to these hidden places. The path we are on is for the kingdom, for people to see and hear the God news of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is revealed when, along our life’s journey, we say “Jesus saves” and show how He has changed us.
People get so caught up in what other people are doing, though that is between them and God. There are three churches that meet in this building, all different. But the great thing is that we are all on the same team. We are all trying to live out the calling God has put on our lives, and so we let them be who they are, and just keep busy doing what God has called us to do. We don’t have to all be the same, because none of us are the same. I have an identical twin brother. He’s the same, but different. Set your feet on the path Jesus has called you to, and focus on the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Your vocation is yours, and you will live it out uniquely.
The task Jesus calls us to starts with us answering the question Jesus asks us, “Do you love me?” Sometimes I think we stand there like Peter and say, “Yes” and then we just stand there. We forget that Jesus has called us to an adventure. He made us a new creation – we are connected to the spiritual world like never before, the power of the resurrection is working in us – how can we say anything but “Absolutely, Lord. I love you with everything I have, and I am doing everything I can to let others know about you.”
I think Jesus asked this question because it sums up what salvation is. Salvation is being captivated by Christ. It means being eager to spend time with Him. It means wanting to please Him. It means sacrificing self so that His will is done, not ours. I hope you have had a love story in your life. It may not have led to marriage, but I hope that somewhere, somehow, there was a special person that at some point gave you goose bumps. Whenever you were apart you just couldn’t wait to be back together. And when you were together, the world was right. But there is a deeper love that goes beyond just those ooshy-gooshy feelings. There is a strong love that leads to sacrifice, the willingness to sacrifice yourself for the other. This is the love that Jesus asks of us – a love that puts Jesus on the throne of our lives. That same love sent Him to the cross, and asks us to take up our cross, to deny ourselves and follow Him.
Jesus shows up on the beach and after breakfast challenges Peter. He wipes the slate clean and asks, “Do you love Me?” He has shown up today, and asks you and I the same question, “Do you love Me?”