Sermon for SMHP, Year C, Easter III, May 5, 2019
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.
3Simon 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.
4Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6He said to them, “Cast the net to 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 because there were so many fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 9When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”
11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15When 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.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A 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.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt 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. 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Holocaust Remembrance Day began this past Sunday at sundown. It was a day made even more poignant—though that hardly seems possible—by the mass shooting at the Chabad of Poway, a synagogue just outside of San Diego. So as the world remembered the atrocities which killed two-thirds of the Jews in Europe, along with thousands of gay men, disabled persons, Roma, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the same kind of hate brought down a mother and grandmother, and injured three others.
They were all killed for the same thing—for having the audacity to be who they are. They could have hidden. Lori Gilbert Kaye could have chosen to stop worshipping at her synagogue when it became clear that the wizened grip of American anti-semitism was strengthening and spreading. When she heard the shouting in Charlottesville. Or read about the shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue.
Instead, she chose to be a Jew. Faithful to the command to worship.
In doing so she joined the millions who have stood proud as children of God, rather than cowering in fear.
Like so many of them, she fell victim to someone who also claimed to be faithful to God’s commands. The Poway shooter belonged to an “Orthodox Presbyterian” church. His “manifesto” contained some essentially correct Christian doctrine, alongside the idea that God would be pleased by his actions.
The claim of faith does not justify.
Right doctrine does not sanctify.
We are justified—aligned with God—by God’s own action at the cross in Jesus Christ.
And we are sanctified—made holy—by the daily struggle to honor and keep the commands of Jesus, all of which rest upon his command that we love one another.
Tradition teaches that after St. Peter became the preeminent Apostle of the emerging Christian church in Palestine, he went to Rome. When he heard rumors that Emperor Nero wanted him dead, he quietly left town. He was traveling east on the Appian Way when he encountered Jesus. Peter asked Jesus—in Latin, of course—Quo Vadis, Domine? “Where are you going, Lord.”
Jesus replied that he was going to Rome, to be crucified again. And once again, Peter was forced to face his fear. He left the Via Appian and returned to the Via Virtus: the Way of Virtue.
And he was crucified there in Rome, at the behest of Emperor Nero.
Many scholars believe that Jesus was referencing Peter’s future crucifixion at the end of our text for this morning, when he said, “when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”
Certainly this text is another place in which we see Jesus and Peter engaged in the daily struggle of sanctification.
As the text opens, we see Peter trying to get back to some kind of normal. “I’m going fishing,” he announces. “We’ll come with you,” six other disciples call back.
And they go out into the lake and catch nothing because that makes a good start for a miracle story.
At this point the lesson reads more like a 1950’s grade school primer than a sacred text. But slowly a post-resurrection narrative emerges. Jesus shows up. Nobody recognizes him. Even though they saw him way back in Chapter Twenty. When they do realize that it is Jesus, Peter—inexplicably naked—puts on clothes, and in true Peter fashion, jumps in the water.
Sanctification is a daily struggle, friends. The struggle is real.
Peter is such a great model for us of the struggle, isn’t he?
Those who remember the way John tells the Passion and Resurrection stories might remember that the last time we saw Peter, he was racing the Beloved Disciple to the tomb. Both of them went into the tomb and saw the linen wrappings and no Jesus, but John tells us that only the Beloved Disciple “saw and believed.” And then they both went home.
And before that? What is Peter’s last named act before the Resurrection?
Denying Jesus in the courtyard. Three times.
The struggle is real. Even for someone who walked daily with Jesus…who was part of his inner circle—privy to his transfiguration, praised for his confession, “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.” Living out the values of Jesus is hard. Loving everybody is hard. Some of those folks don’t make it easy.
But Jesus is with us in the struggle. Remember that the next time you are fishing naked. Jesus is with you. Put some clothes on.
Even when we fall down, even when we deny Christ, he is with us, brushing us off, standing us up, sending us out to try to get it right the next time.
He could have given up on Peter. I mean, Peter looks pretty hopeless there at the end of this story. You really couldn’t blame Jesus if he decided to take those keys back and give them to Nathanael. Or Mary Magdalene.
Sit with that delightful image for a moment, and then come back, because, of course, that’s not what happened.
What happened was breakfast. After the miraculous catch of fish, there was ordinary fish, and bread. And a seemingly ordinary question: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter answered. And Jesus asked again. Answered, and asked again.
Imagine being Peter. We don’t have to imagine--John tells us that he felt hurt, being asked a third time whether he loved Jesus.
That had to be hard.
Now imagine being Jesus. Having to ask the disciple to whom you gave the keys to the kingdom. The first bishop of your church! “Hey, so do you love me?”
Imagine what it is like for him to have to ask that question of each of us. “Hey, do you love me?” Because people who love Jesus also love other people. Not just by being nice to them, but by working to make sure that they have food, and clothes.
Just saying you believe in Jesus doesn’t convey that you love Jesus. You follow Jesus into all the hard places he goes. Out onto the margins and the streets and the alleyways.
The claim of faith does not justify.
Right doctrine does not sanctify.
Loving Jesus with your hands, and your feet, and your whole body—that sanctifies. That makes you holy. Not forever. You gotta wake up again tomorrow and do it all over again. Wake up in the morning and ask the question, “Quo vadis, Domine?”
Where are you going, Lord.
Or, “Quo vadis nobis, Domine?”
Where are we going, Lord? Where is my opportunity to show love today? Where can I serve you with my hands and my feet, and my heart?
Perhaps I can work for an end to the hate which leaves bullet holes in synagogues and burned husks where there used to be black churches. Perhaps I can sort food or clothing so that my neighbors may live. Perhaps I can offer a kind word to a dejected friend, coworker, stranger. Perhaps I am even being called to die…to old ways, in order that new ways of love and service might take root.
Quo vadis, Domine? Take me with you. Teach me to love you.