SERMON John 21 15-19 Peter & Paul, Apostles b
Well…. That was awkward.
We’ve all been there. When I was 7 months pregnant, I visited my eye doctor in Maryland for a check up and the receptionist was so excited to see that I was pregnant and to learn all about my journey. She was full of questions and blessings. After explaining that this was my second pregnancy and how far along I was, she asked me full of zeal and excitement “How many babies are you having?”
Just one, thank you very much….
That was awkward.
Instead of being offended, I felt sorry for the dear whose heart was well-intentioned. I, myself, have been both the recipient and the perpetrator of socially awkward statements from time to time. Looking back, it seems like I spent most of my adolescence with my head in my hands, lamenting “why did I SAY that?”
If ever there were an expression to sum up Peter’s interaction with Jesus it would be “well…. That was awkward.”
Peter is that guy whose mouth frequently gets him into trouble. Peter is that friend that everyone has. The friend who causes ripples, and constantly has his foot in his mouth. Peter is the friend who causes others in the group to look at each other with knowing, uncomfortable glances.
At the Last Supper in the gospel of John, the reading we hear every Maundy Thursday, when Jesus approaches Simon Peter to wash his feet as he had the other disciples, it’s Peter who self-righteously protests saying “You will NEVER wash my feet!” Jesus tells him “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me”, and Peter responds in the extreme in the other direction. Peter tells him, “don’t just wash my feet, but my hands and head also!”
Later in their evening, Peter –full of good intentions- swears that he will follow Jesus anywhere, even to death. Jesus tells Peter he will deny he even knew Jesus 3 times that very night….
When Judas shows up in the garden with soldiers and police to arrest Jesus, it is Peter –full of zeal for his Lord- who springs into action and slices off the ear of the high priest’s servant, trying to protect Jesus and prevent him being taken into custody…. Peter is so full of zeal for Christ that his response to his devotion is often awkward and over the top. In spite of such intense devotion and such over the top behavior projecting his loyalty, after Jesus is arrested, Peter cowardly refuses that he knows Jesus, not once but three times.
The gospels cast Peter reliably as a bit of an impulsive oaf, always speaking without thinking first. Hardly a saint worth celebrating according to the behaviors he exhibited while he travelled around with Jesus.
Peter is a hot-head, a coward, a hypocrite… And yet, Peter is one of the few disciples whom Jesus keeps in his inner circle as he travels around. With Mary Magdalene and the beloved disciple, Peter is also one of the first witnesses of the resurrection according to John.
Our lesson today is set following yet another classic Peter blunder. This is after the resurrection, after Jesus met them in the upper room and breathed the Holy Spirit onto them, they back on their home turf in Galilee. Peter and a few other disciples fish all night and catch nothing. Jesus appears on the shore the next morning and tells them to throw their net on the other side. Boom! It’s so full of fish they can barely pull it in. Peter, whom the scripture tells us is naked, realizes it’s Jesus, puts his clothes back on, THEN dives off the side of the boat so that he can get to Jesus sooner than everyone else. He’s so full of zeal and excitement that Jesus has come to visit them again.
Jesus serves them barbequed fish on the beach for breakfast, then addresses Peter directly with his full name “Simon, son of John” as if he were a parent reconciling with a wayward child. Jesus says “Simon, Son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter says “you know that I do, Lord, you know everything.” Jesus asks Peter this question 3 times “Do you love me?” Three times so that Peter has 3 opportunities to undo the 3 denials. Jesus offers Peter reconciliation, and then commissions Peter to the ministry of feeding and tending Christ’s flock.
Our gospel lesson today and this festival of Peter and Paul, the Apostles, remind us that Christ calls the broken and the sinful into his service.
Throughout the gospels, Christ calls those whom we may see as LEAST fit for ministry and transforms and equips them for the ministry to which he has called them.
Christ called Saul of Tarsus after all. The books of Acts reveals that Saul was the coat-check boy at the stoning of St. Stephen. Saul participated in the first major persecution of the church in Jerusalem, dragging both men and women out of their homes and sending them to prison. He was described as a ravager of the church. He was a wolf, constantly on the look out for the tastey sheep of Christ’s flock. On his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to continue his assault on the church, Christ literally stopped him in his tracks with the flash of a blinding light and transformed him, calling him into service and sending him out from Jerusalem to be the apostle to the Gentiles!
Christ calls the broken and the sinful into his service. Christ transforms the broken and sinful into the sent and equipped.
If Christ can call and transform an impulsive oaf like Peter and a violent persecutor of the church like Paul, then there is hope for us all. Christ calls sinners like you, sinners like me, sinners like Peter and Paul into his service for the sake of the world.
Experience with the Risen Christ transformed Peter and Paul from common sinners, into apostles –sinners SENT OUT in the name of Christ to feed the sheep and tend the vulnerable lambs of Christ’s flock.
We experience the same Risen Christ whom Peter shared breakfast with on the beach and whom Paul met in a flash of light on the road to Damascus here, in this place. Each time we share the meal around THIS table, we see ourselves collectively transformed and equipped to be a church who is in the world. As we broken sinners experience the Risen Christ in wine and bread, we are transformed and ARE equipped to do the ministry Christ is calling us to do in His name. We ARE sent out to live and love as Christ’s apostles to the community and to the world.
Sent out to places like the soup kitchen or Gettysburg Cares. Sent out to Vacation Bible School. Sent out to collect school supplies for SCCAP. Sent out to visit and to take this feast of love to those who no longer have the strength to come to the Lord’s Table. Sent out to write letters of advocacy to our government officials on behalf of the poor and the food insecure. Sent out to build houses for Habitat. Sent out to Work Camp. Sent out to serve as a Young Adult in Global Mission. Sent out to places like Liberia to build schools. Or Tanzania to build wells. Sent out to pray for and support the World Mission Prayer League and their missionaries like Stacy and Utpal Saha.
Maybe you’re the next one Christ will send out to Bangladesh….
Or maybe, just maybe you’re like me…. (or perhaps a little like Peter or Paul)…. born with your foot in your mouth, and yet called and equipped by Christ to preach and teach.
Christ calls us all –broken sinners that we are- into his service for the sake of the world. Amen.