Sunday, April 7, 2013

PETER’S STORY: RECONCILIATION AND RESTORATION BEYOND CYNICISM. A Homily for 4.14.13 from John 21:1-19

Third Sunday of Easter
Homily for 4.14.13
John 21:1-19 
Year C











Of the many moving parts in today's pericope, the most prominent comes under the rubric of reconciliation and restoration. We have before us the very moving story of Peter's return to the LORD after his three denials of the Master. 

These ideas of reconciliation and restoration are not only critical to the life-blood of the Christian faith -- that of the second and third chances found with GOD, but they also speak of the movement from the selfish, false-self to the true-self GOD intended for us all along, which cannot occur apart from reconciliation and restoration. 

But, as with so many of our Christian concepts, there is a problem in communicating these important realities. The idea of second chances and true-selves has become so skewed today by the culture of conspicuous confession, where the ideas of reconciliation and restoration have become only crude caricatures of the real thing.

Far too often we usually see men, men of power, politicians mostly, but sometimes preachers, standing before the microphone, confessing marital infidelity, their wives by them, stoic, somber and miserable. We know what all this means, of course. It's most often about political redemption -- sometimes adorned with religious accessories -- bent on finding a way back into the public eye beyond the shame of getting caught. 

Does this assessment seem cynical? Perhaps. But we are all of us far to familiar with the reality that human conduct is motivated by self-interest. 

Or, we could think of the problem of post-modern of reconciliation and restoration in this way, using F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous quote: "There are no second acts in American lives," by which he means to say, we only repeat the first act over and over again. 

So, how do we break-through this crusty cynicism? How do we come to believe at this late date that true change is possible? Or, said differently, what makes Peter's story different? I confess I struggle with these questions. 

For example, I have in mind here a televangelist in the 1980’s who fell for TV-grace because of his being caught with a prostitute. He has now reinvented himself and owns a satellite television network! What should we make of this? I really do not know. I confess I am cynical, but I must also confess I do not know his heart. 

How, then, do we find the way to a true reconciliation and restoration?

In the time remaining to us, therefore, let us think-through Peter’s story in hopes of discovering the idea of a reconciliation and restoration that works beyond cynicism. Here, then, is the outline for our thoughts:

RESTORATION INVOLVES DEALING WITH THE PAST -- RECONCILIATION 
RESTORATION INVOLVES LOOKING BEYOND THE PAST -- VOCATION
RESTORATION INVOLVES LOOKING BEYOND THE SELF -- SACRIFICIAL LOVE 

RESTORATION INVOLVES DEALING WITH THE PAST -- RECONCILIATION
One of the primary differences we find between the text and our experience is the fact that here, Peter, far from seeking the LORD, has left his vocation -- that of following Christ, and has returned to his occupation -- fishing. And that it is the LORD who seeks Peter. That is, it is perhaps not reading too much into the text to say that after the debacle of his multiple denials, Peter had no intention of being restored as part of any Jesus-movement, or at least he did not feel worthy to lead the group any longer.

I wonder, did Peter share his story with anyone? Did he tell the story of his failure toward the Master at that vital moment of truth? Or, did he suffer alone in his humiliation and collapse? 

But, then, the LORD seeks Peter. The LORD seeks to bring Peter back to his place of leadership, and this makes all the difference. This is a beautiful text for here we are on sacred ground. Before us we hear the risen, living Jesus offer Peter the opportunity of three affirmations of love, one for each denial: 
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” 
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” 
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to Simon Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” 
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
 Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” Jesus said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” 
Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a 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.
But, with Jesus' third request for Peter’s affirmation of love, we know that Jesus puts his hand directly on Peter's wounded heart. The text reads:
Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?
I'll bet he was distressed! Here we are way beyond public redemption for the sake of political expediency. Peter is not worried just about being caught. His life was turned upside-down by his own failure and now by Jesus’ reference to his uselessness. 

No, here we have cut down to the very guts of Peter's life. Peter's boisterous, blustering false-self has been laid bare. The words, "I will never forsake you," now tastes bitter in his mouth like ashes. And, the act of violence he attempted in the garden in order to defend Jesus, an act which brought such a stiff rebuke from Jesus, rests heavy in his memory. This act with the sword alone demonstrated that Peter completely failed to grasp what Jesus' words and works really meant, which I believe actually led to his denial. 

Hear this, then, and hear it clearly: Peter is broken-hearted and Peter is repentant. And, because of this brokenness and this repentant heart, he has distantenced himself from the LORD. This means that either he is ripe for reconciliation or he will go on to ruin. This moment with Jesus is Peter's moment. Only Jesus can restore Peter.

And, of course, we know the rest of the story. Peter is restored. Clearly, this forgiveness and reconciliation is possible when offered from the LORD, but especially so when it comes within the context of confessing our brokenness to another person. When we find someone who is able to hear our broken-heart poured out fully, this is when we find the path to forgiveness and healing.

RESTORATION INVOLVES LOOKING BEYOND THE PAST -- VOCATION
But, what must be understood is that restoration, if it is genuine, moves us beyond the brokenness of the past to the calling of vocation -- the calling to follow Jesus into the world of brokenhearted souls. Here, the text reads:
Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a 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..."
Feed my sheep. Nourish them with the same love, acceptance and forgiveness that you have found in me. Allow the others who are lost and eaten raw by the human condition to find in your grief the reality of wholeness and restoration. Peter, you become their protector, the one who sustains and shares the word made alive by the imprinting of the Holy Spirit of the risen Jesus on the heart and behavior.

Do you think St. Peter ever made it beyond that moment on the sea shore when he met the LORD’s grace? Do you think St. Peter was ever far from the regret of this failure, and that it wasn’t the very foundation for his preaching and ministry?

Read the sermon from Acts 3:
 "Friends, I realize that what you did to Jesus was done in ignorance; and the same can be said of your leaders. But God was fulfilling what all the prophets had declared about the Messiah beforehand -- that he must suffer all these things. Now turn from your sins and turn to God, so you can be cleansed of your sins. Then wonderful times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will send Jesus your Messiah to you again.
Hear clearly Peter's heartbeat of reconciliation's possibility.

RESTORATION INVOLVES LOOKING BEYOND THE SELF -- SACRIFICIAL LOVE
Which leads to the final idea for today. Restoration, ultimately, causes us to look beyond ourselves to the other. Here Jesus calls Peter to a life of true sacrifice, which allows the ending of today’s pericope to take on great power and poignancy:
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”
That is, follow me into the haunts and hell-holes, the places of the self-blinded and the butchered peoples of the earth. Seek them out and love them into reconciliation and restoration like you have found in me. Make the cause for restoration of the fallen the primary aim of your ministry. Feed the lambs with the love of the Father that you have this day found in me. Follow this vocation all the way, allowing nothing to move you from this truth, so that you end well.

Never again, after this encounter with Jesus, do we find St. Peter characterized by boisterous blustering. Head down, eyes forward, working for the LORD, for King Jesus, and the coming Kingdom which is here and also at hand. 

Perhaps, then, the only true way to judge the reconciliation and restoration of another is to use the same standard we use for ourselves, and to say, in the end, we will only truly know the truth about ourselves and the other after it’s all said and done. In reality, none of us have that long to wait.


___________________

John 21:1-19
At that time, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.
He revealed himself in this way.
Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus,
Nathanael from Cana in Galilee,
Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples.
Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”
They said to him, “We also will come with you.”
So they went out and got into the boat,
but that night they caught nothing.
When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore;
but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
They answered him, “No.”
So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat
and you will find something.”
So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in
because of the number of fish.
So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord,
he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad,
and jumped into the sea.
The other disciples came in the boat,
for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards,
dragging the net with the fish.
When they climbed out on shore,
they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread.
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.”
So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore
full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.
Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.”
And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?”
because they realized it was the Lord.
Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them,
and in like manner the fish.
This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples
after being raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
Jesus said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a 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.
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”