Steve Lindsley
(John 21: 1-19)

Back on Easter Sunday we talked about how the gospel of Mark leaves much up in the air when it comes to Easter morning – no Jesus sighting, no evidence, and no stories of how the faithful lived into resurrection’s light.  We lifted up powerful words from author Toni Morrison – if there is a book you want to read and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

Of course, many people did just that.  In fact, our entire New Testament – all 27 books – was written after the resurrection event.  Which means every gospel, every letter and correspondence is more or less a host of people writing their Easter story.

Our scripture today centers on the Easter story of Peter.  If Peter’s relationship with Jesus were a Facebook status it’d be “it’s complicated.”  There was no doubt he loved Jesus – he gave up a fishing career to follow him.  But he also often missed the boat, so to speak; even denying Jesus three times in the heat of the moment.  And that led to him facing something we all face in our various stories, something that keeps us from living fully into resurrection’s light.

And so as we pray, I’d like to invite us to think about what Peter might say if he were here with us this morning.  With that, pray with me.

Open our eyes that we may see
Glimpses of truth eternally
Open our eyes, illumine us
Spirit divine


Life has a circuitous way about it, doesn’t it?  Almost like bookends on a shelf with your life’s volumes in between.  There’s a sense of comfort in that.  Like it’s not about you.  Like you’re part of something bigger than yourself.

If you asked me what the two bookends of my life would be, well, that’s easy.  Years ago, on a boat fishing for that elusive catch.  No luck all day.  Until this stranger comes along and points us in a direction.  We’ve fished there already, we say.  Just give it a shot, he says. We do, and our nets are so full they start tearing.

And then just a week ago – there I was, on a boat fishing again for that elusive catch.  No luck all day.  And then that stranger comes along. He points us in a direction.  We’ve fished there already, we say.  Just give it a shot, he says. We do, and our nets are so full they start tearing.

Sound familiar?

I wonder if Jesus ever thought to himself, “What is up with these people?  Will they ever learn?”  Sorry, Jesus, but you realize who you’re working with, right?  It takes us a little longer.  Especially me.

Reputation often precedes you, so you may already know that I tend to be – how should I put this – impulsive. My motto is fairly simple – Act first, think later.  Story of my life.  You know the kid who picks up a snake and takes it home, oblivious as to whether it’s poisonous or not?  You’re looking at him.  Or the boy who jumps out of a tree, arms outstretched, thinking he can actually fly because he really wants to, until he realizes – most painfully – that he cannot?  My family still gives me grief for that.

And if you’re wondering how in the world someone like me could ever become a fisherman, well, get in line.  I mean, all we do is wait.  All.  Day.  Long.  It is as monotonous a routine as one can have: sail out at dawn, cast the nets over and over, haul in whatever fish you catch – if you catch any at all – and come back at dusk.

Which, not surprisingly, is right where Jesus found me.  Twice.

And in between those two fishing bonanza bookends, well, you probably know the story as well as I do.  Twelve of us, but really more, following him around, watching him, listening to him.  Man, that guy could preach!  And all that time, I never stopped being my impulsive self.  You probably heard about time when I tried that whole walking-on-water trick in a terrible storm.  It didn’t end well.

But see, even then, even in my worst moments, he never stopped loving me.  And that’s why all I ever wanted was to be with him, wherever he went; even if it meant jumping into tumultuous water with reckless abandon.  Time and time again, he was at his best when I was at my worst.

Never was this more true than a few weeks ago.  It started off so well – it was the week of Passover and there we were, celebrating the holiday and descending on Jerusalem like we owned the place.  And then Jesus goes and throws this curveball about how we’re all going to leave him and one of us will even betray him.  I mean, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!  So, of course, Mr. Impulsive has to open his big mouth.  Act first, think later, right?  I tell Jesus he’s crazy; I say that none of that is going to happen.  And I proclaim in a bold voice that I, I most of all, will never desert him!  That’s when he looks right at me and tells me that before that night is over I will deny knowing him not just once, but three times.

Thing is, he couldn’t have been more right.  I did not see it coming.  I mean, would you?  Would you have expected Roman soldiers to show up in the garden unannounced and haul him away like that?  Would youhave anticipated everyone – yourself included – running for the hills like frightened kids?  And would you have possibly imagined all those people outing you as a Jesus-follower in public like that?

It was terrifying.  I knew my life was at stake.  It had all gone south so fast.   Don’t you think your self-preservation would kick in and form the words in your mouth before your heart could stop them – no, I don’t know Jesus.  No, I’ve never been with him.  No, I had nothing to do with him!

Act first, think later.

I did a lot of thinking after that.  A lot. How I had failed him.  How I felt guilty for that.  But what I thought about the most in the days following, what consumed me, was the shame.

One of your modern writers likes to say that, while guilt makes you think, “I did something bad,” shame makes you think “I am bad.”[1]  And I’m telling you, if you’ve ever experienced that crushing shame, I want you to know that someone knows exactly how you feel.  I know how heavy a weight that is to carry; I know the ways it can paralyze and immobilize you.  I know how, if left to fester, shame can corrode your very soul.  There is no place for shame in God’s order, and yet we grab hold of it as if it’s all we have to hold on to.

Which brings me to that day.  I mean, the minute I see all those fish in my nets, that’s when I know who the stranger is and that he, in fact, is no stranger at all.  And that’s when I go to him.  Forget that I was in a boat on the water and he was on the beach.  Forget that I had already demonstrated in pretty convincing fashion that I cannot swim.  Act first, think later!  I just jump right in the water with all my clothes on and do whatever I can to get to the shore as fast as possible.  And there he is, cooking breakfast.  Feeding us like he always did.  Bread and wine on that dreaded Thursday night.  And now grilled fish on the beach.

And somewhere between the bites of fish, he speaks to me.  I mean, really speaks to me, not just chit-chat.  And he asks me if I love him.  I’ve just crammed fish in my mouth, so I mumble “yeah.”  And then he says he wants me to feed his sheep.  Which seems an odd thing to say to a fisherman, don’t you think?  I don’t know the first thing about feeding sheep.  Jesus and his metaphors!

A little later he asks me again – do you love me?   Hmm.  Maybe he didn’t hear me before.  Maybe the wind blowing in his ear or something.  It is kind of windy on the beach.  I swallow my fish first so I can speak clearly this time.  Jesus – like I said, yes I love you.  To which he says, Then tend my sheep.  And I still don’t know what’s up with this sheep thing.

More casual conversation, more eating.  I thought we had that all settled.  But near the end of our meal Jesus turns to face me.  Like, now he’s giving me his full attention.  He looks me square in the eye; and I remember he reaches out his hand and touches mine, and asks a third time, Do you love ME

And that is when I felt it coming again.  Creeping up from the depths inside me where I had stuffed it away hoping it would never surface again.  I feel that shame wash over me with a vengeance – red-flushed face and a pit in my stomach.  Because that’s when it hits me that he knows.  Somehow, he knows.  He knows I denied knowing him three times; in his worst hour I denied him!  He knows all those other times I failed him, all those time I’d been burned by my mantra of acting first and thinking later.  I could feel the shame taking over.  And once you let that shame creep in, it is so hard to let go of.

So it took every ounce of courage I could muster to fight through the shame and silence and say, for a third time, that I love him.   Because now I wonder if he still loves me.

Jesus just sits there with this look of love on his face, and for a moment it feels like it’s just the two of us sitting in the sand.  He takes a deep breath and says, Then Peter, feed my sheep.  And follow me.  And now, now I understand what he means with the sheep.  And so I take his hand and he embraces me, and I feel that shame fall off me like a heavy robe that the wind blows away.  And all I feel is love.

That happened a few days ago.  But for me, it’s like it’s still happening.  His questions, my answers.  Even that moment when I first recognized him – that first time on the water, that first big catch we couldn’t haul in.  It occurs to me that I didn’t recognize Jesus because he did this amazing miracle, wowing the crowds, proving his divinity.  No, I recognized Jesus because of the sheer abundance.  Because there was so much in those nets.

And it’s not even about the number.  This abundance is an abundance of the heart; of life, of living and loving, of community and fellowship that fills your soul to its absolute content.  An abundance that trumps any shame.  It’s that abundance that Jesus wanted me to see that first time in the boat – you think these nets, full of fish and about to break, you think this is a big catch?  Come with me and let me show you some real abundance.

I witnessed that abundance for three years.  We all did.   The sermons we heard him preach.  The sick he healed.  The people he fed – thousands hungry for far more than bread or fish.  Even on that last night when he took bread and cup, leftovers from the Passover meal, and created something wonderfully new.  Every moment of every day, he just kept giving us such abundance.

And so it’s clear to me what has to comes next.  It’s our turn.  Because that abundance that Jesus shared was never meant to stay with me.  If that early morning catch and my conversation on the beach proved anything at all, it is that there is so much Jesus in us, in all of us.  So much love and mercy and grace.  And every bit of it is meant to be shared.

And so I wonder – how are you sharing God’s abundance in your life?  How are your nets overflowing and impacting people you know, and even people you don’t?  How are you working against the crippling effect of shame in your heart and the hearts of others?  How are you feeding and tending to God’s sheep?

It’s an amazing story we get to tell, isn’t it?  Keep writing it.  Keep on living into and living out God’s great, amazing abundance!

In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!


* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

[1] Brene Brown is the person.