April 14, 2013
Robert G. Moore, Senior Pastor
Christ the King Lutheran Church
The Readings (New Revised Standard Version) and Psalm (ELW) for the Day:
Psalm 30 You have turned my wailing into dancing. (Ps. 30:11)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
You thought we were finished with the story last week when we read the words,
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
The witness of the Gospel of John is to the ongoing presence of the risen Christ among the community of the beloved disciples. No sooner has the Gospel seemingly concluded with the promise of life than does John tell yet another story. Judging by rhetorical principles, the whole point of the addendum is to stress the presence of Christ. Three times the Gospel makes reference to the appearance of Jesus.
For emphasis the story begins with this sentence,
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. (John 21:1-2)
By the end of the breakfast story the narrator once again adds these words,
This was now the third time that Jesus [was shown] to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:14)
The appearance stories of Jesus are meant to tell us how the church was formed and who was chosen to make up its ranks. That story should give us great comfort, who through baptism have made public profession that we are followers of Jesus.
Today’s story is the story of Peter. You may recall that Peter was the leader of the disciples. His role is uncontested in the biblical witness. St. Paul who publicly disagrees with Peter does not contest his leadership. The Gospels themselves report that Peter was leadership material, but they also tell the painful story of his denial of Jesus during his trial.
You may recall at the farewell dinner Jesus takes a basin of water and begins to wash the disciples’ feet. This act of humble service was at first rejected by Peter. The disciple did not yet understand the ramifications of following Jesus. Peter refuses to allow Jesus to lower himself in such away. Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:8)
Only then does Peter relent and allow Jesus to exhibit such servant leadership.
But Peter does not understand the resurrection power that will come upon the disciples and, indeed, on the entire world. Jesus then issues the new commandment that the disciples love one another. (John 13:34) Jesus knows that the disciples are not yet empowered to follow him completely. Peter wants to know where Jesus is going. We know, of course, that he is going to his death. Jesus turns to Peter and says that he cannot follow him yet. Peter protests that he would lay down his life for his master. Jesus then predicts that Peter will not only fail to follow but he will actually deny knowing Jesus—three times!
And that is what Peter does. He stands in the courtyard of the high priest. There by the warmth of a charcoal fire Peter denies publicly even knowing Jesus. This is such a tragic picture of Peter and, well, of all of us.
We human beings are prone to profess loyalty to important principles and to significant people. But we continually find that in the fires of temptation we quickly abandon our declarations. Is there no greater picture of our alienated state of being in this world?
When we are free from outside threatening forces, we are bold to profess our loyalties. But when we are faced with humiliation, with failure, with injury, with illness or even death, we turn in on ourselves. We are equipped with an animal instinct for self-preservation. For this reason we identify well with Peter who in order to preserve his life automatically denied knowing his Lord.
So it is that the Gospel of John invites us all into the presence of the living Christ to enjoy the gifts that Christ himself has given. He has provided a boat-load of fish. The disciple whom Jesus loved identifies Jesus on the shore. Peter gets dressed, jumps into the sea, and swims to Jesus.
There is a charcoal fire on the seashore. Jesus invites everyone to eat of the fish and the bread that Jesus has provided. It is in the sharing of the meal in the presence of Jesus that the disciples receive the signs of the kingdom and of reconciliation and of peace.
But perhaps Peter did not yet have peace. Jesus turns to him and asks Peter three times very pointedly, “Peter Johnson, do you love me?” Peter declares his love for Jesus three times. Peter’s feelings are hurt, because Jesus will not stop asking him if he loves Jesus. But Jesus not only puts Peter on the spot. He also gives him opportunity to cancel out the effect of the three denials with three declarations of his love for Jesus. The meaning of the fellowship meal has now taken flight in the words of love.
Now Peter is able to do what he could not do before the death and resurrection of Jesus. He now has his share in Jesus, and that share will include his own martyrdom as a witness to the power of the Spirit of Christ. Peter will not flee death, but he will face death not alone, but in the on-going presence of the Lord among his own flock.
Dear brothers and sisters, we gathered today with this prayer:
By the resurrection of your Son, show yourself to us and inspire us to follow Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
The witness of the church is testimony to the on-going presence of Christ among his people and in the world that God loves. You may recall last week’s story of Thomas who also saw the Lord. You will have also heard the promise of the risen Lord,
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29b)
We are invited to this table where together we eat the meal that Jesus has provided for us. No fish today, but we have fresh bread to eat and delicious Tokay wine to drink. When we eat and drink together we are ourselves a sacrament. We give witness to the promise that where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name Jesus will be among us (Matthew 18:20). It is Jesus who has shown us the way and has, therefore, made it possible for us to follow him