Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
May 13, 2007
P.S. I STILL
LOVE YOU...AND YOU ARE STILL CALLED
Text: John 21:1-19
Today's text, John 21, is like an epilogue to the Gospel. The
disciples have gone back to Galilee, back to fishing - - which was
what most of them were doing with their lives before Jesus called
them that first day by the seashore. We could entitle all Jesus'
resurrection appearances: The Lord returns to bless and to call.
This last episode in John I entitle: P.S. I Still Love You...And You
Are Still Called.
They're back in Galilee, where it all began. Peter said, "I'm
going fishing!" And the others joined him. They fished all night and
At daybreak Jesus appeared on the beach. The Greek says he
"showed himself" to the disciples. When the anchoress mystic Julian
of Norwich received revelations from Christ, she called them
"Showings," "hearings" so vivid they were "seeings" too.
The disciples didn't recognize Jesus at first. "Lads," he called
out, "caught anything?" "No," they yelled back.
"Cast your net on the right side," he called back, and their net
was so full of fish they couldn't haul it into the boat.
The disciple "whom Jesus loved" - - a character in John's Gospel
never named - - yelled out, "It's the Lord." Peter, ever impulsive
Peter, couldn't wait for the boat. He jumped into the sea and
thrashed his way to shore.
The text says that before he leaped overboard he put on his outer
garment, which he had taken off while fishing. All he had on was his
Spandex Speedo, and if he looked like most fishermen I've seen you
don't want to see them in Spandex.
The disciples followed in the boat, dragging their net full of
fish behind them. When they got to shore there was Jesus cooking
breakfast - - bread and fish - - over a wood fire. Jesus said,
"Bring me some of your fish." Peter jumped up and hauled the whole
net full of fish to him! All he needed was a few.
The text says there were 153 fish and that they were large.
Scholars through the years have endlessly explored the symbolic and
numerological significance of the number 153. I don't have time even
to begin. But maybe that's just how many there were! Sounds
like a real fisherman's story to me: They counted every one and
bragged about their size: 153 bigguns! Just because it means
something doesn't mean it didn't happen!
Jesus cooked breakfast for them. Then, as the text says: "He took
bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish." It
sounds almost eucharistic, doesn't it? The Last Supper was not the
last. It would go on and on forever.
Have you had those mornings when you awake and go out and
everything seems so new and bright and clean? You seem so new
and bright and clean. Like the world beginning all over again.
It must have felt something like that, that morning by the sea
when Jesus appeared and called them all over again to follow him.
Then Jesus turned to Peter, and it's as if they are the only two
on the shore. "Simon, son of John," he called him, Peter's birth
name, the name Jesus called him by the first time they met by the
seashore, before Jesus named him Peter. "Simon, son of John, do you
love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Then Jesus, calling him all over again, said, "Feed my lambs." Feed,
lead, teach, tend, take care of my new flock, Peter.
A second time. "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" "Yes, Lord,
you know that I love you." "Tend my sheep."
Then a third time Jesus asked, "Simon, son of John, do you love
me?" At this third asking Peter was grieved, cut to the heart.
"Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."
Why the three questions, and why was Peter cut to the heart? We
remember the night of Jesus' arrest when around a charcoal fire
Peter denied Jesus three times. "I do not know the man." "No, I'm
not one of his." And swearing, "I do not know him."
Jesus is offering Peter the healing of memory, a way to
re-remember the past so that it no longer has its hold over him.
So now with the smell of a charcoal fire in his nostrils he
affirms three times his love of Christ.
Scientists say that smell is often the trigger to our deepest
memories, even unconscious ones. When I visit the hospitals and
smell the familiar hospital smells, I am taken back to what I almost
never remember otherwise: Two eye-surgeries I had at ages 4 and 6.
A deacon in a former church was serving communion to an elderly
member in a nursing home. The woman didn't seem to recognize the
deacon nor understand anything the deacon was saying. But when Betty
opened the container with the Welch's grape juice, and the woman
caught the aroma, her eyes lit up and she said, "Oh, it's the Lord's
The smell of wood fire and the memory of his denials would have
forever haunted Peter. Now around another fire he is offered the
redemption of his memory, three declarations of love replacing the
So can the memories that haunt us be cleansed and healed,
memories of past mistakes and failures, of hurt so deep we think we
will never be whole again. Jesus offers in the grace of God a
transformed memory, a new way of remembering that frees us from the
hurts of the past that have bound us.
But the threefold question may have had yet another message:
Jesus testing Peter to see how serious he was in his determination
to follow Jesus.
At our meeting with Temple Beth El recently we discussed Jewish
and Christian meanings of "conversion." There was one startling
contrast to me. In the Jewish tradition a person seeking conversion,
seeking to become a Jew, must ask a rabbi three times: I wish to
become a Jew. The rabbi is to turn them down the first two times,
then say yes the third. It is a way of saying: It is a serious and
difficult thing to become a Jew. Are you ready for such a challenge?
It seems quite different from what most churches do, going out
trying to convert as many as possible, saying how easy it is to
become a Christian and join the church. But it's not, is it? It's
not easy to become a serious follower of Jesus in this world.
That Jesus was testing Peter's seriousness is underlined by his
next words to Peter:
Very truly I say to you: When you were young you girded
yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old you
will stretch out your hands and another will gird you and carry
you where you do not wish to go.
It is a poignant description of old age, which is where most of
us are headed, ready or not, a time of increased dependence and
It is also, John tells us, a description of how Peter's own life
would end: Stretching out his hands, being bound and shackled, led
to prison and to his death on a cross in Rome.
But there is also in these words the most profound statement of
the path of Christian discipleship and Christian leadership in the
midst of all that life brings.
There are times when we are strong and there are times when we
are weak. There are times we act and there are times we are acted
upon. There are times we lead and there are times we are led.
When you're young you think leadership is all about strength and
acting and controlling outcomes. When you're older and wiser you
discover leadership is about weakness too, and being acted upon and
being led. And that there's very little in life we really have
Can we lead in our weakness too? Not just in our strength? I hope
so, for we have a generous amount of both.
Some of you this day need most of all to get in touch with your
strength in order for you to be and do what God has made you and set
you here to be and to do. It's been denied too long, quashed too
long. Touch your strength! Others of you need to get in touch with
your weakness. This is your next step to wholeness and authentic
Church of the Savior founder Gordon Cosby has said that every
pastor search committee needs to ask its candidate: Are you weak
enough to be our pastor? The question should be asked of every
deacon and every follower of Jesus: Are you weak enough to be a
deacon, a follower of Christ? Can you befriend your weakness?
Knowing your weakness, can you trust in God for what you most need?
Sometimes we act, and other times we are acted upon, by life, by
others. Illness strikes. We are left by the one we love. We are
deeply hurt by a friend, by an institution. We lose our job.
Catastrophe strikes. Your family suddenly needs you in ways you
never anticipated. Your life is different now. Or this: You take a
public stand, take a risk for Christ and suddenly you get acted
upon. You are criticized, made fun of, ostracized. You stretch out
your hands and are taken when you do not wish to go.
Can you be a follower of Jesus in such a time? Can you lead in
your weakness as well as your strength? What I want to say to these
deacons today, and to you all who seek to follow Jesus: God can use
your strength, but God can use your weakness too.
The Apostle Paul battled with what he called his "thorn in the
flesh." We do not know what it was, but it was a public and
humiliating weakness that hobbled him and threatened his ministry.
His opponents used it to discredit him.
We know that he fervently prayed for the thorn to be removed. And
that God did not answer this request. What Paul was given by God was
this word and this grace:
My grace is sufficient for you [said the Voice from heaven],
for my strength is made perfect in weakness.
II Corinthians 12:9
I think this is what Jesus was saying to Peter that bright
shining day at the seashore: You will be strong and you will be
weak. You will act and you will be acted upon. You will lead and you
will be led. In it all, in it all, "Follow Me."