Rev. Lisa Horst Clark
May 12, 2019
Times when it is ok to repeat the same sentence more than once right after each other:
We have been looking at Jesus’ resurrection appearances and looking in the midst of them for our places where we get a glimpse of resurrection – the places where we go from death to unexpected life. And we come today to the end of the gospel of John; the resurrection appearance with the most unexpected repetition and where what is brought back to life isn’t a body—it is an identity, a relationship, and a call. What is resurrected is Peter’s call as a disciple of Jesus.
Ok, so back up. Let’s just remember who Peter is. Simon Peter is the disciple some of us most closely identify with because he is always screwing up in the most earnest ways. Simon Peter is the one who tries to walk across water after Jesus and almost drowns. Simon is the one who gets the right answer to Jesus’ question “Who is it that you say that I am?” “You are the messiah,” with the teacher’s approval: “On this rock I will build my church.” And he gets a brand new name: “Peter.” And in only the next chapter Jesus is telling his exuberant plan “Get behind me Satan!” because Peter profoundly didn’t get it. Peter is the one who says to Jesus who is trying to wash his feet, “You shall never wash my feet,” and when Jesus says no, Peter replies, “Then not just my feet but my hands and my head.” Because Peter is nothing if not either too little or too much. And Jesus says no—and washes just Peter’s feet, even when he doesn’t understand what is happening Peter is the one who is almost there; enthusiastic and then shockingly human. Consistently fallible.
And so, of course it is Peter who at Jesus’ final supper with the disciples promises up and down the wall that He will be there. He will not desert Jesus even if he needs to die with him. He will not leave him. And of course it is also Peter who denies Jesus not once, twice, but three times before the cock crows. In the gospel of John where this text is from the wording is specific. Three times someone asks Peter if he is Jesus’ disciple: “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too are you?
and he replies “I am not.” He huddles around the fire with the officials and servants and three times he is asked if he is a disciple, and three times he denies his relationship, his role, his call. And then the cock crows. At Jesus’ death, Peter is no where to be found.
Worst times to repeat yourself over and over again:
To use the power of repetition and control on yourself with a voice that will not let you go. To deny who you were called to be.
To repeat voices of shame: I am unworthy. I am a mess. I am useless and unlovable and trash.
To repeat voices of false aggrandizement: they owe me this. I have been made for better than this. I am better than them. I have been used.
To repeat the voices of the world; that this is just how it is. The world is a brutal place. We cannot hope for better. You need to keep your head down.
In the gospel of John, Peter three time denies who he is – that he is Jesus’ disciple. He denies the last three years of his life, the thing that he left everything to be, the journey that called him to follow this one. Peter was called from his normal life—in one of the gospels it names that he was fishing and someone on the shore called to him and he left his nets to find a new life. And here he is, after the tomb was empty, after the women’s words, even after the appearances in the locked room. And not knowing what to do, he goes back to where they started. Back to the shoreline. Back to the beginning of the story.
Casting out nets and pulling back nothing.
Even here, they hear a voice call. They find their hands a miracle, and they realize that the voice on the shore is Christ – is resurrection come to meet them. Peter is ready to abandon the boat and jump straight in the water because of course, Peter. And Peter has to wait to get the right clothing on as he’s not quite ready, because of course, Peter. And after Jesus feeds them breakfast there is this exchange where three times he asks Peter, “Peter do you love me?” And on three times hearing the reply he tells him, “Feed my sheep.” There are interpretations of this story that name this as Jesus’ forgiveness of Peter although the words “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” never appear. Instead what we see is somehow by repeating three times, Jesus asks a question and gives a call.
Jesus asks Peter a question and invites him to name the relationship— what matters to him and who. Jesus then gives him a call, saying that a relationship with him is not all that there is, but that actually that it is a call elsewhere, away from this shore to pastures unkown. “Feed my sheep, pasture my lambs”
The beauty of this story is that it has this lovely symmetry. That if three times he could deny to someone out of fear, then three times he gets to say what is true. He gets a chance to answer the thing beneath it all. He gets to say what is real – that he does love Jesus. At first Peter takes it in a way of shame—why is he asking me this three times? Why didn’t he believe me the first two? Is this being used to show how I have failed? How I am untrustworthy? How I am not really a follower and my love cannot be trusted?
Instead it is the opposite. Jesus is giving Peter an opportunity to hear himself. Jesus is equipping Peter for the task before him by helping him to name for himself the deepest truth of his life, and sending him forth for the task that will fill the rest of his days. Peter is able to hear himself in his own words the affirmation that will give him the courage for the work to come, for the life he will live, for the sheep he is called to tend, for the death that will await him. He is asked this question not because he is untrustworthy, but because it is a question that life is going to ask him again and again and again.
It is a question that the world is going to ask him as he faces the uncertain crowd as the tongues rain down and he says “Yes, I will speak.” It is a question that he will be asked
as he faces the jail cell and wonders if he has the courage to remain. It is a question that he is going to be asked as he meets the stranger and realizes that the grace of God is wider than he imagined. It is a question that he is going to be asked as he faces those in need of healing, and the hungry. It is a question that he will need to be asked as he faces the fractious early church, which is called to be the body of Christ, as he seeks to lead them in a new way.
In short, over and over again in his life the world will ask him where his heart lies; where his allegiance exists, who he truly is, and where he will cast his life and his heart. And again and again and again he will need to answer “Yes, I am a follower of Christ.” And to God, “Yes, I love you. Yes, I seek to follow in this way.” And the reply will be a task of caring for the powerlessness, even if it requires giving up his own power himself. That is a relationship for a person, and for us, I want you to reflect on what is the question of faith that you would want to be asked, that you would want to affirm.
Do you love God? Do you believe in justice? Do you put your faith in something that is beyond your imagining to you? And you got to say yes, yes, yes.
But each of these was not left on its own; each is coupled with a task. Reaffirming the relationship with Jesus, Jesus then connects him to his sheep: feed my sheep, care for my people, tend this world. What had started with a denial of who Peter was and who he had been called to be. And with a three-fold affirmation of the most important truth of Peter’s life, and the call that means he can’t go back to the lakeshore, but is sent out into the field.
Because what is the best reasons to repeat yourself over and over?
Because, dear church, I need to you to be able to say Yes. I need you to be able to say “Feed my sheep.” Do you believe in love? Do you believe in justice? Do you love God?
Do you love your neighbor? Does love conquer hate? Does grace triumph over our shame? Does God’s love have the final word after death? Yes.
What does Jesus call us to do? Feed my sheep. What does Jesus need us to do? Feed my sheep. What does the world need us to do? Feed my sheep. What do we go from here to do? Feed my sheep. How will we live the love of Jesus? Feed my sheep