Sunday, May 1, 2022
Psalm 30 & John 21:9-19
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

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The search team for our next Youth director has met for the past couple of weeks and at our last meeting, we brainstormed ways to articulate the values of our youth ministry. One important value that the search team came up with was that our youth ministry as a whole, not just the youth director, but our youth volunteers, our volunteers who work with our youth, as well as every single person in this church would strive to “meet our youth where they’re at.” To not only meet them where they’re at in their faith journey, but also where they’re at physically such as their games, concerts, and other extracurricular activities. And it occurred to me that this is a value that is important for all our areas of ministry. It’s why our Deacons make it a point to do visits with our home-bound members where they’re at physically as they are no longer able to come to worship.

We do this because Jesus modeled this for us. After he was resurrected but before ascending to heaven, Jesus went out to find the disciples where they were at. He didn’t scold them for fishing instead of being deep in prayer or doing something else way more spiritual. Instead he calls out to them from the shore: “Hey boys! Did you catch anything?” Jesus, as the true shepherd, finds his sheep where they are instead of getting upset about them not being where he wished they would be.

The disciples didn’t know who Jesus was at first and they were afraid to confirm that it was really him preparing breakfast for them. Perhaps it was because they felt guilty and ashamed for not sticking by him at his darkest hour? Maybe they were still in shock at seeing him resurrected from the dead? We’re not really sure why, but it doesn’t seem to matter to Jesus. Jesus was glad to see them and to have the opportunity to share another meal with them. He sought them out after all.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he met people where they were at and this wasn’t the first time he did so with the disciples. In Luke 5, when Jesus first meets Peter, James, and John, they were fishing then, too. He asks them to let down their nets, even though Peter explains: “Master, we’ve fished all night and we haven’t caught anything, but if we’ll put down our nets if you say so.” They do, and end up catching so many fish their nets begin to break. Peter falls at Jesus’ feet and exclaims: “Go away from me Lord for I am a sinful man!” because he realizes that he was wrong to doubt Jesus. But then Jesus says to Peter: “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching people.”

Since that time a lot has happened for Peter. He continues to profess his loyalty and faithfulness to Christ, going as far as saying: “I would be willing to lay my life down for you.” But Peter goes on to deny even knowing Jesus three times, just as Jesus predicted. That was then, however, and this is now. To quote Rev. Dr. Earl Palmer: “Jesus does not quiz Peter’s failures of the past, but rather about Peter’s decision in the present.”

Jesus desires to restore Peter, which is why he takes Peter aside after breakfast. He addresses Peter by his full name “Simon Peter” and not by the nickname he gave him. It’s like when your parents mean business when they sternly call you by your full name. For most parents this is done out of love. The majority of parents don’t want to see their children make poor choices, so out of love they discipline their children so they can learn from their poor choices.

So it is out of love that Jesus wants Peter to revisit his bad choices. It’s out of love that he wants Peter to address head-on the pain of having denied Jesus. We are told that after he denies Jesus, Peter begins to weep bitterly. It’s safe to say that even at this point he is ridden with guilt for abandoning Jesus.

In order to redeem him, Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter does indeed love him. The same number of times Peter denied Jesus. And Jesus does so over a charcoal fire. This is fitting since the last time Peter had lied about being one of the disciples was over a charcoal fire, when those around him were emphatic that he was.

The first time Jesus asks Peter if he loves him he asks: “Do you love me more than these.” Biblical scholars have wondered who the “these” are that Jesus is referring to. The most compelling argument is that “these” refers to the other disciples. Jesus is recalling the time in Mark chapter 14 when he predicts that eventually all of the disciples will desert him. Peter responds, however, “Even if all fall away I never will.” Even after he predicts Peter’s denial, Peter is insistent and says: “Even if I have to die with you I will never disown you.” 

For Peter, this was a painful reminder of how he failed Jesus. How he went back on his word. His fear overpowered his love and obedience to Jesus. But Peter had to revisit this pain in order to be healed. He could no longer ignore his guilt and shame. He had to face the truth of his mistakes. 

But notice that Peter does not do this alone. Jesus seeks him out, pulls him aside, and remains with him. He not only guides, but also walks with Peter through the pain of his mistakes. Basically his sin. And he does the same for us.

In the movie Walk the Line, a biopic of Johnny Cash’s life, there’s a scene where Johnny decides he is going to kick his drug addiction. He does so successfully, but can only do it with the help of his soon-to-be wife, June Carter, and her parents by his side. They actually end up moving in with him for a short period to help him through the pain of withdrawal. With the support of people who deeply cared for him and who were willing to walk alongside him in his pain, Johnny Cash was able to heal. While Jesus asks us to revisit the pain of our mistakes he also remains at our side as we work through our guilt and shame.

Each time Peter reaffirms his love for Jesus, Jesus responds with “Feed my Lambs,” “Take Care of my sheep,” and finally “Feed my sheep.” We tend to focus on Jesus’ forgiveness and redemption and make that the end of the story. It is actually only the beginning. While it is of course true that Jesus’ forgiveness and redemption transform us and we are set free from the burden of our sin, we don’t talk a lot about what comes next. In this conversation between Jesus and Peter, we get a better an idea of what comes next. We are forgiven and redeemed so that we can feed and take care of others. Put another way we are forgiven and redeemed to serve those God calls us to serve. 

In our passage, in forgiving Peter, Jesus also commissions him to continue to do Christ’s work in the world. Peter is to be a leader in helping the early church carry on what Jesus started. But before Peter could do so he had to first come to terms with his past sin in order to be forgiven and therefore set free to carry out Christ’s call on his life. When Christ forgives us he empowers us to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. 

At the center of the movie Encanto is the Madrigal family. The movie begins with the explanation of how each member of the Madrigal family is blessed with a magical gift. The movie begins by explaining how this came to be. When she was much younger and a new mother, Abuela Madrigal, the matriarch of the family, is miraculously protected by an unknown source of magic while escaping violent marauders who had taken over her town. Even though Abuela tragically loses her husband, she, her children and the other townspeople, who were also in the process of escaping, are given a new town with magical borders protecting them from further violence from the outside.

Things soon, however, start to unravel for the Madrigals. Many of the family members begin to slowly lose their power or break under the pressure of having to constantly be strong for others at the expense of their own well-being. Abuela Madrigal is faced with the realization that in her fear of once again losing her family and her home she has to in turn hurt her family and their town, both of which she fought so hard to keep together. For Abuela Madrigal, there was unresolved pain in her past that kept her from truly loving her family and truly serving others. It is a beautiful story about the redemption of generational trauma.

Likewise, Jesus wants to free us from anything that keeps us from truly loving and serving others. Sure, Peter could have still been a great leader in the early church if Jesus hadn’t restored him on the beach that day. But he would have constantly been ridden with the painful guilt over having denied Jesus. He would then look to his service of the church, instead of to Jesus himself, as a way of redeeming himself. Instead of being able to serve and love freely, Peter would instead constantly serve others as a way of atoning for his past mistakes. Jesus did not want this for Peter, which is why he makes a point of pulling Peter aside to restore him. He wanted Peter to be free to serve others. Jesus wants the same for us.

To be forgiven is to be empowered. And it’s a constant journey. In this life, we will never arrive at being the people God calls us to be. We will make mistakes again. We will sin again. But if we continue to be honest with God about our sins we can be assured that like Peter, we will be forgiven and restored. Through Christ’s forgiveness and only by Christ’s forgiveness are we free to feed and care for those God calls us to serve.