To follow Jesus is not a cushy, boring thing. You may go where you don’t want to go, you may give up what you don’t want to give up, you may not get to go back to the kind of life you think you want for yourself, you will be given a new life full of purpose and meaning. Jesus has a way of turning things upside down, and reprioritizing what we think is important, and most often this is a very good thing.
Third Sunday of Easter; Year C
Acts 9.1-6 [7-20]; Psalm 30; Rev. 5.11-14; John 21.1-19
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the One who has risen from the dead, Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.
There is a scene in the movie, Forest Gump, that includes excitement,
irrational behavior, and incredible joy.
It is close to the end of the movie when Forest achieves his goal as a
shrimp boat captain. Throughout the film,
two very different characters, Forest Gump and a man he calls, “Lieutenant Dan,”
become unlikely friends.
They meet during the Vietnam War.
Lieutenant Dan is brash and everyone knows he’s in charge. Forest, a man born with mental disabilities
and teased his whole life, makes an incredible and brave soldier. Forest risks his life to save Lieutenant Dan,
who is badly wounded in battle. Lieutenant Dan loses both his legs from the
knees down and is so angry with Forest for saving his life. He hates what his life has become and blames
Forest. They have a huge falling out and
Forest is deeply saddened and goes his own way.
Years pass and Forest becomes a shrimpin’ boat captain. Earlier in the movie Lieutenant Dan tells
Forest that if he even became a shrimp boat captain he would be his first mate,
never actually thinking Forest would accomplish it.
Finally the scene comes in the movie where Forest is steering his boat
alone and he sees Lieutenant Dan in his wheel chair on the dock. Forest starts waving wildly with a huge smile
on his face. Then without a second
thought he jumps in the water, clothes on and all, with no one on board to
steer the boat. He swims to the dock to
greet his old friend. He climbs up on
the dock soaking wet and full of joy to see Lieutenant Dan. They exchange handshakes and the movie
watcher knows they have forgiven one another without words. The end of the scene concludes with Forest’s
boat, Jenny, crashing into the nearby dock without someone to steer it. Forest just looks at Lieutenant Dan and says,
“That’s my boat.” Watch Scene
I love that scene in the movie and I treasure our Gospel reading we just
heard. There is so much life in the
reading, fun, joy, mystery, reconciliation, and seriousness. Part of the fun and joy in the reading
centers around Peter and his reaction to knowing that Jesus is standing on the
beach waiting for them to come ashore and have breakfast with him. He jumps into the water, clothes on and all
and swims to shore, leaving the rest of the disciples in the boat to haul in
the fish. (At least there was someone left
to steer the boat in this scene!).
Peter, more than likely overwhelmed from the last three years of
following Jesus, especially the most recent events of his three time denial of
knowing Jesus, his grief over Jesus’ gruesome death, and then the unexpected
and unbelievable resurrection of Jesus from the dead, goes back to fishing. He goes back to the beginning before Jesus
came into his life.
Human beings can only take so much before they go back to what they know
and for Peter that’s fishing. In verse 2 he says, “I’m going fishing,” and the
rest of the disciples say, “Me too!” and they all get in the boat and catch
nothing all night. How
disappointing! The life they all might
desire to go back to isn’t going to work for them anymore.
Perhaps we can relate to this.
There are certain events in our lives or certain people we meet that
turn our world upside down to where nothing can or will be the same again,
whether we like it or not. Sometimes
there is a death, or an accident, or time spent here at YCC, or you hear a
speaker that seemed to speak directly to you and you knew that your life had
Or maybe there was a time you didn’t believe in Jesus and something one
day became real deep within you in which you started to believe and feel alive,
full of new life. Then when you try and
go back to what you’ve always done, or the life you have always lived,
something is off. You know you have been
changed and are trying to understand what your “new normal” is, all the while
being called to a new way of living and trusting.
So when dawn breaks, there Jesus is, standing on the shore, maybe even
your “shore.” The disciples only
recognize him after he tells them to cast their net on the right side of the
boat and they catch, literally, boat loads of fish after a night of catching
nothing. As soon as the beloved
disciples says, “It is the Lord,” impulsive Peter is in the water swimming to
Jesus feeds his followers fish and bread on the beach, the same shore
where he taught and empowered his disciples to feed fish and bread to the “5000.” When the disciples want to send everyone away
to find their own food, Jesus looks at them and says, “You give them something
to eat.” The disciples usually have
something else in mind than what Jesus has in store for them.
We hear this again in verse 18, when Jesus says to Peter, “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.”
To follow Jesus is not a cushy, boring thing. You may go where you don’t
want to go, you may give up what you don’t want to give up, you may not get to
go back to the kind of life you think you want for yourself, you will be given
a new life full of purpose and meaning.
Jesus has a way of turning things upside down, and reprioritizing what
we think is important, and most often this is a very good thing.
What Jesus also does again and again, is gives people opportunities to
reconcile and have healing in their lives.
We see this played out in a beautiful way between Jesus and Peter in our
reading today. If we can recall, it
wasn’t that much earlier that Peter denies knowing Jesus 3 times, swearing that
he wasn’t his friend or associated with him.
Peter abandons Jesus in his greatest time of need. When he realizes this, he leaves and weeps
bitterly, leaving Jesus to die alone on the cross. And as we know so well with the reality of
death, Peter does not get the opportunity to tie up any loose ends, or ask for
forgiveness. He is simply left in guilt
and shame when Jesus dies.
These events lead us up to their conversation today, where because of
the resurrection of Jesus, Peter gets the chance to reconcile with his Lord and
friend. “Simon son of John,” Jesus says
to Peter, “do you love me…” Peter
answers, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
Three times they go through this exchange, mirroring the three times
Peter denied Jesus, creating reconciliation between them and an opportunity for
Peter to claim who Jesus is in his life.
If we could only be so lucky to have the difficult and joyful day of
reconciling with those we need to forgive and ask for forgiveness, like Peter
and Jesus, like Lieutenant Dan and Forest. Some of us do
and will have that opportunity. My
hunch is that many of you would like to stand before your mom or dad or a
brother or sister and say, “I’m truly sorry and I love you.” You might have to say it 3 times for it to be
real for them! Then what’s next is that
you live a life that communicates that you love them, whether that be a life
free from drugs or alcohol, or a life where you actually follow through with
what you say you’re going to do, or live a life that is not controlled by or burdened
by guilt or shame.
Jesus does this with Peter and is clear with him that if he loves him
the way he says he does, then he is to follow Jesus and lead a certain new way
of life. If Peter loves Jesus, he isn’t going
to show his love for him by returning to fishing. He is to literally feed those who are
hungry. He is to tend the flock of
followers of Jesus by giving up his previous life of fishing for them. He is to feed the ones Jesus loves with the
food of the Gospel, the good news and life available to all people. Eventually Peter is to give up his own life
because of his love for Jesus.
Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” Do you love me Peter, more than you love your
own life?…more than you love the other disciples?…more than you love your
life of fishing? Because if you do, then
this is what your life is now going to be like.
For some of us, hearing the news that our lives may never be the same because
of what happens in it or because of having faith in Jesus is scary and we want
to resist it with every ounce of our being.
For others of us it may be the greatest news we have ever heard.
Jesus’ words to Peter at the end of the Gospel are not just for him,
they are for each one of us too. “Do you
love me?” he asks, and then he says to you and to me, “Follow.”