Text: John 21:1-19 (RSV)
Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples
21 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tibe′ri-as; and he revealed himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathan′a-el of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zeb′edee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing.
4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards[a] off.
9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Jesus and Peter
15 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.” 16 A second time he said to him, “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.” 17 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. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.”
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.
Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Restoration. Today’s lesson from John is an illustration of all three of these concepts. But in order to get to them, we have start with another word, one we don’t like too much: Failure.
If you take a cynical view, the Gospels are full of failure. Not failure on the part of God; not failure on the part of Jesus – but almost total failure on the part of the disciples. The four Evangelists differ on many points, but this seems to be a common theme that runs like a red thread through them. For example, some scholars say that Mark is the Evangelist who hated the disciples – but the others don’t seem to be too far behind.
And, really, who can blame them? They record example after example of the disciples falling short – not seeing what’s in front of their faces, like Peter at the tomb; or not even being able to stay awake for the one hour in the Garden of Gethsemane; or denying Jesus out of fear, like Peter. For the last couple of weeks, John seems to keep harping on this, and we need to ask why. Is it because the disciples are just so clueless, or is there another, deeper meaning? And if so, what lessons can we draw from it all?
Today’s lesson comes from the tail end of John’s Gospel – Chapter 21 has been called a sort of “epilogue,” a way John chose to make it abundantly clear that Jesus is beyond the shadow of a doubt the promised Messiah, who rose from the dead and lives now and forever. The disciples are still very confused and very frightened, human emotions every one of us can easily understand, and John uses this as a mirror that he holds up to reflect the notions of the world as it is, and shows them to be utterly false in contrast to God’s vision of what the world is supposed to be.
One thing we really need to keep in mind is that the Gospels don’t just tell the story of God acting in the world through Jesus, but also tell the very human story of how the people who experienced these mighty acts of God reacted, how they felt, what they did. Remember that these were common, everyday, normal people who were experiencing something that had never happened before in all of human history. When you look at it that way, we can understand and even sympathize with their confusion and their fear. One commentator, Professor Frank Crouch, of the Moravian Seminary in Pennsylvania, writes that what Peter and the six other disciples did follows a typical human pattern that we see even today – an intense spiritual experience, like the one they just had, soon fades, and people go back to their familiar lives. We need the familiar sights and sounds, the home environment, to help us maintain our sense of stability and safety. Jesus knew that when he told them to go back home to Galilee, where it had all began, so they could get their heads around what they had seen and heard. And they’re doing what they’d done all their lives until Jesus came along – fishing.
They throw the net into the water on one side of the boat, and haul it in. Then they throw it over the other side and haul it in…over and over, like they’ve been doing most of their lives, and their fathers before them, and their fathers before them. It’s all so … normal.
At least it is on the outside. But I can’t help but think that each of those men had a hurricane going on inside. It’s been only two weeks since those momentous days in Jerusalem, and only one week or so since Jesus appeared to them in that upper room. So the memories are very fresh.
And they’re probably still feeling some guilt. As they sit there that night, in that creaking boat, they’re left to their own not very happy thoughts.
But of all of them, I think Simon Peter had the biggest burden. He had still been Jesus’ best friend, the go-to guy, the head of the pack. The leader. The one the others looked to for direction and whom Jesus entrusted with his confidences. The one Jesus had called ‘the Rock.”
But that rock had crumbled. He had failed Jesus, miserably, totally.
So when he says, “I’m going fishing,” he’s doing it because he maybe figures there’s nothing left for him in God’s plan.
I’m reminded of the quote from John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “Maud”:
“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: “It might have been!”
So much for the “failure” part of this sermon.
All of this is the backdrop for today’s message. The message for this morning is that our God is a God of infinite forgiveness, a God who gives us a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance … and more.
I’m always struck by the imagery in this passage. There Jesus is, sitting on the beach, in front of a little brazier containing a charcoal fire, grilling fish for his friends. Where else in the Bible do we read about God making breakfast for people? Nowhere else – just here. That’s a visual sign of forgiveness in action: “Brothers, come and join me. What’s past is past.” Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Restoration.
He calls Peter over. We already have an idea of Peter’s mental state. Maybe he’s thinking that this is it, Jesus is going to cut him loose and he’ll have to just go back to being a fisher of fish and not a fisher of men anymore.
Peter sits down, and Jesus asks him, “Simon Peter, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.”
Jesus asks Peter the same question again; and again Peter says, again, that yes, he does. Jesus replies with “Tend my sheep.”
Then Jesus asks a third time – and this time, Peter, feeling “grieved” as John puts it, answers “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus replies, “Feed my sheep.”
At that point, Peter is reinstated as the leader of the disciples. He had denied Jesus three times in that courtyard, and these three statements of unequivocal love erase the denials.
Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Restoration.
The Reverend Deniray Mueller writes: “Often times, we underestimate just how strong our own faith is. We all have had times that we are afraid we won’t be able to handle it when something bad happens. Yet when the time comes we realized that our faith was stronger than we thought. But, at the same time, we often overestimate our strength and our need for others and minimize the need for the strength of God’s Spirit.
“Three times Peter had openly denied his Lord, and three times Jesus drew from him the assurance of his love and loyalty. Three times he was restored; and done so in full view of all the others. Now they all knew that ‘The Rock’ was back. Peter The Rock was restored.
“Instead of chastising Peter for his failures, Jesus gave him another chance to prove himself. Jesus was not looking at Peter’s past. He was looking at what Peter could do for the future. Jesus was not concerned about Peter’s resume. He was concerned about Peter’s redemption.
“Peter’s failures were turned into fame, his defeat into victory, not because of his own initiative, but because of divine intervention.”
This season, the Easter season, is the season when we celebrate that divine intervention. God reached down and lifted Jesus from the tomb, breathed life into him – and because of that incredible act, the world has been irrevocably changed.
But not just the world in general, but also our worlds.
Do you recall the last time someone gave you the chance to correct your failures? If you cannot remember any time, well I want to tell you this morning, here and now, that Jesus is ready to give you another chance.
You may be experiencing failures of some sort in your life – whether at work, or at school, or in a relationship. Whatever it is, no matter how deeply rooted it might be, regardless of how many times you have experienced it, Christ is able to turn those defeats into victory. Just as with Peter, restoration to Jesus’ love and God’s Kingdom could be ours today.
No matter how bad our past may have been, Jesus is there, ready to forgive and restore. God can wash us and restore us. Even if we fail again and again, Jesus is there, ready to restore us and use us for the work of His kingdom. No one is “too far gone.”
But it requires us to take a step that might move us outside of our familiar Galilees into regions that are foreign and maybe a bit scary.
If we remember that our faith is probably stronger than we think it is, then we will be able to take that step – and it will be worth it!
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.
 Mueller, the Rev. Deniray, “We All Have A Second (Or A Third . . . Or Fourth) Chance,” https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/we-all-have-a-second-or-a-third-or-fourth-chance-the-rev-deniray-mueller-sermon-on-failure-239469?page=2&wc=800