Yesterday, I talked briefly about the popular website describing teen’s and other young adult’s brokenness, and the possibility and the obligation we have as the body of Christ to reach out to the broken. I talked about the possibility of transforming three little letters that reveal hurt, despair, and pain –“fml,” into something life transforming. We are people who have been fixed by Jesus. Our congregations, hopefully, are full of good stories of what God has done and is doing in the lives of our members. Our own transformed encounters with the Risen Christ also are powerful engagements with the hidden God in the power of the Cross.
Our Scriptures are full of encounters of men and women, who could say, Jesus fixed my life. The scandal of the cross is no less a scandal today than it was some 20 centuries ago. I think of Paul’s life altering encounter on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. Jesus get Saul’s attention, changed his name, his heart, his direction and the purpose of his life. Instead of a life of trying to observe the strictest adherence to Torah, Paul was able to discover the true intentions of God’s desire to live near his people. Paul was determined to protect God’s holiness from contamination, now he begins sharing the story of Jesus and how through Jesus God is extending the boundaries of his holiness, and his kingdom to include all humanity. God was alive in Paul’s life in a new and profound way. Gentiles were no longer a segment of society to be avoided, but seen as valuable creations of God worth pursuing.
I am reminded of Peter. Avid fishermen. Follower of Jesus. Sometimes a little standoffish. Peter wanted to be great. He is the only disciple to walk on water with Jesus (Matthew 14). Peter was by all accounts the unspoken leader of the twelve. He was rash. He was confident that he wouldn’t falter when the others would. But, several dozens armed soldiers and sleep deprivation will get the best of us. Peter swore he would die than to betray his Lord. Peter turn-tailed and ran for his life. In a courtyard, near to the proceedings of the Sanhedrin (Mark 14), he is quick to deny his association with Jesus. The thrill of powerful healings, and miraculous feedings of thousands is replaced by the echo of rooster crow that served as a reminder of Peter’s denial.
But this story of denial is not the final chapter in Peter’s engagement with Christ.Three days after the crucifixion, Peter and John behold the empty tomb. Perplexed and bewildered the disciples are visited by their resurrected Lord. The final scene in the Gospels with Peter is telling. In John 21, maybe for comfort’s sake, Peter and the others go fishing. They see a figure on the shore, who offers fishing advice and upon trying the approach, they haul in a large catch, and John seems to know instinctively that Jesus has come. You have to love Peter’s enthusiasm here. He dives right in the water. I wonder if he thought he could walk on water again. Anyway, once ashore and after eating together Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him.
15When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:15-19)
One time for every careless denial. Peter obviously grieved by the reminder of his not so glorious moment is told to feed Christ’s sheep, and care for Christ’s flock. Then as at the beginning, Jesus invites Peter to follow him. I have often read right past this phrase getting hung up in the three questions. In this repeat invitation to follow Jesus, Peter is given a new start. Discipleship is possible after messing up. We know the rest of the story. Peter is a great church leader and helps take the story of what is doing in and through Jesus to the Roman world.