Sunday, January 29, 2017

“There is a God, there has to be, and now I will pray, I will pray that He will forgive that I have neglected Him all of these years, forgive that I have betrayed, lied, and sinned with impunity only to turn to Him now in my hour of need. I pray that He is as merciful, benevolent, and gracious as His book says He is.” ― Khaled Hosseini (author of “The Kite Runner”)

             Simon Peter was the rock upon which Christ would build His church, but Peter denied Jesus three times after swearing that he would never do it.  Then Christ was crucified, rose from the dead and sought out His disciples for some last lessons.  (read John 21: 15-19)
         Peter and the boys are gone fishin’ for the day, but Jesus sought them out, walking along the shore of the lake just like he had done a few years before.  But there comes a point when Peter once again finds himself face to face with Jesus, there in the sunshine by the Sea of Galilee.  And Peter has already acknowledged the resurrection. He believes that Jesus has conquered death and brought salvation; but there’s still this thing between them. That look, and the understanding — the guilt that came with it. It may even be the case that Peter is back in the boat because he feels like he can’t be of much use to Jesus after this thing that he has done. But once again, Jesus looks him right in the eye and this time he asks him a simple question. "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"  Now much has been made of the two different words translated "love" that are used in this dialogue, and even the expression "more than these," sometimes gets brought into question. But I believe that the exchange is really fairly simple. Peter had boldly proclaimed, "Lord, even if everyone else deserts you, I never will," but then he had not only deserted Jesus, he had also denied him three times. And in this exchange, Jesus takes him back to that previous declaration. In essence, he’s really saying, "Peter, do you still think that you love me more than the rest of the disciples? Do you really love me the way that I love you? Enough to give your life for me?"  And the old Peter, the proud impetuous Peter is gone. He was cut down with that look on the day of the crucifixion. So he answers simply, "Lord, you know that I love you. You know that I think of you as a brother and a friend" And Jesus did know that. Of course, that’s not the only thing Jesus knew about Peter; he knew Peter’s weaknesses. He knew Peter’s failures. He knew Peter’s sin. But he died for all of it, so none of that matters in this moment. Just this, "Peter, do you really love me?" And again, the big fisherman answers, "Lord, you know, you know that I do."  And then a third time, one time for each and every time that Peter had denied him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" And the Bible tells us that Peter was hurt at this point because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me? Do you really care for me as a brother and a friend?"
              No doubt Peter was hurt. He’s just been reminded of a less than shining moment in his relationship with the Lord, and he responds out of the weight of guilt that still lies on his back. He responds out of his pain,"Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."  But this exchange isn’t about guilt, not at all. It’s about grace. It’s about grace that’s great enough to encompass all of our sins and take them out of the way. It’s about grace that’s great enough to take broken, feeble sinners and make them into beloved children. It’s about grace that’s great enough to take a prideful fisherman and humble him to the point of true greatness in service to Christ. It’s about grace that is greater than all our sin.  Because each time that Peter responded, "Lord, you know that I love you," Jesus came right back with a command. "Feed my lambs...take care of my sheep...feed my sheep." And what he’s really saying there is, "Peter, we both know what you’ve done, and we both know how you feel about it. But that’s in the past now. It’s done, it’s forgotten. I died for all that. Now put it behind you, take hold of my grace and get busy with the work that I’ve called you to do." And Peter did.
          It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, or what we’ve failed to do. It doesn’t even matter if at the moment of crisis we caved in completely. Peter did, but by the grace of God he was not only restored to the family, he was given a place of leadership where he could serve Christ effectively for many years after.  Have we betrayed Jesus? Have we lived in a way that denies his presence and power in our lives? It doesn’t matter a bit. Whatever we’ve done, Jesus died for that too. It’s gone. It’s forgotten. It’s paid for completely, and we’re called in Christ Jesus to leave it behind, to take hold of his grace and to follow him.  So the real question is not, "How have you offended?" The real question for each of us today is the same one Jesus asked Peter all those centuries ago beside the Sea of Galilee. "Do you truly love me?"  And like Peter, we can’t answer that question in light of the sins that we’ve committed. We have to answer that question in the bright, shining light of God’s amazing grace. Because in his grace we can truly love him. In his grace we can truly serve him. And in his grace he calls each one of us, just as he called Peter, "Follow me." Because God’s grace is greater than all our sin.  Now that’s grace that is truly “amazing,” do I hear an “Amen?”

With thanks to Rev. David Swinney.

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